Prior Approval Specifications

How can specifiers reduce the frequency of substitutions on their projects? One technique Chusid Associates recommends is to use the Prior Approval system of specifying. This system has been used for decades in parts of the country, and deserves more widespread consideration.
To simplify my understanding of the prior approval process:

1. Specifying multiple products or using an "or equal" clause in specs creates uncertainty about what might or might not be accepted. Instead, specifications citing a single brand name and model number are uses, almost like a reference standard. Single brand name specs are the easiest to prepare and the easiest for bidders to understand. Specs that are easy to understand reduce a contractor's risk and can help reduce bid pricing.

3. To create competition, the A/E actively encourages suppliers and bidders to propose substitutions. It is the submitter's responsibility to provide sufficient samples, technical data, and other information to allow A/E to make comparison to specified product. This achieves widespread competition because any product in the market can be submitted for consideration.

4. Substitution proposals will be considered only if they are received prior to a date and time set by A/E. The A/E team then considers substitution proposals to determine if they are acceptable to the project. Proposals may be disqualified if they are incomplete, late, or do not meet the project requirements in the the opinion of A/E. The measurement becomes whether the proposed product meets the project requirements or adds value, avoiding issues about whether something is "or equal".

5. Acceptable substitutions are then included in an addendum issued before bid date.

6. While substitutions may still be considered during construction, they must follow contract requirements about change orders. Since owners must sign off on change orders, substitutions that do not benefit the owner are unlikely to be considered.

The system works. Perhaps we can say it is an "or equal" to "or equal" bidding.

Two articles from The Construction Specifier and written by H. Maynard Blumer, AIA FCSI CCS describing the technique in detail can be downloaded by clicking on the titles, below:

There are two ways the Prior Approval system can get adopted. First, a courageous A/E firm can stand up and declare its independence of the "or equal" nightmare. Second, a group of construction industry professionals, like a CSI chapter, can organize a regional effort to study the system, educate local specifiers and contractors, and promote the the system in their region.

Thank you to Maynard for sharing these with us and giving us permission to publish your articles.