Amid much debate and discussion, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), Bethesda, Md., recently submitted its official proposal to add a new Integrated Building Systems division to the MasterFormat system published by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), Alexandria, Va. What is MasterFormat? Updated every seven years, this paper- and software-based system is a master list of numbers and titles that consulting engineers use to organize information about construction requirements, products, and activities into a standard sequence. Developed by a committee headed by Thomas E. Glavinich, D.E., P.E., chair of the architectural engineering department at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan., NECA’s proposal hopes to accomplish three things:

  • Update the current contents of Division 16 (power, communications, and control) to reflect current technology, equipment, and systems.

  • Expand Division 16 by adding electrical/electronic systems that presently are located elsewhere in other MasterFormat divisions.

  • Change the name of Division 16 to Integrated Building Systems to reflect its expanded content and purpose.

"Our proposal to CSI addresses advances in technology and their impact on modern buildings," says Glavinich. "No other division has experienced more change since the last MasterFormat revision in 1995 than Division 16. Power, communications, and control systems form the central nervous system of modern commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities. And these interrelated systems are increasingly interdependent and inseparable."

According to Dr. Glavinich, expanding Division 16 will enable MasterFormat to reflect today's technology and industry trends, promote a "systems approach" to design and construction, improve the consistency of construction contract documents, provide better coordination of power quality and grounding issues, and give building owners an opportunity to have single-point responsibility for installing and operating related building systems.

Meanwhile, the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) submitted a rival proposal that recommends splitting off telecommunications, local area networks (LANs), sound-video, and other types of low-voltage wiring into a new, separate Division 17 to keep pace with today’s demanding technology requirements. According to NECA's Brooke Stauffer, that's the wrong way to go.

"It's unfortunate that some interests are approaching the revision of MasterFormat in terms of turf issues. CSI's spec system isn't the place to be fighting out business or competitive issues that should be settled in the marketplace,” says Stauffer. “MasterFormat is, or should be, nothing but an impartial, technical tool that building professionals use to help them do the best possible job for their clients—the people who own and occupy buildings.”

The Integrated Building Systems division NECA is proposing represents a major improvement that will help update the MasterFormat system and keep it current with the most recent advances in building technology, says Stauffer.

"Twenty years ago, it might have made sense to give different kinds of electrical and communications wiring their own, smaller, spec divisions,” he says. “The technologies were fairly distinct, each type of system had its own dedicated control box, Ma Bell had a monopoly on doing phone work, and so on."

But today, he notes, these different power, communications, and control technologies are morphing together. Increasingly they're being put in by the same installers, there are lots of operational connections between them, and there are big issues like power quality and grounding that cut across all these technologies that should be approached in a common way, maintains Stauffer. NECA believes splitting apart the specs for designing and installing different electrical, communications, and control systems makes no sense in the year 2001.

"Integrate—don't separate. That's the message we're trying to get across to CSI," says Stauffer. "And that's how we've designed our revision proposal for the MasterFormat specification system. The Integrated Building Systems division is a forward-looking approach that reflects the way buildings are designed and constructed now and in the future."

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