More than one side to Division 17

March 1, 2002
We have followed the "Division 17" initiative debate for some time, and until we read the Perspective column in the January issue (page 10) of this publication, we never had the impression that the press understood there might actually be another side to the issue
Greg Hoffman
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We have followed the "Division 17" initiative debate for some time, and until we read the Perspective column in the January issue (page 10) of this publication, we never had the impression that the press understood there might actually be another side to the issue. The ultimate goal of the Division 17 campaign must be to improve the industry. Any other purpose will only appear as a thinly veiled attempt to stake out territory, whether it is on the part of NECA (National Electrical Contractors or BICSI (

There are two overriding issues that never seem to be discussed in the professional press. The first is that the CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) 1-16 division format was never intended to be a division of labor. It was developed as a standard for organizing specifications. On most small to medium-sized projects, there is only one contractual relationship governing construction-between the project owner and the entity doing the construction. It is the sole responsibility and privilege of that entity to divide the labor among whatever group of subcontractors, or its own workers, it may choose.

Too often, the argument for a Division 17 comes off sounding like somebody claiming they cannot bid projects unless the work they wish to provide is described in a separate portion of the specifications. We hope a "land grab" is not the unstated goal of the Division 17 advocates. Outside of describing installer qualifications, there is nothing in the MasterFormat document that dictates who can or should furnish and install the various systems included in the specifications. In cluding a Division 17 will not change that fact.

Bruce Turner
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Second, it is not necessary to have a separate specification division in order to provide a totally integrated building systems design, which includes telecommunications, fire alarm, cable television, closed-circuit television, sound reinforcement, security/access, and similar systems. Our firm and its parent company (Northwest Architectural Company) have been providing fully integrated system designs for years. We have staff with both registered professional engineer (PE) and registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) credentials. We also have expertise in electrical power, lighting, and control systems. We have successfully designed and specified all of these systems using the existing Division 16 format. Contractors have successfully bid and constructed these systems using the existing Division 16 format.

In our firm, low-voltage system design begins in the schematic phase of the project, and is fully integrated throughout the entire design period. Interface issues with architectural and mechanical disciplines are fully addressed. We are continually amazed when we read comments by telecommunications contractors saying they have "no place in the trailer," as was indicated in the January 2002 editorial (page 5) in Cabling Contractor magazine ( That will never be the case on any project with which we are involved. And we expect that Mr. Adams, a contributor to the January 2002 Perspective column in this magazine, would say the same about his firm.

Rather than push for a structural revision to the specifications manual, owners should hire design firms that understand the importance of all building systems, understand the necessary interfaces between disciplines, and are able to develop complete design documents that put it all together.

If the industry thinks that the creation of a Division 17 will automatically result in fully integrated system design, it is in for a disappointment. That result will come only from using competent design organizations.

Revisiting the MasterFormat may be a good idea. But if it is done, it should be because it is good for the industry, and not for a certain sector of the industry. To date, we do not feel that has been the underlying purpose.

Greg Hoffman is an RCDD and Bruce Turner is a PE with NAC Engineering in Spokane, WA.

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