Bonus Feature: The Handbook To Building – MasterFormat

By Dennis Hall
From the March 2003 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Being a facility manager requires multitasking on a daily basis. Some of these job responsibilities include supervising staff, specifying work orders, purchasing products and services, and troubleshooting problem areas. When it comes to troubleshooting-whether it be a mammoth convention center or a small office building-facility managers must be diligent and watchful of the usual dangers as well as the unexpected ones.

Now imagine for a minute getting a blueprint on how to run individual facilities-no matter what the size or the problem. Most would think such a document for any industry would be impossible to compose or follow. However, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) has developed such a document.

This standard, called the MasterFormat, serves as the Dewey Decimal System for the commercial construction industry. MasterFormat provides the organizational framework of the written and graphical instructions for the complete construction of commercial buildings. This document has been the most used format for specifications concerning nonresidential building projects in the United States and Canada.


MasterFormat is the standard for titling and arranging construction project manuals containing bidding requirements, contracting requirements, and specifications. Created in 1963, the standard divides construction into diverse categories such as masonry and site construction. Each category contains a subset organized by numbers.

MasterFormat is a crucial system that gives structure and consistency to the complicated process of building all types of structures. Architects, builders, and contractors use it when drawing up plans.

Along the way, it is often used in other parts of the building process as well. For example, the system can be employed when project teams are bidding on contracts or writing insurance policies. Having this system in place helps projects get completed on time, within budget, and to the owners’ specifications.

Time For A Change

As with any industry, the construction business has undergone a severe transformation in the last 40 years. Due in large part to these changes, CSI’s Executive Committee decided to revise the system.

This committee has, thus far, held three industry wide symposiums and four Web discussion forums to solicit informational feedback from the construction community. While this process moves forward, CSI will continue to ask people how to make the standard even more encompassing and comprehensive.

The current edition of the MasterFormat is dated 1995 and is generally known as MF 95. The updated version is slated for completion in the summer of 2004, and in all probability will be named MasterFormat 04.

The committee recently approved a concept for revising and expanding the 16-division specifications system. The latest version being developed contains the most sweeping changes ever, in part because of recent developments in computer networks and telecommunications.

The expansion’s primary impact will be in the attempt to integrate better communications and safety systems into buildings. And because of their importance to end users, the document houses new divisions in communications and life safety. The latter includes fire, security, and electrical construction.

Building safety issues have obviously been a top priority since 9/11, and they have prompted the task force to emphasize such features of a building. While these features are commonly installed after a building is constructed, the view that such should be dealt with from a building’s inception is a departure from the previous standard. Formerly, the document separated the construction process into 16 divisions, but the expansion will more than double that number.

Consequently, MasterFormat users will have to adjust to some significant differences. For instance, electrical power, communications, and life safety systems have all been under the electrical division of the current MasterFormat. The expanded version will separate them into three different divisions.

Where Facility Managers Come In

Until now, facility managers have had, at best, a peripheral relationship with the MasterFormat. That will change with MF 04. The expanded MasterFormat will do several things for facility managers the current edition doesn’t. First, it will provide expanded life cycle activities sections. This will enable facility managers to specify maintenance and repair activities, recycling, and other life cycle activities using the same format and numbering structure as the construction specifications.

A facility services grouping in the document will include mechanical, electrical, communications, fire suppression, life safety, and automated controls divisions. This expansion of the so called traditional “building engineering” divisions will provide additional space in MasterFormat for more subject matter.


The goal of a new and improved MasterFormat is nearly here. April 9-11 at Construct America in Chicago, CSI will introduce the latest version of the draft. CSI is welcoming all professionals to comment on this latest draft-either at the show or online.

CSI recognizes that information is not only required for the actual construction process, but also needed for the life of the building afterwards. Construction is only a small part of the life cycle. Once a building is constructed, much care and maintenance is needed to ensure its utility and stability for years to come.

Hall is currently the chairman of the Construction Specifications Institutes’ MasterFormat Expansion Task Team and is the founder and president of Charlotte, NC-based Hall Architects, Inc.