The Benefits of MasterFormat

Hospitals, medical offices and other healthcare facilities are very complex. They have security, notification, HVAC, back-up power, medical gas and other sophisticated systems that exceed the requirements of your average institutional building. In addition, green building is becoming more popular, adding another level of requirements to facilities pursuing certification programs such as LEED for Healthcare, which opened project registration on Nov. 15, 2010, and becomes available to certify facilities this spring.
Doctors, nurses and patients depend on a medical facility and its systems to function properly 24/7. It is critical that design and construction professionals understand the detailed specifications for a healthcare facility, to ensure that the building will perform properly once the keys are handed over to the owner. It takes teamwork and clear communication to achieve this goal.
Since the 1960s, architects, specifiers, engineers, contractors, facilities managers and others have turned to MasterFormat – developed and maintained by the Construction Specifications Institute and Construction Specifications Canada – to prepare construction documents. It is the most common standard for organizing specifications for commercial and institutional buildings in the United States and Canada, because it helps improve communication between members of the design and construction team by providing a master list of numbers and titles to organize project manuals and detailed cost information. These numbers and titles also help relate notations on construction drawings to the project’s specifications. By facilitating the project delivery process, MasterFormat can help design and construction professionals meet a project’s budget and schedule requirements.
The standard is updated regularly to reflect changing industry practices, new technologies and feedback from users. MasterFormat features 50 divisions to classify work results, and its structure is designed to easily accommodate growth and expansion.
As a standard filing system for written project information, MasterFormat provides a master list of numbers and titles for the construction requirements and associated activities of commercial, industrial and institutional building projects, whether it’s an elementary school in El Paso or a hospital in Halifax. It helps every discipline involved in the design, construction and operations of buildings.
Separate divisions for work results such as electrical, communications, integrated building systems, and safety and security systems help ensure that construction information is well organized. For example, Division 23 covers HVAC requirements; Division 28 covers electronic safety and security; and Division 33 covers utilities. Specific to healthcare facilities is a series of sections in relevant divisions covering commissioning of the systems specified, such as 23 08 00 for commissioning HVAC, as well as common commissioning activities in Division 01.
There are numbers and titles to classify green building and other environmental performance requirements under Division 01 that cover project information such as sustainable design and indoor air quality.
One of our agency’s consulting architects said most of its medical clients require MasterFormat to more fully document their complex systems. The firm does not keep precise statistics on how many of its clients do, since they use the updated version on every project. Many of its healthcare projects use construction managers to coordinate the process, whose management software is based on MasterFormat, UniFormat or both. Our agency adopted the 50-division MasterFormat in January 2006, and state-funded universities and their hospital systems have followed the mandate since that date.
Using MasterFormat as the standard for construction documents also helps architects and contractors working on renovations or additions in the future easily retrieve the data they may need. It is also important for the use of building information modeling. More and more master specifications and modeling software systems are using MasterFormat’s 50-division format to aid data interoperability and the adoption of BIM. There are significant efficiencies to be achieved with BIM integration on medical projects, such as allowing opportunities to fabricate major assemblies offsite.
Responding to Industry Changes
Last year, CSI and CSC announced the first updates to the standard under a new predictable revision schedule. It included the first new division added since the 50-division structure was introduced in MasterFormat 2004. Another change involved improvements to the section for polished concrete under Division 3.
Each spring, CSI plans to release a limited, grouped set of revisions to MasterFormat. The MasterFormat Maintenance Task Team oversees the revision process, which includes reviewing changes suggested by MasterFormat users. The group includes volunteers from CSI, CSC and representatives from major publishers of construction specifications.
By fostering detailed construction specifications, MasterFormat helps every discipline involved in the design, construction and operation of medical facilities and other institutional buildings. To learn more, please visit
Lane J. Beougher, AIA, FCSI, LEED AP BD+C, is the Interim State Architect for the State of Ohio. Beougher is also a vice president of the Construction Specifications Institute and a former member of the Institute Technical Committee and MasterFormat Implementation Task Team. He can be contacted via e-mail at

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