How to use workmanship and quality in construction documents

The terms workmanship and quality are often used interchangeably; however, the correct usage of one may be dependent on the other, and there are limitations on how each term should be used.


Workmanship is not defined in Division 01 – General Requirements or the American Institute of Architects A201 – General Conditions of the Contract for Construction. The American Heritage Dictionary defines workmanship as "1. The skill of a craftsperson or artisan. 2. The quality of something made, as by an artisan. 3. Something made or produced by workman. 4. The product of an effort or endeavor." As there is more than one definition that could pertain to construction, it is not clear which definition is suitable for use in a construction contract.


Additionally, one must clearly specify if the workmanship in question pertains to the manufacture of the product, the installation of the product, or both.


Workmanship therefore must be linked to specific and measureable qualities, and general statements such as "good workmanship" should be avoided unless used in a fashion that establishes a level of quality. When qualifier's such as "good" are used, they must be used carefully. If the term is not defined within the project documents, adding an additional undefined term introduces a level of ambiguity into the term. Legally, unless defined in the project documents, "good workmanship" is subject to what is called "personal taste". Personal taste is subjective – what is "good" to one person may be merely adequate to another.


Defining such qualifiers can be done in several places in the specifications, such as using standards and codes as established benchmarks; requiring a certain level of qualifications for the trades, manufacturers, and installers involved in the project work; and acceptable tolerances of the finished work.


An example of establishing such a level of workmanship is to reference trade association standards. For electrical work, the National Electrical Contractors Association's National Electrical Installation Standard NECA 1-2010, "Good Workmanship in Electrical Contracting," is referenced in Article 110.12 of the National Electrical Code. NECA 1 defines "neat and workmanlike manner," and if the standard is referenced in the specification, it may be used as a general term in certain conditions.


Quality is another term that is not defined in either Division 01 or A201. While there are also several definitions for quality in The American Heritage Dictionary, the first, "an inherent or distinguishing characteristic; a property," is adequate when used in construction.


However, much like workmanship, quality should not be used on its own and needs to be defined when used as a qualifier in grammar. A certain quality of construction is reached by qualifying (defined as "to describe by enumerating the characteristics of or qualities of") the tolerances, finish, operation, or build characteristics of the product. The concept of good, better, and best as they relate to increased tolerance is an example of how the specifier must qualify the quality of construction with measureable standards.


Two important items often overlooked is that the level of workmanship must correlate with the quality of the products and that the desired result must be attainable. The level of workmanship that may be attained is limited by the quality of the product. Due to differences in tolerances, quality control, and standards, a lower-quality product may not be installed with the same level of workmanship as a high-quality product.


Once the specifier has defined the level of workmanship and the quality of the product's construction, the terms workmanship and quality are intertwined. Be careful with their use and realize the limitations.


Have you used these terms interchangeably?

Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOMMasterSpec. He has more than 10 years' experience in consulting engineering, and is the lead author of MasterSpec Electrical, Communications, and Electronic Safety and Security guide specifications. He holds a BSEE from Drexel University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Engineering Management, also at Drexel University.

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