Canadian Consulting Engineer

MasterFormat 2004 and Building Services

May 1, 2005
By Thomas Dunbar, FCSC, RSW

You are no doubt aware that something important is happening in the construction industry. What's changing is MasterFormat, the underlying structure that we use to organize construction information....

You are no doubt aware that something important is happening in the construction industry. What’s changing is MasterFormat, the underlying structure that we use to organize construction information. It is a list of numbers and titles for organizing construction information, in particular for specifications and project manuals.

So fundamental is the system to the construction industry that many who work in the building services industry think of themselves as doing work that is “Division 15” or “Division 16” without realizing that these divisions are part of MasterFormat.

In MasterFormat 2004, gone are the 16 divisions that we have all become so familiar with over the last 40 years. Now we have 50 divisions to deal with.

In the new system the work of Divisions 15 and 16 has been expanded and moved into the Facility Services Subgroup (see sidebar). The traditional Division 15 subject matter, which was for mechanical work, has been split up and distributed throughout three new mechanical divisions. As well, the old Division 16 information is now in four completely new electrical divisions. Division 26 has retained the name Electrical and includes all the items left after the creation of divisions 25, 27 and 28.

The creation of a wider spectrum of divisions does not mean that different sub-contractors will automatically bid on each division. It is expected that general contractors will still require a prime mechanical and a prime electrical contractor to bid on what was always traditionally mechanical or electrical work.

Having said that, there will be situations where large portions of specialized work, say in communication systems or fire protection, will be bid as separate sub-contracts. This type of situation already happens and has very little to do with either the old or the new versions of MasterFormat. MasterFormat is not intended to show either discipline or trade jurisdiction.

Much of the information related to both fire protection and controls had previously been located in Division 13 simply because there was inadequate space in 15 and 16. These systems have been broken out and given divisions of their own. There is also a division specifically for Plumbing. The change is for consistency with the rest of the industry since most of the CAD developers include Plumbing as a separate drawing sheet. It was a controversial decision and was discussed at the committee meetings for a long time.

With multiple divisions for both mechanical and electrical work in MasterFormat, consultants may think this opens up the need for more specialized sections in a master specification system. However, this does not have to be the case.

An example of more specialized sections is in Hangers and Supports. Currently most master specification systems have a section titled Hangers and Supports for Mechanical Systems, or something similar. There is now the opportunity to have sections titled Hangers and Supports for Fire Suppression Systems, Hangers and Supports for Plumbing Systems, and Hangers and Supports for HVAC Systems. It doesn’t mean that you need all three of these sections in your project manual even if you have specification sections for all three types of work results. The three master specification sections should be written in such a way that they can be edited either for individual divisions, or for mechanical work in general.

The next change that we come upon is the Site and Infrastructure Subgroup. It is the new location for most of the subject matter that was previously covered in the old Division 2. It includes Division 31 Earthwork, Division 32 Exterior Improvements, Division 33 Utilities, Division 34 Transportation, and Division 35 Waterway and Marine Construction.

For the mechanical and electrical disciplines, Division 33 Utilities is where you will find subject matter related to drainage as well as electrical poles, lines, etc. Division 34 Transportation also includes electrical work related to airport lighting.

Finally, MasterFormat 2004 has adopted a new numbering system for its section titles. The previous five-digit numbering system had become overcrowded due to industry advances over the last 40 years. Mechanical and electrical subjects had been forced into unnatural and illogical locations which meant that the system had become unwieldy and did not work well with modern data and classification systems.

The new numbering system follows a traditional classification organizational structure and works with pairs of digits in the numbering system. Each pair of numbers allows for 99 sub-level locations for information and section titles rather than the 9 sub-levels that the previous system allowed.

The implementation of the new system in construction design offices across Canada is taking place, and although most people instinctively don’t want change, they generally admit that the new system is a big improvement over the previous versions of MasterFormat. The inconvenience and expense of this change will be well worth the effort when we see the final results in a few years.

Thomas Dunbar, FCSC, RSW is vice-president of Construction Specifications Canada and manager of the Canadian National Master Construction Specification (NMS) Secretariat of Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC). See also CCE, January-February 2005, p. 43.


Division 20 – Reserved for Future Expansion

Division 21 – Fire Suppression

Division 22 – Plumbing

Division 23 – Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning

Division 24 – Reserved for Future Expansion

Division 25 – Integrated Automation

Division 26 – Electrical

Division 27 – Communications

Division 28 – Electronic Safety and Security

Division 29 – Reserved for Future Expansion


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