The consequences of swapping out original specified materials

Beware the hidden costs of using a ‘cheaper’ imported product. That’s one of the messages Atkar project manager Travis Parker has for builders looking to swap out materials specified by a project’s architect.

Architects specify materials based on research and experience and stipulate products that are suitable for their required applications. While a tender document may allow for “equivalent” materials to be used as an alternative, all too often these are equivalent only on paper.

While the arguments for following an architect’s specifications apply to all building applications, Parker provides some convincing examples from his experiences working for Atkar supplying acoustic and architectural panel solutions for projects.

“In the past, when we have lost an order to a competitor that initially appears cheaper, there have been unforeseen problems that didn’t surface until after the builder has ordered those products,” Parker says.

“Many suppliers will often charge for a standard panel, then charge extra for custom sizes which easily can add up. Atkar quotes a single rate for our panels that covers standard and custom size panels. With our quotes there aren’t any hidden costs.”

In Parker’s field, another hidden cost for builders choosing non-specified materials is the potential lack of proprietary installation systems, meaning the builder is left to improvise ways to install the lower quality panels. This will ultimately take longer, leading to deadline blowouts and labour costs, and may not stand up to the project’s requirements – leading to yet more delays and costs.

Risk management is another reason wise builders adhere to an architect’s specifications. Builders know that architects carefully invest their time to finding the right products, which is a cost saving in itself for the builder. However just as importantly, if they adhere to the specified products, when something goes wrong builders can rightly claim they were simply following the blueprint and rightly seek the support of the architect to address the situation. Parker worked closely with Building Engineering to deliver an acoustic solution for the University of Melbourne Founder’s Library after Atkar’s products were specified by project architects Peter Elliot.

For Building Engineering contract administration manager David Waters, the reduced risk to the builder when working with architect specified products is the most important reason for adhering to these guidelines. “We assume that risk is minimised as these products have been researched, their quality has been inspected and they have a proven warranty. All of these factors reduce risk for the builder, especially if the product happens to fail,” says Waters.

With all of this in mind, why then might builders deviate from architect specifications? Often it’s because they already have a relationship with another company and are unfamiliar with the products chosen by the architect. Builders should question whether relying on old habits is really the best practice.

Architects specify materials because they care about seeing their designs built the way they envisioned them. However, they are also motivated to safeguard the quality and long-term performance of their buildings. When specifications are ignored, even if it’s a swap to a nominally “equivalent” product, a project’s integrity is often compromised.

“We need to know what we’re getting at the end of the day,” says Gerard McCurry, director of Brand Architects.
Brand Architects specified Atkar’s Au.diLux, Au.diPanel, Au.diStyle and Au.diSlot perforated panels to provide the acoustic solution for Alamanda College’s secondary school building. The scale of the project called for a superior acoustic solution that would meet the design brief and nurture a learning environment.

“We researched and chose these materials for their quality, properties and aesthetics, longevity and cost,” says McCurry.

Ensuring that a client’s vision is met is integral to fulfilling design briefs, especially when working on large-scale projects such as Alamanda College. Researching and specifying certain products is one way that architects can ensure that their project outcomes are met and their designs are built without compromising on quality.

For Atkar, it’s been a case of the builders who have trialled non-specified products turning out to be the best advocates for following an architect’s recommendations.

“Often when a builder has had a bad experience with one of our competitors, they choose to stay with our specified product as they know that they will receive superior service and product right from the quote stage through to after-sales,” Parker says.

“It can save them money in the long run, and it will certainly save them from a lot of stress and unnecessary difficulties with their projects.”