Product specification report

To find out about changing approaches to product specification, Building Boardroom surveyed more than 300 architects. This part of the report reveals what they said about their most and least favoured information sources, and what they seek from manufacturers

Product specification information sources

Access to comprehensive information is critical for correct product specification. Specification parameters include technical performance, environmental credentials, certification, installation details, appearance and finish options. Additionally, architects like case studies as they can get a sense of what the product is like when integrated into a project. We asked our audience what information sources they typically turn to when researching a product’s suitability for a project.

Typically, what information sources do architects turn to when researching a product’s suitability for a project?

Manufacturers’ technical literature is the most used source of information, with 87% of architects saying they use this always or most of the time. Less than 1% of architects never use manufacturers’ technical literature. Conversely, manufacturers’ marketing literature is one of the least used sources, with just 31% of architects saying they use this always or most of the time and 4% saying they never use it. Only two sources are less used than marketing literature: contractor recommendation – which comes bottom – and product webinars and CPD. Prior experience of a product is the second most used source of information, followed by colleague or peer recommendation.

In an open question three-quarters of architects who responded said they use other sources of information, with 27% of the architects who use other information sources using the internet, while 13% refer to case studies in the trade press and 6% use NBS. Architects also use information published by professional bodies such as Historic England, client feedback, internal libraries and online forums and reviews.

Other information manufacturers could provide to help decision-making

A substantial number, 69%, said in answer to an open question that they think manufacturers could offer better information to help specifiers with their decision-making. The biggest percentage, 22% said they want better technical information. This includes easier and faster access to technical information such as helplines and better and more precise technical drawings. A common request was for better information regarding interfaces with other products. Some 19% want more and better-quality case studies, including examples of products that have been in use for a long period of time, better-quality case study images, and examples of where products have been used without any problems.

Several respondents expressed a wish to visit buildings where the product has been used and opportunities to meet the project team or building owner to verify performance. Others want independent comparisons with competitor products. Architects seem largely satisfied with product certification, with only 5% saying they want more rigorous testing. But in a warning shot to manufacturers, 6% mention issues with trust in the light of some of the relevations that have come out of the Grenfell Inquiry. Given the importance specifiers attach to sustainability, manufacturers can draw some comfort from the fact only 5% say they want more information on this topic.

Degree of confidence in product information sources

As some of the responses on the previous point show, some architects are wary of manufacturers’ claims about their products. The Grenfell Inquiry revealed that Kingspan’s K15 insulation product was marketed using the test report of a chemically different product for nearly 15 years. And Celotex used additional fire-stopping measures in a BRE fire test of its RS5000 insulation product, which was not detailed in its marketing literature. We asked our audience to rank the degree of trust they place in a range of different information source options, including manufacturers’ marketing and technical literature.

The degree of trust architects place in a range of information sources

A BBA or other certificate is the most trusted product information source, with 82% of architects saying they have near or full confidence in these. Manufacturers’ technical information does well too, coming in at second place with 68% of architects saying they have near or full confidence in this information source, although the percentage with full confidence is well below that for BBA or other certification. Colleague or peer recommendation also comes out well with 62% having near or full confidence in this. Conversely, marketing information is the least trusted source with only 13% of architects saying they had near or full confidence in this. It has the highest proportion (38%) saying they have near or total distrust in it. Contractor recommendation, CPDs and webinars, and manufacturers’ helplines are middle-ranking as trustworthy sources of information.

What would give architects greater confidence in the products they specify?

The government has responded to the Grenfell disaster by announcing a construction products regulator and the tighter rules around product testing and information disclosure. We asked architects what would give them greater confidence in the products they specify, including a construction products regulator and independent testing of products.

The degree of extra confidence these measures would give architects when specifying products

Independent testing would give architects the greatest confidence in the products they are specifying, with 87% saying it would give them near or total confidence. This is followed by more rigorous testing criteria, with 77% stating this would give them near or total confidence. An opportunity to see the product in situ rates nearly as highly. Despite the government’s introduction of the construction products regulator, this is the measure that would inspire the least confidence with 8% saying it would give them no or very little extra confidence in the products they are specifying. Longer guarantees score barely any better, with more detailed technical information from manufacturers in mid field.

What more could manufacturers do to improve confidence?

We asked architects what else manufacturers can do to improve confidence, in an open question. Responses largely mirrored the options in the list above albeit with greater detail. The most popular option, 37%, is some experience of the product whether this is from previous projects, being able to see it in situ or recommendations from others who have used it. Long-term proof of performance is seen as desirable by many respondents. Some want to see products used and monitored in extreme climates such as by the coast, while others would like examples where products have lasted for decades.

Better testing and certification are cited by 14% of respondents to this question. Architects say they would like products to be randomly selected for testing, fully supervised independent tests and long-term testing that focused on the product in use and in situ. Some would like tests to be insurance backed or signed off by warranty providers such as NHBC. And 6% want better warranties while 4% say the reputation of the manufacturer and how long they had been in business is a factor when choosing which products to specify.