CSI's Division 17: The Great Debate

MasterFormat, the Construction Specifications Institute's (CSI) industry standard for categorizing building components has essentially retained the same structure since its inception, organizing major building systems into 16 divisions. However, this may soon change...


MasterFormat, the Construction Specifications Institute's (CSI) industry standard for categorizing building components has essentially retained the same structure since its inception, organizing major building systems into 16 divisions. However, this may soon change.

A number of organizations, including BICSI: A Telecommunications Association and Building Owners and Managers Association International, have banded together to propose the addition of Division 17, designated for telecommunications technology. But the telecommunications industry has found itself battling electrical contractors on the issue.

If the proposed changes to the 2002 MasterFormat are accepted, the standard would split off telecommunications, local area networks, security, audio/video and other types of low-voltage wiring from Division 16, Electrical, into a new and separate Division 17.

"Bringing these services out from under the umbrella of the electrical contractor and Division 16 is expected to allow more direct input from telecommunications professionals," says Jeffrey Lupinacci, a senior telecommunications designer with Harrisburg, Pa.-based Brinjac Engineering.

However, organizations on the electrical side, including the National Electrical Contractors Association, are fighting Division 17, and instead calling for revision and expansion of Division 16.

NECA's proposed revisions would:

  • Update the current contents of Division 16 to reflect current technology, equipment and systems.

  • Expand Division 16 by adding electrical and electronic systems that presently are located in other MasterFormat divisions.

  • Change the name of Division 16 to "Integrated Building Systems" to reflect the revisions.

"Twenty years ago, it might have made sense to give different kinds of electrical and communications wiring their own, smaller specification divisions," says Brooke Stauffer, NECA's codes and standards director. "Back then, the technologies were fairly distinct—each type of system had its own dedicated control box."

But today, he notes, these different power, communications and control technologies are morphing together. And because this equipment is being put in by the same installers, many operational connections exist between them, and issues like power quality and grounding also cut across these electrical and telecommunications technologies.

"It all should be approached in a common way, not a fragmented one," says Stauffer. "Splitting apart the specs for designing and installing different electrical, communications and control systems just makes no sense at all, here in the year 2001."

Similarly, Thomas E. Glavinich, chair of the architectural engineering department at the University of Kansas and head of the committee that developed NECA's proposal said, "Power, communications and control systems form the central nervous system of modern facilities. And these interrelated systems are increasingly interdependent and inseparable."

After reviewing the proposals, CSI is expected to make a decision on the issue by early 2002.

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