If someone were to ask you what Division 17 is all about, would you know? Chances are that you may not yet, but you will soon. Before you can understand Division 17, first you have to be familiar with the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI).

CSI is an individual membership technical society whose core purpose is to improve the process of creating and sustaining the built environment. One of the ways in which it improves the process is by creating the “MasterFormat,” a master list of numbers and titles for organizing information about construction requirements, products, and activities into a standard sequence. The MasterFormat was introduced in 1963. The latest edition was published in 1995.

Currently, the MasterFormat contains 16 different sections, or divisions (see Table 1). Many out there in the industry feel there is now a need for a new division, Division 17 (see Table 2). This division would address telecommunication and building automation systems and ensure that these systems are designed into a building during the design phase of the project (vs. the more traditional method of retrofitting them into the building while it is being constructed).

One of the people involved with creating the proposed Division 17 is Thomas Rauscher, president of Archi-Technology, Rochester, NY. He found that on a national level, there was no real effective means to communicate multisite requirements to all the varying contractors in the industry.

In addition, he found that he was too often responding to telecommunications scopes or projects as a subcontractor to the electrical contractor.

“Often the electrical contractors wouldn’t have any details, and we’d have to figure it out. It was the lack of details coming out of the design and construction industry standard models and the fact that we were always subordinated to the electricals, because that’s where the MasterFormat identified communications and audio/video. But there’s no real detail, it’s just categories. We wanted to come up with a better way to coordinate the design and project management and construction,” says Rauscher.

So Division 17 was drafted as an add-on to the MasterFormat that’s currently available. The initial document was presented in 1998, and those in the building automation industry took notice. They started asking why they weren’t included in the Division 17 document, as they’re often lumped into the tail-end of Division 13. Version 2, which came out in Feb. 1999, had a lot of industry input and also includes information on fire, alarm, security, and building automation systems. It’s currently available to download at www.division17.net.

Division 17 is now a robust volunteer organization that is currently working on Version 3. The intention is to represent, as a collective industry, a ratified document that the whole industry basically signs off on. CSI is reviewing Version 2, and has established a MasterFormat expansion task team. The task team will collect input and feedback, then make its decision at the end of the year as to whether or not to include Division 17 in the next version of the MasterFormat.


Many building automation manufacturers are behind Div-ision 17 for several reasons. The first is to make sure technology issues are planned for up front in the construction process.

“From a bas standpoint and an IT network standpoint, there are so many benefits that technology can provide — and the costs for those benefits are lower than ever,” says Steve Thomas, manager of marketing communications, Controls Group, Johnson Controls. “But the current construction process usually means that bas and IT issues are addressed near the end of a construction project.”

By that point, budgets are tight, timelines are tight, and the physical structure is pretty far along. When this happens, the technology is fit around the structure and the main goal is to get an adequate solution at the lowest possible price.

“There is a lot of technology in a building today, but most of it is stand-alone technology that maximizes the performance of a piece of equipment (a chiller, for instance). At best, building automation systems today are used to maximize the performance of the hvac system,” notes Thomas. “But why not plan from the start to maximize the performance of the building — using all the available technology? Division 17 would allow, not require, this kind of thinking to happen,” he says.

Having Division 17 in place would also benefit contractors and end users, because at this point, technology is not being leveraged. Division 17 might suggest that a technology contractor is needed at the table when the building is being designed, and that the owner might want to plan to take advantage of the full capabilities of the technology. The result should be more efficient, better-run facilities. And the cost does not have to be higher.

“In fact, the cost could be less than using the fragmented process we use today, with five or six different systems designed and installed by five or six different contractors using five or six independent networks (e.g., fire alarm, bas, lighting, access control, and IT systems and their related networks),” states Thomas.

The one challenge that will arise is that all of these industries (fire, bas, lighting) are fairly unique, and Division 17 would be, in a sense, creating an industry of industries. “What we may see are prime contractors that won’t be the electrical contractor; instead, the primes may be one of the TACS (technology and communication systems) contractors. Coordination in and amongst the industries of technology and communications is going to be one of the issues,” says Rauscher.

But both Rauscher and Thomas firmly believe that Division 17 is the way to go. In fact, Rauscher notes that he’d love to hear from people in the field. “We’re still looking for volunteers and feedback and ideas and suggestions. We want to make sure this is an open industry-type document.

“We want to approach it as if it was a standards process, even though it isn’t necessarily going through a standards-writing body. We want to make sure it’s not vendor specific, there’s no bias, and that everyone has a chance to comment on it.”

To comment Division 17, contact Rauscher at 716-424-1952, ext. 22; tomr@archi-technology.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 12/10/2001