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This article was published in ASHRAE Journal, August 2014. Copyright 2014 ASHRAE. Posted at www.ashrae.org. This article may not be copied and/or
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Specifying... Or Equal

When designing an HVAC system, one key element of an engineers responsibility is

to prepare plans and specifications that provide the level of information reasonably
required to construct the project in conformance with applicable codes and sound
design practice. That responsibility usually means showing one way to make the
system work. The plans and specifications also must be sufficiently free of ambiguity
that the contractors and their suppliers can discern the design intent. Engineers typi-
cally meet that requirement by identifying the major equipment that makes up the
basis of design for the job by make and often model.
In an effort to promote competition, specifications translates into fewer labor hours and lower cost.
often let the contractor use products that are equal A history of better service from the supplier or rep-
to the products that are the basis of design. Sometimes resentative, including schedule and delivery consider-
the specification identifies a product and says or ations.
equal. Sometimes the specification identifies more Better pricing, which translates to a lower bid and
than one manufacturer whose products are acceptable. ultimately a lower project cost for the owner.
Even when manufacturers are listed as acceptable, it is Equal does not mean identical. Part of a manufactur-
important to say, or equal by .... There can easily be ers job is to differentiate its products from its competi-
cases where an acceptable manufacturers product does tors products. That differentiation might come in the
not provide performance equal to the specified product. form of subtle differences in design or materials of con-
The contractors motivation to propose an equal is struction. Engineers evaluating proposed equals often
not necessarily a desire to cheapen the job. There are have to rule on whether those differences are functional
legitimate business reasons a contractor might want differences (making the products not equal) or mere
to use a brand of equipment different from the brand product differentiation (making the products function-
the engineer used as the basis of design. Those reasons ally equivalent or equal).
include: Many construction contracts incorporate AIA
Familiarity with the product, which potentially A201-2007, General Conditions of the Contract for

Kenneth M. Elovitz, P.E., Esq., is a professional engineer at Energy Economics, Inc., in Foxboro, Mass.

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Construction. Sections 4.2.11, 4.2.12, and 4.2.13 of

EJCDC C-700, 6.05, Substitutes and Or-Equals
that document give the architect (or his designee) the
A. Whenever an item of material or equipment is specified or de-
authority to interpret performance requirements of
scribed in the Contract Documents by using the name of a proprietary
the contract. That authority to interpret extends to
item or the name of a particular Supplier, the specification or descrip-
evaluating equals. But A201 does not provide any tion is intended to establish the type, function, appearance, and quality
guidance on how to exercise that authority. Another required. Unless the specification or description contains or is followed
standard form contract, Document C-700, Standard by words reading that no like, equivalent, or or-equal item or no sub-
General Conditions of the Construction Contract (2007 stitution is permitted, other items of material or equipment or material or
edition), prepared by the Engineers Joint Contract equipment of other Suppliers may be submitted to Engineer for review
Documents Committee (EJCDC) provides some guid- under the circumstances described below.
ance. Although EJCDC C-700 is not often used for 1. Or-Equal Items: If in Engineers sole discretion an item
building construction projects, the following language of material or equipment proposed by Contractor is func-
from that document can help engineers determine tionally equal to that named and sufficiently similar so that no
when a proposed product is equal (see sidebar, change in related Work will be required, it may be consid-
EJCDC C-700, 6.05, Substitutes and Or-Equals). ered by Engineer as an or-equal item, in which case review
and approval of the proposed item may, in Engineers sole
Equal or Substitution discretion, be accomplished without compliance with some
A proposed equal is not a substitution. A substitution or all of the requirements for approval of proposed substi-
is tantamount to a design changeit proposes to achieve tute items. For the purposes of this Paragraph 6.05.A.1, a
the same or a different result with different equipment proposed item of material or equipment will be considered

or a different technology. functionally equal to an item so named if:

A proposal to use a chiller with a screw compressor a. in the exercise of reasonable judgment Engineer deter-

instead of a centrifugal compressor uses a different tech- mines that:

1) it is at least equal in materials of construction, quality,
nology so would be a substitution, not an equal. Strictly
durability, appearance, strength, and design character-
speaking, a substitution requires a change order.
A proposal to use an in-line pump instead of an end
2) it will reliably perform at least equally well the function
suction pump, even with identical performance, would
and achieve the results imposed by the design concept
likewise be a substitution, not an equal, because the pro-
of the completed Project as a functioning whole; and
posed in-line pump is different in kind or type from the
3) it has a proven record of performance and availability
end suction pump that is the basis of design.
of responsive service.
For the most part, equals consist of the same type of
b. Contractor certifies that, if approved and incorporated
product from a different manufacturer. into the Work:
1) there will be no increase in cost to the Owner or in-
Is It Equal? crease in Contract Times; and
The following discussion highlights some of the con- 2) it will conform substantially to the detailed require-
siderations engineers face when determining whether ments of the item named in the Contract Documents.
a submitted product is equal to the product that is the
basis of design.
Information in the project specifications constitutes
Example 1: End Suction Pump contract requirements that the contractor must meet.
An engineer selected an end suction pump to deliver 130 Additional information or features described in the
gpm at a head of 65 ft (8 L/s at 194 kPa) and chose manu- manufacturers data sheets are probably not enforceable
facturer Red as the basis of design. The engineer incorpo- as contract requirements. If they were important to the
rated Reds guide specification into the project specifica- project, they would be in the specs.
tions. Various bidders submit pumps from manufacturers Table 1 compares various properties of the three pumps
Blue and Green as proposed equals. The engineer must and gives rise to the following observations and analy-
decide whether Blue and Green are equal to Red. sis of some of the feature differences. Evaluation as an

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equal depends on the application. TABLE 1 

Pump manufacturer comparison.
Some of the features discussed MAKE BLUE GREEN RED
below might have performance MODEL LF FI e-1510
implications in one application but
not another.
CASINGSPEC Close Grain Cast Iron Class 30 Cast Iron Class 30 Cast Iron
IMPELLERSPEC Lead Free Bronze Bronze Stainless Steel
Analysis 2
SHAFTSPEC Carbon Steel Alloy Steel Stainless Steel
The specification calls for Grade
BEARING TYPE Ball Ball Rolling Contact
30 cast iron, so Greens pump cas-
ing should be OK as an equal. The BALANCING (FACTORY) Not Stated Grade G6.3 Grade G6.3
grade of cast iron relates to strength, RATING Not Stated 250F 225F
so Blue would have to show that the
WORKING PRESSURE Not Stated Not Stated 175 psi
close grain cast iron it uses has
performance equal to or better than
CASINGDATA SHEET A48 Class 30 A48 Class 30 A48 Class 30
Grade 30 cast iron. It is probably
OK to rely on Greens product data B584/C87600 B21 B584-836 Bronze1
IMPELLERDATA SHEET Silicon Bronze Leaded Red Brass A743 Gr CF8 Type 304
sheet to conclude that Greens pump
is rated for 175 psi (1206 kPa), like AISI 1144 AISI 1045 ASTM 108 Gr 1144
Reds. However, to be an equal, Blue SHAFTDATA SHEET 0.45% C (90 ksi yield) 0.45% C (45 ksi yield) (90 ksi yield)

would have to show that the rating Tin Bronze, B584-90500

of its casing is at least 175 psi (1206 WEAR RING (B18) Optional Not Stated
kPa). WORKING PRESSURE Not Stated 175 psi Not Stated
The specification calls for a SELECTION FOR 130 GPM AT 65 FT
stainless steel shaft, based on Reds RATED RPM 1,775 1,760 1,750
guide spec. However, Reds data BHP 3.28 3.51 3.23
sheet identifies Reds shaft as a EFFICIENCY 65.0% 61.0% 67.6%
grade of carbon steel, not stain-
less steel. Since Red is the basis of Right of Peak Efficiency Right of Peak Efficiency Left of Peak Efficiency
design, the requirement for a stain- Manufacturers literature says bronze, but the alloy designation is leaded red brass. Strictly speaking, brass is a type of bronze.
2Guide spec says stainless steel, but the alloy listed on the data sheet is not a stainless steel.
less steel shaft probably has to be
waived for Red and for the other
manufacturers. Astute engineers will check and edit that requirement should be stated clearly in the
manufacturers guide specs to be sure they do not call specification.
for features not applicable to or necessary for the job. Blue and Green provide ball bearings, which meets
With regard to the impeller, is Reds choice of the requirement for rolling contact bearings in the spec-
stainless steel a functional consideration or a matter ifications based on Reds guide spec. What if the Blue or
of product differentiation? In a closed loop HVAC sys- Green were the basis of design and Reds rolling con-
tem with proper water treatment, the bronzes prob- tact bearings are sleeve bearings not ball bearings? Is
ably have corrosion resistance and durability equal to Red an equal? Maybe not, if the engineer specified ball
Reds stainless steel impeller. Engineers should not bearings and there is an engineering reason to prefer
back door flat spec Red by enforcing the require- ball bearings over sleeve bearings in this application.
ment for a stainless steel impeller. Likewise, if Blue or Reds pump is the most efficient of the three. Unless
Green were the basis of design, it would not be appro- efficiency is clearly stated as an important feature of the
priate to reject Red on the basis that its impeller is basis of design, the slight increase in Blues brake horse-
stainless steel instead of bronze. On the other hand, if power (3.28 vs. Reds 3.23 [2.45 vs. 2.41 kW]) is probably
the chemistry of the circulating fluid makes the com- not enough to say Blue is not equal. Greens lower effi-
position of the impeller an important consideration, ciency results in 3.51 bhp (2.62 kW). If motor efficiency

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is 90% and the pump operates 6,000 hours/year at TABLE 2 

Chiller comparison.
constant speed, Greens pump will use 1,400 kWh/year
MANUFACTURER New York Minnesota Wisconsin Pennsylvania
($210 at $0.15/kWh) more than Reds. Is that enough of
a difference to say Greens pump is not equal? A close
NOM. TONS 70 70 70 70
call. The call gets even closer if the pump will operate at
AHRI TONS 68.9 64.1 67.7 71
variable speed because the operating cost difference gets
much smaller in absolute kWh or dollars. AHRI COMPR KW 75.1 Not Given Not Given Not Given

My conclusion: If Red is the basis of design, Blue is an AHRI FAN KW 6.4 Not Given Not Given Not Given
equal as long as Blue can show that its casing meets the AHRI TOTAL KW 81.4 79.3 80.8 77.5
175 psi (1206 kPa) rating. Green is an equal if the operat- FL KW/TON 1.18 1.24 1.19 1.09
ing cost difference is small enough to be insignificant; FULL LOAD EER 10.2 9.7 10.1 10.1
otherwise, Green is not equal. IPLV 15.2 15.4 15.6 16.1
NOMINAL GPM 165.4 153.8 162.5 170.4
Example 2: Air-Cooled Chiller COOLER PD (FT) 19.5 13.3 Not Given 12.5
An engineer designs a chilled water system that requires REFRIGERANT R-410A R-410A R-410A R-410A
132 gpm (8.33 L/s) of water at 44F (6.67C) supply, NUMBER OF
returning at 56F (13C), for a load of 66 tons (232 kW). COMPRESSORS 5 4 4 6
The schedule page of the drawings lists those criteria and MCA (460/3) 155.7 138 148 179
says nominal 70 tons in a column titled capacity. A MOCP (460/3) 175 150 175 200
note says Design Based on New York. Various bidders ICF (460/3) 301.1 Not Given Not Given Not Given
submit chillers by other manufacturers. Table 2 compares REC. FUSE
key features of nominal 70 ton (246 kW) chillers from four (460/3) 175 150 Not Given 175
manufacturers. Are the other three chillers equal to SPL DB-A Not Given 65 Not Given Not Given
New Yorks nominal 70 ton chiller for this application? Galvanized
Steel With
Baked Galvanized
Analysis Enamel Steel With Galvanized
Powder Coat Painted Powder Steel With
The job criteria call for 66 tons of cooling capacity, CABINET or Prepaint Steel Coat Powder Coat
but the schedule also identifies the chiller as nominal 1000 Hour
70 tons. Does Minnesotas chiller comply, even though it Passes B117 Passes B117 Salt
500 Hour B117 500 Spray Test w/
delivers only 64 tons (225 kW)? Minnesota could almost Salt Spray Hour Salt D1654 Rating
certainly deliver the stated capacity with the next size CABINET Test Spray Test of 6
chiller, but most likely at higher cost. An aggressive Brazed Type
316 Brazed Brazed
contractor could argue that because the schedule says Stainless Stainless Stainless Brazed
nominal 70 tons, Minnesotas chiller qualifies as an COOLER Steel Steel Steel Stainless Steel
equal. Engineers are not expected to know the ins and Aluminum
outs of every product a contractor might propose for a Aluminum
job. Engineers might avoid this type of problem if the Fin With Copper Copper Coils and Fins
Corrosion Tube/ Tube/ Same
plans and specifications clearly identify what informa- Resistant Aluminum Aluminum Material (Type
tion relates to performance (so represents required CONDENSER Coating Fin Fin Not Stated)
features) vs. what information is provided to help the DISCHARGE
SERVICE VALVES Yes Not Stated Not Stated Yes
contractor identify the product the engineer used as the
basis of design.
Suppose Minnesotas chiller was the basis of design. acceptable manufacturer but effectively exclude its chiller?
New Yorks chiller has a higher evaporator pressure drop A better solution for the success of the job might be to
so might change the pump selection. Does that mean include language in the specifications that explicitly makes
New York is not equal to Minnesota? Perhaps. Is evapo- contractors responsible for design changes that flow from
rator pressure drop a sneaky way to list New York as an their choice of proposed equals to the product that is the

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basis of design. That way, the engineer could accept New contractor or vendor who wants to use a product dif-
Yorks chiller and make the contractor responsible to adjust ferent from the basis of design. Of course, the engineer
the pump selection, probably with a minor impeller size might also decide that the complications of the electrical
change, to accommodate the contractors preferred vendor. change and required electrical design analysis mean
Minnesotas chiller has a painted steel cabinet. The Pennsylvania is not equal in this case.
others have painted or powder coated galvanized steel
cabinets. Is a galvanized steel substrate key to the success General Suggestions
of the job? It might be, if the chiller will be in a corrosive The end suction pump and the air cooled chiller are
environment like near water or in an industrial area. If two examples of the situations engineers encounter
so, Minnesota is not equal, but the requirement for gal- every day when they evaluate proposed equals. The
vanized steel should be specified up front, not used as a analysis presented in this article illustrates a thought
secret weapon to exclude Minnesota. process engineers can use to help define what is equal
New Yorks condenser is aluminum tube with alu- and determine whether a proposed product is equal.
minum fins. Pennsylvania says its condenser tubes and While engineers generally have broad discretion when
fins are of the same material to avoid galvanic corro- determining whether a submitted product is equal, it
sion but does not identify the material. Most likely it is is important to exercise that discretion fairly and objec-
aluminum, but Pennsylvania would have to identify the tively. Here are some suggestions that apply to almost all
tube and fin material if submitted as an equal to New equipment:
York. What about Minnesota and Wisconsin with their Be sure the specifications match the basis of design,
copper tube/aluminum fin condensers? Most engineers and enforce the specs fairly and uniformly. Be clear,
would say copper tubes are better
than aluminum based on thermal
conductivity and ease of repair.
The long, successful history of cop-
per tube/aluminum fin coils, both
evaporator and condenser, says that
the potential for galvanic corrosion
between those materials in air coil
applications should not disqualify
Minnesota and Wisconsin as equals.
New Yorks chiller requires a
Advertisement formerly in this space.
minimum circuit ampacity (MCA)
of 155.7 amps and maximum
overcurrent protection (MOCP) of
175 amps. Pennsylvanias chiller
requires the next larger size circuit
(MCA of 179 amps/MOCP of 200
amps). If Pennsylvania is accepted
as equal, who pays for the increase
in electric circuit size, and who
pays for the additional design ser-
vices to coordinate that circuit size
increase with the rest of the elec-
trical system? To avoid a fight, the
specifications should say who bears
that responsibility. There is noth-
ing wrong with assigning it to the

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preferably in the contract documents, about who is into a project specification. Verify that the specified fea-
responsible for minor or not so minor design or coordi- tures match those in the product data sheet. Remember
nation changes (like dimensions of concrete pads) that Reds spec that calls for a stainless steel pump shaft but
flow from using an equal. product data sheet that identifies the shaft material as
Public contracts typically strongly encourage the carbon steel. Specify only those features that are impor-
engineer to identify multiple suppliers in the name of tant to the project.
fostering competition. Common understanding is that if Dont flat spec/sole source by the back doordont
at least three manufacturers are named as suitable, there call for a feature that only one manufacturer can meet
is no need to include a broad or equal provision. In a and then say or equal. If that special feature is essen-
tough public bidding environment, specifications might tial to the success of the job, be clear about it. If there
have to be clear that the named manufacturers meet the is no equal on the market, dont specify or equal.
quality and reputation requirements of the design but In some cases, such as specialized or custom equip-
the specific product or model proposed must still meet ment where there is no equal, negotiating a price that
all the functional requirements of the basis of design. the manufacturer will offer to all bidders could be a
Remember the nominal 70 ton (246 kW) chiller example. way to avoid the appearance of price gouging by a sole
One solution might be to list the product that is the basis supplier.
of design and say or equal by B or C to be clear that Not every manufacturers product is suitable for every
accepting a different manufacturer does not imply an application. Some products are better suited for certain
intent to modify any functional feature or requirement. niches than others. Thats part of what product differen-
Read guide specs carefully before incorporating them tiation is all about.

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