What Is MasterFormat™ 2004 and Why Should I Care?



By Robert Paul Dean 

Anyone involved in construction by now should be aware of a transformation that is under way in the master list of numbers and subject titles used to organize
construction information.

These numbers and titles affect applications such as data filing (e.g. Sweets catalog files and First Source), cost estimating (e.g. RS Means cost data and BSD CostLink®/AE), and specification systems (e.g. AIA's MasterSpec® and BSD SpecLink®). There have been several editions of this standard, and the latest version of the master list of numbers and titles is MasterFormatTM 2004, which was published jointly by The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) in late 2004.

Previous versions of MasterFormat and its predecessor documents dating to 1964 have organized construction data into 16 divisions. For example, information about concrete has always gone into Division 3, while information about thermal insulation has gone into Division 7. The first document actually called MasterFormat was published in 1978 and further organized construction data by adding five-digit section numbers and titles for commonly used construction materials and systems. New editions of MasterFormat up through 1995 maintained this 16-division system with five-digit section numbers and expanded the titles and numbers to include more detailed subjects.

In 2004, CSI and CSC published a vastly expanded edition of MasterFormat organized into 50 divisions with six- and eight-digit section numbers. The uproar was immediate and intense from several quarters, despite the fact that the drafting process had gone on for 3 years with input from an array of individuals and construction organizations. There were objections from some trade groups and building product manufacturers, but the greatest resistance came from design professionals and specification writers. Many individuals and firms saw no reason to abandon the old format and hesitated to incur the expense of converting their office master systems.

Why was MasterFormat Changed?

Several reasons. For one thing, technology in the construction industry has changed in the decades since the 16-division organization was formulated. New products and whole new areas of specialization have evolved, particularly in the area of building services. New wire and wireless services, new environmental technologies, and new construction techniques have emerged and continue to be developed. The old 16-division organization with five-digit section numbers was simply running out of room for new topics.

Another factor was a desire to expand the use of MasterFormat beyond building construction. The new structure has been designed to accommodate all types of construction, including transportation and heavy civil engineering projects, plus industrial and process engineering. There was also a desire to extend the use of MasterFormat beyond the construction phase itself and address topics related to the use of constructed facilities over their entire life-cycle.

CSI and CSC also wanted to rationalize the organization of information for increased use of MasterFormat in database applications. The old numbering system had become somewhat arbitrary and hit-or-miss, with some divisions chock-full of titles and others sparsely populated. Because several divisions had little space available, the logic for assigning numbers to new topics became increasingly arbitrary. This led directly to the most comprehensive goal of providing sufficient space and flexibility in the new system so another wholesale reorganization of the classification structure would be highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Figure 1

MasterFormat 2004 Numbering

Section numbers are generally 6 digits but may be extended to 8 digits.
They should be read as pairs of digits:
Example: Section 07 32 13 - Clay Roof Tiles
    Level 1: Division 07: Thermal and Moisture Protection

       Level 2: Broadscope number 32: Roof Tiles

          Level 3: Narrowscope number 13: Clay Roof Tiles 
Example: Section 31 41 16. 13 - Steel Sheet Piling
    Level 1: Division 31: Earthwork
       Level 2: Broadscope number 41: Shoring
          Level 3: Narrowscope number 16: Sheet Piling
             Level 4: Ultra narrowscope number 13: Steel Sheet Piling
Some Broadscope numbers are standardized for consistency between divisions:
Example: Broadscope Number 06 (second pair): Schedules
     Section 03 06 00 - Schedules for Concrete
     Section 05 06 00 - Schedules for Metals
     Section 09 06 00 - Schedules for Finishes

Example: Broadscope Number 07 (second pair): Insulation

     Section 21 07 00 - Fire Suppression Systems Insulation
     Section 22 07 00 - Plumbing Insulation
     Section 23 07 00 - HVAC Insulation

The new system, with 50 divisions available instead of 16, certainly provides room for growth. By moving to six-digit numbers within each division, the new MasterFormat provides 10 times as much space within each division. For topics that are even narrower in scope, MasterFormat 2004 has added a new level of specificity with two additional digits that are separated from the first six by a decimal point. If users need even more room for extremely specific topics, they may add two more digits following another decimal point. By allowing this much expansion space, it has become possible to number similar subjects consistently within each division. For example, operations and maintenance issues are numbered with 01 as the middle pair of the basic six-digit numbers within each division. Similarly, common work results include 05 as the middle pair of digits, schedules use 06, and commissioning uses 08 (see Figure 1).

In addition to assigning a new six-digit (or eight-digit) section number to every topic, MasterFormat 2004 has also altered the titles of many sections. The primary reason for new titles is to reflect as consistently as possible the concept that all section titles should reflect a work result, rather than a product. For example, Section 03200 - Concrete Reinforcement has been changed to Section 03 20 00 - Concrete Reinforcing. Section 05210 - Steel Joists is now Section 05 21 00 - Steel Joist Framing, and Section 09900 - Paints has been changed to Section 09 90 00 - Painting.

Has Anything Stayed the Same?

For architects and structural engineers, the changes are not as dramatic as they are for landscape architects and civil, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC engineers. The reason? Divisions 03 through 14 - those typically used by architects and structural engineers - have stayed relatively intact and should look fairly familiar, even with the added digit in section numbers and slightly modified titles. For example, concrete remains in Division 03, steel in Division 05, doors and windows in Division 08, and finishes in Division 09 (see Figure 2 for a comparison of the divisions under the old and new organizations).

Civil engineers and landscape architects will have to adjust a bit because subjects previously included in Division 02 have been moved to a new Site and Infrastructure Subgroup that includes earthwork, exterior improvements, and utilities in Divisions 31 through 35, with 30 and 36 through 39 reserved for future expansion.

Figure 2

Comparison between MasterFormat 95 and MasterFormat 2004 

MasterFormat 1995

MasterFormat 2004


Procurement and Contracting Requirements Group

Introductory Information

00  Procurement and Contracting Requirements

Bidding Requirements


Contracting Requirements



Specifications Group


General Requirements Subgroup

1  General Requirements

01  General Requirements


Facility Construction Subgroup

2   Site Construction

02  Existing Conditions

3   Concrete

03  Concrete

4   Masonry

04  Masonry

5   Metals

05  Metals

6   Wood and Plastics

06  Wood, Plastics, and Composites

7   Thermal and Moisture Protection

07  Thermal and Moisture Protection

8   Doors and Windows

08  Openings

9   Finishes

09  Finishes

10 Specialties

10  Specialties

11 Equipment

11  Equipment

12 Furnishings

12  Furnishings

13 Special Construction

13  Special Construction

14 Conveying Systems

14  Conveying Equipment


15-19  Reserved


20  Reserved

13 Special Construction

21  Fire Suppression

15 Mechanical

22  Plumbing

15 Mechanical

23  Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning


24  Reserved

13 Special Construction

25  Integrated Automation

16 Electrical

26  Electrical

13 Special Construction

27  Communications

13 Special Construction

28  Electronic Safety and Security


29  Reserved


Site and Infrastructure Subgroup


30  Reserved

2  Site Construction

31  Earthwork

2  Site Construction

32  Exterior Improvements

2  Site Construction

33  Utilities

2  Site Construction

34  Transportation

2  Site Construction

35  Waterway and Marine


36-39  Reserved


Process Integration Subgroup

11 Equipment

40  Process Integration

11 Equipment

41  Material Processing and Handling Equipment

11 Equipment

42  Process Heating, Cooling and Drying Equipment

11 Equipment

43  Process Gas and Liquid Handling, Purification and Storage Equipment

11 Equipment

44  Pollution Control Equipment

11 Equipment

45  Industry-Specific Manufacturing Equipment


46-47  Reserved

16 Electrical/Special Construction

48  Electrical Power Generation


49  Reserved

Almost nothing has stayed the same for electrical and mechanical engineers, however. The most dramatic changes have occurred in topics formerly included in Divisions 15 and 16, which in MasterFormat 2004 have been reserved for future expansion and are not used at all. The old Mechanical and Electrical Divisions were out of space, with many M&E topics stashed in Division 13, so the new organization includes a new subgroup with separate Divisions 21 through 23 and 25 through 28 for Fire Suppression, Plumbing, HVAC, Integrated Automation, Electrical, Communications, and Electronic Safety and Security, plus three divisions reserved for future expansion. Though the shortage of space in the M&E divisions was one of the major motivators for the expansion of MasterFormat, the total change in the organization of topics and the dramatically different numbering system have resulted in significant resistance from these sectors.

Can You Just Ignore the New MasterFormat and Hope It Goes Away?

Unfortunately for many firms that would prefer to forget about it altogether, the new master list of numbers and titles for the construction industry is morphing into a true standard, after 21/2 years of accelerating acceptance. CSI and CSC wisely invited participation and ultimately obtained the cooperation of most of the major datfa vendors and key government agencies. Companies like McGraw-Hill Construction and Reed Construction Data signed on, as well as the authors of specification systems like MasterSpec and BSD SpecLink. Many, but not all, building product manufacturers have converted their product data to the new numbering system, and many architecture and engineering firms have made the transition or are in the process of converting.

Those firms that have not adopted the new MasterFormat fall into at least three categories:

1. Those who say they will never change.

2. Those who are delaying as long as possible because of the costs involved.

3. Those who would like to make the change but are waiting for others to go first.

To all of these companies, we need to say one thing: You will eventually have to change to the new MasterFormat, so the sooner you make the transition, the better.

Is the new system perfect? Of course not. No classification system could ever be perfect, especially one that is as comprehensive as this one. The important thing to remember is that MasterFormat is promoted as a standard, and standards are needed to facilitate communication and improve coordination. In fact, with the increase in automation within the construction industry, standardization is absolutely critical to achieve meaningful interoperability. If users persist in using the old 16 divisions and five-digit section numbers, their work output will eventually become incomprehensible to the rest of the industry.

Figure 3

  MasterFormat Transition Resources
  CSI Websites:

MasterFormat 2004 section numbers and titles posted in PDF format for free downloading.

http://www.masterformat.com/Free transition guide, number ID service, purchase hard copy, suggest changes.


Master Guide Specification Systems:
http://www.bsdsoftlink.com/BSD SpecLink® by Building Systems Design Inc.: one system; flips any project between old and new MasterFormats with single mouse click.
http://www.arcomnet.com/AIA's Masterspec® by ARCOM: two separate versions of Masterspec in Masterformat 1995 and MasterFormat 2004.
http://www.spectext.com/Spectext® by the Construction Sciences Research Foundation: two separate versions of Spectext in MasterFormat 1995 and MasterFormat 2004.

Unified Facilities Guide Specification (UFGS) and Specsintact software, used by NASA, the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE): single set of master guide spec sections has been fully converted to MasterFormat 2004.

 Product Data:
http://www.4specs.com/Comprehensive product data organized in both MasterFormat 1995 and MasterFormat 2004.


Selective product data organized according to MasterFormat 2004.
http://www.reedfirstsource.com/Selective product data organized in both MasterFormat 1995 and MasterFormat 2004.

What Resources are Available to Aid in the Transition?

Before we look at specific resources, it's important to understand that the problems and costs associated with achieving the transition are going to vary, depending upon the type of company and the use to which MasterFormat is put in each case. Building product manufacturers will need to convert product literature and product data on their websites, but this process needn't occur overnight. Even the largest manufacturers with the widest range of products will need only a relatively few section numbers and titles. It's also possible to label and categorize the data according to both systems for some period of time - at least until the majority of companies in the construction industry adopt the new standard.

Design professionals who write specifications and prepare cost estimates will have to undergo a somewhat more difficult process. The time spent in moving from the old MasterFormat to the new one will generally have to be absorbed as an overhead cost, since the budget for a single project may not accommodate the additional time. It won't be possible to make a gradual transition, and it would be a major mistake to attempt to combine the two systems on the same project. Architects who make the switch will have to insist that their consultants make the change at the same time. Consulting engineers that work with different architects will have to be prepared to work with both systems for some indefinite period of time, since not all architects will transition simultaneously.

Fortunately, there are many resources available for aiding in the transition. A basic tool for anyone would be the hard copy of MasterFormat 2004 Edition, published by CSI and CSC. It comes with a CD that includes a transition matrix in an MS Excel format and is available for $159 ($109 member price). Users can sort the Excel list on either the old or new MasterFormat numbers to find the corresponding section title and number in the other format. For building product manufacturers that need only a few section numbers and titles, CSI has two websites that include postings of the new numbers and titles in PDF format for free downloading (see Figure 3 for a list of websites and other resources). Design professionals who write specifications can avail themselves of one or more of the commercial master guide specification systems, all of which are now produced in both the old and new MasterFormat.


Change is sometimes painful, and there is no doubt that making the transition to MasterFormat 2004 will involve a certain amount of time and cost to companies in the construction industry. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the net results of better communication and improved coordination will ultimately make the short-term costs worthwhile. For companies that haven't yet made the change, it's time to start. Those who have are already reaping the benefits.

Robert Paul Dean, AIA, CSI, CCS, is president and COO of Building Systems Design Inc., a software company that creates electronic tools for the construction industry, including the automated specification writing product BSD SpecLink®. Dean is also a member of the MasterFormat Maintenance Task Team, which has responsibility for the ongoing expansion and modification of the CSI/CSC MasterFormatTM.

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After reading the content, one should be able to:

1. Understand the major uses for MasterFormat and what structural changes have been made in MasterFormat 2004.

2. Be familiar with the reasons for the expansion and reorganization of MasterFormat.

3. Know what MasterFormat features have remained relatively intact from the previous edition.

4. Discover what resources are available to assist in the transition from old to new MasterFormat.