What is the CSI MasterFormat & What’s its Purpose?

Photo of the CSI MasterFormat

CSI MasterFormat is the standard used to provide synchronicity between manufacturers and builders. The MasterFormat is used by manufacturers to ensure that their products meet requirements such as size, weight, or material types.

This enables construction companies to know what to expect and how to prepare a scene for purchased items.

Here’s an easy example of how this works. A builder knows when fitting a toilet when making a bathroom from scratch, the water and drainage pipes need to be distanced properly from the wall and from each other. Because of the MasterFormat, toilet manufacturers have pre-built the toilet to accommodate the plumbing- where and how the builders have prepared.

This coding system works as a middleman, helping one industry make things clear for the other. The end result is faster and more error-free manufacturing, easier engineering, and quicker building times for construction companies.

What is the CSI MasterFormat?

Over the years, people within the building and construction manufacturing industries have dubbed MasterFormat as “the Dewey Decimal System” of building and construction. The CSI MasterFormat is a series of coding systems, broken down and categorized by sections referred to as Divisions. More specifically, 50 Divisions in all to date. Up until 2004, there were only 16 Divisions (more about the divisions below).

Every area of construction and manufacturing for the construction industry is covered under the CSI MasterFormat. This is true for commercial, industrial, and residential buildings.

What the MasterFormat is Not

MasterFormat is not to be confused with localized building codes. Building codes can change from town to town, state to state, country to country. They are what has been agreed upon within a community, rather than a far-reaching standard.

Building codes do not conflict with the MasterFormat because they have little to do with the relationship between the construction company and its vendors. However, they can and do play off of each other depending on the situation.

Unlike localized building codes, MasterFormat is recognized and used throughout the United States and Canada as one set of standards that manufacturers build by and construction companies prepare for.

History of the CSI MasterFormat

In the mid-20th century, sometime after World War II, different material types and new products began hitting markets. Construction specifications began to develop, attempting to usher standards into the growing list of building materials.

In 1948, the Construction Specifications Institute was founded after the war, which offered a numbering system that introduced or improved standardization through building materials’ numeric organization.

In 1963, CSI published a format for construction companies and manufacturers to use, which enabled them to place orders or fabricate along with this numeric system of standards. At the time, this format consisted of 16 total divisions. It wasn’t being called the MasterFormat till around 1975.

Due to the rapid expansion of technology, building materials, and furnishings installed into various buildings, CSI expanded their 16 Division format to a 50 Division format back in November of 2004. Some of these divisions work as placeholders- blank in wait for the expansion.

CSI MasterFormat Divisions

As aforementioned, several Divisions are not yet populated with any information. They have been reserved for further expansion as different categories may arise. This is CSI’s solution for preparing for the next wave of technological and material leaps.

Each Division contains a host of subgroups that fall under the Division’s subject. For the sake of expedience, we’ll just stick to the overall coverage by only displaying top-level Division titles.

General Requirements Subgroup

  • Division 01 — General Requirements

Facility Construction Subgroup

  • Division 02 — Existing Conditions
  • Division 03 — Concrete
  • Division 04 — Masonry
  • Division 05 — Metals
  • Division 06 — Wood, Plastics, and Composites
  • Division 07 — Thermal and Moisture Protection
  • Division 08 — Openings
  • Division 09 — Finishes
  • Division 10 — Specialties
  • Division 11 — Equipment
  • Division 12 — Furnishings
  • Division 13 — Special Construction
  • Division 14 — Conveying Equipment

Facility Services Subgroup:

  • Division 20 — Mechanical Support
  • Division 21 — Fire Suppression
  • Division 22 — Plumbing
  • Division 23 — Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning
  • Division 25 — Integrated Automation
  • Division 26 — Electrical
  • Division 27 — Communications
  • Division 28 — Electronic Safety and Security

Site and Infrastructure Subgroup:

  • Division 31 — Earthwork
  • Division 32 — Exterior Improvements
  • Division 33 — Utilities
  • Division 34 — Transportation
  • Division 35 — Waterways and Marine Construction

Process Equipment Subgroup:

  • Division 40 — Process Interconnections
  • Division 41 — Material Processing and Handling Equipment
  • Division 42 — Process Heating, Cooling, and Drying Equipment
  • Division 43 — Process Gas and Liquid Handling, Purification and Storage Equipment
  • Division 44 — Pollution Control Equipment
  • Division 45 — Industry-Specific Manufacturing Equipment
  • Division 46 — Water and Wastewater Equipment
  • Division 48 — Electrical Power Generation

What is the Difference Between MasterFormat & UniFormat?

Between these two systems of standards, the largest difference is intent.

UniFormat is a system-based means to organize building content, and MasterFormat is a materials-based system. Though different in their approach, they are often used in conjunction with one another.

When decisions need to be made on a “system” level, those involved will turn to UniFormat. But as information trickles down into particulars such as “materials,” MasterFormat steps in. One system works its way toward the other.

It is often understood that larger and simpler construction projects are done more easily through UniFormat, as smaller, more complex constructs require MasterFormat.

UniFormat is currently growing in popularity in the world of construction modeling due to its easier method of categorically planning structures and assemblies.

Uniformat is a publication of CSI and CSC, as is MasterFormat, so the idea of these two publications working in tandem across projects shouldn’t come as a surprise.