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ACI 301 is a reference standard that the engineer or architect may make applicable to any building project by citing it in the project specifications, supplementing it as needed by designating or specifying individual project requirements. For example, the contract requirements might read: "Concrete work shall conform to all requirements of ACI 301-72 (Revised 1981), Specifications for Structural Concrete for Buildings." If some part of ACI 301 is not appropriate, the specifier can state any desired exceptions. The year the standard was adopted and the last year it was revised must be included when referencing it.

ACI 301 is not complete in itself; the requirements that vary from project to project must be specified. A list of such requirements is presented at the beginning of ACI 301, two of which much be specified for all projects the strength of the concrete for each portion of the structure and the types and grades of reinforcing steel. Other supplemental requirements (such as required or prohibited admixtures and types and strengths of prestressing steel) are designated only when they apply. The list of supplementary items at the beginning of ACI 301 serves as a checklist; each item is keyed to section numbers in the text. At the end of each chapter are notes pointing out items which require approval of the architect-engineer or other specifying authority (examples: construction joints not shown on the drawings, proprietary patching agents).

Unfortunately, some specifiers incorporate ACI 318 (Building Code) by reference, instead of using ACI 301. This is not good practice, as ACI 318 is intended as public law, not a specification. The requirements of ACI 301 are standard specifications, developed through a consensus process and approved by a group of industry professionals. If followed correctly, these specifications will produce quality construction.