You have set the groundwork for an efficient estimating process by knowing your business, your customers, and how to select the appropriate jobs to bid. Now it’s time to focus on the nuts and bolts of the process. A thorough review of a job’s specifications provides the roadmap to get to your bid price.
Front End Specifications
The front end specifications (Division 1) provide general project information that applies to all trades. The responsibility schedule will detail “who owns what.” Do not assume that everything you usually bid is part of the bid package on every project. The specifications should also specify the project schedule. Be sure you can meet the deadline since failure to do so may result in liquidated damages, which could be thousands of dollars per day! Often not being able to meet the schedule is through no fault of your own; you may be losing time from delays due to other trades. In this case, you should document the situation and inform the owner/GC to put them on notice, so as not to be hit with liquidated damages charges.
You should always attend the project walk-through, especially if it is mandatory. Valuable project insight can be gained about job site conditions and restrictions, working access, working hours, parking, or materials storage space, and even the presence of asbestos. If you don’t show up, you will not be able to submit a bid. A walk-through allows you to “see” what may not appear in the drawings such as existing equipment, access to the equipment, and general site conditions.
Also, the front end specs include bonding requirements — be it bid, performance, or payment bonds. There is a lead time in getting a bond, so the earlier you request one the better. Bonds can take 3 to 4 working days to get. As a result, a good working relationship with your bonding company can reduce the lead time tremendously. And, if your relationship is excellent, you may be able to arrange to write your bonds through power of attorney.
Finally, the general contractor or construction manager may require you to carry “extra hours” to be used at their discretion, and they may need you to give allowances for contingent items. Often these are high ticket items, so you want to ensure these are included in your proposal. More often, general contractors, especially larger ones, are including “500 extra hours to be used at their discretion,” feeling that they are pre-buying hours that can be used for change orders at a discounted rate.
Electrical information is contained in Division 16 or 26 specification sections. Other low-voltage information (fire alarm, security, public address, and telecommunications) may be included in separate specification sections. Be sure to know what you will be responsible for within your bid package.
The Specs Supersede the Drawings
Read the specs carefully. As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” If there is a conflict between the specifications and what is shown in the drawings, try to pinpoint a reference within the text that defines the information that supersedes the other. It’s an old wives’ tale that “the specs supersedes the drawings.” For example, the specs may state that outside duct banks shall be run in Schedule 40 PVC. However, there is a note on the site drawing that states all duct banks shall be run in galvanized rigid conduit (which costs a lot more than PVC)!
If you can’t find a particular reference about what information supersedes, submit a Request for Information (RFI) for clarification. At all times, you want to be sure to cover your costs yet at the same time you do not want to cover any unnecessary costs that could unnecessarily inflate your bid price. Whatever you do, always qualify your bid! For example, it could be as simple as “Carried Schedule 40 PVC for all duct banks per specifications. Did not carry GRC per drawings.”
Specs are often considered “boilerplate,” meaning they do not always contain project accurate information. And to be truthful, it can get tedious reviewing hundreds of pages of what may seem to be worthless information. You always want to look for wiring methods, fittings required, required testing and coordination studies, and the responsibility of providing starters and disconnects. For private jobs, you will be able to deviate from the specifications. However, if it is a public project, you will be bidding on “plans and specs,” meaning you will not be able to deviate from the plans and specifications.
Be aware that specs may include information on systems that are not shown or referenced on the drawings. Carefully review the written narrative describing the system, components and wiring methods. And again, if any doubt exists, qualify your bid.
A thorough review of the specifications helps you map out the entire bid process and set the stage for the next part of the estimating process — the take-off.