Demystifying Electrical Control Systems in your Estimate

Demystifying Electrical Control Systems in your Estimate Graphic

This is my third monthly blog post of 2021. As I was preparing the post, I realized that I haven’t explained where I am getting my inspiration for these posts, so I thought I would share with you now. As some of you may know, Candels has advertised in Electrical Contractor Magazine since 2005. It’s hard to believe it has been 16 years! Each year, the magazine publishes an editorial calendar with a different focus for each month’s issue. This month’s focus is Cabling and Controls. This topic inspired me to discuss the fact that more and more estimating control systems are not well documented, sometimes barely shown, on project drawings. Our team of estimators sees and mentions this issue far too frequently!

So, the real question is, what do you do when you encounter this on your next project? First, I would recommend ensuring that the estimator has the experience and knowledge to be able to handle the task at hand because it will be a difficult task for a less experienced estimator. Seasoned estimators know how to apply material and labor costs for these systems, even when the individual items of a control system are not shown on the drawings, or very little information has been provided. This experience factor plays a huge part.

The next item on the agenda is to determine whether there is a riser diagram for the control system. A control system could be for lighting, building automation, refrigeration, or pretty much any system that has components required to work together to make the system work.

For this piece, let’s use an example of a lighting control system. I must admit that I, myself, found taking these systems off scary in my early estimating days! Nevertheless, when it all comes down to it, a control system is simply the components, pipe, and control wire of some sort. That’s it! When you break it down in a systematic way, as we do here at Candels, all you need to do is breathe, check out the riser, and get started.

Now, how would you tackle the take-off of a lighting control system? First, it is important to realize that only some of the components are shown on the drawings, but not all of them. So, what do you do? Don’t panic! It really isn’t complicated when you break it down.

I am a firm believer that it is always best practice to start with the specifications. They should give you valuable insight into the system components and how they work together. Again, when a system is not fully shown, you, the estimator, must dig for information to ensure that your estimate covers all your costs. If there are no specifications, which is highly unlikely but possible, you can always refer to the manufacturer’s website for additional information.

A lighting control system will typically have some sort of control panel that controls other devices such as room controllers, scene controllers, keypad controls, modules and more. As I stated before, many times these devices are ONLY shown on the riser and not on the floor plans. What’s the next step?

Really, it is quite simple. First, run the power feed to the lighting control panel. Be sure to include labor to install and mount the panel, and terminate the wires, just like you would do with a regular panel. Next, if the devices are not shown on the plans, count each of the different types of devices on the riser. In many estimating software programs, you can either take-off a “similar” item or you can make a “special” item and carry the labor required to install. You can also carry a small amount of material for the mounting but remember lighting control systems are quoted by your lighting vendor. In terms of the necessary amount of cable. That said, make sure you review the floor plan and see what might work for an average footage per device. I typically use between 100’ and 200’ per device for the control cable. If the specified cable is not included in your estimating software, you can do a quick Google search to determine the typical per foot cost of the cable. Alternatively, you could take off a similar cable, to ensure the labor is correct, and then add in the material cost per foot of the specified cable.

The bottom line here is that you are trying to cover the cost of the installation of the items. The bill of material does not have to be exact because it is an estimate. Take a deep breathe, break it down in logical steps as we did here, and you will be in good shape.

Should you need assistance on a project, the Candels Estimators are here to help. Just click here to submit your project and you’ll typically hear back from us on the same business day.

Happy Estimating!