Understanding how to read the specifications
So far, you’ve 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 task at hand. A thorough review of a job’s specifications provides the road map to get to your bid price.
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 normally bid is part of the bid package on every project. The specifications should also detail the project schedule.
Be sure you can meet the deadline, because failure to do so may result in liquidated damages, which could translate into thousands of dollars per day. However, not being able to meet the schedule is often through no fault of your own — it’s common to lose time from delays due to other trades. If this is the case, document the situation and inform the owner/GC to put them on notice, so as not to be hit with charges for liquidated damages.
Another important step at this stage of the game is attending the project walk-through. By doing so, you can gain valuable project insight about job-site conditions and restrictions, working access, working hours, parking or materials storage space availability, and even the presence of asbestos. If the walk-through is mandatory and you don’t attend, you won’t be able to submit a bid. In addition, a walk-through allows you to “see” what may not be shown on the drawings, such as existing equipment, access to the equipment, and general site conditions that may be hard to depict on the drawings.
In addition, the front-end specs include bonding requirements — be it bid, performance, or payment bonds. There is a lead time (typically between three to four working days) in getting a bond, so the earlier you request one, the better. As such, a good working relationship with your bonding company can reduce the lead time tremendously. If your relationship is really good, you may even be able to arrange to write your own bonds through power of attorney.
When reviewing the specifications, keep in mind that the general contractor or construction manager may require you to carry “extra hours” to be used at his discretion or allowances for contingent items. Typically, these are for high ticket items, so make sure to include them in your proposal. More often than not, general contractors (especially the larger ones) these days 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, including fire alarm, security, public address and telecommunications, may be included in separate specification sections. Make sure you know what you will be responsible for bidding within your bid package.
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading the specs carefully. As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” In this case, it really is. If there is a conflict between the specifications and what is shown on the drawings, try to pinpoint a reference within the text that defines the information that supersedes the other. It’s an old wife’s tale that “the specs supersede 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 stating that all duct banks shall be run in galvanized rigid conduit, which costs a lot more than PVC!
If you can’t find a specific reference about what information supersedes, submit a Request for Information (RFI) for clarification. It’s all a delicate balancing act. You must cover your costs while not going too far, because covering unnecessary costs could unnecessarily inflate your bid price.
Whatever you do, always qualify your bid. For example, this might be as simple as noting “Carried Schedule 40 PVC for all duct banks per specifications. Did not carry GRC per drawings.”
Specs are often considered “boiler plate,” meaning they do not always contain project specific information. To be truthful, it can get tedious reviewing hundreds of pages of what may seem like 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’ll be able to deviate from the specifications; however, on public projects, you’ll be bidding on “plans and specs” that don’t allow deviations.
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. By completing a thorough review of the specifications, you will be able to map out the entire bid process, setting the stage for the next part of the estimating process — the take-off. Next month, we will discuss the elements of the take-off and some tips and techniques for completing this step efficiently.
Candels is president of Candels Consulting, an electrical estimating consulting firm in Niantic, Conn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.