There is not an exact science to bidding a telecommunications cabling project. As you review several, you will also notice there are no standard bid formats. The range goes from cabling a building to a division done by a professional engineer.

Most telecommunications cabling bids are based on cabling and connectivity only--power quality, grounding, pathway, and other standard electrical items are oftentimes missing. Keeping in mind cabling bids vary both in content and quality, electrical contractors are sometimes faced with a challenge when bidding telecommunications cabling. Bringing your installation concerns to the owner's attention may help in winning a bid if it is done courteously and positively. Don't forget, keep all correspondence to the owner/designer concerning the bid in writing.

The first step in the process is to review the bid and determine who wrote it. Nonprofessional consultants or engineers, unfamiliar with cabling, write the majority of bids. You will probably notice that many items are missing: the two most common are pathway and power quality. Also, identifying your competition is helpful. Telecommunications projects usually include low-voltage contractors. This is a concern since their overhead is lower than electrical contractors', and they usually submit lower costs for the bid. As with any other project, note the due date, bidders conference date, permits, union affiliations, required manufacturer certifications, insurance, project timelines, bonds, etc.

Bid review check list

- Bid author
- Common missing bid items
- Who your competition is
- Project dates
- Permits
- Insurance requirements
- Manufacturer certifications
- Bonds
- Union affiliations
- Project timeline

After reviewing the bid, if you decide to continue with a response, organize the bid into the following subsystems: work area (wa), horizontal cabling, backbone cabling, entrance facility, and administration. This is a logical method to analyze the bid and determine its scope, and quality. This method is only used when sufficient information is provided in the bid package.

Organize bid into subsystems

- Work area
- Horizontal cabling
- Entrance facility
- Administration

The work area includes the number and placement of the telecommunications outlets (TO), their configuration (568-A or B), faceplate placement, labeling, and their manufacturer. Horizontal cabling is the cabling that goes from the telecommunications closet (TC) to the work area. Its category and its rating (plenum or non-plenum) should be listed in the bid. If the cable's rating is not specified, contact the owner/designer. If it is listed, it's a good idea to verify that the correct type of cable is listed.
The two types of backbone cable are intra- and inter-building. Backbone cable is used to connect telecommunications closets and/or buildings. This cable can be either copper or fiber; again, verify the cable's ratings. The entrance facility is where the outside network facilities enter the building; this is a critical item for new facilities. Administration is best determined as termination hardware, labeling, and documentation required for the project.

After reviewing and organizing the subsystems of the bid package, the second step is to review the prints. First, find out who issued the prints. If there isn't an engineer's stamp on them, they should be used for construction. This liability concern should be immediately brought to the owner's and/or designer's attention.
Once the validity of the drawings is satisfied, verify that the prints are to scale; you can use the width of a standard doorway (3 feet) to do this. If the scale is not correct, all take-offs will be inaccurate, which could cause problems.

Next, note the locations of the TCs, cable pathways, and penetrations that require firestopping. Unfortunately, these items may not be indicated on the drawings. If they are not on the prints, consult with the owner and/or designer for clarification.

Once the bid and floor plans have been reviewed, it is time for take-offs. Correct take-offs are critical to submitting a successful bid response. The critical items are accurate quantity and placement of work areas, cables, pathway, and TCs. If these items are missing from the bid, you have to ask yourself whether or not you want to design the project. This may present an opportunity or be a waste of your time, but you must make that decision when reviewing a poor-quality bid package.

Using the zone method to determine the amount of horizontal cabling

An easy method to determine the amount of horizontal cabling needed is to use a scale starting from the TC and divide the floor plan into three zones of approximately the same width. Following the pathway, determine the longest run in each of the zones. This gives you the longest short, medium, and long runs. It is recommended to add 24 feet to each run to cover wall height and termination slack. Now add the length and divide by three to determine an average run. Now divide the average run into 1,000 (1,000 feet is the amount of cable in the box). This determines the number of runs per box to determine the number of boxes of cable.

Horizontal cable quantity

- Use the zone method to determine the average run.
- Calculate the runs per box of cable.
- Determine the amount of cable required.

For intra-backbone copper backbone cable, use the floor-to-floor distance and add 25 to 50 feet, depending on the termination of the cable in the TC. With intra-building fiber optic cabling, use the floor-to-floor distance, allowing enough cable at each end to provide a 30-feet-repair margin loop. With inter-building cables, use standard take-offs, including the slack for pull boxes and vaults if they exist. If fiber optic cable is being used, include the repair margins at the entrance locations (typically 100 feet).

After accurately obtaining the take-offs, review the materials list if provided in the bid package. If materials are specified in the bid, obtain pricing and availability from your distributor. If materials are not specified, use your judgement to determine the products to use. Unfortunately, when the materials are not called out in bid, you will be unaware of what your competition may propose for a solution. This is a red flag that warns you that your chances of success with the project are diminished greatly.

Summary: Telecommunications cabling projects have very little control or authority governing them, because many architects and professional engineers are unfamiliar with communications cabling. In many instances, local authorities do not require permits nor do they inspect projects. This has led to a multi-billion-dollar industry controlled by manufacturers and unlicensed designers. This makes it difficult for licensed contractors to always be successful in the field, but the opportunity is there. With time and perseverance, telecommunications cabling projects will fall into line as a recognized entity and provide more opportunities for the professional electrical contractor.
SHECKLER is a teacher, trainer, and estimator who specializes in VDV bidding and estimating. He can be reached at (760) 754-9129 or pkat@aol.com.