As was pointed out in last month’s column, when an electrical contractor expands to a new area of work such as school construction, a new set of parameters enters the estimating picture. Perusal of the specifications becomes a lesson in caution. Some of the caution is buried in general language and this is where some of the pitfalls will trap the inexperienced estimator and installers.

One of the first considerations for this work is that payment and performance bonds are always required. Exceptions from that contract requirement are virtually non-existent. Before considering this type of work, contact your insurance carrier to make sure that your company qualifies for bonding. Skipping this step may cause you to spend company resources on a bid that, even if it is the low bid, will not be accepted by the awarding authority.

The usual term that all work will be installed with adherence to applicable codes and standards can become a problem. In areas where seismic concerns are incorporated into laws for school construction, such accepted tasks as mounting a panel over a certain weight will require the independent calculations of a structural engineer, and it can’t be the same one who designed the building. Who pays for it? This will become an expense that is paid by the contractor. Another typical divergence from accepted industry practice is swivel covers for suspended fixtures. These usually have a swing of 20 degrees, while school specs will specify the 45-degree variety that is not normally a stock item in material houses.

The job walk prior to bidding becomes a legal requirement in many of these contracts. Failure to do the job walk will come into play when a change order is sought for something that would have been discovered during the walk. A further clause to review is the liquidated damages clause that comes into effect if there is a delay in completion of the job. Some of these amounts are to the point of being blackmail, but there is little pity if they are imposed; especially considering the agency is holding retention money.

In private work, inspections are usually done by the local authority having jurisdiction. At times, there will be the owner’s inspectors, as well as the consultant’s representatives. In school work, additional inspecting agencies may be involved. This will ultimately affect the production of the crews.

Case in point

A sordid example was an agency inspector who decided that four bend saddles around structural obstacles were not “plumb and parallel” to the building. The inspector’s correction was to install conduit bodies to get around these many beams that would have involved many extra cuts and terminations of the conduits. Sad as it seems, the decision went to an administrative trial where the bends were upheld as an accepted “custom and practice” of the industry. The costs for pursuing this to a favorable outcome was borne by both sides, but never expected to become a project cost by the company’s estimator.

If standard specifications are referenced in the bid documents, the time or financial investment to get these may prove to be beneficial. While the electrical contracting industry has many innovative methods used to install various items, the owner or awarding authority may not accept some of these.

Most specifications will require that a materials list is to be submitted and this should not be ignored as it may lead to delays on the job. Likewise, substitutions are generally tightly controlled. While specifications may state “or equal,” it will be the contractor’s responsibility to prove that the equal will meet the designers criteria. Since this may be a gamble, enlist the manufacturer of the “equal” item to do the footwork. Often this will lead to an economic judgment that will affect the bottom line of the estimate and it must be done with knowledge and caution.

As with any project, the documentation on these jobs is paramount. Any claims arising out of unexpected occurrences must be backed with facts and the documentation will be the first point of reference. A good set of records will be an investment that will return dividends.

The estimate detail and dependability is critical for these jobs, as it should be with all projects. These jobs are not the time to gamble with unknown factors. They can be profitable for the company that realizes and recognize the obvious pitfalls and brings the job to a successful completion. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at edavid@lbcc.cc.ca.us