Estimating renovation projects is different from estimating a brand new, built-from-the-ground-up project. Renovations involve existing buildings. Existing buildings, well … they exist. They already have walls, concrete slabs, flooring, ceilings, a roof, doors, windows and, more importantly, existing electrical installations.

First, you have to learn everything you can about the existing building. Let the questions begin: What are the existing wall types? Which walls are going to be demolished? Which ones will remain? Will the existing coverings be removed, and if so, who is responsible for cutting, patching, repairing and painting them?

The same questions need to be asked for the ceilings, floors and concrete slabs. What is going to happen with them? In the case of T-Bar-type or glued-on tile ceilings, who is responsible for removal and replacement of the ceiling tiles? What about damaged tiles? Who is responsible for repairing or replacing them?

Slabs also are a serious renovation expense. Who is responsible for cutting and removal, replacement and/or repair? What about concrete core drilling? If required, do you need to X-ray walls or slabs prior to cutting? How many locations are there? X-raying is very expensive and can easily be $150+ per location.

Will your company be able to exclude any nonelectrical scope requirements? If your company is the general contractor (GC) or bidding as a prime contractor, you may not be able to exclude anything and may actually be responsible for hiring subcontractors to perform these nonelectrical scope items.

Excluding nonelectrical scope is typically allowed by most GCs, but I highly recommend you coordinate, communicate and confirm these exclusions prior to bid day. You don’t want to drop any last-minute surprises on your GC, who won’t have the time to price the scope you left out. If possible, provide a detailed summary of your exclusions, including quantities. This will alert your GC to the required scope (they may not know about it), and the summary will help the GC determine a price.

You also need to determine which electrical systems (low-voltage and signal, too) are going to remain and be integrated into the new design. This means you need to study the electrical demolition drawings very carefully and compare them to the new electrical design. What? There are no electrical demolition drawings? How can this be? Didn’t the electrical engineer walk the project and note all of the existing devices, panels, switchgear, disconnects, conduits (both above and below ground) and all the existing signal systems? Shocking.

Chances are the engineer didn’t. Even if he did, he most likely didn’t show everything. More often than not, existing systems and their required scope are detailed through ambiguous sheet notes and other scope documents. These directives typically list basic descriptions of the existing device and what is required to bring it into the new design. For example: “Existing exhaust fan. Verify all existing connections, connect to new system and make sure it works when you leave.”

Will you be able to reuse existing conduits? Will this be easier and more cost effective than installing new? As for the new installations, they, too, are not necessarily going to be easy. Some may be installed in a completely new space and/or in walls and ceilings. These can be estimated just like any other new project. However, once they enter the existing spaces or walls, they become a more difficult installation, and you may need to apply a labor factor. How will you enter these installations into your estimate? Will you segregate them and price them separately? Or will you figure what percentage of the overall project they comprise and factor a percentage of your overall labor costs?

Another critical issue to consider is warranty. Who is responsible for covering the warranty on the existing electrical systems? What if your company is not going to touch them? Who is responsible for testing, securing and making sure they work? What if they were not originally built to code, or what if code has changed since they were installed? Can you exclude responsibility for these systems?

The third and possibly most important element of your estimate will be your proposal letter. It will be critical for you to communicate your inclusions and exclusions as precisely (and concisely) as possible. You need to make sure your GC or the owner clearly understand exactly what your company will and won’t be doing, including warranty.

Renovation work typically takes more time to estimate than brand new projects, and it should. A careful approach is highly recommended. Every note regarding existing systems and demolition should be thoroughly read and their scope compared to the new design. If you can, make two job site visits, one before you start your estimate and one after you have completed it but prior to bidding. You probably won’t be able to see everything, but the more you know about the existing building the better.

Remember, “The electrical contractor is responsible for a complete and operable electrical system (everything) whether or not it is shown on the drawings or listed in the specifications.” That’s one heck of an ambiguous sheet note! Make sure you cover it.

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or sfs@TakeOff16.com.