Job walks are one of my least favorite things. I don’t enjoy driving to a job site, waiting around for a job walk to start, then climbing around a dirty old building looking at stuff I have seen (and estimated) a thousand times or, more often, looking at an empty plot of dirt where the new building will be built. That’s the worst.
However, I am often pleasantly surprised when getting deep inside a building I might never have even entered. I enjoy looking in electrical equipment rooms and seeing all the existing installations and the many expensive issues the engineer’s plans didn’t show.
Know the job before you go
Whenever possible, study the plans and all the bid documents thoroughly before the job walk. Try to discover as many design elements, issues and areas of conflict that you can. Study the bid form and what the electrical contractor’s scope of work is, especially if a general contractor (GC) already has the job and it has issued its own criteria, one that supersedes the drawings and specifications.
Generate a list of questions you need to ask the architect, engineer and GC. Note all the rooms you need to get into and all the areas where your work would take place. Ensure you visit all these areas, especially the electrical and telecom rooms.
If you are required to make modifications or additions to existing switchgear, ensure you get the manufacturer’s name, shop order numbers, equipment style, amperes interruption circuit (AIC) ratings and any other information you can. Also note the age and condition of this equipment, as it may be less expensive to replace it.
If it is a new building on a new site, find out where the local utility company’s primary feeders enter the building and how. Confirm that this is shown clearly and correctly on the drawings. Also study the surrounding areas of the site: the adjacent buildings, city streets, sidewalks, landscaping, trees and other potential obstructions. Visualize how the new building will fit into these existing infrastructures.
Take a lot of pictures and videos
Take a good digital camera or a well-equipped cell phone—one with video capability and a large amount of storage space. Always prepare these items ahead of time, and ensure the batteries are fully charged. I also recommend a charged backup battery. There’s nothing worse than having a camera that doesn’t work during an important job walk.
Don’t be shy. Take a lot of photos and videos. Photograph the existing conditions of all the electrical rooms, the panels, the switchgear, existing lighting fixtures, walls, ceilings and floors. Note, especially, the exterior conditions—the landscaping, sidewalks, curbs, parking lots—any place you might think duct banks will be installed.
Your goal is to gather as much detailed information as you can about the existing job site conditions. Photos and videos are your best method of achieving this.
Know your audience
Consider those for whom you are taking these pictures. They are not just to jog your memory. They are more for your boss and those who didn’t attend the job walk. These photos may be the only chance they have to see and know the project’s existing conditions that they are about to take a chance on. It is up to you to ensure your photos tell the right story. Don’t click away at random. Take good shots and a lot of them.
Form alliances, meet the competition
Job walks provide a great opportunity to meet with your clients, GCs, subcontractors, the architect and engineers—all of whom can be valuable allies. Introduce yourself, pass out a few business cards and shake some hands.
Also, try to find out who your competition is, but be careful what you say and to whom. Remember, “Loose lips sink ships.” Never discuss your bid strategy with anyone at a job walk, not even your allies. Remember, you are there to gather information, not give it away. You can always talk strategy later, in private or over the phone.
Don’t waste the time
If you think you are wasting your time attending job walks, remind yourself it’s your company’s time, and your boss is paying you to be there. You are collecting valuable information that just might win a solid contract—information that might save the company thousands of dollars (it might even save your job).
Many bosses and senior estimators like to make jokes about job walks. They will say, “If you go to the job walk, you’ll learn way too much about the building, put too much in your estimate and lose the bid. Of course, if you don’t go, you’ll make a huge mistake and win the bid.” Although it’s frustrating, I personally think it’s best to go to the job walk.
SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. Until recently, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at stanshook.blogspot.com or contact him directly at StanleyShook@gmail.com.