Construction projects live and die by the schedule. Electrical construction projects are affected by the schedule more than most trades as electrical contractors depend on many others to complete their work first.
While many of the projects I prepare estimates for have simple, reasonable schedules, some do not. That is why it is very important to know the schedule before bidding on a project. Sometimes it is easy to find, and other times it is not. I often spend extra time searching through the bid documents for what should be basic, up-front information. However, no matter how difficult it is to find, you must know the schedule before finishing the estimate.
This first crucial component of the schedule is how often you’ll be required to start and stop labor on the project. This is called mobilization and demobilization. Normal (competitive) labor units are based on no more than three mobilizations.
An example would be a commercial project consisting of constructing a new building from the ground up. This project may require workers to mobilize for some underground utility and feeder work first. Then, you may need to remobilize when foundation work starts to install some grounding. Finally, when the walls and roof are completed, the last mobilization will happen, with labor staying on the project until it is finished. This scenario is for a moderately sized project.
Smaller projects require more mobilizations because there is not enough work to keep the labor crew on-site. This is why small projects should have the labor factored up to cover excessive mobilizations. Every time you leave a project and return later, it costs money. It is especially bad if you can’t send the same people back to the job. This causes a significant production loss, as new people need time to learn what the previous crew accomplished.
Another kind of schedule impact is what someone I knew called “stuffing 10 pounds of residue in a 5-pound bag.” (We were in a meeting where cursing was not allowed. Even though he did not curse, he was fined for the intent of the word residue.) I was involved in a great example of this kind of schedule when preparing an estimate for tenant work in a high-rise building.
The tenant needed four floors of construction work completed in a ridiculously short time. The schedule required that we plan to work three shifts and weekends. Besides the additional cost of shift work and overtime labor, we had to consider lost productivity. It has been proven in several studies that people do not perform as well when they are not working the standard daytime schedule. This kind of schedule also creates additional overhead costs to support the labor on the project. Another cost I had to consider was the production loss due to having too many workers from too many trades in the same place at the same time.
Construction projects with long schedules have their own problems. The first is that they can require many mobilizations. Leaving a project and going back to it months later may require that you remove your crew, materials and tools from the project and bring it all back when work is resumed.
Hospital remodels are a good example. The schedules are most often based on strict adherence to working in critical areas only when hospital administration allows. You may be scheduled to work in one area for a month, and then come back weeks later to work in another area. To make things even more difficult, hospitals often change the schedule with little or no advance notice.
Another problem with long schedules is potential inflation of material and labor costs. It is difficult to predict what those costs will be a year or more from now. I have heard several people say they needed to dust off their crystal ball to project future costs. I found that vendors can be helpful with strategies to protect your pricing on materials that will not be needed soon.
Unfortunately, there will probably come a time when you will have to file a claim related to broken schedules. Very few of the projects I have estimated or managed actually stayed on schedule. Since electrical work is often one of the last trades on the job, delays by others tend to make it look like we are holding up the project. This is not a cost to be included in an estimate. Your estimate should be based on the original contract documents only.
stock.adobe.com / Nikolai Tsvetkov
About The Author
CARR has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or [email protected], and read his blog at electricalestimator.wordpress.com.