Know Your Scope

By Stan Shook | Mar 15, 2007




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What you don’t know can hurt your company:

Knowing your company’s complete scope of work is critical to successfully estimating a project; simply studying the electrical design and reading the electrical specification is not good enough. Systems and equipment of other trades could be involved and may not be shown on the electrical plans or discussed in the electrical specifications. For these other scope areas, you need to know exactly what you are furnishing, installing, providing or just connecting.

For example, you would not want to leave out $50,000 of motorized shade equipment and controls from your bid, especially if your client is expecting you to include them. However, you don’t want to include this cost if it is covered by another contractor.

Don’t count on the engineers. The architects and engineers don’t always communicate which special systems the electrical contractor will install with the ones other contractors actually install. But they usually include a few conflicting Sheet Notes or General Notes which always seem to imply you are responsible either for everything or not (this usually occurs on a system for which you know you are responsible).

These notes include words such as furnish, install, provide, furnished by others, installed by others or my favorite—by others. But what does this really mean? What do the specifications or contract say they mean? Better question: Do the plans, notes, specifications and the contract all say the same thing?

Compare the electrical plans to the architectural. Your complete scope requirements are not always shown in the electrical drawings. The architectural drawings often carry electrical design elements, things such as light fixtures, equipment, special raceways and enclosures—you know, expensive things. So a thorough review and comparison of the architectural drawings is also critical for knowing your complete scope of work.

Be clear on the definition. You must check the definitions specification on every project (typically found in Section 00000 or 01000). In it you will find the meanings of all important words. Take note: Specifications are contractual documents, meaning these words are binding.

In specs, “provide” is a dangerous word that is often used in confusing ways. Typically, it only means to furnish or buy it, bring it to the job site and hand it to the owner or whomever is responsible for installation. But be careful. “Provide” sometimes means to furnish and install complete.

Then there is “furnish,” which does not necessarily mean to provide—it can also mean to install. “Install” almost always means what it says, but could also mean furnish (or provide). “By others” could be one of your subcontractors, which essentially is your company. Confused yet? Read the definitions and make sure you know exactly what they mean on each project.

Let your client know you know your complete scope. This can be very helpful to them on bid day. General contractors are not always aware of every aspect of the project, especially the specific details of an electrical design and its related scope with other trades. Schedule a pre-bid meeting, either in-person or on the phone. Arrive at this meeting with as much knowledge of the complete scope as you can. Prepare questions regarding the ambiguous areas of the design, the crossover trades, etc. Ask your client questions about your actual requirements with these other trades and what they need you to carry in your bid.

Submit your proposal early. It is critical that you clearly and concisely write your bid proposal with properly worded inclusions and exclusions. But submit it early, without a price. Waiting until the last minute to fax or e-mail your proposal is not helping your client, especially a bidding GC. The last thing you want to do is inform your client 10 minutes before bid time that you are excluding scope he is assuming you will cover, especially when he doesn’t have another sub quoting him on the scope you have excluded.

After you have faxed your prepriced proposal, wait a few hours, then give your client a call. Ask if they have read and fully understand your proposal. Do they accept your inclusions and exclusions? Do your exclusions leave them with any holes to fill?

You want your clients to look at your final price and understand what it means. You don’t want them just looking at the price alone to determine whether you are high or low. Your number might be low, but you may not be including everything. Then again, your number might be high, but it may include more scope than the current low bidder. In this scenario, the GC who doesn’t know about your additional included scope will just simply cast your number aside.

Always remember: the electrical plans and specifications do not necessarily tell all truths. Much depends on the bid form, the specifications for other trades and especially the Scope of Work document—if one is provided. So it’s up to you to find out what they say your scope is. If they do not clearly define who is responsible for “furnishing this” and “installing that”—then you need to hit the keyboard and write an RFI ... or 2 or 6 of them. Know your scope!    EC

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 by e-mail at [email protected].



About The Author

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly [email protected]


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