The Answer Is ...

Last month, I discussed how, when and why you should write a request for information (RFI). Of course, this is only half the battle. As the waiting begins to see if (and how) your RFI(s) will be answered, the real challenge will be setting up your estimate to accommodate the potential response … that is, if you actually get one.

What if your RFI pertains to a large area of the project or a major scope issue, one that you are not sure should be included in the bid or in a particular breakdown? Your entire takeoff structure and schedule could be changed by the engineer’s response.

An example of this is a bid form, which requires you to segregate the project “by phase,” but the phase descriptions do not make sense or match the project’s layout. Bid form breakdowns such as this are extremely important to confirm and know before you start your takeoff and ahead of setting up your takeoff label sets. Your label sets and/or how you segregate your takeoff have a huge impact on your ability to create accurate extensions that will fit the bid form requirements.

Time is not on your side
You certainly don’t want to spend time estimating work that is “not included.” However, if a day or two before bid day, the answer is “Yes, include it,” you might not have enough time to accurately take it off. You also don’t want to estimate it wrong, having to then re-estimate it and/or change a large portion of your takeoff entry.

One way to accommodate this is to use paper spreadsheets as you await the response of your RFI. This will take you longer, as you will need additional time later to input your counts, so make sure you factor this into your estimate’s schedule. Personally, I recommend you create a distinct set of takeoff labels in your job file. Try to set them up in a way that allows you to easily include any logical RFI response. I can’t help you with illogical responses. Sorry.

Is MC cable allowed?
Another typical example is the question of whether or not MC cable is allowed. This is not necessarily an issue that will stop or slow down your takeoff, or impact your label sets, but it certainly can affect how you roll off your circuitry and which database assemblies you use.

If you are using paper spreadsheets, you can simply write down a description of your circuitry takeoff and hold off entering the associated counts until you get the response. Again, just ensure you give yourself enough time to enter everything, and remember: entering often involves building special items and assemblies.

If you are using the direct-entry method, you need to think about the best way to enter your takeoff, which will allow for the easiest modifications based on the RFI response. Try segregating specific assemblies, which only carry the items you know can be substituted. Build “count” assemblies (fixtures, receptacles, etc.) without any branch circuitry roll-off. Then build and enter “device-to-device” branch roll-off assemblies separately. Keep “home-run” roll-off assemblies separate because typically when MC is allowed, homeruns still must be EMT. When the RFI response is “Yes, MC is allowed,” all you need to do is modify a few assemblies.

Some of the major software programs have features that allow you to substitute assemblies or items inside assemblies. Be very careful with these features, as you must be completely sure what you are substituting.

RFIs are legal contract documents
If your RFIs are not answered, or if only a couple are, you should note this in your bid proposal. Just like noting a specific inclusion or exclusion, noting which RFIs you submitted and which ones were answered or not could protect your company during the contract award and building phase.
For example, under your inclusions you could note: “We include our RFI Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4.” Then note: “We include work required per responses to RFIs 1 and 2, but take exception to the scope issues discussed in our RFIs 3 and 4, which were not answered or addressed in any addenda.”
Now, it may not be as easy as that, but my point is that if you don’t make note of unanswered RFIs and you win the project, don’t expect the owner or the GC to care about whether or not you estimated your assumptions correctly. Also, as you typically bid to GCs, who in turn bid directly to the owner, you could actually be helping out your GC client by informing them of unanswered scope and design issues prior to their commitment to a price.

Be prepared
If you can, you should always get your takeoff done a couple days before bid day. You don’t want anything to delay your bid. Always expect RFI responses to come late. So you must continue on with your counting and roll-off, preparing yourself as much as you can for any response.

SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. During the past 12 years, he operated a fully staffed estimating company TakeOff16 Inc. He’s currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at or contact him directly

About the Author

Stan Shook

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

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