Keeping Up with the Times to Avoid Costly Problems

During the electrical industry’s history, changes have occurred at warp speed. Many of these ideas can create havoc for an estimator or estimating system that has not changed with the times. Energy regulations enacted by the various levels of government have spawned many changes. The National Energy Act of 1992, as an example, completely revised the requirements for lamps. Yet some designers stuck by their old fixture schedule paste-up. If an estimator does not catch these design discrepancies, costly delays will occur on the project, and the selection of fixtures that were quoted for a bid may be utterly useless. Familiarity with energy regulations of the various jurisdictions should be a high priority. There may be opportunities for suggesting some value engineering changes or additions based on the regulations. The suggested changes, however, should not be considered a substitute for conforming to the bid invitation specifications. While Canadian readers have been using the metric system for a number of years, this requirement has been added much later on some projects in the United States. Tools that can measure using the metric scale work better than mathematical conversions, because errors can occur in the latter method. Conduit size conversion is a fine print note (FPN) entry in the various National Electrical Code (NEC) sections, such as Article 346, and the subsequent conduit system. Contractors who use computers for estimating will need to have access to metric pricing as well as to the data processing numbers to identify the products. Some of these happenings affect the price of the project, more than likely by increasing it. The learning curve for installation labor will be affected, as will the effect on the estimator facing some of these variations. While there may not be a distinctive descriptor, such cost changes can best be attributed to the overall impact they have on a project estimate. Impact costs can be avoided if the owners and contractors generally agree about how they will be avoided or equitably handled. “Forward pricing” is based on agreements made beforehand about costs that will be applied to impacts caused by later changes. Pre-job agreements can help to prevent negative attitudes. The basic question is how the project differs from others the firm has worked on. The Corps of Engineers has tackled the subject by making decisions based on data from other projects. On a particular project, it’s a small matter when a few items are removed, but it becomes significant when something such as a switchgear change is made. In some cases, the Performance Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) has been used to assess impact costs. This system, which was developed by the United States Navy and may work for marine projects, falls short when applied to civilian construction. Getting an agreement ahead of time will help avoid PERT. Residential estimators should check carefully before bidding multifamily residential projects, such as condominiums. Some insurers have dropped any coverage for later claims of defective construction, meaning that the contractor has to pay all the legal defense costs, which can be extensive. How did we get to this situation? Perhaps eager law firms are partly to blame. Certainly shoddy work is a factor, although it’s usually not the electrical contractors who are at fault. Many of these claims are generated by pure greed, some by disgruntled people with buyers’ remorse, and a very small percentage for actual defective work. One so-called expert in nitpicking electrical work stated that any money recovered for the “electrical defects,” is pure gravy. These “experts” will rip a project apart despite the building inspectors’ approvals. If a jurisdiction has a differing opinion on a particular Code section, these people will challenge the contractor, but not the inspection department. This problem is costly for all involved, and one from which the industry receives nothing. The defense of these types of ridiculous claims starts with estimates that are complete with substantiating notes. More important yet is that these estimates must be kept in your files for 10 to 15 years, because no one can know when the other shoe will drop. Any local code interpretations should be noted and include the names of the inspector that granted the minor variance. Documentation of the project is important. Inclusion of photos taken before walls are covered can go a long way to stave off some of these claims. As with any project, the actual contract plans should be held in the file for many years. This all is not intended to discourage multi-residential work, but rather to make everyone aware of the precautions to be taken. DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach City College, Calif., a consultant, and an expert witness. He can be reached at (562) 597-1877 or by e-mail at

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