Precautions Prevent Costly Errors

Avoiding costly surprises with a bid requires some precautionary diligence. A complete estimate and followup on the job after a successful bid are parts of the equation. Understanding and noting out-of-the-ordinary costs is the balance of the formula. Some of the estimators’ duties that are required to get all pertinent project information will probably overlap those of other personnel. This can be a sensitive matter and must be handled by all involved in an intelligent manner, keeping in focus the success of the bid, project, and finally, the company. As part of the management team, estimators should assume responsibility for gathering and keeping track of all the facts considered in the process of estimating a project. Some information may be irrelevant. Be assured that any field problems can affect future bids; field personnel’s feedback is one source of information. Understanding and becoming familiar with the engineers’ intentions and methods could also yield ideas for sharpening the bid. Estimators should develop and rely on personal contacts with those affecting the work. Varying code interpretations are typical of these tasks. Despite the decades-long effort to unite under one electrical code, the effort falls short when areas are permitted to enact “local amendments.” While these are more restrictive and meant to handle local problems, these amendments often serve no distinctive purpose. In a recent article, in the magazine published by the International Conference of Building Officials, a retired inspector made the case for keeping copious notes of decisions affecting a project. The importance was brought home to him when he was called as a witness in a trial where his decision was important. Fortunately, he had kept a log of decisions and was able to corroborate the basis of his decision. Estimators should likewise have some means of recording notes, information, and decisions that may affect a bid. An important caveat with any records is that third parties may at some time have access to the notes. A costly part of a project is the installation of underground utility feeders, also known as laterals. Communication services impose further requirements. While utilities have their own basic installation requirements and jurisdiction, local authorities may override any of these installation methods. This can lead to costly errors for a system of cataloging decisions that impact or may have impacted the installations. Major cost considerations include requirements to use particular products that are not normally expected. For example, the utility may accept PVC, while the local jurisdiction requires rigid conduit. This is a costly variance, particularly if it is not estimated as such. Encasement requirements of utility conduits that are beyond the normal, or state-of-the-art methods, can cause further cost shock. These variances can involve the depth of the conduit, the type of encasement, and the marking of the line’s location. Photographs of such installations can assist with future estimates; as well as establish a record of how the installation was performed. Estimators should gather code variances that may have been approved or granted in various jurisdictions and retain them in an organized file. At times, these decisions are based on value engineering considerations and can affect the bid result if applied judiciously. Further, such a reference may assist in making decisions in future bids. Varying labor requirements also affect a bid. In many jurisdictions, information sheets are routinely updated and shared with other departments. An unfamiliar type of project should obviously warrant an inquiry to the area’s NECA chapter. These professionals can fill many information voids. Some chapters provide telephone links and others include names of key personnel to contact for reliable information. Such data becomes invaluable when it is time to close the bid. It is important to include insurance policies and regulations, such as workman’s compensation, liability limits, and those required by particular awarding agencies in any database. Similarly, applicable permit and plan check fees and those fees for energy regulations-related issues should be kept track of. In past years, a small percentage would have covered these various costs, but times have changed. Municipalities especially have found that construction projects now comprise up to 20 percent of a construction project. The electrical industry is not spared such hefty increases. If the information is important enough to have caused an otherwise correctly estimated project to produce a lower-than-expected profit margin, then it should be kept readily available for colleagues. 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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