They Are Out There

Some specifications are to be taken seriously. Here is one example: “It is the electrical contractor’s (EC’s) responsibility to examine the facility thoroughly for any conditions that may affect its bid. Failure to do so will not relieve the contractor’s responsibility to provide a complete and operable project.”

This specification is often accompanied by a statement such as: “Additional costs incurred by the electrical contractor due to its failure to examine the existing facilities will not be reimbursed.”

These are some of the scariest words in a specification when bidding on changes to an existing building or facility. There are two reasons for this: existing buildings always have existing conditions, and these phrases are fully enforceable.

These and similar phrases appear in the electrical specifications for almost every project you bid, even if the project doesn’t include an existing building. These phrases also apply to site conditions, which can trip you up as much as existing building conditions. For most commercial projects, you will trench in a prepared pad. However, some projects may include extraordinary site conditions. Missing the fact that your trenches are in a solid granite outcropping is a great way to bust your estimate. 

Another site condition problem is found at waste water plants and other industrial facilities. Underground conditions can be extremely congested, requiring increased costs for your installation. I have worked on projects that required all trenching to be done by hand.

Light it up

Marc Duquette, senior electrical estimator at Aetna Lighting, Cambridge, Mass., gave me a couple examples of missed existing conditions on lighting retrofit projects. In one instance, the estimator counted the fixtures to be replaced, added some labor and material pricing, and won the bid. Only when the EC started to install the fixtures did it discover there was limited clearance above the ceiling and the new fixtures wouldn’t fit. The estimator had not adequately checked the existing conditions. 

Another problem Duquette reported was an estimator who did not check for the presence of expensive, add-on, emergency batteries in the fixtures he was counting up. Making these kinds of mistakes could shorten your estimating career.

Hospitals are particularly dangerous when it comes to existing conditions, because the space available for new installations can be very limited. Not only are ceilings full of the usual systems—such as electrical conduits and air conditioning ducts—they also are congested with gas piping, nurse-call and other critical-care systems. 

Don’t expect engineers to work out locations and routing for you. It is your responsibility to cover all of the costs required to make the proposed installations, even if the routing is shown on the drawings. Do not assume anything shown on the drawings is possible until you check for yourself.

Another problem in working at hospitals is arranging shutdowns for critical-care power changes, which may require temporary generators. Study the shutdown requirements carefully. I often find ways to do the job with fewer shutdowns than indicated in the bid documents.

There is no such thing as a rock-solid schedule. Many times, I have seen a contractor plan work in an area based on the hospital’s schedule and then learn they could not work in that area on the specified day. Make sure you protect your rights in cases like this, because there are always costs associated with schedule changes.

Where did it go?

One particularly bad example of existing conditions was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The plans called for several large feeders, with a voltage drop length estimate of around 100 feet. At the job walk, I discovered the proposed routing was not possible. After more than an hour of on-site research, it turned out the feeders needed to be much longer and include several junction boxes. The conduit and wire needed to be upsized due to the increased length. 

On a side note, this condition is one for which I would write a request for information (RFI). I always send in an RFI if I discover costs that another estimator may miss. Usually, the RFI will be responded to in an addendum, ensuring all of the bidders have the additional costs in their bids.

Hidden conditions are a little different from existing conditions, because you can sometimes get reimbursed for them. If there are areas you can’t get to during a job walk, make sure you qualify your proposal with the exact condition and the possible impact to your costs.

In brief, ensure the costs for existing conditions exist in your bid.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen 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, and...

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