Document Quality and Electrical Estimating

We completed an estimate recently for a truck stop. It contained numerous scope coordination problems. Consider this example. The homeruns from the fuel pumps for the various systems were indicated on a number of different plan sheets. Each plan sheet contradicted the next. One claimed that we were to install the conduit system complete in PVC 40. Another claimed that the fuel system contractor was installing all conduit to the fuel pumps. Yet another claimed that we were only responsible for stub outs from the fuel control desks. And a final note claimed that we were to extend the conduits to the fuel island in PVC 80.

We did eventually worked out the real scope. The point of this discussion however, is that we had to do it at all. This may be old news, but documents continue to get worse. Every once and a while, I think that they have gotten as bad as they can get. I am usually proved to be wrong fairly quickly.

 There are many impacts from this trend. Here are just a few:

  • Estimates need to be prepared earlier, so that RFI’s can be submitted in a timely manner.
  • Estimates take longer to prepare because of the time it takes to solve the problems on the drawings.
  • You will be less certain that your competition is including the same scope you are. If you make a call on a problem and include the work in your scope, will the other bidders do the same?
  • Your bid schedule may be affected by the addendum required to correct the problems.
  • If the addendum does not extend the bid time, you may be working overtime to complete the estimate. This happened to me on the truck stop estimate. I worked over the weekend to complete the estimate for a Tuesday bid date. The project was postponed on Monday.
  • If you win the project, will you have enough overhead and project management time to handle the clarification of the scope? It can be hard to recover this time in change orders.

I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter. Is there anything we can do as estimators? I have heard that there are organizations working on national standards for electrical drawings. Is this true? Can they actually make a difference? I have more thoughts on this subject to be discussed in a future post (that is, if you do not bring them up in this discussion).

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4 responses to “Document Quality and Electrical Estimating

  1. The trend is to use CAD to do more copy and paste design work. The budget for design work makes up a smaller and smaller portion of the overall project.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for better designs.

    One item that will cause even more headaches. Electrical PEs are generally not conversant with the specifics of the Fire Alarm systems that they are specifying. And there is enough difference in the systems to make extremely detailed drawings problematic if you are required to have multiple vendor options.

    Yet the IBC requires detailed load calculations, etc. to be submitted to the AHJ. So you now have the electrician through his Fire Alarm subcontractor involved very early in the process so that the building permit can be issued.

    The fire protection sprinkler contractors have been in this game for some time. They resolve this by working directly for the General Contractor or the Owner to speed up the process. But your typical FA contractor is far more reliant on the electrical contractor (conduit stub ups, pulling wire, etc) than the FP sprinkler contractor.

    But given how poorly most FA design work is done. And a desire to avoid change orders due to faulty design. I suspect that in the long run the FA contractor being a direct contractor to the GC and design build the system is going to be what happens.

  2. I am seeing many projects now with the Fire Alarm work being designed and submitted by the contractor after the bid. This fits in with your opinion regarding PE’s knowledge of FA design.

  3. Not only are the prints becoming more and more conflicting the spec alot of time disagrees with the prints. We recently bid a project where the engineer wanted a dimming fixture package. All of the outside (perimeter) room and offices where to have daylight harvesting and all rooms and corridors where to have occupancy sensors. The spec left the package open to several manufacturers with no direction as to the intent or the scope of what they were tyring to acheive. Did they want a full blown building dimming system or something that was specific to the individual room being controlled. Either of which were doable but what did they want and moreover, how was the next guy going to bid it?

    • You are seeing the same things I am. The quality of bidding documents continues to degrade. I took so long to get back to you on this comment because of a waste water plant bid that had 170 plan sheets. 160 of them were replaced by addendum. There were also over 100 electrical questions that had to be answered.

      These kinds of problems are not just a pain. They are expensive. The addendums on that project nealy doubled the time required to prepare the estimate.

      If anyone out there has any ideas on how to change this trend, please let me know. I am tired of just complaining about this problem.

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