Category Archives: Electrical Contracting

Keeping Calm

The May issue of Electrical Contractor Magazine is available online. This month I talk about keeping calm. Click on the magazine cover to go directly to the article.

Where Is It?

Don’t worry folks. Due to a realignment of due dates, we are skipping the March issue. We will be back in April. Thanks to those of you who contacted me about the missing article.

More Spreadsheets

The August issue of Electrical Contractor Magazine is available online. This month features Part 3 of a series about using spreadsheets. Click on the magazine cover to go directly to the estimating article.

Contracts for Subcontractors

John Forgos just posted a link to a great article regarding contracts for subcontractors. The link was posted in the LinkedIn Professional Estimators Group. Here it is.

Managing Millennials

Click here for a link to an article about hiring and keeping millennial employees. I thought it was informative.


Electrical Apps On Your Phone

I have been using an Android app for about a year, called Electrical Wiring Pro. It performs over 40 standard calculations like wire sizing, conduit fill and voltage drop, all for under $5. The app has become indispensable in our office, as the plans we are getting contain more mistakes, and are less complete than ever.

I checked both the Apple Store and Google play just now, and found that both stores have dozens of apps for electricians and estimators, at low prices.  Some of them have free lite versions, so you can check them out before buying.

Ethics, Relationships, and Electrical Estimating – Part 1

It took a long time to research this article. If you Google “Ethics”, you get over 92 million results. If you further restrict your search to “Ethics and Construction”, you still get over 27 million results. There is a mountain of information and opinions, so much so that I started to feel naive. It seems my time working for large and small contractors in Southern California has been a sheltered existence.

One important point, I only had a contextual notion of the fact that ethics vary by geographical region. For example, what’s acceptable in Chicago may not be acceptable in Los Angeles. Also, ethics vary even more once you leave America. For instance, some parts of the world consider bribery to be a regular part of business, whereas it usually indicates a loss of integrity here in the United States.

An electrical estimator has to deal with a lot of people, including vendors, customers, general contractors, engineers, architects, other estimators and bosses. In this series of articles, we’ll cover some of the issues related to dealing with these people.

My first job in this industry was at a small wholesale house. After 7 years there, I was offered a job in purchasing for a very large electrical contractor. My boss at the wholesale house could not match the offer, so I took the job. On my last day at the wholesale house, my boss took me aside and offered some advice. He told me not to take anything. I did not know what this meant, but he would not say anything else. It did not take long for me to learn just what he was talking about. So began my journey into the ethics of this business.

Let’s start with vendors and the question, “Can you be bought?” If so, how much do you cost? I had to make some quick decisions when I started the new job, as I was in charge of purchases that ran as high as one million dollars per month. I decided that the only thing I would take from vendors was lunches, with the qualification that they could not buy me with a lunch. They were informed however, that I could be bought with great service and rock bottom prices. This approach worked very well, partially because I controlled so much money. If I held up an order to a wholesale house on Monday, they were on the phone Tuesday morning to fix whatever they were doing wrong.

This was actually done to the dismay of my boss, who preferred yelling at the vendors. I got the same lecture at least twice a month. Imagine a man with a British accent yelling “Steve, you’re not bloody hard enough on the wholesalers”. Let me qualify that to this day, I am still fond of the man and have great respect for him. He taught me a lot, and brought me from small contracting to large contracting without much scarring. I just disagreed with him. As I matured and learned a little more about psychology, I came to understand that his approach may be necessary for some people, whereas my method worked better with others.

So the question here is how do you deal with vendors? Is yelling at them the way to go? If you have financial leverage should you use it? Do you do what is in the best interest of the company or yourself? When is accepting a gift (bribe) ok? How large does a gift have to be before it is considered a bribe?

Please take some time to offer your opinions, and let us know what part of the country or world in which you do business.

In part two, I will talk about “Shopping”.

Is Green The Future For Electrical Contractors (And Therefore Electrical Estimators)?

A business acquaintance of mine recently posted an article stating an opinion based on his research regarding the future of electricians in relation to green construction. He believes that electrical contractors need to become energy contractors. Click here to read the article.

The author proposes that electrical contractors will need to update their skills as required to meet the changes related to energy efficiency and alternate energy sources. Of course, any new technology that uses or manipulates electricity will need to be understood by electrical estimators.

This could be a problem for electrical estimators. Where are we supposed to get labor units for new technology? These labor units are not in the labor manuals or estimating system databases. If your company has not done this type of work before, you have no historical data to fall back on. The good news is that there are several ways to deal with this problem.

The first method I experienced was to hire the expertise. I was once with a company that wanted to get into high voltage work. I was able to hire an expert to help me with the estimate and run the work. Using the history we developed on the project, we were able to start adding data to our labor manual for high voltage work. I imagine that in today’s labor market, you should be able to find someone with the experience to help you with any new technology.

Another method I have used is subcontractors. If my men could not do the job, I could often sub it out. There is a question of ethics here if you intend to obtain labor units based on the subcontractor’s performance. Using the subcontractor to teach you so you can take away his work is questionable.

A more difficult and risky method I have used is to develop labor units. This involved having meetings with estimators, field personnel and vendors of the new technology. I have been fortunate using this method, as projects I have won with this way have made money. And when you are done with the project, you now have some history to analyze.

As usual, let me know what you think.

Update #2 to BIM and Electrical Estimating

I am now working on my first project with  requirements that a BIM model be provided by the electrical subcontractor. The project is not very large. It is a small piece of a much larger project, which I presume is why the model is required.

The BIM model is not for estimating. It is for project coordination, and must be integrated into the “Consolidated” project model the construction manager is maintaining. The electrical contractor is required to include all conduit/cable bundles over 1″, all equipment and all light fixtures. The model must be done on the same software the construction manager is using.

This can be a considerable expense for a smaller contractor. He will have to hire or contract with someone experienced in BIM modeling on the required software. The modeler will have to own a copy of the software. The costs will continue for the duration of the project, as the model is updated with any changes.

So there you go small to medium electrical contractors. Large contractors with BIM modelers on-board may have an advantage when it comes to the cost of this requirement.