designers failing at their job and its ok?

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kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
If I understand why you wrote this I adamantly disagree. Change orders rarely make anyone any money. In my experience I would MUCH rather have a job that gets installed 100% to the plans with no changes. It is even worse nowadays when many contracts limit overhead to 10 or 15%. I used to write a change to cover my costs. Now I have to include, printing, material person, project manager, foreman, itemize, tape, hacksaw blades etc. and then argue every penny to break even. No thanks.
I guess I never understood why it was customer/clients business to know what my markup and overhead costs are. If they ask for a bid and give the specifications to bid to why does it matter if I have $1000 of markup or overhead vs $2000 when the bottom line to them is the total bid?

Do you go to the grocery store and ask them how much of the sale price of an item is for overhead costs? Well there maybe some people that would, but most just pay the marked price with no other questions asked. Discrepancies in the marked price and price at the cash register is not the same thing. Now when purchasing big ticket items like furniture, appiances, automobiles etc. it is more common to negotiate prices, but generally the consumer still has no idea what the seller cost of the item was or how much overhead and markup was actually collected. Sometimes they get rid of things below cost, but for good reason, but to get rid of everything below cost doesn't seem profitable to me.
 

nhfire77

Senior Member
Location
NH
Please forgive me if I am missing your key points. You have been light on specific examples.

I see my role as the EE/PE as creating a design that is code-compliant, that is constructible, and that is sufficiently clear and complete to minimize the opportunity for RFIs and change orders. But there are pieces of the design that I do not want to touch, that the owner would not want to pay me to touch, and that the installer would not want me to impose upon him or her. One example is conduit routing. I seldom give any information or instructions on which way to route conduit, or how many to run side-by-side, or where to make the bends, or where to put pull boxes. I really do prefer that the EC just ?make it work.? One notable exception is in crowded corridors, where the mechanical ducting, the plumbing piping, the telecomm cable tray, and the panelboard feeders must share the ceiling space. Another notable exception is in a correctional facility, because the nature of the wall construction does not allow conduit routing sideways from outlet to outlet, and every outlet must be fed from directly above.

Another example is in the realm of circuiting. My drawing will show that three specific receptacles in a room are all on circuit #2. But it will not tell you to run the conduit from the panel first to the receptacle on the north wall, and then to the one on the west wall, and finally to the one on the south wall. Here again, I want you to ?make it work,? because I am fully aware that you are better at making those decisions than I will ever be.

Does this put me in your category of EEs who don?t give you enough information?


No not all. I completely agree with your examples. The issue is clarity and the minimization of RFI's up front. The make it work reference is to being told that after asking for their intent was, not a how to request. I would never ask that.

A example- Plumbing plans show a gas valve control panel.(in this case this is not a code requirement) There are two CO sensors shown to shunt power when gas is detected, just says typical arraignment. Also It has a single arrow extending from a box labelled as such to a text box that says fire alarm. The note states the fire alarm will sound and valve will close when gas is detected. No further info including the specs. The gas control panel doesn't have inputs or outputs it has manual controls on its front only. I did not see this note, and I accept that its my fault for not reading div 22. However its not mentioned under div 16, which is an issue in my opinion, as we are responsible for the wiring for this specific item. I believe it is the designer, who is also the specifier, to ensure compatibility or offer details on how you want this done since its essentially a custom set up.
 

nhfire77

Senior Member
Location
NH
As a designer I make every effort to determine what I can in the field, to provide clear and concise directions on my plans.

However I am not allowed to open things up myself and most clients will not allow any shutdowns for me to poke my head into pieces of equipment to figure it out. Existing owner documentation? Yeah good luck assuming I get anything of that nature. Usually what's as existing is the designer's best guess based on what could non intrusively be observed in the field.

So what am I supposed to do? I'm not a miracle worker either. I'm not one of those that will immediately throw up a wall and say the contractor missed it or doesn't understand or not be helpful. I only go "shields up" when it becomes obvious that a contractor missed something on the plans and is now fishing for change orders to cover that miss. Not to say you are doing that, just something I get to deal with a couple of contractors in my area.

However the contractor does have a responsibility to ask for clarifications during bid if they feel something isn't clear or correct.

At the end of the day, it's not beneficial by either side to apply an "us vs. them" mentality. Both sides want the thing built.

I did not share enough info- No one is expecting you to walk about with tools in your pocket. But if you spec equipment, contractor reports it doesnt fit or work do you tell them to 'make it work' ? Or maybe get photos or go and see it. This post wasnt to attack all designers. It was an exasperation due to some of your fellow PE's. Its not all designers, but a enough of the work I interact with, review or just look at are sloppy with life safety systems and its becoming a trend. This is not just one or two firms.
 

Strathead

Senior Member
Location
Ocala, Florida, USA
Occupation
Electrician/Estimator/Project Manager/Superintendent
No not all. I completely agree with your examples. The issue is clarity and the minimization of RFI's up front. The make it work reference is to being told that after asking for their intent was, not a how to request. I would never ask that.

A example- Plumbing plans show a gas valve control panel.(in this case this is not a code requirement) There are two CO sensors shown to shunt power when gas is detected, just says typical arraignment. Also It has a single arrow extending from a box labelled as such to a text box that says fire alarm. The note states the fire alarm will sound and valve will close when gas is detected. No further info including the specs. The gas control panel doesn't have inputs or outputs it has manual controls on its front only. I did not see this note, and I accept that its my fault for not reading div 22. However its not mentioned under div 16, which is an issue in my opinion, as we are responsible for the wiring for this specific item. I believe it is the designer, who is also the specifier, to ensure compatibility or offer details on how you want this done since its essentially a custom set up.

You didn't see what note? From what you wrote i wouldn't take responsibility for one red cent. I bring my wires there. If they don't have anywhere to hook them up I don't care.
 
Now if that means you need to come to look during a scheduled shutdown so be it, if it is going to cost you more to do so then you need to charge more to do so.

I would gladly come back during a scheduled shutdown if there was one :rant:

If the customer will not let you poke your head in at all - they need explanation that doing so may result in errors in your finished product and you will not take responsibility for such errors if they will not work with you.

Oh yeah you have no idea the notes that go into proposals and emails about that commonplace situation. :cool:

I don't especially care for boilerplate specifications that include things that don't even apply to the current project - that fact alone means the designer may have missed something IMO. Designer could still use a boiler plate, but one that gets information adjusted to fit the project, at least he has to go through the specs and may see something that needs attention instead of just handing us a one specification fits all listing.

I use my tailored "boilerplate" specifications for sections that never change project to project (are changed when standards update, new products that I prefer to use, etc.). Such sections are things like conductors and raceways and boxes. While I do have "boilerplate" specification sections for specific systems such as fire alarm or access control, all of those specs are looked through each project.

While you as a contractor may not like information that isn't "project specific", as a designer I am trying to not only clearly and concisely produce a product that is construct-able and code-compliant, I am also trying to make a reproducible product. I also work to an amount that was bid on the project. My budget is limited, unlike how some contractors think. So I will not scrub every piece of non project specific information from my specs, unless paid the additional amount by the client to do so.

Leaving in extra information also saves me time as quite often I may disbar a certain installation style on the drawings due to the type of facility or because we are going for a certain finished look. But quite often in the name of "cheaper and faster" (and uglier but that is never mentioned) have the owner answer an RFI allowing it without consulting me. Well my specs still cover that type of installation so I don't have to come back and either a) answer endless RFIs because it's not mentioned, b) Have to issue an addendum (usually without additional fees no matter how justified) to update all applicable spec sections to accommodate the previously disbarred installation method, or c) Have the contractor go cowboy because it wasn't covered knowing I don't have a leg to stand on to fix code-compliant but shoddy work due to no specs.

We designers don't do what we do to screw the contractors or make their day suck. We are in it with you, working on limited information, time, and budget. No matter how delayed the answer or how complicated the problem, my deliverable date is usually etched in stone as well.

I did not share enough info- No one is expecting you to walk about with tools in your pocket. But if you spec equipment, contractor reports it doesnt fit or work do you tell them to 'make it work' ? Or maybe get photos or go and see it. This post wasnt to attack all designers. It was an exasperation due to some of your fellow PE's. Its not all designers, but a enough of the work I interact with, review or just look at are sloppy with life safety systems and its becoming a trend. This is not just one or two firms.

If the contractor reports that it doesn't fit, my first request is for pictures and suggested course of action, as the contractor is in the field and usually has an idea of what they want to do before they call me.

As for life safety systems, my plans will indicate that the fire alarm (only one I'm usually directly responsible for) is a suggested layout but is design build by the contractor. Yes I know you don't like that, but I am very up front about it and it's due to my firm not having a fire protection engineer who can officially sanction said fire alarm layout. But we do our best to make our plans as accurate to the code requirements on it as we can.

Apologies for the rant, I just get frustrated when contractors think every designer knows every specific detail about every job they ever did. Especially when I usually have 2-3 jobs in various stages of construction and 2-4 in various stages of design at any given time. We do the best that we can with the time and material we are given.
 

iwire

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Massachusetts
The design engineer is often beaten down on fee and shopped around in the same way the trades are shopped around before construction contract award. This was never the way in the past.

That is exactly what I have imagined. Instead of being given the time to do it right they have to just get it out the door.
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
If they don't have anywhere to hook them up I don't care.
Not trying to put you down, but there is too much of this "if such and such" isn't there .... "I don't care" going on among the trades, everyone is in a big hurry to get in and get out and not so much willing to work with others, usually makes more work for everyone in the end:(

We designers don't do what we do to screw the contractors or make their day suck. We are in it with you, working on limited information, time, and budget. No matter how delayed the answer or how complicated the problem, my deliverable date is usually etched in stone as well.

Again everyone involved in most projects anymore has a lot on their plate, and seems to have no time to dedicate to any one specific project or task, and it makes it harder to work with others when they have the same problem. Now by the time the contractors have questions for the designer - he has worked on many other projects since that design and doesn't have that information fresh in his mind either.

I don't really have a solution either. When I first started in this trade we worked with a few home builders that just about "did it all" from excavation of the foundation to putting on window casings and other trims. About the only other trades involved were plumbers, elecricians, and HVAC, and some of these builders did one or more of those tasks as well. They may not have been the greatest plumbers, elecricians or HVAC guys but were usually pretty fair at those tasks (if they did them). Those jobs seemed to run pretty smoothly, you had same people on site from beginning to end and it is easy to make plans with yourself on future tasks.

Nowadays, some of those contractors are still around but no longer "do it all". If doing small remodeling project they may get more variety of tasks involved, but new construction or major rennovations, they are subcontracting all sorts of things they used to do all the time.
 

Strathead

Senior Member
Location
Ocala, Florida, USA
Occupation
Electrician/Estimator/Project Manager/Superintendent
Not trying to put you down, but there is too much of this "if such and such" isn't there .... "I don't care" going on among the trades, everyone is in a big hurry to get in and get out and not so much willing to work with others, usually makes more work for everyone in the end:(


As long as you don't take may statement out of context then if you feel that way all the power to you. The person I responded to said he knew he was responsible because he didn't read the division 22 specs and didn't pick up on the fact that division 22 didn't provide an electrically operated valve. (I read between the lines a little but this was the gist.) My "I don't care" was meant as the response to someone trying to tell me that I should have caught that and I was responsible. It wasn't cavalier. I go over plans thoroughly when bidding and/or building. If I see something I bring it up. Often being known as the person who asks too many questions. When I miss something that wasn't in my bailiwick however. The last thing I want to hear is that it was my fault.
 

Strathead

Senior Member
Location
Ocala, Florida, USA
Occupation
Electrician/Estimator/Project Manager/Superintendent
I would gladly come back during a scheduled shutdown if there was one :rant:

Bluesmoke, for the record, we as electricians are always going to have times when we butt heads with you as Engineers. There are good Engineers and there are bad ones. Just the fact that you correspond on Mike Holt makes you extremely likely to be one of the good ones. I believe the same about us electricians who correspond here. We are the ones who care enough to reach out and learn.

There are always going to be mistakes on both sides, but if I miss a couple insulated throat connectors or use a generic ground rod it isn't any bigger deal than you leaving superfluous information in your spec, but there are EE's in the area who would castigate us.

Recent job:

In the specs, a note: install tamper resistant receptacles in all bedrooms, (not a dwelling unit)

Not in the specs, and there was a fire alarm spec. Not one word about the 120v smoke detectors on the plan

In the symbol legend a specific part number for a very expensive 120 volt smoke detector, no substitutes.

Not in the specs: requirement to provide striped neutrals buried in the side note of one detail on one detail page. Provide striped neutrals Oh yeah but the requirement for all feeder phase wires to be colored insulation WAS in the specs.

Do not substitute in-use cover for GFI's obsolete part number. And nothing special.
 

Cincycaddy

Member
Location
Cincinnati, OH
Bluesmoke, for the record, we as electricians are always going to have times when we butt heads with you as Engineers. There are good Engineers and there are bad ones.

I've been at an EPC firm for 5 yrs now, first job out of college. I tend to gripe that we have a handful of engineers in our department who are book smart but don't always get it when it comes to deliverables. I swear we have some who would struggle to wire two 3 way switches with a 4 way thrown in. Often they dwell on the minutia instead of the big picture and can't get past that not every detail needs to be spelled out. Too often they fail to see things from the contractors perspective, and it's a shame.
 

kingpb

Senior Member
Due to pressure from the design builders of the world, this trend will get worse.

The design engineer is often beaten down on fee and shopped around in the same way the trades are shopped around before construction contract award. This was never the way in the past.

The trend is to push more of the design onto the tradesman, and until the Engineering community resists the commoditization of our work, it will not get better.

Here, Here!!!!!! You hit the nail on the head (bender on the pipe, monkey juice on the wire; whatever :lol:)

The trend has been for quite some time to reduce engineers and designer fees, as others have said, by shopping them around. Which means to charge less, the client gets less. Odd though, because I have found Owner's are willing to pay for example 5% higher on construction costs, but wants the engineer to keep fees to a minimum. 5% higher on construction is a lot more money than 5% of my fees.

So, I base my design estimates on how the client wants to pay - the higher the fee, the more detail they get. From what I call an "A" job to an "F" job. For an "F" job, I provide a one-line or riser, and could literally write "meet minimum requirements of NEC and AHJ". From there on up, everything costs more.

The "F" job will mean it is pretty much design build, the "A" job will be a lot of detail and thus fewest RFI's.
 

iwire

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Massachusetts
King, thanks for being honest about it and I can't fault anyone for providing less when they are being compensated less.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
I am not fond of designing stuff that has to be redone on the field and go to a lot of lengths to avoid it. but we have some customers that want the cheapest answer and want it without giving me enough information to make truly informed decisions. So they sometimes get generic stuff that is less than ideal.
 

Sierrasparky

Senior Member
Location
USA
Occupation
Electrician ,contractor
King, thanks for being honest about it and I can't fault anyone for providing less when they are being compensated less.
I beg to differ. Don't take the job then.

I am not fond of designing stuff that has to be redone on the field and go to a lot of lengths to avoid it. but we have some customers that want the cheapest answer and want it without giving me enough information to make truly informed decisions. So they sometimes get generic stuff that is less than ideal.
Then why don't you just pass on the job. We EC can't leave stuff out just because we are not getting paid enough. We either choose to pass or make less profit.
 

Sierrasparky

Senior Member
Location
USA
Occupation
Electrician ,contractor
Here, Here!!!!!! You hit the nail on the head (bender on the pipe, monkey juice on the wire; whatever :lol:)

.
So, I base my design estimates on how the client wants to pay - the higher the fee, the more detail they get. From what I call an "A" job to an "F" job. For an "F" job, I provide a one-line or riser, and could literally write "meet minimum requirements of NEC and AHJ". From there on up, everything costs more.

The "F" job will mean it is pretty much design build, the "A" job will be a lot of detail and thus fewest RFI's.

That is such garbage! I understand that you can only do what you get paid for but that is just screwed up. I am sure you don't tell the client that you are providing incomplete plans as you will not get hired. In My honest sole opinon you are a fraud. Electrical cont ractors are not engineers and when there is a EE on the project they are usally not permitted by law to alter or deviate from said plans. EE play hokey pokey with load calculations all the time. I get plans that show a single line this way and then you look at the load of the panel shed you see something different.
Just the two months ago I see load drawn for a panel "A" at 22 amps and the feeder to be 100 amps, Then the breaker of the feeder suppling the panel "A" is 60 amps. The distance of the feeder is 500'. The wire size is #1.


For god sake this is a 60 amp feeder disguised as 100 for the sake of not complying with the upsize rule for the ground.
The PE knows it and should face disciplanary action for this and other blatant things he has done.
 

nhfire77

Senior Member
Location
NH
As for life safety systems, my plans will indicate that the fire alarm (only one I'm usually directly responsible for) is a suggested layout but is design build by the contractor. Yes I know you don't like that, but I am very up front about it and it's due to my firm not having a fire protection engineer who can officially sanction said fire alarm layout. But we do our best to make our plans as accurate to the code requirements on it as we can.

Apologies for the rant, I just get frustrated when contractors think every designer knows every specific detail about every job they ever did. Especially when I usually have 2-3 jobs in various stages of construction and 2-4 in various stages of design at any given time. We do the best that we can with the time and material we are given.

1st paragraph- Life safety is NOT design build 90% of the time in the northeast. It's not that I don't like it, it's not a matter of preference. I cannot bid on your drawings for FA when we have to create a shop drawing.... after I am awarded the job. The shop drawings require prior AHJ approval. So we are stuck in the middle. The designer's plans are so lacking and there is no time to adequately address them. Then we have to risk a low bid and hope the change order comes our way, or lose the job to the guy that will hack it in and doesn't care.

I accept and appreciate change orders and some customers demand a code minimum drawing, hoping to skate by the AHJ review, when the local requirements are more stringent. AHJ's won't even let us put conduit stubs in for FA without an approved permit. As the boots on the ground we have to toe the line to maintain healthy relationships with them.

Until recently in Texas, PE's couldn't submit FA plans unless they could prove proficiency in FA, like nicet. This should be a universal concept PE's abide by- if it's out of your wheelhouse keep your hands off it. I'm betting it's part of your standards of conduct. As it ours to pummel you with RFI's, but that leads us to your....


2nd paragraph- This reflects firm's inability to manage their work load and individuals failure to maintain the professional standards of conduct the society's they are members of. PE's successfully assign the risk and responsibility to the contractor when things go wrong. Legally they may be in the right. However it is a question of ethics. As Ron said the commodization of your trade diminishes your capacity to do good work. You are allowing it individually and collectively. I'm not perfect and am a realist but I strive harder to do it right than increase volume and productivity at the cost of public safety and the clients money.

(The word you here is a generalization not an attack)
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
I beg to differ. Don't take the job then.

Then why don't you just pass on the job. We EC can't leave stuff out just because we are not getting paid enough. We either choose to pass or make less profit.

We are not in the business of passing on profitable jobs. The customer gets what he wants. If he wants cheap, that is what he gets. It is not up to me to decide that cheap is inappropriate. Sometimes it is, but it is always the customer's choice and their decision.

We have occasionally passed on stuff just by offering a price for something they are unwilling to accept because we were unwilling to do what they think they wanted. But, for the most part, if it is safe and to code, it is customer choice, not ours.

SCCR is one of them. There are still a bunch of people who just will not pay to first off decide what SCCR is appropriate and secondly to pay for a SCCR that costs more than the cheapest possible answer. So, every quote now tells them that they are getting either the SCCR they asked for, or our default (5 or 10 kA - I do so few of those that I don't recall offhand which it is). If they deliberately choose an inappropriate SCCR level, how do we stop them?
 

Sierrasparky

Senior Member
Location
USA
Occupation
Electrician ,contractor
We are not in the business of passing on profitable jobs. The customer gets what he wants. If he wants cheap, that is what he gets. It is not up to me to decide that cheap is inappropriate. Sometimes it is, but it is always the customer's choice and their decision.

We have occasionally passed on stuff just by offering a price for something they are unwilling to accept because we were unwilling to do what they think they wanted. But, for the most part, if it is safe and to code, it is customer choice, not ours.

SCCR is one of them. There are still a bunch of people who just will not pay to first off decide what SCCR is appropriate and secondly to pay for a SCCR that costs more than the cheapest possible answer. So, every quote now tells them that they are getting either the SCCR they asked for, or our default (5 or 10 kA - I do so few of those that I don't recall offhand which it is). If they deliberately choose an inappropriate SCCR level, how do we stop them?

Amazing, Simply amazing.
A job is not really profitable if the end result is incomplete. The problem as I see it is that you decide the level of what you provide pass the problems on the the subcontractor and make a otherwise unreasonable job profitable. The only reason you get away with this is because you can, and you pass the problem on.

I have said my thoughts and I really don't want to debate this.
 

Strathead

Senior Member
Location
Ocala, Florida, USA
Occupation
Electrician/Estimator/Project Manager/Superintendent
We are not in the business of passing on profitable jobs. The customer gets what he wants. If he wants cheap, that is what he gets. It is not up to me to decide that cheap is inappropriate. Sometimes it is, but it is always the customer's choice and their decision


This direction has its own pitfalls. In my experience the customers who want it cheap, expect the highest of quality and least hassle. The cheap ones don't want an inferior product for a lower price, they want something for nothing. And there is always someone out there that will promise them the world and give them a Pinto.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
This direction has its own pitfalls. In my experience the customers who want it cheap, expect the highest of quality and least hassle. The cheap ones don't want an inferior product for a lower price, they want something for nothing. And there is always someone out there that will promise them the world and give them a Pinto.

We are pretty careful about making sure they understand exactly what they are getting and why it may become a problem, but we will not turn down business that is profitable simply because we think they should spend more money on it.

OTOH, this same argument was made years ago about the trend toward using IEC devices instead of NEMA devices. It turned out the IEC devices are quite adequate as long as they are not misapplied. Now it is hard to even buy a NEMA starter in smaller sizes. And there is rarely any good reason to actually use them.

People have gotten away from MCCs to some extent as you can put together a motor panel that is more than adequate to your needs for half or a third the price of an MCC.
 
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