How do I keep from being underbid by contractors who don't follow the specs?

cdslotz

Senior Member
Every GC I worked for would never let me bid another job if I knowingly substituted what wasn't spec'd.
I ALWAYS bid per plans/specs. If I saw opportunities to save the owner money, I would line-item each voluntary alternate below the base bid line.
That way the owner and GC can have that discussion on savings, and they can accept or go as specified.
It's really that simple....I don't give a crap what the other EC's do because they will be gone if they get caught
 

Coppersmith

Senior Member
Location
Tampa, FL, USA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
Every GC I worked for would never let me bid another job if I knowingly substituted what wasn't spec'd.
I ALWAYS bid per plans/specs. If I saw opportunities to save the owner money, I would line-item each voluntary alternate below the base bid line.
That way the owner and GC can have that discussion on savings, and they can accept or go as specified.
It's really that simple....I don't give a crap what the other EC's do because they will be gone if they get caught
This sounds like a good long-term strategy. If you are able to develop a trust relationship with a GC, this will help you succeed. However, my concern is that this is a short-term problem. Yes, the GC would exclude bad subs from future bidding, but those subs have already taken our work away with their underbid. And when the next job comes along, there are two more bad subs to replace the excluded one. This problem could be mitigated if the subs submitted a bill of material they plan on using, and the GC thoroughly and completely checked that bill of material against the specs. But this makes the bid cost even more to do on both sides so won't happen.

This is exactly the same situation we find ourselves in when it comes to EC's (and unlicensed individuals) that charge too little for doing jobs. They will under price. They will win the job instead of us. Eventually they will go out of business, but two more will take their place.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
I think the key is to have a good communication going with whoever it is you're making the bid to. I don't understand the theory that you should never talk to your customer presale other than through a written bid.

It is not unusual for your customer, in this case the general contractor, to be aware of things that might make a bid that is more cost effective appreciated. This probably won't work with most government bids but for most commercial and industrial work the spec is often considered more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule.

This is not always true so having good communications is important so that you know when it's a good idea to abide by the spec in your bid and when it's more appropriate to offer options. It's also important to know what parts of the spec they really want and what parts are just boilerplate that they don't care about.
 

Coppersmith

Senior Member
Location
Tampa, FL, USA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
May I ask what's wrong with my suggestion 'way back in post #3?
Can you have this discussion with the GC?
I discussed in post 11 making statements in the bid. Basically this is having that discussion.

Send him a copy of your post as is, explaining him that you were asking us.
I can't see me sending a copy of my post to the GC. These are internal discussions not in a form for client consumption. If I had an opportunity to talk face-to-face with then GC I might cover the same ground. When you are talking you can adjust the conversation based on the cues you are receiving.
 

James L

Senior Member
Location
Kansas Cty, Mo, USA
Occupation
Electrician
I take it there is no submittal process on these projects.

Roger
Most stuff I've bid, there's no submittal process. The onwer goes to an architect who has specs. Sometimes you're only a phone call away, though

I once called a GC on a lawyer's office I was bidding.
Print spec'd 2-inch bullet recessed lighting, about 60 of them.

I asked him to check with the owner, designer, architect, whoever was making executive decisions, about using 3-inch recessed instead. Price was $125 each for 3-inch instead of $525 each for the bullets.

When they realized there was a $24,000 difference, they made the switch without hesitation
 

roger

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Fl
Occupation
Electrician
Most stuff I've bid, there's no submittal process.
I guess larger projects do have their advantages, not that they're fool proof but with the formalities most bidders know they are going to be scrutinized. I know of a project where a contractor tried to get by with set screw fittings verses steel compression then got caught maybe a month into the project and had to change every one. They offered a credit but given the fact that it would have been unfair to the others that had spent weeks maybe months bidding the project they forced them to change them.

Roger
 

Coppersmith

Senior Member
Location
Tampa, FL, USA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
I guess larger projects do have their advantages, not that they're fool proof but with the formalities most bidders know they are going to be scrutinized. I know of a project where a contractor tried to get by with set screw fittings verses steel compression then got caught maybe a month into the project and had to change every one. They offered a credit but given the fact that it would have been unfair to the others that had spent weeks maybe months bidding the project they forced them to change them.
This reminds me of a veteran's hospital project I was working on. The specs said to use only American-made materials. The contractor tried to pull a fast one and got caught. They paid me twice to run a whole lot of raceway.
 

roger

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Fl
Occupation
Electrician
Funny, we were on a government project with a "made in the USA" requirement and when a certain manufacturer moved out of country we got stuck after a big material purchase and even after pleading our case we still had to change at our expense. Later in the project deadlines (with liquidated damages) we had a bucket in an MCC that was missing for a big chiller. In a meeting addressing items that were holding up the project we were asked what the status of bringing the unit online was and we told them that the part number specified was not available. A hot shot engineer jumped in and showed it in the manufacturers brochure which we agreed was in fact the part we needed, then we proceeded to show him the particular part was only manufactured in Canada, well surprise surprise, they were more than willing to allow this one item. :rolleyes:

Roger
 

gadfly56

Senior Member
Location
New Jersey
Occupation
Professional Engineer, Fire & Life Safety
Question: How do I keep from being underbid by contractors who don't follow the specs?
Answer: Become a plumber.
 

Fred B

Senior Member
Location
Upstate, NY
Occupation
Electrician
There is absolutely nothing wrong with bidding an alternate to what is spec'ed. Trying to sneak it in after the fact is something else.
But big issue here no licensing and if no permit no mandated inspection, these guys will bid and do code noncompliant installations. How to compete with that?
 

Strathead

Senior Member
Location
Ocala, Florida, USA
Occupation
Electrician/Estimator/Project Manager/Superintendent
I would say eventually that contractor will go out of business, and you would not have to bid against them anymore! LOL!
Not true in my experience. The customer often doesn't have any idea the engineer spec'd out expensive installation and the Engineer often isn't paid to visit the job. A perfect example is your average national restaurant chain. The spec often calls for all wiring in conduit. In almost all cases, MC is OK (the CYA from the EE is, "as acceptable by the AHJ". the person who is willing to ignore the spec will win the job, and provide an installation satisfactory to the end user.

All that said, there is no easy or one size fits all answer to the OP question. I got in the habit of bidding what I knew I could get away with and clearly spelling it out on the proposal form. I did this because I found that bidding it as written and then deducting for alternate methods usually doesn't deduct enough and I didn't feel like bidding it twice from scratch.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
But big issue here no licensing and if no permit no mandated inspection, these guys will bid and do code noncompliant installations. How to compete with that?
Does it really change the cost that much? I go back to having good communications with whomever is making the decisions. If all that guy cares about is the lowest possible price than he may allow some fudging around the edges of being completely code legal.

If the guy is willing to accept that, you have to decide if you want to do business that way.
 

mtnelect

HVAC Contractor
Location
Southern California
Occupation
Contractor
A GC sent me a set of plans for a store today. He asked me to bid. I'm reading through the specifications and I find lots of details about the specific type of expensive switches and receptacles they want. They also want oversized conductors and conduit. There were many other "more than minimum" items. All things that would raise the bid price significantly.

This got me thinking that I was wasting my time bidding because I know some other contractor won't read all the detailed specs, will assume he can use the minimum, and will underbid me and win. Sure, he will probably regret not reading these details later when he loses his shirt redoing all the work. But that doesn't help me win the bid. So how am I supposed to handle this situation?
Have you heard of the Game Show "Name That Tune" ? The bidding system is very similar to that. Congratulations you are the "Low Bidder". After filling a Mechanic Lien on a General Contractor it took me five years and five attorneys to win. After that I only dealt with the owner !
 

Rgator53

Member
Location
USA
Occupation
Retired Electrician
When I was taught estimating, I was taught an order to follow...

First the blueprints and do a complete takeoff and see what that tells you knowing that specs supersede prints.

Second, you absorb all of the spec book/s and see how that affects the takeoff because specs supersedes the blueprints.

Thirdly is the NEC, which supersedes the first two and again see how that affects the takeoff and estimating. And then bid accordingly. Meanwhile doing all of this, you're looking for the extras, the things that they will need or want when you show them what was left out (once you won the bid).

We were bidding on huge projects like schools, malls, supermarkets, prisons, beach-side condos, and the like and having to go through a bid depository, so there was no negotiating. We had to post our bids at a bank-like depository and get it time stamped. One minute late and you were disqualified. And the blatant lowballer was not taken. This was in the Tampa Bay Area.

We ended up wiring all the Albertson's Supermarkets in the State of FLA from 1976 to the mid-80s and that was the first set of prints I ever did a takeoff on.
 
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romex jockey

Senior Member
Location
Vermont
Occupation
electrician
Lately we have been losing some bids because we're honest about the parts situation and other bidders are not. We bid the same exact bill of material as other companies and we will tell them it will take 12 weeks just to get the parts and the other company will promise to deliver the project in 8 weeks. There's no way that's going to happen. Everybody knows they are being lied to. But for some reason they are willing to accept a promise they know can't be kept.
nail/head Pete

~RJ~
 
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