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

Sparky Adam

Member
Location
Los Angeles
Occupation
Electrical Superintendent / PM
Talk to the GC and let him know. Then make sure that he is clear why your price would most likely be higher and then go ahead and do the bid. Even if you don't win it, you will show the GC that you are thorough and pay attention to details.
 

cdslotz

Senior Member
Talk to the GC and let him know. Then make sure that he is clear why your price would most likely be higher and then go ahead and do the bid. Even if you don't win it, you will show the GC that you are thorough and pay attention to details.
If you bid to a GC per plans and specs, and you qualify everything in your written proposal.........you shouldn't have to explain it to him. He's working off the same documents.
If GC ignores that....that's on him. Get an new GC
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
Do you guys really believe that the general contractor does not know that people are cutting corners on their bids to reduce the price? That is just part of the game. There's a lot of wink and nod that goes on.
 

hillbilly1

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,Ga
Occupation
Field coordinator/ technical support
Do you guys really believe that the general contractor does not know that people are cutting corners on their bids to reduce the price? That is just part of the game. There's a lot of wink and nod that goes on.
And when the GC gets caught, he denies everything and put the blame on the contractor!
 

gadfly56

Senior Member
Location
New Jersey
Occupation
Professional Engineer, Fire & Life Safety
And when the GC gets caught, he denies everything and put the blame on the contractor!
If the GC is smart, the best jobs to do this on are ones with a performance bond. If the sub walks away, he takes the bond to get it completed. Of course, this assumes that there is enough in the bond to make that happen. A sub isn't going to put up a bond for more than his bid for the job.
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
And when the GC gets caught, he denies everything and put the blame on the contractor!
As often as not the owner is in on the game too. Everyone wants to reduce costs and a lot of time avoiding at least some things in the specs helps cut costs. Getting the specs updated at that late in the game is expensive and serves no real purpose.
 

Sparky Adam

Member
Location
Los Angeles
Occupation
Electrical Superintendent / PM
If you bid to a GC per plans and specs, and you qualify everything in your written proposal.........you shouldn't have to explain it to him. He's working off the same documents.
If GC ignores that....that's on him. Get an new GC
Or maybe the GC doesn't know. Have you not noticed how bad a majority of them are nowadays?
 

xptpcrewx

Power System Engineer
Location
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Occupation
Licensed Electrical Engineer, Licensed Electrical Contractor, Certified Master Electrician
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?

I feel your pain. All good comments so far.

Overall, the project specification is part of the contract documents for a project - whether they are good, bad, excessive, contradictory, incomplete, infeasible, outdated, etc matters not. As a contractor it is your legal duty to execute the job in accordance with said contract documents, not doing so is opening yourself up to potential liability.

Bidding is all about risk. There is a reasonable expectation the subcontractor is intending to follow the specification, and unless explicitly stated otherwise in the proposal, there is a legal standard where any ambiguity will be construed against the drafting party. Given this, the GC really doesn’t care if a subcontractor is taking risks with cutting corners and may even prefer the ambiguity in scope, because they are protected by your insurance, bond, licensing agency, mutual understanding and project requirements. Most of the time, many provisions in contracts are not enforceable, especially with smaller inexperienced or careless subcontractors having weaker boilerplate/legal protections.

What sometimes happens is a subcontractor performs work in the performance of a contract, then does not get paid because the contract was null/void to begin with. The more common case being forced to eat the cost to correct errors or deviations from the specification.

The subcontractor is thus assuming any liability resulting from errors/omissions in their proposal, inherent standard duty of care as a licensed contractor, and ultimately by accepting a PO with the GC’s T&C’s.

What I’ve seen is that GC’s tend to like simple ambiguous proposals. It’s when you “explicitly” take exceptions to the spec, limit or redefine scope, or attempt to protect yourself with good legal provisions, that you might scare off the GC.
 
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jmellc

Senior Member
Location
Durham, NC
Occupation
Facility Maintenance Tech. Licensed Electrician
As often as not the owner is in on the game too. Everyone wants to reduce costs and a lot of time avoiding at least some things in the specs helps cut costs. Getting the specs updated at that late in the game is expensive and serves no real purpose.
This I don’t understand. Why would owner write specs then ignore them? Less time & trouble for him to just write up what he will accept. Too much game playing.
 

Coppersmith

Senior Member
Location
Tampa, FL, USA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
I feel your pain. All good comments so far.

Overall, the project specification is part of the contract documents for a project - whether they are good, bad, excessive, contradictory, incomplete, infeasible, outdated, etc matters not. As a contractor it is your legal duty to execute the job in accordance with said contract documents, not doing so is opening yourself up to potential liability.

Bidding is all about risk. There is a reasonable expectation the subcontractor is intending to follow the specification, and unless explicitly stated otherwise in the proposal, there is a legal standard where any ambiguity will be construed against the drafting party. Given this, the GC really doesn’t care if a subcontractor is taking risks with cutting corners and may even prefer the ambiguity in scope, because they are protected by your insurance, bond, licensing agency, mutual understanding and project requirements. Most of the time, many provisions in contracts are not enforceable, especially with smaller inexperienced or careless subcontractors having weaker boilerplate/legal protections.

What sometimes happens is a subcontractor performs work in the performance of a contract, then does not get paid because the contract was null/void to begin with. The more common case being forced to eat the cost to correct errors or deviations from the specification.

The subcontractor is thus assuming any liability resulting from errors/omissions in their proposal, inherent standard duty of care as a licensed contractor, and ultimately by accepting a PO with the GC’s T&C’s.

What I’ve seen is that GC’s tend to like simple ambiguous proposals. It’s when you “explicitly” take exceptions to the spec, limit or redefine scope, or attempt to protect yourself with good legal provisions, that you might scare off the GC.
Very insightful. I'm definitely not experienced enough in this arena to succeed. I'll stick to small jobs. They pay better per hour anyway.
 

xptpcrewx

Power System Engineer
Location
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Occupation
Licensed Electrical Engineer, Licensed Electrical Contractor, Certified Master Electrician
Very insightful. I'm definitely not experienced enough in this arena to succeed. I'll stick to small jobs. They pay better per hour anyway.
In my opinion, where you will get leverage on the GC is if you are highly specialized and fit a particular niche like with service type work such as testing, troubleshooting, commissioning, start-up or have other expertise with certain equipment or systems.

Getting back to the OP - I don't recommend ever lowering your standards. Having a high standard is one key thing that will help differentiate you from the competition. If we all lowered our standards, it would be a race to the bottom.

Second, always bid to the spec as best as you can. If you don't agree with it, or see discrepancies, you can always quote alternate options and provide your recommendations - some GC's will see value in this and some others will not. If you can get through to the architect/engineer, I can assure you any issues you find will have a positive impact on the way you are perceived. There isn't anything the architect/engineer would prefer more than to deal with a contractor who can identify issues and help protect their design. Its all about the details.

Third, how you present information and communicate matters, so be timely, ask questions, and be involved. Submitting a nice cover letter with your bid, some marketing material and even a resume goes a long way and tells the GC they are dealing with a professional.

Fourth, have a competitive advantage. If you can't do work efficiently or have access to certain resources then it obviously becomes harder to complete and you really have nothing to offer.
 

Strathead

Senior Member
Around here it's usually an architect writing specs, and the owners don't know anything
Usually, it is the MEP Engineer that writes the specs, at least in Florida and California where I have experience. I have seen Architect specs, but they are usually on small commercial or residential projects where they act as the electrical designer. That said, the owner usually has no idea about the cost added items in the spec unless it is business or institution that regularly builds and has established guidelines. Add to that, your chain restaurant or retail, for example. The Engineer often writes for the worst case and doesn't care about other methods as long as they don't blow back on them. Best example MC. A statement on the plans that all wiring is in conduit, but that is because in areas like Chicago, New York MC isn't allowed. However, I bet that say a PF Changs that has that statement is done in MC at 75% of locations. I use that because I did one specifically. When awarded the contract, I asked if we could use MC in concealed locations. I was told yes. So when I submitted I submitted on MC with an explanation on the cover page of my intent. Did it in MC.
 

James L

Senior Member
Location
Kansas Cty, Mo, USA
Occupation
Electrician
Usually, it is the MEP Engineer that writes the specs, at least in Florida and California where I have experience.
Yes, that's what is typical. I've rarely dealt with an engineer, it's almost always the architect for me

But he's for sure getting specs from the engineer.
Thanks for clarifying 👍👍
 

petersonra

Senior Member
Location
Northern illinois
Occupation
engineer
Most engineers do not get paid to update specs after the bid phase so are not interested in changing them at that point.

I get a kick out of those who brag about their so called "value engineering" but call it cutting corners when someone else does it.

As long as it meets code and the contractual requirements, I would not worry about the specs all that much.

By the way, does your contract with the GC actually require you to meet the specs? Look carefully. These are often weasel worded.
 

roger

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Fl
Occupation
Electrician
Most engineers do not get paid to update specs after the bid phase so are not interested in changing them at that point.

I get a kick out of those who brag about their so called "value engineering" but call it cutting corners when someone else does it.

As long as it meets code and the contractual requirements, I would not worry about the specs all that much.

By the way, does your contract with the GC actually require you to meet the specs? Look carefully. These are often weasel worded.
You have not been involved with many larger projects have you? GC's like Turner, Bovis, and the likes scrutinize every aspect of the bids and on these projects the MEP group is constantly involved through out the project, sometimes on a daily basis. I have been on jobs where each part of the architect and MEP group had a QC person on the site everyday. As far as VE negotiating, it is done after all the contracts have been awarded and the owner is part of the process. Most jobs of this size have Architect, Owner, Contractor meetings weekly.

During AIA progress billings it is not uncommon to have to walk an MEP rep through the stored material and check off schedule of value items.

I know this is not typical of small to medium size jobs but on large projects it is pretty much the norm

Roger
 
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