As Acuity’s Construction Specialist, I sometimes hear the frustration of contractors bidding commercial projects when the drawings they are working with are incomplete. As a former contractor, I feel their frustration. So much time and effort is put into estimating the project, and with incomplete drawings, you wonder if the general contractor or owner will be able to compare apples to apples, or if it might cause you to lose the project.
Putting a successful bid proposal together is more than just jotting down some numbers and gambling for a good outcome. Proper bid preparation requires time and effort, including reading and fully understanding the plans and specifications, visiting the site, estimating costs for labor, materials, and equipment, and making sure you have everything covered. A small mistake could be the difference between being awarded the project, making or losing money, or having to move to the next project.
Some estimators bid only what is shown on the drawings. They may realize other items will need to be added, but they make this up with change orders, which can be a gamble for the contractor and could affect their relationship with the general contractor or owner.
In the bid process, a prudent contractor should look for errors, omissions, and conflicts in the drawings. If something substantial is found that affects your ability to produce an accurate estimate, send a written communication and make sure you get a response from the architect via one of the GC's requests for information (RFI). You may want to refer to a detail on the plan for a clear explanation of your concern.
One of the biggest problems I have seen that can affect the relationship early on is subcontractors not including what is being asked of them to bid. If you are changing what is in your scope of work, materials or anything in the plans and specifications, I suggest including a separate page in your bid for each additional item or change you feel is needed, along with a brief explanation and specification. Make sure you keep your explanations neutral and free of blame. Clearly indicate that items are necessary and what may be optional. They can either accept the additions and changes and include them in the contract now or deal with them in a change order later.
You may also wish to include a clarification sheet with your bid, listing items that seem vague in the plans or specifications and clarifying how you are interpreting something. This is especially important when the plans and specifications conflict with each other or something that was expressed to you verbally.
Exclusions may also accompany your bid. This could include any undercutting below planned sub grade and dealing with unacceptable soils and asbestos remediation. Contractors may also struggle with what is covered in their bid, especially when they leave off and the next contractor continues. For example, in my contracting days, we would typically bring a six-inch water main into a building's mechanical room. A cast iron tee at the end of the water service would accommodate the fire sprinkler system and the domestic water. But who supplies the tee? Is it the contractor who brought the water service into the building, the sprinkler contractor, or the plumber who needs to tie into it? The plans may not show who is responsible for supplying it.
It is not uncommon for a contractor to discover inaccuracies or incomplete drawings. Once these discrepancies are discovered, the contractor should give prompt notice according to the contract. Depending on the degree of those errors, it could affect your rights to recover any additional cost. Therefore, it is critical that you fully understand your obligation to the contract and state law. A construction attorney can be a great resource for protecting yourself.