If you’re planning a construction project, you may have already realized that the quality of people who work on it will largely determine its final outcome. When choosing your design team, you’re bound to select thorough, qualified professionals to produce an accurate set of drawings. When looking for a contractor, however, your decision is more likely to be influenced by their commercial quotation more than anything else. While it’s normal for the bottom line to take priority, remember - you get what you pay for. Low-bidding contractors often disappoint their clients with shoddy, defective work (look no further than online message boards to find some real-life horror stories).
So, what should you look for in a contractor?
Most contractors are honest, diligent professionals who value word-of-mouth references and take pride in delivering a quality product. They know that to price your project correctly and build it well, they must read and understand the construction drawings. Some less thorough contractors, however, may not study the project drawings with enough care and as a result, make serious blunders during bidding and construction. Simply put, the most meticulous set of drawings becomes useless in the hands of a contractor who doesn’t bother reading them or isn’t adequately qualified to do so.
Mistakes during bidding
In construction, bidding is the process through which contractors submit offers to complete a project. These offers, also referred to as bids, or tenders, are typically based on a “bid set” - a set of architectural, structural, and MEP drawings with enough detail to price the work. If your bidders approach the estimating exercise with diligence, you should end up with relatively accurate quotes upon which to base your budget. If the contractor does not spend enough time to study the drawings, their bid may not represent the true cost of the project, leading to serious problems for your project.
Mistakes can happen for several reasons. If the contractor’s estimator is careless and misses a chunk of scope, they will unwittingly underbid their competitors. If you don’t detect their omission and award them the contract based on their low price, you may well be stung with a costly surprise when the project gets underway and the missed scope emerges.
If the contractor misinterprets a portion of the scope and does not seek clarification, you may likewise end up with a lower bid that doesn’t account for something, or a bid that’s higher due to the incorrect inference. If the contractor is confused, yet does not seek clarification from the design team, they will more than likely “pad” their quote to err on the side of caution. Your design team can do their part to ensure an accurate quote by issuing clear, concise drawings; you can do yours by establishing firm Request For Information (RFI) procedures in the contract.
Mistakes during construction
An accurate quote does not guarantee a seamless execution of the project. It simply means that the contractor’s estimating team did their due diligence and interpreted the design requirements correctly. Once construction begins, it is up to the contractor’s field team to ensure adherence to the design requirements. If the drawings aren’t followed during construction, consequences can be dire.
The project’s architects and engineers are responsible for ensuring a design’s code compliance. By meeting code standards, the design team makes sure that the minimum building safety requirements are accounted for on the project. If the contractor doesn’t pay enough attention to the drawings, vital safety features can go overlooked, with such omissions potentially leading to accidents during and after construction.
Deviation from design intent
Construction drawings are the depiction of your design intentions. While some interior features, such as flooring or cabinets may be chosen after construction gets underway, most architectural and structural elements are clearly shown on the drawings before work starts. If your contractor doesn’t follow these drawings to the finest of details, the project may not end up looking, or functioning, the way you want it to. If it gets to the point where you or the building inspector notice that what’s being built doesn’t align with what’s drawn, chances are the changes will be costly and tedious.
Cutting corners on materials
While many construction errors may occur due to a lack of thoroughness, some may be intentional. Driven by the prospect of making a quick profit, dishonest contractors and subcontractors may try to cut corners by replacing specified construction materials with cheaper, lower-grade alternatives. If this happens on your project, you may face delays, cost overruns, and a souring relationship with the builder as you try to rectify the problem. Worse, the deceit may remain hidden until after you move into the building and lead to unaccounted costs for repair and rectification.
How to find a quality contractor
There are several steps you should take to prequalify the contractors you want to bid on your project. Following the steps below will help you weed out those who are dishonest, negligent, or unprofessional.
1. Word of mouth is one of the best screening approaches, especially if you can rely on references from people you trust, or where you can see past examples of the contractor’s work. It may be best to find out whether the contractor has worked on similar projects before and try to speak with the owners.
2. Use resources such as Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau to get more feedback on the contractors’ performance and validate their credentials via the Contractors State License Board; each contractor bidding on your project should be licensed and carry valid Workers’ Compensation Insurance.
3. To get a good idea of what your project should cost, make sure you solicit bids from at least 3 contractors.
4. Once the bids are returned, take the time to study each one, line by line. Make sure there are no anomalies, such as a substantially low or high price for any of the line items; if there are, contact the contractor and seek an explanation - this may be due to an omission on their part. You may also want to check for quality of construction material being proposed by the contractor and whether or not it matches the design codes and design drawings. The task can be complicated, and it’s recommended to ask your design team professionals to review the bids.
Before construction gets underway, retain your engineer and architect’s construction administration services. As they know the design better than anyone, these professionals are in the best position to oversee the project and ensure the contractor’s adherence to the design requirements. If the contractor is confused about something, the design team can provide clarity and help avoid a defect.
How we can help
If you’re thinking about building or remodeling, our team at Design Everest can help. Our licensed, experienced engineers will issue accurate, detailed civil and structural drawings for your project, guide you through permitting and construction, and refer you to trusted professionals along the way. Contact us at (877) 704-5727 to discuss your project and receive a quote today.
*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.
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