The Exclusion Illusion

Vince Bailey / August 2020

Competition remains keen. It takes years of positive activity to build a national construction environment that is favorable to its participants. Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the building market is still going strong as of this writing, and profitable work is still abundant in most regions. But prosperity is fragile, and in spite of plentiful activity, bidding still seems to be quite aggressive, with most general contractors weighing low numbers against quality and dependability. And so keeping the base bid as low as is reasonably possible is still critical in obtaining awards.
One tried and true tactic for holding a base number down is to utilize that all-important proposal to exclude any items that a GC might otherwise assume to be drywall-related. Of course, this illusion only works when the omitted items are not presented in a pre-bid, GC-issued scope sheet or are not listed in any of the drywall spec sections. Barring these obstacles, a little sleight of hand generally works like a charm because, as we all know, the GC’s eyes rivet on the base number (in bold, of course), and they scarcely glance at the clarifications/exclusion section of the proposal until it’s time for a scope review. Admittedly, it is a slightly elusive way of getting to the table, but that’s the whole purpose, isn’t it? Some items that lend themselves well to exclusion include the following:
Insulation. Generally speaking, a commercial drywall sub will pick up the interior unfaced sound batts and even the thermal batts at the perimeter. Usually though, if the scope is more extensive or more involved, the GC will be taking stand-alone numbers from an insulation sub. It is wise to either exclude insulation and pick it up later if need be, or at least carve it out of the base bid and present it as a separate number.
Wall protection. This includes Acrovyn, FRP and corner guards. A GC may or may not need coverage on these items because they can be performed by a specialty contractor as often as not. The qualifier “assumed by others” is a good line to dispense with these add-ons in the exclusions section.
Wood. This includes wood backing and blocking and/or plywood. Of course, the drywall sub must include backing for fixtures, but it should always be metal flat strap as it is usually specified in the metal framing section. GCs used to self-perform carpentry, but not so much these days. Interior designers tend to go overboard with including wood in their detailing, presumably because they are detailing the millwork. Again, wood should be assumed by others.
Expansion joints. Not to be confused with control joints (093), which relieve tension, expansion joints absorb actual building movement. Control joints are considered integral to drywall assemblies and are almost always included in the drywall spec. As such, control joints cannot reasonably be excluded. Expansion joints, however, usually involve multiple trades—in floors, walls, ceilings and roofs. This pricey item is handled by a specialty contractor, more often than not, even when appearing in drywall walls and ceilings. It’s one more “assumed by others” item for the exclusion list.
Temporary partitions. On renovation projects bordering on occupied areas, temp walls are often required. But unless these walls are specifically designated to be drywall, they can be assumed to be demountable dust barriers provided by the demolition contractor. Temp walls should be excluded.
Stationary scaffold. Frequently, more than one sub will need scaffold to be provided for access to the exterior skin of a building. The drywall contractor may need scaffold for plaster or EIFS work or even just to get to the exterior sheathing. But it’s common for glazers, painters, masons and others to require scaffold as well. Often in these cases, the general contractor will provide the scaffold for use by multiple trades. Unless directed otherwise, this should be assumed to be the case and scaffold should be specifically excluded.
Column covers. Round column covers are often made of aluminum or GFRC. They can be assumed to be provided and installed by a specialty contractor.
These are just a few good candidates for the exclusions list on a thorough proposal that can reduce the base bid. Again, they are assumptions that can be made in the absence of a scope directive or a spec designation. If inclusion of any one of such items seems implied, it might be a better approach to price it as an add alternate. Either way, the objective is to lower the base bid and make it to a scope review, even if it takes something of an illusion to get there.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.