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A Few More of My “Favorite” Things

"When the dog bites, when the bee stings…” — Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

It’s fairly common knowledge that we exactimators, in the course of our work, must navigate a path rife with yawning pitfalls. Shrinking time windows, vague or incomplete bid docs, that nagging suspicion that something was missed when an award finally comes—they are the main afflictions, the sinister phantoms that haunt our board-tallying hearts. But last month, I was moved to delve a little further into the darkness to rout out the lesser demons that plague our bean-counting ilk. It is these tiny torments, these buzzing gnats and bug-bites that I continue to explore below.

Isn’t that special! In the main, drywall and metal stud supply houses are pretty responsive and quite knowledgeable about their products. They have to be. Theirs is an extremely competitive business, rivaled, I think, only by our own. And while the manufacturers continue to develop new and better products, the core goods—steel and drywall—remain constant and are readily available.

It’s only when I am required by the bid docs to include some specialty item that I begin to shudder. That’s because specialty sales people generally seem to be a bit more laid-back. Maybe indifferent would be a better term for it. After the obligatory two-day delay in returning my phone calls and emails, a typical specialty supplier predictably quotes me the wrong item, fails to include shipping, confuses the color, requires prepayment, understates the lead time, inflates the minimum order and neglects to mention the trifling detail that my product has been discontinued by the manufacturer. I even had one specialty manufacturer/supplier tell me that his entire operation was shutting down for a month for hunting season! Must be nice to live in a world with no competition.

Please, just answer the question! This one drives me over the edge. Whenever I write a request for information, I make certain that I am clear and concise. I go to great lengths in my RFIs to cite page numbers, details, gridlines, spec sections, etc. so there can be absolutely no doubt or confusion with regard to the heart of the issue at hand. Nevertheless, I invariably receive a response from the architect that does not even remotely relate to the original question. I ask about stud gauge and I’m referred to the insulation spec. I inquire about tile-backer and I’m directed to a deflection detail. It’s all non-sequitur. It’s as if it’s more important to make it appear as though the information was already there than it is to just clear up the ambiguity. Just last week I was confronted with a conflict regarding a furring wall. The wall type showed Z-furring with no rigid insulation, but the wall sections clearly depicted stud framing with batt insulation. I floated the question, citing the critical difference in succinct terms. Predictably, the response directed me to the light-gauge framing spec, which of course cited both assemblies but stated nothing about which applied where. As usual, by the time I got my non-response, the RFI period had expired and I was subjected to the "more stringent of the two” clause. Chalk up a loss.

Mind meld… I can’t even begin to count the number of times this little scenario has unfolded just in the past month: I am sitting at my work station, focused like a laser beam on building a fairly intricate assembly for a critical bid that’s due tomorrow. The phone rings and caller ID tells me it’s a different GC connected to a job that I bid the prior month. I have to answer; it may be an award. No such luck—at least, not yet. Instead, he launches right away into what sounds like a question that may be a win/lose hinge point: "Can you tell me if you included work beneath the raised floor on wall type 1S3AB?” Now, my retention of job details is pretty good. But after 15 projects and 150 different wall types (all with differing nomenclature) have intervened? I think the expectation of coming up with an off-the-cuff answer is a lot to ask. It’s as if he thinks I’ve been locked onto his job, staring at the wall types page for a month, just waiting in breathless anticipation for his call. Of course, I tell him I’ll have to call back, and he acts disappointed that I wasn’t of one mind with him and able to come up with the snap response. Sometimes my customers make my grind my teeth.

The futile search… Let me be clear from the outset: I like it when the GC sends me a scope checklist to verify that my inclusions align with his. I see it as a safeguard against any "gotchas” and an opportunity to submit pricing for any oddball items that I had not included. I don’t even mind when the checklist goes over 20 pages. What makes me want to tear my hair (something I can ill-afford) is when the compilation and administration of such lists is given over to one of the many neophytes who have overrun our industry of late. In such cases, many of these novices have no familiarity with the components they are discussing at all, which can be catastrophic to the aim of a checklist—which is to arrive at an apples-to-apples comparison between competing subs. This is not to mention the interminable hours of searching for arcane details, only to find that the neophytes have neglected to delete residual items of another project from the form. Maddening!

There—I’ve purged myself of some of the poison that’s accumulated over the past several months. That, and I believe I’ve touched on some all-too familiar gripes of estimators everywhere and, in the telling, offered some well-earned sympathy: a small relief for tiny torments.

Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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