Why are ambiguous bid documents bad?
I'm looking at this today from the perspective of consultants creating bid documents.
These are sometimes called performance-design or design-build specs or dots-on-plans (if you will).
I've written on this topic a few times before and I hear from people around the industry all the time about their frustration with ambiguous bid documents.
If you've only ever been in consulting and don't see what contractors have to bid, I can tell you that sometimes it’s alarming.
I’ll start with the fact that I’m not perfect and we all make mistakes. I’ve had bad projects. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve cost owners a lot of money.
That said, as is the case with many of us who focus specifically in fire Protection, I do try to address major red flags with all the projects I work on, and I try to not make the same mistakes twice.
So why are ambiguous bid documents bad?
I firmly believe that if someone is going to put together fire protection drawings and specifications, that they need to put a minimum level of effort into it.
It is not OK to create boilerplate specs or take a “hands off” approach to fire protection, yet still put together and get paid for creating poor bid documents.
I've helped contractors do bidding, and it is far better to either have no fire protection documents and specs and work just from code minimum, or, have a competent set of documents that effectively communicates what the owner wants.
Either of those two scenarios are very helpful to contractors.
The alternative scenario that is terrible for contractors is when fire protection documents are out for bid but they don't address major project questions, have specifications that clearly don't match the project, or require aspects where it is very unclear whether that was intentional or not.
One example in the suppression side I came across was a two-story hospital in a rural area where the specs called for automatic standpipes.
With a normal water supply, which we had on that project, automatic standpipes will require a fire pump, and for this project a fire pump would also require an upsizing for the hospital's backup generator.
All in, this inclusion in the specifications would probably have run somewhere between $150,000 to $300,000 in extra costs to the owner.
No mention of a fire pump on the drawings, no allocated space for it, no allocated space on the generator for the pump.
When we followed up with the consultant, who was not fire-protection first person, he said that they designed 19 of these hospitals around the country in the past year and they don't have time to call each jurisdiction and find out what is required for each individual project.
There are so many frustrating parts of this answer, but on this project specifically I can say without a doubt that this attitude towards fire protection causes a ton of issues for contractors.
I could be overgeneralizing here but typically contractors want a fair opportunity at winning a job.
If each contractor has a fair opportunity to put together a bid, that’s all they are asking for.
In general the contractors that I've worked with are OK with having a Cadillac system that’s well beyond code, as long as all the other contractors are also bidding for that same system.
When bid documents are ambiguous, or vague, or include things that don't apply to the project, it creates a lack of confidence that what are on the documents are actually something that needs to be included in a bid.
An example I see commonly is including CPVC in sprinkler specifications.
If I’m bidding a warehouse job as a contractor that includes CPVC in the specs, which isn’t allowed by code for that kind of hazard, what confidence do I have in the other portion of the specifications?
If I'm a contractor do I ignore the specifications altogether?
Do I still include all the other requirements in the specification in my bid?
If I do include them, I risk losing the job to somebody else who ignored the specifications altogether because I overpriced it.
If I don’t include all the other specification requirements, I run the risk of getting hammered later and losing money on the job.
Either way, it’s a lose-lose for the contractor.
Now I could exclude this in my proposal, but that also sets up a change order battle with the general contractor and the owner and most contractors don’t actually want to go down that road.
The proper path for something like this is to put together pre-bid RFIs, (or Requests for Information), and get all of this clarified prior to bid.
Many contractors will say that’s not always possible.
Deadlines can be fast, bid deadlines can be very quick and the pace of projects now seems to move faster than ever.
All this being said, ambiguous documents can be worse than no documents at all, and certainly worse than a thoughtful and well-communicated set of plans and specs.
The whole point of preparing bid drawings and specifications is to effectively communicate what an owner wants included in a project.
Ambiguous or contradictory bid documents cause major issues for contractors when they go to bid a project.
What do we need, at least at a minimum, to include in a set of bid documents to avoid these headaches? Will cover that in future videos.
I'm Joe Meyer, this is MeyerFire University.
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