Addressing Flawed Specs in Bidding Situations

What's the best way to communicate with the designer and customer when a specification includes ill-advised choices? March 12, 2014

How do you deal with designs that are sure to disappoint the owner and most likely tarnish your reputation. I'm talking about inappropriate use of materials mostly - fragile materials where they are subject to wear and impact (expensive, scarce veneers, painted). I could fill the page with examples that we've been asked to do but I'm sure you can too. What do you do when you get a set of drawings that specify such things? Do you make suggestions to the designer? Try to make someone else responsible for the almost sure failure to meet the owner's expectations?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From Contributor R:
We send an RFI (Request for Information). We are in the Millwork Shop Drawing Business which is really the Documentation Business and ultimately like an Insurance business against miscommunication. One thing I have learned in all of my years being in this Industry is to cover your butt. Send an RFI stating your case something like below:

Spec Section 6402 page 2 Item 5 calls for plain sliced book matched and blue print matched wenge veneer panels. Material specified is not readily available and may cause production delays.

From Contributor W:
The specs may also have some language requiring you to speak up about concerns and issues. Too many times these days specs are just hodge/podge copies of older jobs which are copy/paste. For knowing and not notifying you may incur the liability.

From contributor M:

Sure, RFI's after the bid, but what about for the bid? I alter specs, feel like I'm doing the specifier's work, end up with higher bids, and miss the job. Later, the change orders double my quote. Who loses? Good architects, good contractors, and out of touch owners.

Every contract that I've signed hinges acceptance upon owner approval, and makes my contract (sub) contingent upon the owner contract. So, request copies of all contract documents upon which your contract is contingent and add wording requiring that you receive timely notification of all pertinent amendments. In other words: the only way to cover your butt is to either have a relationship with the owner, or to be working for a good architect.

From Contributor R:
Qualify your bid state it as you see it in the contract documents and clearly state the items you are disqualifying from your bid. Also include an alternate bid that covers any addendum or bulletins. The GC will ask the question, did all of the other guys include the addendum and what not? Looks like you are paying more attention to the bid then the other guys!!

From contributor G:
If possible build a rapport with the architect. You are not adversarial, you have the same purpose in mind. Think of it from his point of view - he needs your experienced eye.

From contributor L:
Most of these issues come up with interior designers (decorators) and not architects. Frequently there is not enough time between getting the specs and time for the architect to issue addendums.

From Contributor O:
Technical issues are easy. Speak with authority and confidence and tell them the specified materials, hardware, what have you, are not appropriate for the work as presented. Immediately offer an alternate that is appropriate and workable. A good opportunity to show they are talking to the right person. The problem is much harder if it is aesthetics. It is hard to tell them they have bad (terrible) taste. I dance around it (again, with authority) and talk about timeless designs versus fads, classicism and history, and Modernist vs. cheap to manufacture. I use the phrase curb furniture - that which is so undesirable that it ends up on the curb with the trash. Lastly, it helps if you are busy enough to walk. This really impresses the possible client that you not only know what to do, but don't have the time to deal with inferior, etc. If they aren't impressed, then you did not want the job anyway.

From contributor S:
I had a design professional give me specs for a book case to be built out of 1/2" thick solid wood. It gets worse as one of the 1/2" thick shelves had a 42" span. I ended up wasting time redesigning the whole project and writing a bid. They thought the very modest price that I quoted was ridiculous. After all this they mentioned that they wanted to see what I could do before they drove two hours to go to Ikea. Lesson learned. I am willing to make suggestions, and give my professional opinion on minor issues. I have to redesign something because the architect or designer is not qualified to do so themselves, or with guidance I am going to ask for a retainer, and bill for my time.

From Contributor R:
To contributor S: You got it. We don't do anything without a retainer and our fee is $50 per hour to re-design designer’s dreams so they can become real world millwork.

Also, having a great working relationship with architects and designers helps big time. I have had projects where one phone call to the architect and the project starts to move down the right path.

From contributor H:
We state both in our proposal and in our submittals that the item can't be warrantied. This immediately gets a conversation going and we usually get a change to something workable. If the design professional insists, we get a written waiver of responsibility and build it for them as they want it.