Clarifying Architect Specifications for Cabinetry

Here's a good discussion concerning communication about job specs in a complex situation. December 1, 2010

I'm working with a contractor on some small jobs and one I've been asked to quote (for a non-profit) is on a tight budget, the plans just show commercial cabinets noted as "natural birch finish" - the specifications call for AWI premium grade, all the cabinet parts to be 3/4 Stain grade birch plywood (even backs), PVC edgebanding. The hardware specified doesn't exist according to model #s except for the shelf standards and clips - on and on.

The contractor bid the job and doesn't want to contact the architect for clarification, just wants a good quality job. Premium grade and half the specs are way out of the budget, but the budget is in line with what is probably expected and in line with the other aspects of construction. Does anyone see an acceptable way of completing a project like such without involving the architect?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
Well, no. There is a chance you could supply what you think is adequate and they could love it. But there is also a chance that they could dislike it and call you on not following the specs. I think you're safest way out of this one is to submit some shop drawings. Detail them out how you want to build them and make someone (GC or Architect) sign off before you make anything.

From the original questioner:
So how would you handle pricing and the contract? It doesn't seem right to me, or fair to other bidders, if we all bid what we want and it's not apples to apples. Should I just go in really low and start there, expecting to make multiple shop drawings and issue change orders until we reach the architects intent? It doesn't seem like the contractor would want that. Do any of you guys actually do shop drawings and get approval before going to contract?

From contributor B:
I'm an engineering manager at a commercial millwork company. I'd love it if we could always bid apples to apples. But the reality is, most architects don't know the difference and don't care. So what ends up happening is if you bid it per the job specs to the nth degree, you'll lose to someone who didn't pay as much attention. It's a tough lesson. Most architectural specs are copied from a boilerplate, and may or may not reflect what they need/want. If we feel that the specs are out of line given the scope, we will ask for an RFI, or discuss it with the GC. Then based on this, we will provide a quote, specifically noting what is different from the specs. Then the drawings will reflect our quote after the signed contract. It's the only way I've found to cover your bases in this line of work. I love AWI for trying to standardize this industry. Some architects don't realize to what degree "premium" means, and simply aren't willing to pay for it.

From contributor L:
Submit shops and quote based on your understanding of the specs. Provide alternatives along with price changes that they can either accept or not. You are covered. The architect can red line your shops to whatever extent he likes and you can provide pricing changes. Unless you consider yourself a "non-profit" organization always cover yourself.

From contributor A:
Architects are often the origin of price disputes. It is human nature for people to design beyond budget. He tells to customer X. You quote the contractor Y and the contractor tells the customer Z. If any of you make a mistake the guy at the bottom (you) usually takes the majority of the pain. The architect has often been paid long before construction commences. The money flows through the GC to you. As other have mentioned signatures from all of the primaries involved: architect, GC, customer, subcontractor should be required before fabrication begins. Most of us have been in similar situations and have ended up with peanuts instead of our full payment.

From contributor G:
An architect generally, as I understand it, charges a fee for, or part of his general fee is understood to cover, building supervision and consultation by the GC. If the GC says to a bidding subcontractor that he wants you to see the spec, but quote and build something else, and letís not bother the architect about this little change, then I smell a disaster in the wind!