Tom Székely, P.E., LEED AP

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June 7, 1991

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Bids, Negotiated Contracts, and Winging it

Although I believe that we should all be "Renaissance men" to a greater extent rather than lesser, leaving the specialization, as one of my favorite writers once put it, to insects, Adam Smiths' invisible hand seems to have guided my firm into specialization in Custom Residences.

If ever there were a portion of the design/construction market that resembled, from an Engineer's point of view, the wild west of yore, this is it. Homes are routinely built from a set of contract documents, that, because of their lack of MEP documents, sometimes look like they could have come from the latest issue of 101 home Plans.

Mechanical drawings of the heating system? Don't be foolish, the Mechanical Subcontractor will provide the system. Lighting'? Everybody's a lighting designer. Power? That's what the utility company or the electrician is for. Plumbing and Sanitary? Really, a Consultant for water and waste? Air Conditioning? Well, maybe now we should call an Engineer. After all, the ductwork will take up some space. (This only obtains if it's central AC.)

How is it (building codes aside) an owner can be convinced of the need for an Architect's services but can't convince himself of going for the extra 5 to 10 percent (of the associated subcontracts only) that would pay for an Engineer?

Assuming the owner's not going to try to play GC, the documents go out to 5 contractors for bids, and come back with prices all over the lot. So what, you say. That can happen even when subcontract drawings and specifications have been prepared by an Engineer.

Yeah, but... you don't have to deal with 5 heating subs who each have figured the heating plant at a different size, with one of those subs having provided an extra zone, or with the 2 electrical subs who tell you they're going to have to bring in a new service from the utility company, one of whom says the nearest pole line with extra capacity is down the road a half-mile.

Oh, you don't have such problems, because you have a close relationship with a GC, and negotiate a price after (on occasion) checking him against a few other bidders.

Yeah, but... what if he has an extra few thousand feet of #14/2 romex to get rid of, or he has a heating plant that never went in because of a project change or cancellation? So what if its efficiency in your project is only 70% of the system that should go in, or, if even at his fire sale price, it's more expensive because it's 50% larger than what you need.

Hiring an Engineer doesn't mean you'll end up with an extra 150 pages of CSI format specifications describing the systems, their components, and their materials, while referring to (seemingly) every ANSI standard ever written. Such presentations have their place, but in custom residential work, detailed drawings with clear specifications right on the drawings do very nicely, thank you.

Coordinated references to a good set of General Conditions, such as AIA #A107, go a long way in keeping a project, and the thought processes of its designers, focused on the object of the contract -- getting it built the way it was designed.

When an Engineer does a project, all the systems and equipment are specified on the basis of what's right for the job. When Székely Engineering takes on a project, the job doesn't end until all systems are in as specified and operating as designed. While this sometimes means a little gentle persuasion with some subcontractors, other times everyone is thrilled at how well things go. With all of us working together, the latter can become the norm.

Estimated Loads

The National and City Electric Codes both mandate allowances (in the case of residential work) of 3 watts/sq.ft. for general lighting and appliance loads. To this must be added 3kw for kitchen loads, and major appliances (including AC units) at nameplate or 1 .5kw (if 120 volt)or 2.4kw (if 208 or 240 volt) each, where the actual load is unknown. But what about central AC? Figure 250 to 400 sq.ft. per ton, and each ton at 1.5 kw. Although these numbers can be totaled and used as is for estimates, Code demand factors (which vary widely) are to be applied to contract documents

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