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From the moment we started to construct this site, w wanted to write a piece on how a plumbing estimate is put together. We aimed not at a small residential repair project but a full scale, multi-phased plumbing project. Although you can certainly use the methods we are going to discuss for any project size, this is definitely geared towards a larger job, say 15K and up.

We Need a Plumbing Estimate and We Need It Now

“Hey (insert plumbing company), I’ve got this project in an office building, rehabbing 5 floors of tenant space. Can you get me a price by the end of the day?”, “I’m a developer and we are planning to put up a 50K square foot medical building. I need hard budget numbers in two or three days.” Does this sound familiar?

We have always looked at each other when these requests come in and wonder “do these people know how much goes into putting together an intelligent real plumbing number?” In the following article, we will explain how the estimating process works, from the first time you crack open the drawings until you write your best and final number.

If you’re a new plumbing contractor and you’re wondering “how do I put together a complex plumbing number?” or you’ve been in the business for 30 years and you’re looking at getting a different perspective, this article is for you. This is surely not the only way to do an estimate. However, we did learn from one of the best specialists this industry has ever had. Therefore, feel free to read, comment, pull apart or blow apart.

On top of that, we are putting up estimating forms that will help explain our methodology and. They will be here for you to take, make copies and use if you feel they will help you in your business. This estimating method is what we call “living the job” and it is done by hand. However, you can easily take this format and include its parameters in a computer estimating program. All of the plumbing estimating software we are familiar with having these guys thinking? We look at our drawings on the compute enough customization to incorporate the methods shown here. We hope you enjoy, from all of us at theplumbinginfo.com.

Necessary Pages for an Invitation to Bid

So you received an ITB (Invitation to Bid) via fax or email, there should be instructions on how to procure drawings. The days of having the GCs (General Contractor) provide a full set of drawings for bid are over and gone. We sure miss it, but it is what it is. Pricing for a full-set of bid drawings can get very expensive these days. Therefore, choosing which drawings to have printed is important. Here are the drawings we have printed every time we estimate a plumbing job.

  • Cover Page.
  • Site Plan (If site utility plumbing is a part of the job).
  • ‘G’ Drawings (These are the pages with the construction notes and General Conditions).
  • Demolition Drawings (If the job is a tenant build-out or a rehab, the drawings will have demolition drawings. If the job is big enough, they may have demo drawings for each trade.)
  • Architectural Drawings.
  • Mechanical Drawings (The mechanical drawings are funny. If the drawings aren’t very thorough they may lump the plumbing and mechanical drawings on one page. Be careful).
  • Plumbing Drawings.

We want to preface the next statement with a bit of clarification. We still make a set of paper drawings for plumbing estimate with every new project. I know some of you are thinking to yourselves “what are these guys thinking? We look at our drawings on the computer.” However, we don’t feel like you get a perspective of the job with a normal computer monitor. If you don’t have a gigantic computer monitor or preferably side by side monitors, get the paper set.

You’ve Got the Plumbing Blueprints. What Do You Do with Them?

Now you have your prints ready in electronic or paper form. So here do you go from here? Open the prints to the plumbing drawings and find the “Plumbing Notes.” Read them thoroughly. We highlight any notes that are not clear enough to finish our pricing.

Write down those questions on a legal pad and review them at the end of the plumbing estimate to be sure you have accounted for them. Afterward, you can begin to highlight the drawings. This is a very important step because it is really the point at which you get familiar with the job.

Here are our highlight colors. Please don’t get too hung up on the colors we use, it makes no difference.

Highlight Color

Plumbing Notes

Plumbing Demolition

Pink

Water Piping

Red (We know quite a few contractors that highlight hot water in red and cold water in blue that’s fine. However, it’s all water piping and it makes no difference on a plumbing estimate.)

Fixtures and Mechanical Equipment

Orange (We use orange for all plumbing mechanical equipment i.e., floor drains, clean-outs, floor sinks, lavatories, toilets, urinals, kitchen sinks, water heaters, recirculating pumps, RPZs, house pumps, etc. We consider these a separate step in the plumbing installation process. This is why we group them together. You can choose to separate plumbing equipment from plumbing fixtures.)

Waste & Vent Piping

Green

Underground Waste and Vent Piping

Yellow

Drain Tile

Brown

Once more, we want to reiterate that these colors and phases are completely interchangeable. They are used to get a handle on the systems and facilitate the take-off process. Moreover, we haven’t seen yet a full-featured plumbing estimate software that didn’t allow you to highlight in different colors. Therefore, this type of estimating can easily be assimilated into software perimeters.

Plumbing Cost Estimator: Start the Takeoff

Now it’s time to do your takeoff with your plumbing cost estimator. Get your digital wheel, ruler or mouse and start measuring away. We are not going to explain how to do a plumbing takeoff. In the future, we may put up a blueprint reading tutorial. However, for this piece, we’re assuming you know.

After the takeoff is complete, it is a good practice to compare the plumbing drawings to the architectural drawings and here is why. There are times when the specifications for plumbing fixtures/faucets, equipment, etc. do not appear on the plumbing drawings. However, they do appear in the architectural drawings.

Architectural Drawings take precedence over all trade drawings. The Architectural Detail drawings are next while the Trade Drawings are last. We know that sounds a little strange but it is a legal precedence.

Let us give an example of how this would a affect a plumbing estimate. Let’s say you are putting together a tenant build-out estimate. Your plumbing drawings show fifteen (15) single-bowl kitchen sinks to furnish and install. However, when you go to the Architectural Drawing, it clearly shows double bowl under-counter mount stainless steel. If you didn’t pick them up on the Architectural drawing, you would be responsible for providing them, if push came to shove. Believe us, we’ve seen it litigated.

One other thing we’d like to point out about doing a takeoff. We instructed you to have the mechanical drawings printed for review and there is a reason for that. Quite often, the Mechanical Drawings have cooling units on some of the floors especially for data centers. These units have make-up water connected to them and RPZs usually need to be installed. This work is usually plumbers’ work if labor is involved. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to have those covered.

You can use an exclusion “We are not responsible for any RPZs or backflow prevention devices not clearly delineated on the plumbing drawings.” However, it doesn’t take very long to look at the mechanical drawings. After all, who wants a fight?

Which Subcontractors Do I Need?

While doing your takeoff, you can use the Subcontractors sheet below as a reminder for what subs you may need. It is much easier to count holes for hole coring and figure footage’s for pipe insulation for winter etc. while doing the takeoff than waiting to put it together after the takeoff is finished. We will list all of the subcontractors and explain what they are if they need explaining.

In addition, it’s at this time you may want to call in your subcontractors that may have some work to perform. Let them give you a price for their work instead of you putting a number in for them—it could save an argument down the road.

Plumbing Sub Sheet

Please Click on Image for a Full-Size Printable PDF

Pipe Covering or Insulation – Most construction projects require the water piping be insulated to protect against condensation. If excessive condensation occurs, water can drip onto ceiling tiles or people for that matter. The amount and extent of the insulation varies by project. Therefore, be sure to cover this step thoroughly.Backflow Certification – We’ve never seen a project with RPZs that doesn’t require testing and certification. Some plumbing contractors have their own technicians to certify while some do not.Electric Tracing – We will give a pretty extensive list of common exclusions. This is one we almost always exclude. In cold weather climates, sometimes, it’s impossible to install all water, waste, and downspout piping in heated areas. If this is the case, heat tracing is required. The piping is usually wrapped with a generating cable then insulated (usually 1” thick) to help prevent the pipe from freezing. This is electrical work, and we either exclude it or bring an electrician in to bid the work.Fire Safing – When you have floor or wall penetrations, they almost always have to be fire safed. This is usually done with a fire resistant chalk or sleeve. If the plumber has a few holes to do, it’s usually self performed if there are a ton to do. This step may be sub-contracted out.Power Wiring – Does the plumbing equipment being installed need electrical work? If so, either exclude it or use a subcontractor.Control Wiring – Please see above. This is also used a reminder to talk to your equipment manufacturer. See if they include wiring the control panels to the equipment. If they don’t ,,have that work in their pricing to make sure you have it covered.

Control Wiring

Trench Box Rental – Are you doing some interior or exterior digging deeper than 4 feet? If so, you either buy it or rent it.  You can never be too safe.Water Tap Contractor – Where we are located, the municipality usually handles the potable water tap. However, sometimes, a specialty contractor needs to be used.Exterior Site Utilities – Once more, quite a few plumbing contractors have their own site plumbing crew. If you don’t, you’ll need a sub that specializes in this tye of work.Sewers and Excavating – Quite often, if you have a project that needs a lot of interior digging, bringing someone in who does it for a living is the most economical way to get it done.Haul Surplus Dirt – When doing interior and exterior digging, you never put as many spoils back in the trench as you take out. Someone has to haul it off of the job site. Maybe you can do it, maybe the general contractor will haul it away if you bring it to a central location. If it is ultimately your responsibility, you need someone to haul it away.Meter Vaults –  This is a check category. Quite often, your site utility contractor will have these things covered. If not, at least you know to ask.Super Grease Basins or Separators – If you’ve ever worked on a project with a massive super grease basin, you know you can’t move it alone. If it’s big enough, it will come in pieces and be manufactured during the job or it will come on a flat bed truck. In the end, an equipment mover will be called in to get it in the building. Only professionals can get through this task successfully.

Super Grease Basins or Separators

Chlorination – Most times, a project requires that the potable water system be chlorinated and tested before the job is turned over. Usually, a chlorinating contractor comes to perform this work.Core Drill (Hole Coring) – Do you have to core a concrete deck for waste, water, and vent piping? Some contractors self perform this work while others sub it out.Sawcutting – The same subcontractors that perform hole coring also do sawcutting. A sawcutter would be used if a project needs a large trench or a lot of trench cut into a slab to install plumbing work.Warehouse Space Rental – Do you need extra storage space to store equipment or plumbing fixtures?Chemical Toilets – Port-a-Johns enough said. Sometimes, a project requires each trade to have their own port-a-potties.Painting/Patching – This is another sub that is rarely used because the general contractor or construction manager usually takes care of the painting. However, we had occasions where we were responsible for patching and painting walls and ceilings. We also had to make connections to existing waste, vent, storm, and water piping. If at all possible, try to qualify this work out of your bid.Special Hoisting of Material or Crane Rental – the next three go together. However, we have them broken out as a check. If you need material or equipment, i.e. domestic house pumps, large water heaters, etc. put on a certain floor or roof or material/equipment lifted off the supply truck.Millright – A millright can construct equipment in place. These craftsmen will build equipment in place or alter space to accommodate a piece of equipment.

Millright

Equipment Hoisting – This falls under the category of Special Hoisting, etc. stated above.Metal Drip Pans – Sometimes, a plumbing specification requires special metal pans to protect against a piece of equipment leaking or from condensation. Special fabricators are used to manufacture these pans.Bathtub Patching – There are specialty contractors that do nothing but repair cast iron, enameled steel or fiberglass tubs. If you are doing a large project with many bathtubs, you almost always have to repair some of the tubs.Hi-Jacker or Lift Rental – You may need a mobile man lift for work in warehouses, school gymnasiums or areas where there are high ceilings. The hi-jacker can be used to help lift the material for workers on the lift.Sprinkler Work – Most times, this is a separate contract. Nonetheless, we have seen plumbing drawing with sprinkler work on them. If you can’t self perform, you use a subcontractor.Pump Rentals –  If you do any work close to a body of water, you will almost surely have an issue with water while digging. Sometimes, the water is extensive enough to rent pumps bigger than having a few sump or ditch pumps.Rubbish Removal – We usually exclude dumpsters for our trash and leave that up to the GC to include. However, this doesn’t happen all the time.

Rubbish RemovalWellpoints (Plumbing Definition) – In cases of an extremely water-high water table, while excavating, wellpoints may be needed to move water away from the work area. Wellpoints are pits dug below the work area usually in the corners. Pumps are installed in each wellpoint to remove the ground water. By going below the work area, you keep that area dry.Soil/Proctor Tests – It is rare when a plumbing contractor accepts to do soil tests.  Nonetheless, there have been times when we’ve been required to test for compaction after we backfill our underground work.Rentals Special Tools or Machinery – Do you need a Bobcat or a small track backhoe?Tub/Shower Enclosures – We’ve always done these ourselves. However, in case of projects with more than twenty (20), it’s best to turn to companies that do nothing but shower enclosures. They may be able to bang these out much faster than a full service plumber.Scaffold Rentals – There are times when a man lift will not work, such as on a school stage, and you will need scaffolding.  If possible try, to qualify this out of your bid.Vanity Tops – This is one of those things that rarely become a plumbing issue but it happens. Most times, it’s the carpenter’s work or the countertop manufacturer installs. At least you know to ask who’s responsible.Vanity Cabinets – Please see above.Toilet Partitions and Toilet Room Accessories – We are lumping these together because it is extremely rare that these two things don’t go hand in hand. This is another jurisdictional issue. We happen to do quite a bit of toilet room accessory installation. Nonetheless, that is not the case across the entire country. This is usually carpenters work, but you have a chance to pick up more work by knowing how to install them.Toilet Partitions and Toilet Room Accessories

Plumbing Estimate – General Condition Sheet

The next sheet we call our General or Special Condition sheet. Please click below for a printable PDF. Feel free to use it or alter to your liking. You’ll find some of these line items are duplicates of the previous but please disregard them.

Plumbing Estimate

Please Click on Image for a Full-Size Printable PDF

Additional Expenses to Consider

General or special conditions are real for potential cost you should consider for every project. They are also a check list of items that you may want to qualify out of your proposal. That’s why it is important to read all the notes on the architectural, plumbing, and mechanical drawings and also the General Conditions and Mechanical Systems of the specifications. Remember, these are not set in stone, but they are a starting point. Here are the phases and a brief explanation of each:

Temporary Pumps, Piping, etc

Sometimes, a plumber needs to do temporary piping to provide water for the rest of the trades. Other times, they just need temporary sump pumps or domestic water booster systems.

Temporary Toilets

Sometimes, during a rehab or a complete gut of a building, the plumbing contractor will activate or build temporary toilet facilities for the project.

Temporary Toilets

Shanty/Office Rental

We have been on many large projects where a temporary office or trailer is needed to house supervision and workers. You can rent temporary office trailers. If not, check for any available tenant space in a nearby office.

Breakage Allowance

This is one of those line items that get overlooked. However, this point is always crucial for a big job. We’ve found on hi-rises you have between 5 and 10 percent material breakage especially on china fixtures. Here is where the issue arises. If you have a small job, you order the fixture delivery when you trim the job. Therefore, if there is any breakage, you know right away, and the supply house takes care of things. If you have a large project, you have to schedule fixture deliveries in bulk and store them. It could be weeks between delivery and installation.

How do you prove the fixture was broken upon delivery? Again, on the larger projects, you will have breakage or theft. Most times, you will have a battle with the GC and or owner to reimburse you for these items before they are accepted by the GC/owner or put to beneficial use.

Plumbing Fixture

Safety Act Costs

This is definitely something that needs clarifying. Believe it or not, this factor appeared on this sheet far before it was a real issue. That is a tribute to the man who put together the list. We’ll give him his props at the end of the article.

We’re going to give you a scenario that has come up in the last 7 years or so and has been duplicated by most of the big GCs across the country. We received a job from “Big Blue (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, Google it). Upon receiving the contract, we also notice that every person on the project must have completed an OSHA approved 10-hour safety course. On top of that, every foreman had to complete a 30-hour OSHA-approved safety course. The 30-hour safety course had to be done on the GC’s website for a fee of $600.00 plus the hourly costs for the worker’s time.

More commonly, GCs make all workers on the job view an hour long safety video and they get a certificate at the end of the viewing. You have to pay your men to do the safety class. Therefore, you have to cover nonproductive labor from your own pocket. We are not saying these requirements are not necessary. We’re saying you must recognize these costs if your workers do not meet these requirements.

  • Supervision (Non-Productive) – If the job is large enough, there is bound to be labor on the job that does nothing but supervise.
  • Hoisting Charges – On some projects, the GC may prorate their hoisting costs to all the subcontractors.  On top of that, if you are going to have overtime hour hoisting, the GC is most likely going to pass those cost on to you. It will be a tough call. We would try to qualify these costs out of our proposal.
  • Mason Hydrant – This falls under Temporary Water and usually applies in cases when the mason contractor needs hose a connection where he is mixing his mortar.
  • Pipe Rack & Pipe Shop – This applies to projects where you may have in-house or off-site pre-fabrication.
  • Telephone – This applies to having a land line for a specific project and can apply to having a phone and/or computer for the project.

Telephone

  • Intercom System – This applies to projects where you may need two-way communication amongst your key people.  Nextel phones may be the answer to this, but it is a cost to consider.
  • Sleeving – Sometimes, trades can place sleeves in the decks where their piping is going before the deck is poured. It cuts down on hole coring. The cost for making these sleeves or having them made should be considered.
  • Inserting – This is a cost (if the coordinated shop drawings are approved before the concrete slabs are poured)  whereby a concrete insert is put down (before the concrete is poured) to be used for hangers thereby eliminating the need to drill and install concrete anchors.
  • Shop Drawings –  More and more projects, both big and small, are requiring coordinated shop drawings. These are drawings of the plumbing piping in digital format that can be layered with the other piping trades. This way, you see if there are any conflicts. If so, you can alter those drawings and explore other routes.

Shop Drawings

  • Engineering – Engineering on the plumbing side of things usually only happens with a design build job. For instance, a developer or property owner comes to you to design and implement a plumbing system in a future building. You come up with the design. You can stamp the drawings as long as you are a qualified mechanical engineer. If not, you can put your trust into a mechanical engineer who knows your design.
  • As-built Drawings – There isn’t a plumbing project we’ve ever worked on where the piping goes in exactly as planned. These drawings show piping “as-built.” They are usually a contract requirement at the end of the job and they tie them into your final payment.
  • Blueprinting and Sepias – Projects have printing that needs to be done. Whether you are printing changes in the scope of the project or progress coordinated shop drawings, it’s a cost people can easily overlook.
  • Packing of Sleeves – If you don’t have a subcontractor to do your firestopping, you have to add time and material to self perform.
  • Expendable Tools – Is there a decent size job out there that hasn’t had tools lost or broken? This is the line item to account for the variable.
  • Clean Debris – If anyone out there has had the painful experience of having been back-charged by the GC for cleanup, you’ll know it’s significantly cheaper to have your own manpower clean-up after themselves.
  • Tag Valve & Schedule – We would change this line item to Valve Tag Scheduling, but you get the idea. Projects of larger size require a schedule of plumbing valves installed and a list of the functionalities of those pipes. Therefore, not only does a foreman or Project Manager needs to keep track of installed valves, but they also have to put the list together so it makes sense to anyone that may read. This is VERY important in large hospitals.

Tag Valve & Schedule

Example, you are doing a small tenant rehab in a large old hospital. You close a valve that has no schedule and it shuts off two active operating rooms on the floor below. Believe us, it happens more than you think. If there happens to be an interruption in a medical procedure(s), you may not have enough insurance to cover the lawsuits.

  • Equipment Instructions (Equipment Start-up) – If you have some complicated equipment on a project like house pumps or boilers, the contract usually requires a start-up meeting with the project manager, the manufacturer, and a building engineer to go over operational procedures.
  • Cutting and Patching – It is common for small to medium size projects to require coring, sawcutting, and or patching of holes. We exclude it on most larger projects, but we self perform as well. Here is the line item to make sure you don’t forget. Also look at the Mechanical General Conditions in the specifications. They may require you to patch abandoned openings left in floors, walls, and ceilings where plumbing systems were removed.
  • Scaffolding (Rental Only)
  • Watchman – This is usually a cost that the GC or Construction Manager will try to pass on to the various subcontractors through pro-rata charges. Qualify this out of your bid.
  • Welding Consumables – We don’t do much welding in the plumbing business anymore, but I wish we did. This would be oxy-acteleyn or welding rods, etc.

oxy-acteleyn

  • Travel Time – This applies to having to pay tradesmen (when you hire them from other local union’s areas of work) for their travel time when they come to work in your work jurisdiction. In today’s working environment, this is probably a mute point but it should at least be considered.
  • Carfare – We have revised this to apply to company truck fuel charges. If there is a need for a company truck on the project this where we recognize the costs.
  • Parking Fees – Some will say “I don’t pay for my workers to park.” the fact is most lead men don’t pay for parking to go to work. If there is a crazy parking fee each day for that lead man add it to the proposal by the number of crew days you have figured for the job.
  • Drayage or Trucking – Do you have any material or equipment that will incur costs for shipping?
  • Incidentals – This is one of those all-encompassing line items. What can you think of that may become damaged on the job? A computer? A couple of cell phones?
  • Job Site Truck – We have purchased trucks for large jobs.

Job Site Truck

  • Pro Rata Charges by GC or Architect – Please see clean debris. Most hidden pro rata charges come from job site clean-up. As long as you keep your work area clean, you eliminate a variable. Pro Rata charges may also involve liquidated damages due to schedule.
  • Core Drilling – If you are doing it yourself, add time and drill bits.
  • Pipe Labeling – Sometimes, projects require the trades to label the piping they install, i.e. Hot Water Return Piping, Storm Piping, Waste Piping, etc.
  • Punch List/Warranty – This is one line item that isn’t on our list. However, it is important and necessary. It is work done for the Architect/Owner’s punch list and or warranty work. When a job is complete, the Owner, Owner’s representative and, GC walk the entire job through looking for workmanship issues or finish issues. Eventually, hey put a punch list together for all the trades. Obviously, the fewer punch list items you have, the better. We have found over the last 30 years or so the average punch list labor is about 2% of the entire labor for the project. For example, if you have 100 working days for a job, you would add 2 days for punch list work.

We know that this is pretty extensive. Nonetheless, once you become familiar with all the variables involved with a plumbing project, these items become second nature.

So how do you put it all together? We are getting to that, but first let’s explain the cover page labeled Phase: Plumbing. Please click below for a printable PDF. Once again, you are free to use it as you see fit.

Phaserecap

Please Click on Image for a Full-Size Printable PDF

How to Phase a Plumbing Project

Phase 1: Total General and Special Conditions

Transfer your totals from the General and Special Conditions page to this page and extend.

Phase 2: Total Fixtures

We usually combine Fixtures and Mechanical Equipment. However, if the job is massive, you can separate. Separating the two on a big project helps to put together the schedule of values on your billing paperwork. Here is what we consider plumbing fixtures: toilets, lavatories, urinals, bidets, kitchen sinks, bathtubs, showers, mop basins or slop sinks, drinking fountains or water coolers, hand sinks, and emergency eye washes. Basically, these are all plumbing fixtures and their related faucets, P-traps, supplies, strainers, etc.

Phase 3: Mechanical Equipment

For the sake of this piece, mechanical equipment consists of floor drains, roof drains, floor cleanouts, wall cleanouts, floor sinks, RPZs, sump pumps, ejector pumps, house pumps, water heaters, boilers, re-circulating pumps, mixing valves, grease separators, triple oil basins, fixture carriers, flashings, etc..

Phase 4: Demolition

This encompasses only plumbing demolition.

Phase 5: Underground Piping

No explanation necessary.

Phase 6: Rough-In Typical Floors

This is your waste and vent material in a typical floor situation. A typical floor is a floor in a multiple floor building where the plumbing is the same on each floor. It is much easier to put an estimate together if you have typical floors. On the material side, you take off one floor and multiply it by the number of typical floors in the building.

Rough-In Typical Floors

With regards to labor, you do have to consider what we call the “experience factor”. The “experience factor” is the experience your labor force gets by doing something over and over again. If you start setting toilets, you are much better and faster on the last one than you were on the first. It is the same with rough-in. Your plumbers are much better on the 5th floor rough-in than they were on the first. At least they should be better, your estimate can depend on it.

Phase 7: Waste & Vent Non-Typical Floors

You will probably use this phase more than the one above. It is your waste and vent material and labor for non-typical plumbing.

Phase 8: Water Piping Typical Floors

No explanation necessary.

Phase 9: Water Piping non-Typical Floors

No explanation necessary.

Explaining the Rest of the Plumbing Recap Sheet

After Phase 9 you’ll notice “Add 3% to the total of phases  5, 6, 7, 8, 9.” After a ton of analysis spanning 40 years or so, we have found that the majority of the takeoff mistakes (between the estimator and the man in the field) happen in these phases for an average of 3%. Therefore,we add a line item to cover the over-site. This is also an easy number to shave if you’re trying to cut costs.

The next line item that needs explaining is “Deduct Buying.” I do not like this line item, but the reality of the construction climate is that it is valid. This is the amount of money you can buy out of your material vendors. This should be a vehicle for you to make more profit. Unfortunately, it is now a way to shave your plumbing estimate and win a job.

Pre-markup adjustments or “R” (Revision) sheets is just a line item to insert in any over-sites you may catch while putting the number together.

Another very important line item is “Escalation.” If you are new to this game, you may not even think to escalate the pricing if the job spans material and/ or labor increases. In our business, we are dealing with materials that have a direct correlation to the commodities markets, resins, copper, steel, scrap metals are all affected by world supply and demand.

Plumbing Sheet

Several years ago, we had 17 increases in copper in less than a year. If you had a project that spanned better part of a year and you didn’t have escalation in the bid, you would lose more money every time the price went up. Please do not for one second think that a general contractor or Owner will reimburse you for the increases. We have never seen it happen. Therefore,be in close contact with your purchasing agent or material supplier to make sure you have at least an idea of where the market is going.

Review Adjustment is another line item to add overlooked things during an estimate review. When we carried out very large projects, the estimate was always reviewed by a senior estimator. If a senior estimator did the estimate, it was reviewed by the president of the company. In the end, the president and owner reviewed each other’s estimates.

Overhead and Profit are terms every estimator should be familiar with. The owner should instruct its estimators on what the overhead should be and the amount of profit that should be added.

The last line item that we believe needs explaining is, “Permits, Bonds, and Fees.” This is a spot for you to add any additional costs for permits and such. Most times on large projects, the sub-contractors are not responsible for these costs. However, if it is a private project where you are intimately involved in the permit process, you my need to be responsible for the above.

Our Philosophy on Estimating Plumbing Labor

You will see that our labor unit is always broken down into Man Days. There is a logical reason for that. It is much easier to think about how to labor a phase in man days than if you figure it in hours. There aren’t many jobs you’ll lose because you had a half hour or one hour too many in your estimate.

When it comes to labor, you might lose the job because you had too many man days. Take this into consideration when you are analyzing the estimate for possible mistakes or if you’re trying to shave the number. Labor is the area we find difficult to transfer to a computer estimating program. Most estimating software assign labor factors to each fitting and piece of pipe, every hanger, and plumbing fixture.

There needs to be a ton of oversight on your estimates to make sure your labor matches your estimating software. We have a good friend that moved his company to computer estimating and it took him over a year to feel confident the software was laboring the way he wanted it to.

Common Plumbing Estimate Exclusions

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to read many plumbing contractor bid proposals. It always baffles us how little clarification is included in the proposals. Therefore, we wanted to include a list of common exclusions and how they are written to limit your exposure during and after the bid process is complete. Obviously, you don’t need every exclusion on every job. Some are very specific so they don’t even fit into some proposals. As a result, use this list as another check list to make sure you’ve got things covered.

  • Permits, bonds or fees – We will include if necessary. However, if none are clarified, we cover ourselves by excluding them.
  • Furnishing of a Performance and Payment bond – Please see the above. Keep in mind, if you have to have a performance and payment bond, include the added costs.
  • Furnishing of dumpsters for the removal of debris – we prefer it when the general contractor furnishes dumpsters. It doesn’t always happen, but we try to exclude.
  • Off-site spoil removal – We usually say that we will take spoils to an on-site barrow pile for final removal by others.
  • Furnishing of any kitchen equipment – This is not usually something a plumber handles, but we will make the final connections.

Furnishing of any kitchen equipment

  • Furnishing of any temporary work – This encompasses temporary toilets, temporary connections, etc. We exclude them if none are asked for. This way, the customer doesn’t attempt to make you do something not called for on the bid documents.
  • Correction of existing pluming code violations we may encounter while performing our work – This is relevant when doing plumbing repair or rehab work. While performing, you may encounter plumbing that is a code violation that is not part of your scope of work. This is just letting everyone know you aren’t repairing things not called for to be repaired.
  • Coordinated shop drawings prior to the installation of our piping. We will coordinate on the job – Coordinated shop drawings are being required more and more. However, on small projects, they are an expense that isn’t necessary. Tradesmen are more efficient at coordinating while installing.
  • Furnishing of any appliances – There have been times where we provide dishwashers or ice makers, but not very often. This is another exclusion to limit exposure.
  • Protection of Owner’s or tenant’s fixtures, furniture, equipment,(FF&E) i.e. computers, carpeting, etc. – We always exclude temporary protection, let the company responsible for the entire job worry about protection.
  • X-raying of floors prior sawcutting or hole coring.

X-raying of floors

  • Responsibility for damage (while sawcutting or hole coring) to concrete embedded conduits.
  • Furnishing of any backflow prevention devices not clearly delineated on the plumbing documents.
  • Removal or replacement of walls or ceiling that may be necessary for us to install our work – Again, we will do some of this work if it’s insisted upon. Nonetheless, the GC usually takes care of removing spline ceilings and opening walls.
  • Removal or replacement of deteriorated piping we may encounter while performing our work.
  • Rodding of any existing waste or storm piping.
  • Shut down, drain down, and subsequent refilling of domestic water piping. This applies mainly to rehab work. Moreover, this is very important when it comes to hospitals.

Final Word

Obviously, this is to be used as a learning tool to visualize how plumbing estimate works. You shouldn’t take this guide as the  Bible and follow it line by line. We like to think of it as a framework to be adding to or to be pared down as necessary. We hope you can take away something useful from the piece. Thanks for reading and please post any comments or questions you have regarding any of the concepts written above.

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