Signing contracts without thoroughly reading the specs is a ‘no-win’ gamble.

If you didn’t already know, Russian Roulette is an act of bravado consisting of spinning the cylinder of a revolver loaded with one cartridge, pointing the muzzle at one’s own head, and pulling the trigger.

This is a definite “no-win” situation. If your firing pin hits an empty chamber, you didn’t win a thing. You are still as stupid as you were when you pulled the trigger. You can only lose.

We have millions of contractors and subcontractors of every trade who unknowingly play this “no-win” game every time they bid a job and sign a contract without thoroughly reading the entire set of specifications and reviewing every page of the blueprints.

Fortunately, you are only gambling with your money and your business rather than your life. Unfortunately, you now have five cartridges and only one empty chamber since your chances of winning are about nonexistent.

The Cost Of Being Thorough: But why should you gamble with such a losing proposition? One little statement or note in those specs can cost you thousands of dollars - or cost you that project - if your bid did not include that reference. You need to consider how little it would cost for you or your estimator to review all of the critical data compared to how much it will cost if you miss even one contractual requirement.

We have one set of specs here in our office for a small retail drug store that is 1 1/8 inches thick. We have one for an industrial building that is 2 1/4 inches thick. We also have two projects where the specs are produced on four pages of the contract drawings. You also must consider setting aside enough time to read the manuals and documents these contracts refer to with specific items (ASTM, NEMA, NFPA, NEC, UL, ASHRAE, SMACNA, AWWA, etc.).

Every section of these specs begins with, “This section includes by reference the ‘General Conditions of the Contract for Construction’ AlA Document 101, 1997, and is hereby made part of the contract documents.”

That section alone is 40 pages.

Also included is Section 00800: Supplementary General Conditions, “The following supplements modify, change, delete from, or add to AlA Document 201, 1997.” This section is 12 pages.

Another four pages is set aside for Section 15050: Basic Mechanical Materials and Methods, “This section applies to all mechanical work. The contractors involved shall check all sections of the specs in addition to the particular section covering their specific trade. Each distinct section of the specs aimed for one trade may have detailed information with regards to other trades, therefore, it is imperative that all sections be reviewed to get a complete picture of all other trades’ functions and work required.”

These are actual quotes from a small project we are now bidding. Naturally, each individual set of specs will differ with more or less items and different requirements. Common sense (which is not too common) tells you that you dare not gamble on bidding any project without knowing what you must do or furnish, as well as how and when you will be paid.

It is not even possible to determine how much money it would cost your company if you missed one of these critical statements, but it is very easy to estimate how much time and money it would cost to read all of them.

Some people read faster than others, but the major difference in time required is previous experience and knowledge of our industry’s standards. A contractor or estimator who has carefully read and understood those specifications in previous circumstances can capably scan or speed read most contracts, looking for any item that has been changed from normal practice.

With your reasonable estimate of time, you can multiply that by your cost per hour to establish your investment into a safe bid. Keep in mind, if you don’t have enough time to eliminate the Russian Roulette game, then you don’t have enough time to bid!

Common Occurrences: On a typical project, our estimator will find at least a dozen errors, omissions, or overlaps that require an RFI and addendum before we bid. In addition, the other bidders also will submit their RFls, which are answered to all of the bidders. They specifically ask each bidder to acknowledge receiving those addenda to qualify their bids.

Although many of you have experienced the frustration and cost of this roulette game, I’d like to share some of the most common occurrences:

    1. A note in the electrical plan showing work or material to be furnished or installed by the plumbing or HVAC contractor.

    2. A note in the painting specs requiring the mechanical or plumbing contractor to paint equipment or color code their piping. In many cases, the painting is specified in both sections and neither the painter or mechanical contractor take that couple of minutes to read the other trades’ specifications.

    3. The site contractor’s specs call for stubbing water and sewer lines inside the building, but the plumbing contractor estimates carrying his lines 5 feet outside the building since that is normal practice.

    4. A note on the site contractor, landscaping or irrigation contractor’s specs or drawings requires the plumbing contractor to furnish and install necessary sleeves for their piping. Those specs also may require the plumber to protect or replace trees, sod and shrubbery, as well as patching or replacing damaged concrete or asphalt walks and paving.

    5. An electrical engineer writes the electrical specifications, while a mechanical engineer writes the mechanical specs. We usually find that the controls may be furnished or installed in both specs or in neither. You can easily imagine what this could cost!

    6. Because of union jurisdiction, some specs require the plumbing or mechanical contractor to do installation of scaffolding, toilet partitions, temporary light or heat, electric fans, and supply lines or connections to the other trades’ or owner’s equipment.

Missing any of these costly items in the other trades’ specs or on their sheet of the prints is definitely that act of bravado we call Russian Roulette. But not reading the general conditions is outright suicide. There now are six cartridges loaded in your revolver and you will surely pay the penalty if you bid that job!

Naturally, every job will have different references in the general conditions, but here are some of the most common costly oversights:

    1. Ask before you bid or furnish the most expensive solution.
    2. Accept no verbal changes.
    3. Meet all local codes.
    4. Pay for all permits, taps and impact fees.
    5. Videotape all underground lines.
    6. Provide temporary water, power, heat, lights, and restore facilities back to original status.
    7. Provide test and balancing data.
    8. Provide accurate as-built drawings.
    9. Provide instructions to owner’s personnel, plus one-year maintenance and warranties.
    10. Resolution of disputes - mediation, arbitration or litigation.
In addition to familiarizing your estimator with all of these requirements before you submit your bid, you also need to pass on these critical notes, RFls and alternates that were accepted, addenda, and a copy of your signed contract to your job supervisor and foremen.

When you compare how little it would cost you to carefully read the specs and review every page of the prints to the potential losses for not knowing what you are bidding, I’m certain you will agree with me - let the Russians play their games.

We like to win.