Jim Klinger, concrete construction specialist The Voice Newsletter December 2021
Full disclosure: It’s 17 July 1982, just about first light. I’m beachcombing barefoot along the pristine Ocean City shoreline. Up ahead, I spot a lone surfcaster working the incoming tide. Several species of highly prized sport fish are running along the Jersey coast now, and I can see straightaway this guy has hooked into one of them. The angler finesses the fish in past the first breaker and then through the surging pull of ocean backwash and drags it safe to dry sand. It’s a striper, a real beauty. By and by, we exchange pleasantries and get to talking. As it turns out, he’s an engineer who retired just yesterday after a career based in the Philadelphia construction market. I tell him my first engineering classes get underway in a few weeks at university and ask if he has any words of advice for a young guy just starting out. “That’s easy”, he says, “never fool yourself into thinking that you know it all in the concrete business, even up to the day you retire”. Looking back on it after all these years…boy, was he right.
Despite tremendous pressures brought to bear on the concrete construction industry by the pandemic, the ASCC Technical Division staff nearly doubled in size in 2021. Over the past year, this staff fielded several hundred concrete construction issues submitted by contractors taking advantage of the ASCC Hotline and Email Forum. And, true to the fisherman’s advice recounted above, we managed to learn something new with almost every issue or inquiry. Our jobs have been made much easier thanks to generous member participation in ASCC Technical Committee and Constructability Committee meetings and related activities. We are a non-profit organization that thrives on members helping each other navigate the concrete construction business, and it is especially bragworthy to see competitors leave their helmets and party affiliations at the door and lend a hand to fellow members.
Last month, we presented sample bid “inclusion and exclusion” proposal line items that could help minimize risk in an upcoming project. For this issue, we spent several hours sifting through past Hotline and Forum issues in an attempt to flush out examples that featured conflict and financial exposure that might very easily have been mitigated at bid time by using another valuable concrete estimating tool: contract scope allowances. As it turns out, there were several such issues that jumped out.
No one up and down the project food chain wants to get blindsided with late or seemingly unsubstantiated requests for cash money in the form of backcharges or proposed change orders. Nasty surprises - even if they are valid - can be some of the quickest ways to wreck a perfectly fine business deal. As concrete contractors, the best we can do to avoid unsavory conflict is to alert the owner of potential extra cost items up front at bid time, with suggested allowances (also sometimes called contingency or reserve sums).
( N.B.: Industry Standard ASTM E2168-10(16) is titled Standard Classification for Allowance, Contingency and Reserve Sums in Building Construction Estimating. The significance of the three commonly used estimating terms (e.g. allowance, contingency, reserve) is described in Section 4.1 as follows: “When preparing construction, project, and program cost estimates, it is often necessary to make monetary provisions for change or risk, or both, or other exigencies where information is incomplete)."
In some cases, project allowances may have been anticipated by the owner and the design team, typically appearing in MasterFormat Division 1 “Section 01 21 00: Allowances” or similar. In most of the specifications we reviewed, the projects were large public works-type, and allowances were only specified for work scopes related to Division 6 and higher; structural concrete wasn’t even mentioned. This is why it is so important for the concrete contractor to exercise due diligence, scour the construction documents, and rely on past experience for guidance when preparing each bid.
Classic scope allowance items that typically carry risk of financial exposure to the unwary concrete contractor are as follows:
- Crack repairs not clearly quantified at bid time
- Grinding, filling of floors to suit follow-on trades
- Lean concrete foundation backfill to replace unsuitable soils
- Concrete needed to compensate for metal deck deflection
- Concrete needed to compensate for misplaced subgrade
- Concrete needed to compensate for misplaced shoring
- Ice in concrete readymix due to weather
- Incidental and/or accidental trade damage done to our work by others
- Incidental and/or accidental trade damage done by our crews.
- Rework required at architectural concrete mockups
- Testing/inspection costs (e.g. early breaks, etc.) for PT, stripping, and so on
- Repairs due to follow-on damage caused by deicing chemicals
- Costs associated with breaks in the supply chain
- Costs associated with COVID
- Time-related maintenance/repair issues, PT movement, Curling, Deflections
We have seen cases this year where the customer just plain didn’t know that elevated concrete slabs typically deflect after we remove the shoring, that PT structural concrete might move over time, and that reinforced concrete parking structures really do require owner maintenance budget attention over the life of the structure. There are some savvy structural engineers who include a section in their General Notes titled “Special Notes to Owner,” or similar statements meant to alert all stakeholders that unquantifiable costs are likely to be incurred, presumably handled through owner allowance budget line items. But there are other cases when it behooves the concrete contractor to raise allowance red flags early, either via pre-bid RFIs or carefully crafted proposal language.
In Part #3, we will consider certain interesting and amusing concrete estimating terminology, such as “Should Costing”, “Upset Fee”, “SWAG numbers” and “PIDOOMA budgets”.