Estimating Electrical Rooms

April 6, 2023

You may wonder why an electrical estimator would spend much time focusing on the electrical rooms and switchgear as they try to determine potential lost labor on a job. How much of a difference can these rooms actually in the grand scheme of the overall project?

This is a valid question. However, understand that when it comes to electrical construction, what may seem like small installation or a seemingly insignificant aspect of the job can bear the load of a lot of labor. Since electrical rooms have a very specific function, impeccable attention to detail with virtually no room for error is a must. A little can go a long way, either for better or worse.

An example would be your usual main electrical room - a main distribution board, a large switchboard, a few transformers and panel boards, lighting control panels and some signal system panels. It's imperative that these units are laid out accurately, mountings are level, and precise locations of their measurements are made. With the feeder conduits running in and out, you'll need to make sure each conduit is coordinated similar in fashion to a fitted sweater, where each stitch is sewn in carefully and fits perfectly alongside the next.

You should also know that architects generally apply the minimum code requirements to electrical rooms, so it's very rare for these rooms to be sized with an electrical contractor in mind. There's usually not even an inch to spare, which makes working in an electrical room both labor intensive and challenging. A great deal of this work is performed overhead and on ladders. The more the larger feeders are installed, the tighter the overhead working space becomes. Oftentimes conduits need to be bent, which requires special bending equipment for the larger conduits. An old school method of estimating to make sure you built in additional costs and labor from bending those larger feeder conduits is to count three elbows and two connectors for each feeder run and assume that will cover it. This might work sometimes, but more often than not, you will notice several bends that are not accounted for when you do a walkthrough of the finished job.

Another thing to consider is whether these rooms are above the ground floor, perhaps even on a high floor like 10 or 20. Have you built in additional time to accommodate transporting and handling the material up to all of those floors?

Consider the scope of the job. You may assume you have all your equipment accounted for and labored correctly, but if you are using standard labor units that usually apply to straightforward conduit runs and long wire pulls, a large part of your labor may be left out. In addition, you will come up short if your gear labor and panels don't have built-in lay out time.

Another consideration should be termination time. Did your estimate account for this? Let's say you have 10 panels. This could easily tack on an additional 35-40 hours of labor. This time should be included in your estimate.

What about larger wire terminations? Large wires cannot be simply removed with a small stripping tool; they require a special torque to properly terminate and secure to the lugs. You'll need to figure in what the specifications require for this termination process. Many specifications require that every feeder wire has a compression lug. Things like this become not only a labor issue but also expenses and materials. However you look at it, if the process includes anything apart from your normal figures, this will have to be factored in to your estimate.

Finally, label and identification specifications have to be taken care of diligently. Each panel, transformer, breaker, feeder wire, and switchboard section requires a label or identification tag. This may seem like a minute detail, but if we're talking about an electrical room that has 25 pieces of equipment and over 30 feeders with four wires on each end, you're looking at some serious labor to cover.

A good start to this whole process is separating the electrical rooms from the rest of your takeoff; you can then run separate extensions from there. This will ultimately help you determine how much time to spend in each room. As soon as you have acquired this information, go ahead and factor this labor higher. Going about it this way will prevent you from impacting the other areas of your bid. If this seems too tedious, you always have the option to add a simple labor item to give you a few extra hours.

Perhaps you were anxious to win the bid, which led you to cutting labor in other areas. It happens; what we're trying to avoid is you losing any more labor. Electrical rooms are high profile parts of your job that can really aid in helping your company's work shine. A well-installed electrical room is extremely marketable. The best rooms are basically works of art, and producing quality art is time-consuming. Don't underestimate the impact going the extra mile in electrical rooms can have on your company.

Charter Estimating is a professional electrical and pre-construction estimating company that offers long term and short-term estimating solutions for contractors around the nation. Whether you are looking for part-time, full-time, or more than one estimator, we are always here to help you further your company’s goals. Get in touch with us today!

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