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What does it take to make a building


What Does It Take?

To bring a building into existence is a big task that requires a lot from an owner.  Below we outline the steps as we see them (in no particular order) and offer some ways that we might be able to help.

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What does it take to make a building


What Does It Take?

To bring a building into existence is a big task that requires a lot from an owner.  Below we outline the steps as we see them (in no particular order) and offer some ways that we might be able to help.

 
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OBTAIN FUNDING

For some projects you may want to engage an architect early to produce some design ideas and concepts even before all of the funding is secured.  Sometimes it takes a rendering in hand to create the excitement needed to raise the funds.

HIRE AN ARCHITECT

Typically when you hire an architect you are also hiring the entire design team which includes the specialty consultants needed to produce a project.   They will oversee the coordination of all of the specialties and ensure a complete design for your project.   Additionally with so many aspects to architecture that will influence the outcome of your project it will be worth your time to get to know the architect you are seeking to hire.   You will want to find a firm that has struck the right balance for your project and design goals. 

FIND THE RIGHT SITE

While this step may often happen before an architect is brought on board we feel it is an opportunity where we might be able to assist.  With a general understanding of your project goals we can lend some insight into some factors that may be important to consider when finding a site for your project.

SITE CONDITIONS DISCOVERY

Now that you have your piece of land, you will engage a geotechnical engineer to discover the soil conditions of your site, you may also need to order an Alta survey or other discovery services to understand all of the different existing site conditions. With all of the site parameters defined the design of the project can get off on the right foot.

BUILDING CONDITIONS DISCOVERY

If the project involves an existing building (Tenant improvement, adaptive re-use, remodel, etc.) it will need to be documented.  If the original plans are available they can offer a good starting point, otherwise the as built drawings may have to be drawn from scratch.  Either way it is best to visit the project and verify the dimensions of the existing building.  It is also important to get an idea of the way the structural system works.   This is a service that we prefer to provide on projects we will be designing.  This way we can be sure we are relying on the correct information.

DESIGNING & DOCUMENTING THE PROJECT

There are many aspects to the design and documentation of a project including; Civil, Landscape, Architecture, Structure, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing systems to name a few of the major pieces.   This will be the work of a design team made up of a number of specialized professions. Traditionally an Architect leads this effort and is well suited to establish the design direction and ensure the coordination of the designs.  You will also play an important role in the design of the project as your feedback and decision making is critical to the success of the project.  

APPROVALS OF THE JURISDICTION HAVING AUTHORITY

In most locations within the United States, there will be a jurisdiction that will set some requirements for your project and oversee the construction of the building to ensure its compliance.   This is typically the City or County in which your site lies. In residential developments, you may also find there are requirements from an HOA that apply to your project.  An architect is experienced in discovering the various requirements that will apply to your project and in preparing the documents that will be required for approval before a building permit can be obtained. 

BIDDING THE PROJECT

Traditionally a project is sent to a number of contractors in order to obtain a competitive bid and avoid overpaying for the work. While not overpaying for the project is the major reason for the competitive bid process, we would also caution against underpaying for the project.  As the architects who prepared the drawings that were bid, we can offer assistance in helping you to understand the differences between the bids you receive and analyzing them for completeness and potential issues that may exist.

HIRE A CONTRACTOR

We feel that hiring the right contractor is just as important as hiring the right architect for the success of the project.   Additionally there will be a relationship that exists between the architect and contractor that is important to the experience you will have during the construction of your project.    Whether you are hiring a contractor early on, or after the bidding phase, we are willing to offer our opinions to help in your selection of the right contractor for the work.  Or you can also tell us to keep our opinions to ourselves and we won't be offended.

CONSTRUCTION ADMINISTRATION

During the time that the building is under construction there is a lot to do, and many more decisions that will need to be made.    Part of an architects role is to assist the owner in answering questions, providing further direction, making product selections, reviewing project billings and schedules, and visiting the site to verify the progress and quality of the work and to ensure that it meets the requirements of the documentation.

CONSTRUCTION CLOSEOUT & FINAL DOCUMENTATION

Some jurisdictions have requirements for final as built drawings of certain aspects of a project, and additionally you as the owner may want to maintain certain documentation for your future use and management of your facility.  The design team is capable of producing this final documentation and assisting with the other project closeout requirements of a given project. It is best to establish at the beginning of a project what the final documentation of a project needs to be so that we can work towards this end as we go along.

 
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How Long Does It Take?

Unfortunately the answer to this question is often “longer than you think.”  There are a lot of factors that affect the amount of time it takes to get a project designed, approved, bid, and built, but we wanted to give you a rough idea of how long some of this stuff takes.

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How Long Does It Take?

Unfortunately the answer to this question is often “longer than you think.”  There are a lot of factors that affect the amount of time it takes to get a project designed, approved, bid, and built, but we wanted to give you a rough idea of how long some of this stuff takes.

 

TIMELINES AND RISK

While the overall time frame will depend on the size and type of project a mid size commercial project can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2 years or more (outlined below, with reasonable overlaps in the processes) from the time the design team starts their work to the day the contractor turns over the keys to the project.   It is true that there are additional overlaps that can happen in the process or some steps that can be re-arranged to help speed things up but there may be risks involved.  

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SITE DESIGN

This is a collaborative effort between the Civil, Landscape, and Architecture professionals.  With quick decision making from the owner and a fairly aggressive and efficient design process it could take as little as 2 months to get your site and building designed to a point that it is ready for city zoning review.  More complex projects may require much more time to get to this level of completion.   

CITY ZONING APPROVALS

This process is fairly common on a lot of projects but will not apply to all.   If a zoning approval process is necessary there will be a city review period involved.   Once the city has reviewed the project they will communicate back to the design team any further items that need addressed to bring the project in conformance with the cities requirements.  This back and forth approval process can take another couple of months but the cities review time is outside of anyone's control and is often affected by how many projects are in for review at the time.

BUILDING DESIGN

While the building design will actually start in tandem with the site design and take a lot of shape before the zoning approval submission, the documentation and detailing really won’t be able to progress until city zoning approvals are received to be sure no major modifications will be required. Depending on the owner's comfort level with moving forward before final approvals are received documentation can begin after the first round of city zoning comments are issued.  If successfully overlapped the documentation of the project might add another 1.5 months to the project timeline.   Again this will depend on the complexity and size of the project and may require considerably more time for this to happen.  

CITY BUILDING DEPARTMENT APPROVALS

Once documentation of the building is complete the construction documents will be submitted to the city building department for their review and approval of the project.    They are mainly concerned with code compliance and health, safety, and welfare of the project.  While a city may advertise a certain turn around time, the true review time is beyond the control of the project team and will depend on how busy the city is with other projects.  The same back and forth approval process as the zoning review is typical to this process and we anticipate a typical 2 month period for this to take place.

BIDDING

While it is possible to have the project bid as it goes into the city for review it may be best to wait for the first round of comments to be addressed so that any significant requirements from the city are included in the pricing you receive without being added in as a more expensive change order.   If bidding takes place during the city review, it is possible that bidding and contractor selection can be completed before the final approvals are received which means that construction may begin as soon as the building permit is awarded.

CONSTRUCTION

Once the contractor has been selected and a building permit has been issued, construction work may begin. Construction can be affected by any number of factors from available workforce, to the weather patterns that year but it is reasonable to believe that a fairly simple mid sized commercial project might be completed in about 8 months to a year.

 
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Major Players


Major Players

Traditionally the process required to bring a building into existence involves 3 major players and their contractual agreements to each other.  We outline below the players and some of their major roles as we see them.

Major Players


Major Players

Traditionally the process required to bring a building into existence involves 3 major players and their contractual agreements to each other.  We outline below the players and some of their major roles as we see them.

 

OWNER

THIS IS YOUR PROJECT

We fully recognize that this is your project and you call the shots.   We want to give you good options and sound advice, but at the end of the day you need to be happy with the building that is delivered so please communicate with us how you feel about our work.

FUND PROVIDER

There is no project without the $$$ that you bring to the table.   We want to help you find the best value for your project. Value doesn't mean cheap, it means the most bang for the buck and the best solutions that will keep your project be what it needs to be for you for years to come.  

REQUIREMENT GENERATOR

Without your needs, we have nothing to design to or for.   You are the source of the design problem. It is your needs that will tell us how much space, what relationships need to exist, and how the building needs to take shape and perform.   We will work with you to define your needs for the project and discuss the best ways to meet those needs.

DECISION MAKER

You are an important part of the design and building process.   As the owner, you are the one calling the shots. Your feedback in the process is critical to the success of the design.  Often the design cannot progress without your input.

SCHEDULE SETTER

You need your project when you need it and we want to help you get there.   We can help you understand how long it takes to design your project and what it takes to get it through permitting.   While we can also give suggestions for about how long it might take to construct the work, your contractor will be able to give you a more accurate schedule.  

OVERSEER

You will look over the design and the documents as they are produced.   Your attention to the project and feedback are imperative to being sure you get the project that you want.   We will do our best to ask the right questions and to be sure you are up to speed with design decisions but with so many moving parts your involvement in reviewing the documents will lead to the best results.   We will also help you oversee the construction of the project, but the decisions that have to be made along the way will need your input.

 

ARCHITECT

FORM GIVER

The buildings massing, relationship to the site, and overall form will affect the presence that your project has in the built environment.   Finding a skilled designer is an important step in making sure your building will fit its purpose.

FUNCTION PROVIDER

No matter how good a project looks, if it doesn't function well it will only result in frustration to the end users.   Function is critical to the success of the project and choosing a qualified designer is again an important step in getting a high quality project.

AESTHETICS DRIVER

An architect will drive the aesthetic design of your project.  This can be an important part of bringing lasting value.  We always love it when discussing a detail and someone says, "that will only ever matter to you architects".  While it is true that an architect may be one of the few people who will actively pick out the detail and understand why it is either correct or not, good design and detailing is something that everyone appreciates on some level.   When you walk into a space it will either feel right or it won't, you don't have to understand why.  For example, I think most people would agree that there is a big difference between a Ford Pinto and a Ferrari 812.   You don't have to understand why you are drawn to the Ferrari but you are.  It all comes down to the design and detailing of the vehicle.   The same is true of architecture, the more you invest in the design, the better results you will get from your building.   

While Ferrari's are nice, we can already hear you saying that few people can afford such luxuries.   The Pinto, Ferrari comparison was just to make the point that design matters.  We believe that good design and an appreciation of the way your project looks and feels makes a big difference to the overall value you will get from your project now and in the future.  While we believe that good aesthetics are worth investing in we also believe that interest and good aesthetics can be accomplished in a number of ways that can fit within a reasonable project budget.

ENVELOPE DESIGNER

An important part of every building is the way in which it interacts with the weather and how well it performs in the way it controls the climate of the spaces within.   The designer of your project will be responsible for the way all of the pieces work together to make this happen. An architect is particularly trained in these areas to inform you of your options and work toward making the best solutions for this performance.

DESIGN TEAM COORDINATOR

The overall design of a project is a big task and there are many pieces to the design.  So much so that no one profession can cover them all. Your design will come from a team of design professionals working together to bring together all the pieces of a project.   The overall project designer should be capable of overseeing the designs and coordinating the work of the many specialties involved. Traditionally this is the role of an architect and is another reason that hiring an architect for your project may be recommended.  Click here for a description of a typical design team.

DETAILER

Your project designer will be responsible for describing to the contractor the way that the building is intended to come together.   While every detail may not be executed exactly as drawn in the field it is the responsibility of the designer to illustrate the design intent to the contractor.  Communicating the important alignments of elements, the lapping of materials, or other required elements that will affect the performance of the building. It is the very small things, that while we don't necessarily pick them out consciously as we enter a space, make a big difference in the way that space will feel.  Detailing is the difference between an OK project and a really great one.

DRAWING & DOCUMENTATION GENERATOR

The jurisdiction of the site for your project will require certain documentation of the project in order to issue a permit to build the work.   Your project designer will be responsible for providing these documents and addressing the jurisdictions comments in order to get you a buildable project.   In addition to meeting these requirements, the documents will need to be coordinated and clear to the contractor as to the work that is to be done. Clarity in the documents will lead to more accurate bids and a better pricing of the project overall.   While there may be no such thing as a perfect set of drawings, and their completeness often depends on the project schedule, we think there is great value in hiring an architect that knows how to communicate through the documents well.

CONSTRUCTION OVERSEER

Another important role of an architect is to assist the owner in overseeing the construction of the project.   As the designer of the project, no-one is better suited to review the work of the contractor to be sure that it is in compliance with the documents and the design intent.  Additionally, there will be questions that come up as projects get built and further direction that may needed.  It is the architects responsibility to provide these answers and/or the further direction required during construction.  An architect will also assist in reviewing project billings to be sure that the billed for work accurately reflects the amount of work that is in place on site. 

 

CONTRACTOR

BIDDER

While the designer can do their best to ball park estimate the cost of the building they are designing, it is the contractor that will review the documents and provide their actual bid for the work.   Typically a number of contractors provide a bid and the owner then chooses one to do the work.  

BUILDER

The contractor will be responsible for the construction of the project in such a way that it meets code and jurisdictional requirements along with any of the requirements of the documentation which should reflect the desires of the project owner. 

TRADE COORDINATOR

Depending on the general contractor that you have hired, they may only manage the work and not actually pick up a hammer anywhere along the way.  Again given the complexities of constructing a building there are many trades involved in the work. It is the general contractors responsibility for overseeing and coordinating all of the trades to complete the work on the promised time line.  

SCHEDULE DRIVER

The contractor will establish the agreed to project schedule for completing the work and will hold all the sub-contractors to this schedule.   There may be a number of conditions outside of the contractors control such as unexpected inclement weather that could adjust the project schedule, but overall they have the responsibility to see that the work is done on time.  

BUDGET TRACKER

As the work is completed, the general contractor will bill for the work they have accomplished.   Through these billings the budget is tracked and the work complete is reported.

OTHER

There are other functions that a contractor supplies that we will not focus on here since we are more about the design than the construction in what we do and probably not qualified to speak to everything that they offer, but it is our opinion that choosing a good contractor is just as important to the success of the project as choosing a good architect.   Ideally the architect and contractor will work together as a team to deliver your project for you.

 
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Get Messy


Sometimes Things Get Messy

We like to say this a lot, but the process of bringing a building into existence is a complicated one.  There are lots of moving parts and many voices that have a say in the requirements of the end product. Even with the best professionals, and the most ideal conditions, things are bound to get a little messy at times.  

Get Messy


Sometimes Things Get Messy

We like to say this a lot, but the process of bringing a building into existence is a complicated one.  There are lots of moving parts and many voices that have a say in the requirements of the end product. Even with the best professionals, and the most ideal conditions, things are bound to get a little messy at times.  

 

It is our opinion that the true measure of a professional is how they perform during these times to see the project through. If you are new to getting projects built we understand that this messiness may come as a bit of a surprise to you, that's why we are telling you about it now.  If you are experienced in building projects, you surely know what we are talking about.  If not, we want to meet the people you have worked with because they have somehow found a way to transcend the human condition!

While it is our goal to provide the best project and clearest set of documents as the required time line will allow, an absolute perfect set of documents is just not a realistic expectation.   We are in no way trying to excuse our obligation to provide an expected standard of care in the preparation of our work, but we are saying that the process is imperfect, often timelines are not ideal, and stuff happens.   Additionally as good as we like to think we are, we are imperfect, you will be imperfect as the owner, and the contractor will certainly be imperfect. Given all that imperfection rest assured that stuff will go wrong, and it will be on the part of all of us at some point.   We want to work our best, and work with the best to mitigate the amount of this that happens, but an expectation that everything is going to go off without a hitch will only set us all up for failure. We want to work for clients that understand this messiness. Sure hold us accountable to a reasonable standard, we owe you that, but we need you to understand that things will get messy and we will do everything we can to get your project through these times in the best ways possible.

 
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Jurisdictional Requirements

Chances are good that your project falls within a city or a county that is going to have some requirements that your project must meet in order to obtain a building permit.   Here we try to explain a little of what some of those typical requirements might be but every project is different and each one will need an investigation of what restrictions apply. An architect will be familiar with this process and the requirements necessary.  

city requirements


Jurisdictional Requirements

Chances are good that your project falls within a city or a county that is going to have some requirements that your project must meet in order to obtain a building permit.   Here we try to explain a little of what some of those typical requirements might be but every project is different and each one will need an investigation of what restrictions apply. An architect will be familiar with this process and the requirements necessary.  

 

FEDERAL REQUIREMENTS

At the federal level, a number of items are required.  The most prominent being those associated with the Americans with Disabilities act which places Accessible design requirements on any project built within the United States.

 

STATE REQUIREMENTS

The state is the party responsible for establishing the building code and other environmental, fire, and structural codes that may apply.  These codes outline the rules and regulations of designing buildings with the public's health, safety, and welfare in mind. These days most states choose to adopt some version of the International Building Code (IBC) with the option of making adjustments to that standard.   

 

TYPICAL STATE PLAYERS

State Elevator Inspector:  The state elevator inspector is typically the only person from the state level that will be involved in your project unless there are issues that arise that cannot be agreed upon at the city or county level.   He will inspect and pass off the elevators and the construction of their shafts on a project to ensure they meet the strict safety requirements of these complex machines.

 

CITY OR COUNTY REQUIREMENTS

It is at the City or county level that the code is enforced.   A city may choose to add additional requirements to the building code that has been established by the state.  Often the project will fall within a specified zone that is established by the city’s zoning department. These zones may place specific design requirements on a project and will include or exclude certain building types in a given area.   

 

TYPICAL CITY PLAYERS

City Planner:  The city planner is involved in the zoning side of things.  They will ensure that your project meets the various zoning requirements and that all of the right city parties are able to review your project in this light.   The planner will prepare comments to the design team with items that must be addressed to satisfy the city’s zoning requirements for the project.

 

Building Official:  The building official oversees the process of plans review and code compliance through the project documentation and building construction.   They have the final say when it comes to interpretations of the code and will be the person who signs off on the project before a building permit is issued.   The plans reviewers and building inspectors fall under the direction of this person.

 

Plans Reviewer:  The plans reviewer will look over the construction documents to ensure their compliance with the building code and other city requirements for the project.  They will provide comments to the design team with items that must be addressed to satisfy the cities requirements for project documentation and code compliance.  

 

Building Inspector:  The building inspector is the boots on the ground during construction.   They will review the various construction processes and stages to ensure compliance with the documentation and building code.   Any non conformance will be addressed with the contractor and is expected to be corrected in order for construction to continue.  


Fire Marshal:  The fire marshal is concerned with the fire safety of the building and will be involved in review of the documents as well as reviewing the construction of the building to ensure that all city fire requirements are being met and that the structure is ready for emergency situations.   

 
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design team


The Design Team

We are attempting here to list what a typical design team might look like and to give a general idea of what  specific specialties cover on any given project. This listing will not be comprehensive and there are often overlaps or shifts in the scope of different specialties that will depend on the specific project requirements.  The final responsibilities will be worked out per project.

design team


The Design Team

We are attempting here to list what a typical design team might look like and to give a general idea of what  specific specialties cover on any given project. This listing will not be comprehensive and there are often overlaps or shifts in the scope of different specialties that will depend on the specific project requirements.  The final responsibilities will be worked out per project.

 

ARCHITECT

Oversees the overall design of the entire project including the coordination of all design professionals.  As such most of the project design team is usually hired by the architect and their work is carried out under the architectural contract.   The architect will work with the site consultants to give the direction of the entire design to work in connection with the design of the building.  

Provides the design of the buildings on the site including the overall form, aesthetics, finishes and envelope system.   The architect will have an understanding of the other systems involved in the building and will give direction to consultants to provide a building system that works together to function as a whole.

 

GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEER

(typically hired by owner since this work often happens before the architect is hired) Performs soils analysis of the project site.  Generates reports and makes recommendations for the project that will affect the foundation system and how it interacts with the site conditions as well as any site treatments that will be required to build on the site.

 

CIVIL ENGINEER

Documents the existing site conditions including site boundary, topography, utilities, and other site features.

Designs the final topography of the site, parking, and pavement of roads and similar items.

Provides proper drainage of the site including storm water retainage and treatment.  Also required utility lines and connections required for the building and site features.

 

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT

Designs the vegetation, ground cover, and irrigation of the site.

Designs site elements and features such as walkways, fencing, benches, play fields, retaining features, and topography in connection with the civil design.

 

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER

Provides the structural design of the building and building elements that will ensure the design of the architect will remain standing and perform to the building standards set by the industry and those required by the client.  

 

MECHANICAL ENGINEER

Provides the design of the mechanical systems in coordination with the building envelope design of the architect and in coordination with other system designs.  

 

ELECTRICAL ENGINEER

Provides the design of the electrical systems of the building in coordination with all other systems.

 

PLUMBING ENGINEER

Provides the design of the plumbing systems of the building in coordination with all other systems.

 

SPECIALTY CONSULTANTS

Any number of specialty consultants may be required depending on the project type and the owners desire for the projects performance level.   We have listed a few here to give an idea of the type of consultants that might be required on a project.

 

TRAFFIC ENGINEER

Provides traffic studies and necessary information to ensure proper design of traffic systems as the project's entry and exit points interact with the roadways that service the site.

 

FOOD SERVICES DESIGN

Provides specialized design for food services areas.   Such specialized consultants may be necessary for any given specialty part of a project where the architect may not have the required specialized expertise.

 

ACOUSTICAL DESIGN

Specialize in construction systems for acoustical control.  This type of design may be required for any space requiring special acoustical separation such as a classroom or acoustically specialized design such as a theater space.   This consultant will also interact with others such as the mechanical engineer to ensure that their systems design will be acoustically acceptable.

THEATRICAL DESIGN

For highly specialized spaces such as a theater a specialty consultant may be desired to ensure the highest design of such a space.  

 
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Low Bid


Is Low Bid Best?

Having your project bid can be a tricky thing.   There are endless scenarios that could play out but it is important to understand how to analyse the different bids and see if you are truly comparing apples to apples.   Your architect should be able to lend a hand in understanding the contents of a bid and point out if there are any trouble spots you may want to be aware of.

Low Bid


Is Low Bid Best?

Having your project bid can be a tricky thing.   There are endless scenarios that could play out but it is important to understand how to analyse the different bids and see if you are truly comparing apples to apples.   Your architect should be able to lend a hand in understanding the contents of a bid and point out if there are any trouble spots you may want to be aware of.

 

MORE HEADACHES

While the bidding process is designed to get you better pricing on the work, there are also some pitfalls that can lead to a less than satisfactory experience during construction.   Often the low bid will lead to the most headaches and may in the end cost you more than you think, especially if it is low by a long shot. All of the bids should be reviewed together to gain an understanding of where the most value may lie and the appropriate bid can then be selected rather than just assuming that the low bid will cost the least in the end as it often does not.  

QUALITY OF THE WORK MAY SUFFER

You will want to be sure that the bid clearly indicates the scope of work and try to get an understanding of the quality that is included in the price.   You will often get what you pay for and the low bid may be trying to cut corners or exclude items that others are not.

CONTRACTOR MAY HAVE PLANS TO MAKE UP THE DIFFERENCE ANYWAY

Sometimes a contractor may give lower numbers for the work than he knows he can do the project for just to get the work.   These low numbers then can be made up for during the project if they make sure to bill for every little change or oversite that may be in the documents.  They will charge these change orders at an increased pricing in order to make up the difference which can lead to your project being more expensive in the end than a higher bid at the beginning.

PITS THE CONTRACTOR AGAINST THE DESIGNER

It is our experience that a project comes together best for all involved if the owner, architect, and contractor can work together collaboratively to solve problems that come up along the way.   A low bid will often cause the contractor to be looking for ways to blame issues on the designer, and the designer taking extra time to make sure they are covering themselves rather than spending that time working out the issues on your design to the best solutions.   If the two parties are pitted against each other the project will suffer and the construction process will be miserable for everyone.

MAY CONTAIN ERRORS THAT LEAD TO BIGGER PROBLEMS

Sometimes a low bid may be due to a contractors error in the bid.   While it is nice to think that this is their problem and that you will just benefit from their mistake, sometimes these errors are big enough to cripple the contractor to a point that they are unable to finish the work, or it may cause serious delays in the schedule.   Again while this is not your problem, it will cause you a lot of headache, extra work, and will ultimately hurt the project. We think that everyone should be fairly compensated for their work as well so it is best to look for these errors and be sure they are addressed or thrown out before a bid is selected.