• Field Notes 04.04.2012

    More than a year ago, an architectural firm asked us to help with the design/development of its contract documents because the firm was using one of our framing systems as the “basis of design” on a large public project. Since that kind of commitment would entail substantial upfront costs that might not be recouped, we asked if the firm would be willing to take the project off the street and handle it as a negotiated bid.

    In addition to incurring costs that might not be recaptured, a second concern was if we were to provide that service and the job was openly bid, we’d be so familiar with the project that most of the unknowns could be recognized and priced accordingly. That familiarity would be a luxury compared to those we’d be bidding against, since they wouldn’t have as much time to prepare their bids, and therefore wouldn’t be able to project the cost as accurately. However, that “luxury” might also make our price higher–give me 12 months to review a job before bidding and the number will be much more accurate than someone who only has 1/10th that time.

    It’s not much fun when you know you had a good number, and someone else gets the job with a significantly lower bid that might not be as accurate.

    Unfortunately, the owner of the above project would not allow it to be pulled off the street, so while we helped the architect with some detailing on a limited basis, we had the same opportunity to bid and review the documents when they eventually were issued.

    The reason I tell this story is there appears to be a fundamental shift away from the “conventional” bidding process in which architects design a building and prepare construction documents, general contractors and subcontractors review the documents to prepare bids, the bids get evaluated, and eventually a winning bid teams builds the project. At the end, it’s all turned over to the owner, who then operates the building based on the commissioning.

    This change may be afoot for a number of reasons, including the more widespread adoption of BIM, as well as energy efficiency issues. LEED is changing, the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) was recently completed, and these might also drive the development of a new procurement method.

    Architects are going to have to be much more selective with the products they specify, and the decision to select one product over another might not be based on upfront cost alone, but on cost and energy performance taken together. And that’s going to require the sellers, both glazing subs AND the manufacturers from whom they buy products to get much smarter not only about their costs, but what it actually takes to produce the material before it gets to them AND then operate the products for the life of the building. Energy requirements aren’t going to be as simple as, “What’s the U-value, the shading coefficient, and the solar heat gain?”

    The final selection of products is going to occur much earlier. A construction team might be put together as the architect is developing the construction documents, which would lead to much more “negotiated” work not open to public bidding. The general contractors who are selected are going to go to the subcontractors who they have successfully worked with in the past, and bring in only the products that have a proven track record of establishing and meeting or exceeding performance when it comes to energy. This team will evaluate all of these considerations in selecting a material.

    Once the manufacturers get clued into this, they may want to charge more upfront for a product that performs better (you’d pay more for a Porsche, wouldn’t you, than, say, a Yugo?). But since there’s a payback in lower energy consumed in manufacture or operation, the increased cost would thereby be justified, hopefully. That’s a thin line to walk, to increase the price, stay competitive in the marketplace, figure out whether the customer can afford it, etc.

    There’s possibly going to be an energy history kept as to how a project actually performs compared to the design. If you insulate your attic or update your windows, you see a lower energy bill. It’s simple in a house, but it’s more complex in an office building or school or hospital. I can foresee the architects adding that to their promotional literature; their designs are better from an energy performance level.

    But, can you imagine finding out in a year or two after a building begins operation that the curtainwall’s not performing up to expectation? I don’t know how the actual fenestration performance is determined in a commercial construction setting, so that’ll be something else interesting to see how it shakes out. Daylighting can be measured, but the question is, is the real-world performance in-line with what the designers envisioned? How about all the other criteria?

    Or, is it sort of like the mileage sticker on your new car? No one really expects to actually get the MPG posted (and isn’t that a shame – the car manufacturers blame it on the Feds; a whole other blog could be written on THAT particular topic). What if after you bought the car, you could sue the manufacturer because it didn’t perform?

    What are the specific design and specification changes that might come about from LEED and IgCC code changes? I’ll save that for the next blog entry. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on anything else besides energy that might lead to a procurement methodology shift.

    Posted by Blogger @ 9:29 am

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