Tag Archives: building estimates

Barndominium Subcontractor Bids

Barndominium construction bids are very important. Be diligent! For each contracting or subcontracting job for your barndominium, get bids or estimates from at least three contractors. Make sure bids are for similar work and be sure job specifications are identical. 

Never accept a bid “by the hour.” It doesn’t work. Remember Murphy’s Law; “If you want to see how long a job can take, pay someone by the hour.” You may pay a little more for a fixed price bid, but it’s worth it for peace of mind.

For example, if an excavator quotes $X per hour per man plus $X per hour per piece of equipment, insist on a firm total. If he (or she) won’t offer one, move on to the next excavator on your list.

People and companies you will be contacting know how to give estimates based on plans and are used to being asked for bids. Don’t worry, this is part of their job, whether you eventually hire them or not.

I take my building plans, drop them off or email them to a subcontractor or supplier, and say, “Give me a price on XXX. If you see anything else on these plans you can provide, give me a price on them too.” You might be pleasantly surprised – excavators often also do septic systems, driveways, backfill, rough and final grading, and a few others. They also usually know others who do foundations, concrete slabs, flat work, etc.

Your suppliers and subcontractors will determine the nearly exact number of items and square footage of materials needed based on your house plans. This is called a “take off.”


What is the difference between a bid and an estimate? A bid is a firm price to do a given scope of work, an estimate is “about” what it will cost. Obviously bids are what you are after.

Here is what you should expect when getting bids for various jobs.


Plumbing bids should include all plumbing fixtures right down to toilet seats. They will not include accessories such as toilet paper holders. If colored fixtures are to be used, specify color and brand. Plumbing showrooms are your best bet for selection of these fixtures. Magazines and brochures don’t tell you enough and often don’t give prices. Most plumbing showrooms won’t tell you wholesale prices, but you’ll be paying list anyway, as plumbers make a profit on each fixture and it’s included in their bid. Don’t make an issue of this. This small profit in fixtures is one of a plumber’s sources of income and they earn it.


Your heat and air-conditioning contract should include vents (generally fan-powered) for  bathrooms, clothes dryer, stove, and range hood.


Electrical bids should include all switches, wiring, receptacles, circuit breakers and their respective panel boxes, a temporary service box and installation, saw service, wiring of all built-in appliances, and installation of ovens and ranges, furnaces, heaters, and air conditioners. Electricians in many areas do rough wiring for phones and the Internet (if you are not wireless).

Utilities must be connected. Exactly who is responsible for running water lines, sewer lines, and electrical hookups will vary with each subcontractor involved. Get responsibility pinned down when you are hiring subs, then follow through to be sure it is done properly.

All subcontractors should be responsible for obtaining needed building department inspections, but make sure they do (before paying them) or you will have to do it yourself. Lack of inspections can cause delays. Proceeding without getting inspections can be troublesome and expensive.

Building Quote: A Rant and a Haircut

It isn’t often I come right out and hammer on someone or something by name – but today I am naming names, it just has to be.

One of our prospective clients asked us to compare with a building quote provided to them from Bens Do It Best Lumber, in Wisconsin. Their quote was prepared using Construction Maestro® software (a registered trademark of Symun Systems, Inc.®).

I’ve never been in to Bens Do It Best Lumber, but my best guess is, the folks there are probably really nice folks. I also have never used the Construction Maestro software, but my best guess is… it is well intentioned.

Now, off to the rant races….

The building quote provided by Bens – does not list the design load carrying capacities of the building. No ground or roof snow loads, no wind speed or wind exposure, no seismic information or soil bearing pressures. Basically it is a dimensionally outlined box, with features which may or may not meet with the climactic conditions of the area it is to be built in.

If I was an end user – I would perhaps be concerned, but then again maybe not, as these folks should be my experts, right? They have my best interests at hand, or are they just trying to sell me something and place the onus upon me?

This proposed building happens to be in an area with a 70 psf (pounds per square foot) Ground Snow load. Assuming this is a low risk Category I building, the flat roof snow load would calculate to 47.04 psf, provided the building is unheated and the roof is partially exposed to the wind. These assumptions can only be guessed at – as again, no loads are listed on Bens building quote.

The Ben/Construction Maestro quote proposes to utilize single trusses spaced every four feet with 2×4 purlins laid flat on top of them spaced 24 inches on center.

Initially I had a potential “rub” with the roof purlins. Using the assumed loads, factoring in the reduction in roof load for a sloped steel roof, and using every reduction I can imagine, the 2×4 purlins would need to have a fiber stress in bending (Fb) of right around 1100. Now as long as Ben is providing at least a #2 grade 2×4, as opposed to the typical lumber yard Std&btr (standard and better), the purlins are going to be OK……..I just had to know, so I called Ben’s and got…dial 1 for  the Supermarket, 2 for Hardware, 3 for Subway, 4 for Lumber…..

I pushed 4 and did find out, if I was to purchase the correct lengths, they do have #2 graded 2×4. I feel so much better now – and I can get a footlong flatbread sandwich at the same time.

Working down the building quote it features “G-40 Builder’s Series” painted steel. This is a no warranty product, designed primarily for use as liner panels inside of buildings. Without asking specifically, there is no way the average building purchaser would ever be aware of this…at least until the color rapidly fades, or the panels rust through.

The quote includes a three foot wide steel entry door….could be a basic primed steel door in wood jambs, probably is not a commercial grade door with steel jambs and all factory finish painted.

Also included was a 15 foot wide by 11 foot 10 inch tall “double slider”. My best guess…this is a split (or bi-parting) door. All wood framed? Maybe, all metal framed? Probably not.

Long ago I learned if one sells on price alone, there will always be someone who will leave out enough things to be lower in price.

Give me great quality, great service and a fair price and I’m a buyer every time. And give me the buffalo chicken, pepperjack cheese, spinach, jalapenos, sliced green peppers…with extra sauce.  Don’t forget the three oatmeal raisin cookies!