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A Dollar Waiting On A Dime

Commercial excavation is susceptible to holdups. As the rain tapered off this year, finally, and the floodgates opened we started to get a clear picture that it was going to be a crazy year. While the rain was falling last winter the banks were still lending on the American dream. Before February was over we had 6 commercial projects in cue and before we knew it we were overloaded as G.C.’s started to announce start dates. We can handle it. This was our mantra as each day started. Just keep plugging away and we will wrap this one up. On to the next.

As summer drug on and the temps hit the century mark we were chewing through jobs like nobody’s business. However, we still had two jobs that were seeming to drag on. They kept getting the 2-3 inch rains when other areas were starting to dry out. We kept having to go back and repair damage that other contractors made by refusing to know when their profit came at the expense of other contractors. Skytracks breaking water lines in the soft wet dirt, concrete trucks high centered on piers, and whatever other horrible scenario you could possibly dream up, it was all happening on two separate jobs.  So what do we do? That was the question I kept getting asked by our G.C’s. What can we do to still make some progress while this is going on? You are the excavation professional, you are supposed to know! Mother Nature has a mind of her own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t flank her just a little. We changed our mindset from big iron moving mass quantities of material to smaller machines and more manageable work areas. The trenches from the utilities company were left uncompacted and sopping wet so we started there. Moving onto the radius points that naturally drained water with skid steers instead of trackhoes and big dozers, shaping berms outside of the construction areas for aesthetics, etc…. Point being, there is always some sort of progress that can be made. Pull your superintendent for the job in tight. Start communicating more than normal and think outside the box as far as job planning. Take the things usually saved for later in the job and put them on the front burner and always remember, it’s going to dry up. The last thing you ever want to hear from a General Contractor is that their dollar is waiting on your dime.

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Apples to Apples (Driveways)

So the spring rains have come and gone and your driveway is in disarray. You are going to pick up your phone and start googling to find someone to come and fix it. You make a few calls and before you know it you will have four people scheduling times to come and take a look and give you an estimate. They are all coming with the same goal in mind. To make money.

This is where it gets tricky. You will probably have three different types of contractors show up to look at the job. The first, someone who owns one piece of equipment and does this on the side. Second, someone who does nothing but residential excavation and is content doing driveways and house pads all year long. Third, someone who does commercial, residential, and agricultural projects. Theres no big difference in the three as far as talent. Some of the best driveways I’ve ever seen built are by a guy who only does driveways in our area. He’s a fireman and does it on the side. What you need to cue in on are a few things that will be sure to make the estimates from the three comparable. One guy may give you an estimate to top or “cap” your existing gravel drive with 3” of gravel while another one may be giving you an estimate to reshape the road, fix drainage around it, and ensure that this problem will not happen again. The two bids will look like they are miles apart and you will automatically assume that the higher priced contractor is trying to gouge you.

Heres a few questions to ask to be certain you know how to compare their bids to each other.

1. Are you going to do any drainage work around the drive to prevent future washouts? If their answer is yes, ask them to please itemize that in their bid.

2. What thickness of material(gravel or your material of choice) are you going to be placing and at what width will you be placing it? Its easy to take the square footage that they quote you this way and see how they stack up in comparison to your other bids.

3. Are you including adding water to get the material to bind together? Water is essential to making any crushed material set up or “lock up” and to achieve maximum compaction.

4. Will you be bringing a smooth drum roller to put a finish on the drive and make sure there is enough compaction to withstand daily traffic?

5. What type of material will you be using? There are a million different kinds of crushed aggregates. You want to make sure they are using either a good crushed limestone product or a crushed concrete product that is clean of debris and metal. One may quote you with limestone and the other with crushed concrete. There will be a difference in price per ton between the two.

6. Most importantly, you need to ask the magic question. What do you think caused the driveway to fail and do you intend to include fixing that in your bid or are you just quoting me for repairing the surface of the driveway? That is going to be your biggest fluctuation in price.

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