Professional Electrical Bidding for Renovation Projects - Candels Estimating

Bidding Renovation Projects

Welcome to June! The topic this month in the editorial calendar of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine is renovation and retrofit. Bidding a renovation project is not always straightforward. Let’s face it; the tricky part is that you will have existing items to remain, existing items to be relocated and of course new items. And, when you factor in possible “historical” elements like plaster walls or ceilings, the job gets that much more complicated.


There is only one way to fully understand a renovation project and that is to attend the walk-through.

Before you attend the walk-through, you should thoroughly review all the project documentation such as the invitation to bid, the scope of work (very important especially in a renovation!), the specifications noting “existing conditions” very carefully, and of course, the drawings. Some estimators might think that a cursory review of the electrical drawings will suffice. However, the architectural drawings will contain information that is just as important as the electrical. It will be critical to understand the existing conditions, as well as the ceilings and walls that will remain in place and those that will be removed as part of the renovation.

Attending a walk through is one thing; making the most of the walk through is another. We’ve just mentioned that it is important to review all the documentation before the walk through to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity.

For example, if the switchgear is existing to be reused, note the location and condition. Take a photo of the name plate. Note if there are any spare breakers. Is there room in the existing electric room for new items or it is going to be difficult to place the new panels or transformers? Are there extra spaces for new breakers in existing panels?  The reality is that not every possible existing condition is going to be shown on the drawings, so this will be your opportunity to fill in the missing pieces. Make the most of it.

The same is true of existing lighting. On many retrofit projects, you may be tasked with replacing lamps or ballasts that require it. However, this is very difficult to quantify, despite attending the walk through. You can either carry an allowance (outside of your base bid price) for the cleaning or relamping or you can give a per fixture unit price, again, outside of your base bid. Whatever you do, be sure to qualify it in your proposal letter. Pay attention to the ceiling types and if any are any that are going to be replaced. You want to qualify in your scope that you will not be responsible for patching existing ceilings or for replacing ceiling tiles.

Just as with lighting and switchgear, you should review all other existing systems, such as lighting controls, fire alarm, and tel/data to ensure that you can complete the job requirements effectively. Don’t forget to take photos of the control panels and note the manufacturers.

Whenever possible (unless noted otherwise), you can reuse existing circuits and conduits, even if it is only for temp power. Many contractors will take the time to trace and label the circuits for reuse but read the specs to ensure that this is permitted within the scope of work.

Finally, the last thing about the walk through is noting what will require replacement and demolition. Let’s address that now.


Renovation projects will typically have a symbol list for items to be removed, relocated, or replaced. Some of the typical (Not all jobs are the same. Please refer to the symbol list of your project as the symbols may vary from job to job, and engineer to engineer.) symbols are “XR” which often means “existing to remain” in which case, you would do nothing with it. Other symbols are “XRE” which often means “existing to be removed” so you would carry labor to remove that item and often any associated wiring unless instructed otherwise.”  You may also see items with “XRL” which often means “existing to be relocated.” In this case, you would carry labor to remove the item, and additional labor (and sometimes material) to relocate the item to its new location. Its’ new location sometimes will be noted by the symbol “XNL” (relocated, new location.) Finally other items may be replaced in their existing location. Those symbols typically are noted as “XREL” (existing, replace in existing location). In this case, you would replace the existing device with a new one in the same location. (As a side note, you may find that replacing small ticket items may be less expensive and time consuming than relocating an item such as a duplex receptacle.)

My advice is to pay attention to the symbols because often they can get confusing! As always, it is best to count each device with its note such as “duplex receptacle – XREL.” That should avoid some hassle when you are finally ready to input the information into your estimating software.

In terms of lighting, you may see a note in the demo pages for “clean and relamp” of existing fixtures. Be sure to carry enough labor and material to remove the existing lamps and replace with new, and time to clean the fixture. Note the existing lamp type and its’ replacement so you can carry the appropriate material dollars to cover this. You may also see where some new lighting may be added to the project with the note “match existing.” If the existing fixture does not have any manufacturer data, you have options. Carry the labor to install the new fixtures in your base bid and add an allowance outside of your base price for the fixtures themselves. That way you will be making your base bid more palatable, while not inflating your base bid price based on an unknown fixture type. Or you can exclude the fixtures entirely. Remember, you want to be as competitive as possible, and one way to do this is to separate the “unknowns” outside of your base bid and explain everything in your scope letter.


After reviewing the bid documents, attending the walk through, and completing your take-off, there still may be some “unknowns” especially in terms of a renovation project. In this case, I would recommend giving yourself some contingency money “just in case” and of course qualifying everything that you have included in your price. You would be amazed at how many contractors do not prepare a comprehensive scope! The GC will make assumptions if you do not accurately describe what is included in your price!


One thing that we should mention is that for some renovation projects, you may have to bid as a prime contractor. A prime contractor is the contractor who is responsible for the completion of a project, under contract with the owner of the job. For example, if there is a project where the owner of the job wants to replace all the lighting and all the ceiling tiles in their building, the electrical contractor would act as a prime and would complete the electrical work and usually hire a sub-contractor for the ceiling work; the whole project would be under the direction of the electrical contractor as the prime contractor. (Conversely, a ceiling contractor could be the prime and hire an EC as the sub.)  Please be aware of this when reviewing the scope of work. The prime contractor cannot exclude anything from the scope of work.


Renovation projects can be tricky at best, especially if you have a building of older or historical significance. That is entirely different ballgame – and, a whole different blog topic! However, when reviewing a renovation project, ask yourself the following: Can you realistically do what is being asked? Is it going to be worth it to bid it? Can you make a profit? Can you complete the job on time?

Remember that the AHJ, or Authority Having Jurisdiction, may require additional work, even if it is not within the owner’s scope. Always get to know the AHJ in your area! Like I’ve said countless times before, it’s all about relationships! Having a good one will undoubtedly help with these types of projects.

I hope that you have learned a bit more about renovations! Don’t forget to subscribe to Marc’s new podcast, Electrical Estimating with Marc Candels, wherever you listen to podcasts! And, as always, Happy Estimating!