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    Marquis Nichol

    Going down the rabbit hole for the sake of discussion....

    If the fountain is a must-have but you don't know the specifics of the fountain specifications just yet, you would want an Allowance. Allowance is for something that you don't have a complete specification quite yet but want to be sure money is set aside in the bid price from a contractor. Example would be that you know you want carpet in an area but don't know the carpet type, color, and manufacturer yet, so you ask for an allowance to make sure it's in the pricing and won't be a change order after the contract is initiated. The designer would need to come up with a fairly accurate dollar number for the allowance (reference back to cost estimating for that item) to put in the agreement - maybe talk to a rep from a carpet company to get solid pricing on material and installation. The designer would then need to come up with the complete specification in a timely manner so that the contractor could procure that item and get it installed without delay.

    If the fountain makes it past the value engineering stage along the way and the owner is still possibly interested in having this in the project but needs very accurate numbers to make a final decision, an Alternate is what is needed. Maybe the owner can afford it but it may get eliminated out of the project if they are over budget or want to put funds elsewhere once they know how much it will really cost. It's also good to have a spec for the item you want alternate pricing on so that the alternate bidding is accurate, the more information the better. Sometimes the Alternate list can have many items and the owner needs to select which ones they want once pricing comes back. It's kind of a wish list and the fountain most likely fits here.

    From what I gather, Unit pricing for bidding is where overall scope is unknown but the Unit is defined. This seems overkill for an item like a single fountain and would be more for multiple fountains and not knowing how many fountains the owner wanted. Here is an excerpt from a project management website. "This type of contract allows the contractor to provide the owner with a specific price for a particular task or scope of work, even though the actual quantity or number of units may be unknown. The owner then must agree to pay the contractor only for the actual units that the contractor provides, installs or constructs on the project."


    Some other thoughts on how to show Allowances and Alternates in the bid documents. The key for these is to get them somewhere in the bid documents so that they are accounted for and priced by the contractor at time of bid to avoid a change order down the road and avoid discrepancies.

    The CSI-MF has a place for an Allowance list in Div 01 - 01 21 00, under General Requirements for the project. Allowances could be in the appropriate specifications section with more of an "open" specification format. In the example of carpet, it would go under Div 09 -09 68 00, knowing that you want carpet but not knowing the specifics of manufacturer, color, grade, and more specific information that will come later once that is selected. Once the designer has that detailed information, it may require providing a revised drawing and/or specification to better define what exactly it is and where it goes. Things like, "quarter turn" on carpet tile or a drawing showing pattern layout if you have a runner and a border for sheet carpet. It's good to at least get that information in the record drawings for owner/facility reference down the road if they need to match or replace a portion.

    The CSI-MF has a place for Unit Price Div 01 -01 22 00. There should be detailed information defining the Units in the specs and drawings.

    The CSI-MF also has a place for an Alternate list in Div 01 - 01 23 00. Detailed information about the item should be included in the specs and drawings to give the contractor accurate information about the Alternate, even if the Alternate isn't accepted by the owner.

    These should be listed in the Owner/Contractor agreement (see example AIA A102 document 5.2.2 and 5.2.3 and also A101) to make sure they are all accounted for and part of the signed agreement for work. I see Unit Prices in A101 but not in A102. I didn't look any further into the AIA documents but they may be in other places.


    Not to muddy the water, but looking further into definitions, Unit price and Unit cost seems to interchange depending on where you look but serve different purposes. It makes sense to me to think of Unit Costs as budget numbers (s.f. cost, cost per unit, similar or previous projects) and Unit Price as a number a contractor would provide as stated above.

    RS Means uses the term Unit Price when talking about cost estimates.
    • Types of estimates — order of magnitude, square foot, assemblies, unit price
    • Unit price cost estimating — job orientation, quantity takeoff, pricing the estimate

    Brightwood calls it Unit cost.

    AEP calls it Unit costs, Unit prices, and cost per Unit with regard to budget information.

    The Ballast v3 book refers to Units when estimating.

    With regard to the design team creating a budget, Unit cost would be used for estimating items that would be in the project budget and is done early in the design process following programming; things like number of offices, or hospital exam rooms, the s.f. of metal roofing, or number of parking spaces with asphalt/striping/curb bumpers included for these unit items. This is broad level of pricing for budget purposes and helps dive into the value engineering process early if the budget is over.

    Please let me know if I've interpreted any of this incorrectly.

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    Kaveh Namazyfard

    Thank you so much

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    Nicolle Gitlin

    I would think it would be an alternate? Can someone explain when something is an allowance vs when it is an alternate?

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    David Kaplan


    Marquis hit the nail on the head.  An allowance is used when you don't have the exact spec for the fountain, in this case, but the owner just generically says to you "I'm thinking about a fountain here."  Because you're not able to design and specify for it, the best approach is to identify an Allowance for it so that there's money in the job for if/when the decision is made to include it.

    If the owner had said, "I want Waterworks Fountain Model 13AB to possibly be installed, but I'm not sure I have the money for it" you would do an Alternate.  In this case, you could easily show this fountain in the drawings (as could the engineers), but you'd identify on the drawings that all work associated with this fountain is an Alternate.  That way, the price comes in for Model 13AB and the owner can say "yes, I'll take that alternate and have this fountain" or "nope, too much, nevermmind."

    It comes down to how much is known at the time of the request.  Hope that helps!

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    Nicolle Gitlin

    That is the clarity I needed! Thank you David!!

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