Commercial Estimating: What to Ask and What to Look For

Commercial Estimating: What to Ask and What to Look For

by Wayne Tracy

wayneWhen you are asked to provide an estimate for commercial duct cleaning it is important to be very thorough in your investigation of the property and getting all the specifications/requirements of the job.  In many cases the building owner or manager does not even know what the specifications for the job should be.  In this month’s article I will discuss and list what to look for in the building to help you properly price it.

In order to quote the job properly you must have a good feel for the interior of the building and the obstacles you will have to overcome.  The following is a list of basic things to look for in your first visit:

  • plans

    Ceiling heights – higher ceilings will take extra time

  • Is the ceiling a hard deck (sheetrock) or removable tiles – this is important in case you have to access ducting in the ceiling
  • What type of grills and diffusers does the building have – make sure they are removable – diffusers and grills that are not removable may require disconnecting flex duct from the register pan which can be extremely time consuming
  • Are there any linear (strip) diffusers – these also will create extra time to seal them and gain access to the ducting behind them
  • What furnishings in the room will have to be moved to get access to grills and registers
  • If there are cubicles, can you get ladders in position to easily clean the vents or will you have to disassemble (or have the building owner disassemble) any part of a cubicle or work station
  • Will special ladders, scissor lifts, or staging be required to gain access to grills, registers & ducting
  • Are there any large pieces of office equipment or furniture that will have to be moved for you to gain access to grills, registers, & ducting – discuss with building owner or manager who will be responsible for moving them
  • If a retail establishment, can you get access to grills, registers, & ducting over shelving and displays? If not what do you have to do to overcome the obstacles?


These are some of the more important things to look for as far the interior of the building.  Each one of these things can directly affect the price of the job.

The following are questions to ask the building owner or manager:

  • Are there accurate “as built” blueprints available? When a building is originally designed a set of prints are made, however, as construction proceeds there are almost always several change orders.  As Built blueprints will show these changes.
  • What hours and days of the week will the building be available for cleaning? Overtime charges may have to apply
  • Can the work be done in consecutive days or will it have to be spread out over some set time period?
  • What are the insurance requirements for the job? Special coverages and wording in an insurance requirement can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars.  Be sure you show your insurance agent any special requirements and get the costs before quoting the job.
  • Will any sub-contractors (electricians, carpenters, etc) be required to perform tasks beyond the scope of your business or contractor’s license?
  • If it’s a longer term project, will progress payments be made and at what frequency?
  • Is there the possibility of getting any up front payment or will you have to make arrangements to fund the job?
  • Is there any bonding requirements?
  • What other contractors will be working at the site the same time you are working? This could potentially slow down your progress.
  • Why does the air system have to be cleaned? Mold, contamination, employee complaints, OSHA issues, or just concern for a clean healthy building?
  • Is the job being put out for bid?


Answers to these questions will not only assist in preparation of your bid, but also show the building owner or manager you are doing a thorough study of the job and its requirements.

Other miscellaneous things to determine with your site visit are the following:

  • What are the logistics and obstacles of getting your equipment from your truck to the building?
  • Can you run airlines directly from your truck to the area you are working in or will you have to use portable compressors or brushes only?
  • Where can you connect a hose to clean grills and registers?
  • Where are the air handlers/furnaces located and what special equipment or ladders will be needed to access them?
  • Will any special materials be needed to protect floors, furnishings and equipment?
  • Are there secure areas the building owner/manager may have to provide secure access to?
  • Make sure all doors are unlocked on the day you will be providing service?

While this may sound like a lot to remember, once you quote a few jobs it will become automatic to consider these issues on every commercial job you look at.  Next month I’ll discuss each of these items in more detail and how each can affect your quote.

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