9 August 2021

Estimating the Cost of Structural Repairs

BY: D Neil Sinclair | IN: Articles


Accurately assessing the cost of structural repairs is one of the key issues addressed by experts in construction arbitration and litigation. In this article D. Neil Sinclair gives useful advice to ensure that an accurate costing is achieved, as well as explaining why it is an extremely useful business tool.

Any repair project is a difficult task to estimate accurately. Structural repairs pose some interesting and unique aspects that must be understood by the cost estimator developing the estimate. Without understanding all the issues the cost estimate will not be of value.

Accurate estimates allow important decisions to be made such as funding, cost allocation and overall budgeting. The estimate should be appropriately detailed and broken down, so that it can serve as an important tool in developing a repair scope. It can also help prioritize one repair scenario over another and allocate costs to required short or long term repairs

The independent estimate can be used as a budgeting tool, a reliable check against contractor’s bids, and very useful when negotiating a contract price with a potential contractor.

What factors need to be considered by the estimator:

  • The extent of the work
    • Careful review and evaluation of the structural engineer’s report will identify the primary elements to be repaired.
    • The engineers report will however not provide a clear scope for structure that is hidden or not accessible. Elements such as waterproofing behind retaining walls or below decks will also be hidden. Infill walls that provide cover to important structural elements, such as shear walls and beams also disguise the true scope to be repaired.
    • The extent of repair is established by interpolating the engineer’s information. For example, the extent of spalled concrete will ultimately depend on conditions found during the construction demolition and preparation phase. The estimate will need to identify the reasoning behind any quantities priced out.
    • What associated work will there be in addition to the basic repairs? For example, replacement of architectural finishes will have to be included after gaining access to the defective structure. This might include having to repair entire areas and not just isolated elements. Services such as plumbing or electrics may have to be rerouted or replaced so as repairs can be undertaken.
  • The implementation of the work
    • How the work is accomplished can have dramatic effects on the actual costs.
    • If the work is phased (typical in projects which remain occupied such as condos) the duration will be longer overall than if the building was vacated and completed as one entire phase.
    • Scaffolding and temporary works, which are typically not included in the engineers report, as these relate to means and methods, must be considered and priced by the estimator. This requires a careful analysis of how the project can be implemented.
    • How will the work be staged? Multiple scenarios may exist. Temporary platforms may have to be built.
    • There may be cold weather concerns and costs if the project is carried out during winter months. Timing of the project is therefore an important cost consideration.
    • The extent of Owner supervision and involvement can influence final costs. If the scope of repairs requires the Engineer of Record to constantly sign off on work to be repaired and acceptance of the actual repairs, then the crew productivity must reflect this. How the project is to be administered from the Owners perspective has to be understood.
  • The costs
    • Costs of materials, labor and equipment must all be captured. This includes small tools and temporary facilities’.
    • The possibility of price escalation and availability of materials have to be included in the estimate. Labor, particularly skilled labor, such as a concrete repair technician has to reflect the demand cost for this type of expertise. Work at high levels may have labor cost premiums.
    • Productivity estimates will dictate the value of the project. The estimator will need to bring this all together and establish what productivity will be achieved given the circumstances of the unique project. Does the estimator allow 10sf of repair an hour or 20sf?
    • Supervision must be included. This would depend on the extent of crews and the size and phasing of the project. Multiple supervisors may be needed to service the job size, phasing and number of crews.
    • Hoisting equipment, trash removal and temporary protection costs need to be included. Temporary heat or ice may also be required.
    • Urban v suburban location of the project will impact costs such as working hours, transport of materials and labor, staging constraints, rigging and delivery of materials to name just a few factors influenced by the actual location.
  • Other
    • All estimates should include an allowance for the contractor’s overhead and profit. This should reflect the project, the scope, expertise involved, and the demand for your unique project. Procurement methods can influence this cost such as negotiated contract vs. competitive bids.
    • Allowances for insurances should be made, and if payment and performance bonds are required then a line item for these costs should be included.
    • The requirement to meet a project schedule will dictate many of the costs and this must be fully understood by the estimator.
    • Contractual conditions being imposed such as liquidated damages, payment terms and retention amounts. If these are onerous or considered unfair then the project costs will be influenced.
    • Given the unknowns in scope and the demand for structural repair projects currently being experienced, for example in buildings and infrastructure, the inclusion of a realistic contingency is wise.

If a cost estimate is to be of value it is essential that the cost estimator fully understands all the possible repair issues.  An accurate estimate is a valuable tool as it enables important decisions to be made such as funding, cost allocation and overall budgeting. It can also serve as an important tool in developing a repair scope and as well as enabling building Owners to prioritize one repair scenario over another.