Electrical Value Engineering 101

In Electrical Contracting Articles, Electrical Estimating Articles, ramblings by David Parden

In today’s competitive market your ability to value engineer (VE) projects may well be the difference between landing the job or not. Frequently the good ole days of simply being the low bidder and landing the job are long gone. More and more owners are taking the lowest bidders and allowing them to come up with innovative ways to lower the electrical cost. Your ability to do this could be crucial to your success! In this blog we will take a look at some different ideas for value engineering projects.

 I think the first and most obvious area everyone looks at is the light fixture package. The biggest problem with value engineering light fixtures is that it is “the first and most obvious area”. In order to get the maximum effect from value engineering light fixtures you are going to have to be willing to pit one lighting representative in your area against the other. I previously blogged about doing the very thing in an earlier blog and you can find it on this website. A word of caution though! You will not be popular with your local lighting representatives if you do this.

The next area of the project most people look at value engineering is changing the feeder conductors from copper to aluminum. This is a no brainer and everyone does this also but how about changing it to an aluminum MC feeder cable? Now you are reducing the cost of the feeder conductor along with reducing the labor and material cost of the raceway in which the feeder is installed. Better placement of the distribution panels can also help to eliminate conductor cost.

There was a time when you could value engineer the fittings from steel to di-cast but lately the cost are so close to the same there is no reason to do this. However, many engineers are still specifying compression or better yet compression insulated throat fittings when steel set screw fittings would be more than adequate.

 Another area you should look at is the switchgear. There are lots of things to consider here, things like the AIC ratings, aluminum versus copper bussing, surface versus flush mounting, door in door covers, and bolt in breakers versus snap in breakers. If it’s a multi story building can you use feed through lugs? This is an area where having a competent sales rep for gear in your area is in-valuable! Many local supply houses can get you a good price on bid day but can they follow through with helping you value engineer the gear?

I frequently see ¾” EMT required where ½” EMT would be more than adequate. Does the project even need to be installed in EMT? Can you get away with using type MC cable instead? Does that special system such as fire alarm or sound really need to be piped back to the main control panel?

On the site can you spread the pole mounted fixtures further apart? Do you really need the specified foot candles? Can you piggyback trenching with a mechanical trench? It is my understanding that pea gravel pours in at 100% compaction and it is cheap! Can you use it in lieu of concrete or flowfill? Does the trench really need to be 36 inches deep?

There are miscellaneous thing to consider like do the devices need to be heavy duty, specification grade, or Decora? Most commercial grade devices are more than adequate. Can the mechanical equipment be shipped with factory mounted disconnect? Do the disconnects need to be heavy duty when a general duty device will suffice?

There are many things to consider when value engineering a project. It is like anything you do though, the more you do it the better you get at it. Your ideas may well be met with resistance from various key stakeholders such as the engineer, architect, and lighting representatives but the thing to keep in mind is that they are not the customer and they are simply trying to protect their profit in the job. Your job is to win the project and protect the owner’s quality requirements!