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Utility trenches and French drains....


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Jill's Forum Posts: 39

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By Jill in Elizabeth, PA on 12/1/2005


Okay, just a little venting during the building phase here...

First met with a guy yesterday that said he could put stone over our French drains (about 35 tons over stone and pipe we already installed), install a window well, and backfill the foundation a little. Cost would be $1600.

Next, he would also dig three utility trenches (approximately 40 feet long), provide the stone and sand, and backfill when lines were installed for $1,800 more. Total $3,400. 

This seemed a bit high to me, knowing the price of stone and that neither of these jobs was a whole day event. When I called back to ask if he could do it for $3,000 cash, he said no, that was his bottom price and also, I would have to find someone else to put in the window well! I just explained that was our budget for the jobs and also there would be a grading job in the pipeline for spring, and he said then go ahead and shop around and happened to add, "I know you already talked to so and so and got a higher price. What do you really know about excavating anyway? Shop around." YIKES! So of course I am steamed.

Thoughts? Advice? How you've handled a similar dilemma?

THANKS!


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/2/2005


The question is really one of identifying your options to determine the best solution:

1) How many excavators are in your area? How busy are they? Do they have the equipment needed for your job? This all leads to hiring someone else to finish the job for you. In my locale, excavators for residential service are all hourly, even spec houses and custom house bids I have seen include "allowances" for excavation, and not firm fixed cost. There is a benefit to an hourly rate, but there is a downside if the excavator is not especially busy and tries to "extend" the length of an existing job to fill in the blanks. Please note that although I don't like hourly bids, I used this for several trades and didn't have any negative experiences with it (if you were in KC area, I would have no problems recommending a great excavator that charges an hourly rate, probably the most honest hard-working subcontractor I hired).

2) Can you rent the equipment to do the work yourself? This equipment is not that difficult for someone with basic mechanical skills to learn to operate. If you can rent the equipment, you also need to be able to have it delivered to your site as even a small skid-loader is a fairly heavy piece of equipment, you won't likely be hauling it very far with a 3/4 ton truck and anything lighter is simply too small. In my area, I can get the equipment, however the rental rates are high enough that it is not worthwhile for me to get it without an operator.

3) Do you have another source for the equipment, or another trade that uses similar equipment? For example, my concrete flatwork subcontractors (I used two separate ones) also used skid-steers to spread the crushed stone base. While they were out there, and I needed some excavation suitable for skid-steer, they were more than willing to do so. In one case, my concrete flatworker did some utility trench work. In another, he left me the keys to the skid-steer so I could use it after hours (he was trying to sell it anyway, I might have been a prospective buyer). Don't simply limit yourself to excavating subcontractors when you are looking for excavation equipment, as I know some plumbers who routinely do underground work and have their own equipment, as well as electricians who also have excavation equipment (for service lines). Additional sources include swimming pool installers and landscape companies. Be creative and look beyond excavation subcontractors - the key is to find a subcontractor with the equipment who isn't busy (e.g. a swimming pool installer or landscape contractor in the middle of winter). 

4) Obviously you have two other options to complete the work, one at a higher price than what you where planning on paying, and one with a subcontractor that is now upset that you are shopping him. I really don't like that my subcontractors discuss specific jobs and bids, to me this is somewhat conflict of interest and undermines the whole process, not to mention starting with distrust before work is even started.

Good luck.


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By Jill in Elizabeth, PA on 12/2/2005


Thank you for your help. I really liked the part about not only considering excavators. How true! I have found that out in other trades/situations so far, and I really should have thought of that. I am going to get started on that research tonight :)


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By Ralph in Fort Collins, CO on 12/3/2005


Try going to some local auctions.

One friend of mine bought a used backhoe for $6,500. He dug his footers, septic system, water and electric trenches, backfilled and graded. After the house was done he sold the tractor at auction for $8,500.

I have not been quite as lucky in finding a backhoe, so I've been renting my equipment. However, last week I went to an equipment auction and got talking to another guy who bought a HUGE trencher. I ended up bartering with this guy and for an exchange of some granite that I bought, he will let me use the trencher. This trade is saving me over $2,500 to install my water line and horizontal geothermal loop field as well as electric and gas line trenching.


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