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Excavation Bid?


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 7/23/2008


Hoping some folks hereabouts might have some info to pass along regarding excavation work here in the Colorado foothills.

I'm looking for bids for excavation work for my house (roughly 7,100 square feet) and some drainage work along the roads (perhaps 300 feet in total).  The first bid I got was considerably higher than I'd expected and so I was curious and wondered if maybe my expectations are out of whack... totally possible, this is all new to me.

Here's what the first guy bid and more or less what I'd want:

  • Foundation and grading.
  • Daylight drains (drainage "to daylight").
  • Driveway... road base NOT part of bid, just prep.
  • Swales (main drainage down side of house) and drains down gravel road.
  • Culvert and installation.
  • Dig for geothermal and backfill of same.
  • Stump burying (not clear from bid that he's going to remove the stumps).
Does not include the foundation drain -- there's a note that it's "to be done by others."   (Not sure who normally does that?) 

First bid price was $28K

So now here are my questions:
  • What do excavators tend to charge per hour (or per foot or per yard or whatever)?
  • The excavator wants us to line up utilities to mark any lines or whatnot in the area.  Leaving aside the fact that we're five miles outside the city and there's absolutely nothing around but trees, that seems like his job.  Is this normal or will it just vary from one guy to the other?
  • How long should it take for an excavator to do this job?  I realize it's somewhat in two parts -- digging the hole/prepping the site and trenching the drainage, and then (later) coming back to do the backfill work.  I've never run a backhoe but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't take me more than a couple of days, a week max.
There was a separate bid for the septic system which also seems high (when compared to posts here) but since we've changed the design from what he bid on I'm ignoring that part for the moment.

Does this seem reasonable or high?  Where's his wiggle room? Am I at a place where I should just buy/rent a backhoe and dig this stuff myself?

Steve
Curious in Colorado


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By John in Erie, CO on 7/24/2008


The only way to know is to get multiple bids -- same as every part of a project.  That said, given the work you have, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me. 

Some excavators work on a flat bid, but they will always have a clause in there for rock and "unforeseen subsurface conditions" e.g. if they hit bedrock 2' under, you are not getting your foundation done for $10K.  I worked with my excavator, who became a great friend, doing time and materials...  Figure any single large piece of equipment will probably cost about $120 per hour, including an operator...  Although I'm sure prices have climbed as diesel has risen.

I had a lot of rock, but think my excavation bill topped $80K.  (That included a rough grade on 1,000' of road and a water line, though).  If you are thinking you can do a 7,000' foundation yourself with a backhoe, you are obviously in the early stages of owner-building...  ;)  I have a backhoe, and wouldn't even consider it. 

The digging is really an acquired skill, and if you over dig, you will spend many thousands or 10's of thousands bringing the grade back up with some type of fill and engineering tests of the compacted soil before you can put the foundation in on it...  More delay.

It took my excavator about a week with a trackhoe, and articulated loader, and two dump trucks to do my basement, in heavy rocks.  My parents had their basement in two days, but it was only a crawlspace, and much less digging.

Get multiple bids, and resist the urge to do it yourself.  I've not posted on here much (too busy!) but find my old posts. I did too much myself, and at some point you learn how to pick high value things to do...  Excavation is not one of them.

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 7/24/2008


Thank you John!  That's exactly the kind of feedback I needed.

The more I was thinking about it the more it seemed the $28K was in line.  As you say we're getting a bunch of bids on this (this will probably be the second most-bid item after the windows) but it seemed to just "feel" right.  Yours sounds like it was very much a nightmare -- ouch.

My thought with the "do it myself" part was less my thinking I should do it myself (even if I had a backhoe I don't know that I'd do that) and more my thinking "how long does it take to dig a hole?"  But there's more to it than that, to be sure, which is part of what I was looking for guidance on.

So this is definitely on the right track then, and that's what I was hoping to find out by checking with others here.   Thank you very much John!

Steve

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 7/28/2008


Have a follow up on this.

Met with another excavator who spent four hours up there with us yesterday.  He asked a ton of questions (he'd done work in the canyon previously) and had several ideas on things we might do a bit differently to adjust costs and amount of land impacted.  He also opined that part of the job was that he would clear the trees on the site and grinding up the branches, stacking the logs so we could cut them later, etc. He was very careful to discuss the disturbance areas so we don't knock down any more than is necessary, and he noted that he'd soften up the dirt at the bottoms of the cut to make the installation of the foundation drains simpler when we go through with the shovel.

Interestingly, he doesn't own his own equipment -- he sizes up the job and rents what he needs locally.  He says this avoids him having the overhead, lets him bring exactly what he needs instead of what he's got, and he always gets new equipment that way.  Not a bad way to go, I thought.

We'll get a full written bid from him in a day or so, but right now he looks to be around $20K.  Estimates 6 days total if we have him take down and stack the trees.

For what he's offering to do and that price point, he looks to be a strong candidate.

Steve

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By Kobe in Grand junction , AL on 5/24/2017


Hello Steve my name is Kobe. But seems rather high but also depends on a lot of things wrapped around equipment hauling and hauling material away. 

Are you still interested in doing this? 

I'm interested if you're still looking for someone to do this.  My number is 970-201-1113 thank you Steve and have a great day 






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By Paul in Woodland Park, CO on 10/13/2017


Looking to get excavation estimate before purchasing land in Woodland Park. Does anyone have any contacts/references of excavators that work in this area?
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By Glenn in golden, CO on 10/14/2017


I've done two custom homes in the Rockies and can tell you that the excavation work can make or break the project. I've had one incredibly competent and helpful excavation contractor and one who nearly scuttled the entire build. 


My advice? Drive around in the neighborhoods you are considering and look for current or recent builds. Talk to the owners or contractors on site and find out who the excavation contractor is/was. Find out if that same sub had bid on multiple phases of the project. 

Both of my excavation subs also did my foundation and flatwork. They also built my septic systems. I have found that when a sub knows he has other work to do -- later in the build -- he's more careful and conscientious doing the excavation work. 

It's important to deal with someone who has done multiple jobs in the area -- knows the Building Department staff -- and relies on his reputation to drive his business.

If you find an excavation contractor you have confidence in, they will often help you select the lot -- since they may well have a stake in the build. I've always bought the lot first -- and then gotten bids on the work. 

Woodland Park is a great area. I'm sure you'll enjoy living there. 

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