How Detailed Utility Coordination Benefits Your Project
Surprises. They’re wonderful when it’s your birthday or when a coworker brings in a sweet treat to share. (Voodoo Doughnuts anyone?) However, they’re not so welcome when a project goes to construction. The last thing anyone wants to deal with is a utility surprise in the field that sends the construction manager and client into a panic. These kind of surprises can significantly delay, or in extreme cases, kill a project.
How can we minimize those unwelcome surprises in the field?
The answer is surprisingly simple: Detailed utility coordination.
Including the serving utilities into the planning process early helps keep surprises that effect the project’s timeline and final budget to a minimum. Painting a clear picture from an existing service source to your proposed project site will help clarify issues that may go unseen until you’re ready to break ground.
Utilities have an insight into other pending projects in the area; whether it’s a new residential development, a commercial property, a future utility system improvement or something else in their pipeline. It’s information that could affect your pending project. Do they have the service size you’re after? Will there be enough availability or is their current system maxed out? Will new service require additional time for the utility to upgrade their existing system?
Scope of work varies from utility to utility. Some will bring the new service to your new front door for a fee, some will end at the property line for a smaller fee, while others will require the customer to complete all the work from their existing system to the project site. That could require using a utility approved contractor, work in the right-of-way (which will require special permitting), crossing a third party property (requiring an easement from the property owner), crossing a bridge/canal/stream (all which can require special permitting), and/or running across an environmental constraint (i.e. wetlands, protected plant/animal, contaminated soils, etc). These are all items that run the risk of impacting a project’s timeline and budget. If notified early enough in the project most issues can be sorted out with the utility to find a solution that works for everyone without impacting the construction schedule. That’s not always the case when these issues pop-up at the start of construction. At that point most designs, permits and easements are set.
With a detailed utility approved design in hand, you have the advantage of including this information on your design drawings. In the design you have the following listed:
- A path outlined to ensure you have an easement in place to cover the route, along with the utility’s requirements for said easement.
- A list of the supplies and equipment needed. Identifying which ones the utility will provide and which need to be provided by the customer or their contractor. The specified equipment and provided distances (thanks to scaled drawings) will also allow contractors to submit a more accurate bid. Minimizing the need for change orders in the field.
- A list of fees (application, hook-up, membership, special construction, etc) the utilities will require. All which can be incorporated into the budget before construction starts.
- Outlined requirements per utility, including a point of contact for the construction manager. Having a shortcut to the person already familiar with the project, thanks to the utility coordination, the project manager just has a single person to contact to coordinate preconstruction meetings, inspections and final installation requirements. This helps maintain a smooth schedule for construction.
With all the benefits to coordinating utilities early, and in detail, it makes you ask the question … what are you really saving by skipping it?
Heather Harris – A graduate of Oregon State University and an electrical designer at R&W, Ms. Harris is working with the R&W senior design staff on a variety of projects that include: low income housing, senior living facilities, restaurants, commercial office spaces, schools, retail shopping centers, vacation resorts, churches and cellular facilities.
Heidi Speer – Ms. Speer has been in the industry for over 12 years and has excelled as an electrical designer, energy auditor and project coordinator for R&W . Currently, Ms. Speer is working and coordinating with senior design staff on a variety of projects that include: educational facilities, commercial office spaces, maintenance facilities, and cellular facilities.