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Costing out a cabling system - cabling install

Many important decisions can lead a building owner or tenant to justify the installation of a new, universal (standard) cabling system, and it is usually a direct outgrowth of a decision to upgrade a company`s technological capabilities. The first step is to develop a cost estimate for the installation, which involves translating the owner`s needs into a design that fits with the budgeted cost.

During the course of a project, from reconstruction to close-out, whether overseeing the job or acting as contractor or subcontractor, it is important that all parties in the process provide a thorough breakdown of costs. Before discussing the steps involved in costing out a cable plant, however, you need to understand the characteristics of the various types of construction cost estimates--ballpark, budget estimates, complete unit price estimates and the final cost.

The initial rough estimate, which should be used only as a decision-making tool, is the first price quoted when the owner and the estimator begin to discuss the cost of a project and is generally nonbinding. As any installer knows, ballpark estimates can only be given with considerable disclaimer.

The square-foot method is useful for estimating a ballpark figure. The communications construction manager or estimator typically keeps records of the basic cost per square foot for specific types of cabling projects, based on historical data from similar projects or on published square-foot costs, or a little of both. The baseline square-foot costs will also vary for a new building versus retrofit, or re-cabled, installation. To arrive at a square-foot ballpark figure, simply multiply the basic square-foot cost, say $10 per square foot, by the total system area; for example:

$10x100,000 sq. ft. = $1,000,000

A square-foot cost is in no way a final cost, but it is a fairly accurate way to calculate a rough estimate or check a detailed estimate.

Another method for estimating a cabling installation project is to develop a basic per-workstation cost based on data from similar projects. In this estimate, you can incorporate communications backbone costs into the per-workstation cost, or break that out as a separate backbone cost. This is still a ballpark figure, but it can be a useful tool to provide an idea of the project cost.

On the other hand, a budget estimate is generally based on unit prices. Working with the owner or installation designer, the estimator determines cable pathways, quantity of workstations, number of connections for each workstation, and the type and size of backbone required. A rough drawing showing this information is used to prepare the budget estimate, which determines quantities of such cabling system components as horizontal and backbone cabling, termination hardware, and racks and cabinets. In this process, you must make some basic assumptions, including type and jacketing of the cable, typical length of runs and the cost and availability of labor.

Related facilities costs, such as telecommunications closets, sleeves and raceways, must be accounted for at this stage. The result is a budget estimate given to the owner for approval. Typically, the owner will suggest changes to the proposed cabling system if, for example, the cost exceeds the project`s budget or the communications network architecture changes because of operating considerations that require additional cabling or location of termination points.

Upon budget approval, the project is then designed and specified in detail, and competitive bids are solicited.

Detailed budget estimate

The bid process provides hard labor-and-materials costs, and it is now time to prepare a final detailed budget estimate. It is helpful to enter the estimate into a spreadsheet-type format, broken down by labor-and-material components.

The detailed estimate is the basis for a cost-control report that will be updated continually throughout the project by entering the ongoing actual costs for comparison to the original estimate. Using this cost control process, you can verify payment requests, predict cash flow requirements and monitor project costs. This detailed level of reporting also gives your customers the confidence that their cabling investment is being managed wisely.

Securing complete bids

Many owners today look to a communications installation team to provide a complete operational system. Unfortunately, some items that make a job complete may not be specified in the design documents. To render all bids comparable, bidders should be asked to identify such unspecified items as "items not included in bid," and quote them separately from the base bid. For the project owner, the communications construction manager, the designer and the installer, the goal is to provide a complete operational system.

Items which are often left out of the specifications include the following:

-Computer room cabling

-Crossconnections, patch cords, and workstation cords

-Placement and connection of workstation equipment

-Handling and installation of computer room and communications closet equipment

-Firestopping materials

-Testing and as-built documentation

-Insurance, sales tax and other administrative costs

-Move-in support personnel.

The final cost can only be calculated when the project is complete and the client is satisfied with the performance of the system.

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