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tender process vs staircase design

Design is not at the heart of the tender process

If you have set your heart on a dream kitchen or bathroom, it is unlikely that you will allow your QS (Quantity Surveyor) to substitute an alternative design or cheaper units.

This rule applies to anything bespoke that you have personally chosen for your project, including staircases.

Before you hand your project to your QS to prepare for tender you should understand the tender process and its potential impact on your dream home.

Why your QS will always find a cost down option

Put simply, the tender process is flawed. Cost based and more suited to construction than design, it compares prices on paper. QS focus on function and cost, not form and aesthetics. A QS will always find a cost down option. For non-bespoke items this is ok because costs are kept within budget. When it comes to bespoke items, such as kitchens and bathrooms, most clients would not appreciate their QS making cheaper substitutions without permission. Unfortunately during tendering this is exactly what can happen if you do not understand the tender process fully.

Your QS is unaware of your emotional attachment to a specific design

It’s reasonable to expect that your QS was not party to the many hours you spent on researching bespoke items. Your QS did not hear you ring a dozen suppliers to discuss the finer details of your prospective purchase. It follows, therefore, a QS cannot understand the emotional attachment you have with a certain look or design.

Kitchens and bathrooms are often protected within a tender as clients have specifically engaged with a supplier and chosen a design and fittings. Unfortunately, despite the same engagement at pre-tender stage, the staircase often ends up as part of the tendered cost-down items of a build.

Understanding the implications of cost down on your bespoke design

Once out to tender, cost becomes the over-riding factor. QS focus on price and the ability to do the job. The lowest cost supplier usually wins the work.

Allowing your QS to make the decisions without understanding the implications of what the tendering/cost down exercise can have on your project may surprise you.

How to read between the lines of quotations for your bespoke items

Comparing prices for any bespoke item on paper is always open to interpretation due to the variable nature of the item and its method of manufacture. It is worth doing your homework to understand quoted specifications so you can make an informed decision. For example:

GLASS  If your QS has stated “glass balustrade” as part of the tender information then you will get standard green tinted glass.  Many Bisca designs use low iron glass for superior optical quality and reduced tint. Standard glass is cheaper than low iron glass.

Design does not happen overnight

FIXINGS  Visible fixings, clips and clamps from stock are used by 24hr staircase suppliers. Those offering modular customised options also use bulk fixings for reasons of speed or cost. A carefully designed bespoke glass balustrade will not feature visible fixings.

HANDRAIL/BALUSTRADE  It is not uncommon for Bisca to be contacted towards the end of a build to retrofit a balustrade. The company who won job on cost maybe couldn’t make balustrade, or left it off the quotation!  Angular sections of stained softwood are cheaper than a continuous run of hardwood but, of course, look and feel vastly different. Splitting the staircase and balustrade between suppliers is not cost effective in the long run.

Bulk vs Bespoke greatly influences cost

TREADS Type, provenance and finish of timber vary in price. Make sure your solid timber has not been substituted for “butchers block” or stained softwood.

STEEL UPRIGHTS  Understand the material, size, shape and finish of the uprights. Uprights from overseas are cheaper than their design led, blacksmith made counterpart. Overseas uprights have a reputation of poor quality and ability to rust.

The cheapest, easiest and arguably the ugliest way of fixing uprights is to include a ribbon rail top and bottom. This method is favoured by fabricators but may come as a shock if it was not part of your original balustrade design.

Do you understand the difference between a bespoke staircase design, a customised stair and fabricator stair?

A fabricator will undoubtedly be the cheapest – the problem being fabricators are not designers. The resulting institutional looking staircases and balustrades are poorly detailed with ugly fixings. Fabricators tend to give little consideration to space, layout, interfaces or quality.

In summary design can be an intangible aspect of a project that a QS may not see the value of. It is worth keeping a tab on bespoke items, staircases included, throughout the tender process. When the build starts, consequences of cost down items will become clear. By this stage it is often too late and costly to make changes. Bisca can cite numerous examples where projects going down the “cost effective” QS driven tender route have cost more than the original design.