Tomorrow, Wednesday November 26, is "bid day," one of the important days for our project. It's the day that we finally get to see actual dollar figures for construction costs proposed by general contractors that we've hand-selected to bid... which will be both relieving and scary at the same time. It's a relief to finally get the home cost out of the "theoretical" and into the "practical," and it's also quite scary to see whether the submitted bids are close to our budget. If the bids are a little over our budget, things can be done here and there to bring it back in line without sacrificing the overall vision. If the bids are significantly over budget, then that means something fundamental about the home design will have to change, or be completed in a much longer time-scale than we are intending. We're currently just focusing in prayer on selecting the right contractor and trying to let God take care of the rest.
First, for those interested in the home building process, I can explain how this bidding process works. In reality, one doesn't need to do a bidding process at all, you can select a general contractor right from the beginning and work with them throughout your project. This is "easier" to do because you can ask the contractor all your questions along the way and it makes generating the construction drawings (with the contractor or with an architect) a smoother process because the contractor has input from the beginning. However, this is also more expensive because the contractor has no competition and is only reduced to negotiating with you over price. Another option is to run a bidding process, where you line up contractors who are willing to bid on your project and they compete against each other. I say "willing" because in good economic times it might be hard to find contractors willing to bid because it takes a lot of work to put together a detailed bid (the process typically takes 3-4 weeks). If there are lots of other jobs available they can just skip yours and move to the next one. But, in bad economic times, there's magically lots of contractors willing to bid on your home project! The only catch to making a bid worth your while (and worth the contrators' effort) is that you need to have detailed construction drawings completed and almost every item for the home selected ahead of time so the bids will be accurate and won't require lots of revisions after the bids. This means you need to do this without the contractors' help, and that can be challenging. But in the end, bidding your project gets you a much better price and is worth the effort and organization required.
Conventional wisdom says to have 3-5 general contractors lined up to bid, and to make sure you are comfortable with any of the contractors being the winner. You want to have at least 3 bidders so that you have proper competition and a decent selection at the end, and you also don't want to have more than 5 bidders so that each of the bidders feels like they have a reasonable shot at winning (and will put in the required effort instead of just "throwing a number at it"). We interviewed many contractors and ended up selecting 5 contractors to bid, thinking that one or more would potentially drop out later (and we wanted to ensure we had at least 3). Not surprisingly, with this economic climate, none of the 5 dropped out. So we actually have 5 very qualified contractors bidding on our project. I prepared a USB drive with all of the construction documents and bid paperwork for each of the bidders that they each picked up at our house on Nov. 1, and the bids are due by 4:00 pm on Nov. 26 (tomorrow). I set a date of Friday, Dec. 5 as the day when we will let the bidders know the winner, after we've had a chance to digest the bids.
So here's a look at the bidders on our project, in alphabetical order, so you can see the choice we'll have to make. Not all of the contractors has construction examples posted on their site, but for the ones who do I've posted some example photos of their work.
The Chuba Company (Elk River, MN)
We intentionally tried to pick contractors who are experienced with Structural Insulated Panels (SIP's), and The Chuba Company has over 20 years experience with SIP's and uses these almost exclusively.
Cornerstone Custom Construction (Coon Rapids, MN)
Cornerstone primarily does Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) construction, but has also done homes with SIP's before.
Fine Design Contracting (New Hope, MN)
Fine Design Contracting has won awards for extensive home remodels, such as a 2007 Parade of Homes Remodeler's Showcase "Featured Home," but also does custom construction. There website is screwy and in need of improvement, but they are very qualified contractors. Here's an example of their work.
Mattson Brothers Construction (Cambridge, MN)
Not as experienced in SIP's, but a contractor that builds extremely high-quality homes and has very satisfied customers, Mattson Brothers Construction will be bidding on our home. Here's an example of their work.
Summit Design Build (St. Paul, MN)
Highly recommeded by a co-worker of mine, Summit Design Build constructed her home and it ended up winning the 2008 Parade of Homes "Excellence in Green Building" Award. Here it is...