Building Automation, HVAC Equipment, Security Solutions

Apples to Oranges: How to Compare Bids from Contractors

When building owners and managers find a need to install, replace, or repair a system, they usually follow a solid practice of acquiring multiple bids to perform the work required and meet the intent. 

Some of this work is put out to the public or by invitation in the form of a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quote (RFQ). These may come with very well written, detailed specifications and drawings, maybe through support of an engineer, so that the manager can avoid the “Apples to Oranges” scenario. However, that is not always the case, and most managers don’t have the extra funds or time to develop formal RFPs/RFQs.

The second option, and most practiced method, is that the manager calls on three companies to perform a walkthrough, have conversations to deliver the intent and scope of the project and, in turn, receive proposals. Often, the lowest bidder wins the work, and just as often, the owner is disappointed in the result of the project because intent did not match their vision.

Whether you have a project for HVAC equipment, building automation controls, or security systems, here are a few things to think about (and write down!) when developing your project to ensure every bidder is clear on what they are to deliver:

  1. What is the intent and goal of the project?
  2. How quickly do you need this complete (remember that faster usually equals more expensive)?
  3. What level of quality of work and product are you willing to accept (think box store vs. high-end retail?)

And then some questions to ask the contractors to ensure if they are going to meet your quality standards. A good contractor will be very excited to talk with you about any of the below questions, almost to the point of bragging:

  1. What is your approach to work such as this (loosely explain the process)?
  2. Can we expect you onsite everyday until the job is complete?
  3. How many years of experience do your techs have?
  4. How long have those techs been with the company?
  5. Do you and the techs have all the proper licenses and training to perform the work we need?
  6. How would you tier/rank the equipment you intend to install (good, better, best)?

Then also take note of the following to ensure you are working with a reputable contractor:

  1. Search for customer and Glassdoor ratings about their company. Don’t take every negative comment seriously, but take a lot of negative comments very seriously.
  2. Was their walkthrough very dry and technical or did they educate you about a few things? More than not, the educators tend to be better listeners and understand the comprehensive projects.
  3. Is their proposal detailed and defined to the scope of work you requested? Does it mention your intent or goal? Generically written quotes leave you open for all of the risk; they can cut corners and deliver only the technical necessities without reaching your goal, leaving you frustrated and with no recourse. 
  4. Did they ask you a lot of questions and are the answers reflected on their proposal? If they ask very few or no questions, then they likely will not meet your intent.
  5. Is the lowest quote substantially lower than the other two? The lowest bidder likely missed something or plans to cut corners.

Taking the time to evaluate the contractor is just as important as evaluating the bid. With some due diligence, the apples and oranges set themselves apart and become apparent. If you are still unsure at the end of this process, hiring professional consultant (or a 4th company with a good reputation) for a couple of hours of consulting could save you thousands down the road.

If you have questions about RFPs, RFQs, or bids in general, or have an HVAC equipment, CCTV, access control or other security systems, or a building automation controls project you’d like LONG to bid, reach out to us through the button below.


Chris Bracken

Christopher Bracken the Branch Manager for all LONG business units in Alaska. Chris is also a professional artist and enjoys his family time as a proud Dad to three highly-energetic boys.