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We must raise the prof ile of M&E costing


Correct selection of building plant has become paramount, writes Chris Haley

THE CONSTRUCTION sector enjoys being known for its ability to cost precisely, keenly and in advance of a project. But with construction costs widely predicted to increase by a third over the next five years, it seems to be missing a trick where mechanical and electrical costing is concerned.

Unfortunately it is an accepted facet of too many construction and refurbishment jobs that M&E cost calculations are a secondary consideration. Getting the M&E costs right from the start is not the priority it should be if, as an industry, we are going to keep a tight rein on budgets.

This section of costs as a proportion of the whole is getting higher all the time. You only have to look at the increasing number of claims that are the result of disputed M&E costs to see how damaging it is when the industry gets it wrong.

Using specialist M&E quantity surveyors to calculate cost could not only save companies money but also considerable time and effort ? not to mention expensive law suits.

The economic climate has changed and the inevitable question from today's clients is: 'How much will it cost?' Emphasis has shifted from how it will look to the price.

Maintenance and asset-management issues have become more important ? especially for PFI projects ? and correctly selecting the building plant has become paramount.

The system needs to shake off some of its old ways and start to look at what should be a natural progression. Many who see M&E costing as somewhat of a black art now need to give enhanced planning, designing and costing of M&E considerations equal weight along with the building and structural elements.

This is especially important when you consider the dynamic nature of many building-services installations and the implications this has for the ongoing maintenance and whole-life cost of a building.

Whether to use a four-pipe fan-coil system or VAV system for air conditioning can significantly alter the price of a job and the overall benefits of each need to be assessed.

Most people assume that the M&E designers do the costing and 'though the Association of Consulting Engineers' Duties stipulate that costing may fall within the design consultant's traditional duties, the fact remains that the core competency of design engineers is design.

In many cases the consulting design engineer is uncomfortable ? possibly because they are not indemnified ? when undertaking these specialist commercial and contractual duties.

I am not suggesting that the design engineer is not competent to control costs on some projects, but I am proposing that raising the profile of M&E costing will benefit everyone ? the QS, the design engineers and the client.

The point is that M&E cannot be pigeonholed into a one-size-fits-all category.

As building project desires and requirements become more advanced and there is more competition, innovative ideas are surely going to succeed. But to truly win the day, as well as being cutting edge, these ideas must be fully costed. It requires not so much a leap of faith as a commitment to well-grounded logic and planning.

Chris Haley is an associate at M&E quantity surveying specialist Haleys

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