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Last edited 20 Sep 2021
Preliminaries in construction
Preliminaries (or 'prelims') may appear in tender documents, providing a description of a project that allows the contractor to assess costs which, whilst they do not form a part of any of the package of works required by the contract, are required by the method and circumstances of the works.
NBS suggest that 'the purpose of preliminaries is to describe the works as a whole, and to specify general conditions and requirements for their execution, including such things as subcontracting, approvals, testing and completion.' Preliminaries and work sections together describe what is required to complete the works required by the contract.
The costs attached to preliminaries may also be referred to as 'preliminaries' or 'prelims', or as 'site overheads', or general cost items or expenses. The Code of Estimating Practice published by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) describes preliminaries as:
'...the cost of administering a project and providing general plant, site staff, facilities, and site based services and other items not included in the rates.'
Preliminaries in tender documents may include:
- A general summary.
- Method statements.
- Pre-construction information.
- A description of any planning conditions or other conditions that may affect the work to be carried out by the contractor.
- A description of any outstanding statutory approvals that may fall to the contractor to satisfy.
- Party wall requirements or other agreements with, or rights of, neighbours (such as rights to light).
- Any emergency services obligations.
- A description of the reporting information that the contractor will be required to submit (often on a monthly basis) describing construction progress (including a detailed critical path programme, key performance indicators and earned value analysis). See Construction progress reports for more information.
- A description of the commissioning strategy, separating setting to work and balancing tasks from independent verification by the consultant team.
- Relevant reports (such as soil reports).
- An information release schedule.
- Quality management procedures.
- Labour relations.
- Schedules of mock-ups, testing and samples required from the contractor.
- The method of sub-contracting.
- Requirements for insurance, performance bonds, warranties and product guarantees (for the contractor and sub-contractors).
- Requirements for the operating and maintenance manual (the client's facilities management team may wish to comment on this).
- Requirement for progress photos to be taken on site during construction and off-site during fabrication.
- Dates for partial possession.
- Collaborative practices.
- Building information modelling (BIM) requirement and protocols (including requirement for BIM in sub-contracts).
- Site waste management plan.
- Contractor's site preliminaries, such as; staff, welfare provisions, site offices, plant, site waste clearance, water, electricity, furniture, ICT and consumables, rates, protection of work, protective clothing, site transport, setting out, building control fees, and so on.
NB: Preliminaries should not be confused with 'preambles' which set out things such as tendering procedures, that will not affect the contractor's price. For more information, see Difference between preliminaries and preambles.
According to NRM1: Order of cost estimating and cost planning for capital building work, main contractor’s preliminaries are;
'...items which cannot be allocated to a specific element, sub-element or component. Main contractor’s preliminaries include the main contractor’s costs associated with management and staff, site establishment, temporary services, security, safety and environmental protection, control and protection, common user mechanical plant, common user temporary works, the maintenance of site records, completion and post-completion requirements, cleaning, fees and charges, sites services and insurances, bonds, guarantees and warranties. Main contractor’s preliminaries exclude costs associated with subcontractor’s preliminaries, which are to be included in the unit rates applied to building works.'
According to ‘Elemental Standard Form of Cost Analysis, Principles, Instructions, Elements and Definitions, 4th (NRM) Edition’ written by RICS in 2012 and published by BCIS, ‘the cost of preliminaries for the building being analysed should be stated and expressed as a percentage of the contract sum excluding preliminaries, contingencies and, where appropriate, contractor’s design fees.’
NRM1 defines ‘subcontractor’s preliminaries’ as;
‘…preliminaries that relate specifically to building work which is to be carried out by a subcontractor. Costs associated with subcontractor’s preliminaries are to be included in the unit rates applied to sub-elements and individual components.’
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Difference between preliminaries and preambles
- Bill of quantities BOQ
- Profit and overheads on construction projects
- Preamble in construction contracts
- Tender documentation for construction projects
- The difference between a prime cost sum and a provisional sum
- Method statement for construction
- Pre-construction information
- New code of estimating practice
- Provisional sum
- Site clearance.
- Form of tender
- Prime cost sum
- Code of estimating practice
- Subcontractor’s preliminaries
- Contingencies in construction
- Invitation to tender for construction contracts
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Comment 1: All of these “preliminaries” are quantifiable, so why should they be expressed as a percentage of the overall costs? This seems a lazy and sloppy way to calculate them, and not particularly accurate, and a licence to print money for the contractor.
Comment 2: In response to comment above: It's true that prelims are quantifiable after the event (eg. at final account) but the best a Contractor can do when tendering on a fixed price basis is make an appropriate allowance to cover the prelim costs it expects to incur. In doing so, it is left with the risk should it incur greater prelim expense during the execution of the works (save for instances like variations, where those costs arose due to factors outside of the Contractor's control). The approach proposed by the OP above would leave all the risk with the Employer and a Contractor could easily substantiate additional prelim costs if it were so inclined.