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What Is the Meaning of Time & Materials Estimates in Construction Bids?

When the time comes to jazz up the kitchen with a new look or do solar and energy conservation installations, the homeowner who understands bid language is better equipped to choose a contractor. For instance, when comparing the time charges on competing bids, the difference between the higher- and lower-priced bids might be the inclusion of time for extra items that could make the lower bid more expensive by the time the job is done. If there is anything about any element of a bid that you don’t understand, you should always ask about it. You are entitled to understand everything in a contract before you sign it.


Time is labor–any kind of labor by any employee of the contractor or company that is bidding to do the work. This includes the time spent by everyone from the cleanup laborer up to the journeymen. Time is not generally itemized on the bid. Rather, it is placed on the bid as a total of days or hours, with a brief description of what labor is covered by those hours and the total charge for labor. The hours bid should be adequate to finish the job with whatever minor repairs are found after old materials are taken out. Make sure you understand what guarantee is offered on the contractor’s work and what portions of the labor are covered.


Just as the name implies, materials are any physical items that will be needed to complete the job. Lumber, nails, sealant, paint and prefabbed parts like windows and doors are all materials. Materials should be completely listed in the bid. For instance, if a job is going to require two double-pane windows and ten 2-by-4s, these items will be listed in just this way. Materials lists can be quite lengthy and detailed. Review the materials list to ensure that it is absolutely complete and that you understand what warranties cover the materials.


If your project is going to include demolition, this will usually be listed as an independent item on your bid and will appear as a time item. Some contractors treat demolition as a separate bid. Homeowners can sometimes do their own demolition if they are skilled enough or if the job is simple enough. Demolition is the removal of old materials to make way for the new installation. For instance, placement of new windows includes the removal of the old ones and whatever work is needed on the framing to support and accommodate the new windows.


Disposal, if any, is an important part of any bid and will generally appear in the materials listing. This is another area where the homeowner could do the work. This may or may not save money, depending on whether the homeowner can get a better deal on collection and transport of construction debris. For instance, the owner of a pickup truck might choose to haul the debris to the dump on her own. If you are not prepared to do the disposal, then make sure that the bid includes it.

Unforeseen Extras

Jobs can bog down halfway through when problems that were not visible initially are revealed during demolition or the early phases of construction. For instance, demolition for the window installation above might reveal rotten wood inside the framing where moisture was trapped. Rotten wood should always be replaced prior to installing the new materials in order to maintain structural integrity, and this might involve considerable extra time. Some contractors include a clause that the bid may go up a certain percentage for this eventuality. Some do not. It’s a good idea to ask whether the bid includes small repairs and how much it could go up if it doesn’t.

Time and Material Jobs

There is a type of contract, called “time and material,” which should not be confused with the time and material entries on the more usual fixed price bids covered above. Under a time and material bid, the homeowner is given a materials estimate and a cost per hour, rather than a total cost for the job. If accepted, the homeowner pays an hourly rate for the time workers are directly on the job. These types of contracts have the ability to add up to more than conventional fixed-price bids, so care should be taken to get a ceiling on the total charges.

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