How to Get the Best Value for your Boardwalk Project: Base vs Alternate Bids

Posted: February 23, 2023

After months and even years of planning, it can feel like a relief to actually get to the bidding stage. You know you are one step closer to starting the construction process and bringing your project to life.

But the bidding process can be complex. As a designer, how do you get the best value for your client, the project owner? 

The material selection process usually identifies a clear preference of the owner based on their budget and past experience. However, many owners want to evaluate material options through the bid process. In this case, bid alternates may be included. If your client prefers a precast concrete boardwalk, the order of base bid vs. alternate matters. 


Getting Strategic with Base vs Alternate Bids

Our customers have completed nearly 500 PermaTrak installations, and all have gone through a competitive bid process.

We’ve learned this simple fact: the base bid tells the bidding contractors where to put their time and energy

Contractors are diligent and thorough in preparing bids; however, it is difficult to dedicate the same level of commitment to alternate bids. This is especially true if there are many alternate material bid items on any given project.

Furthermore, knowing the contract is going to be awarded for the base bid, sometimes the alternate bid does not receive the same level of detail estimating as the base bid. 

Let’s say the base bid is for a timber boardwalk and the alternate is for a precast concrete boardwalk. The contractor has every incentive to put its time, energy, and best installation price towards the timber boardwalk base bid.

For the precast concrete alternate, the contractor may place a higher value on labor and materials knowing that the base bid is what is going to win the project. If the owner actually wants the precast concrete alternate, they will unfortunately be required to pay the submitted price for the alternate option. The alternate price will most likely not be the best value for the owner. 

You can get the best value for your owner and the best installation price if you specify what you actually want as the base bid.

Looking to include a cost-saving option for comparison purposes? Put that option as the alternate bid. 


Bid Process Examples

Here are some real world examples of the bidding process and how the base vs alternate strategies have played out.


The owner wants precast concrete, but it’s listed as an alternate.

In this example, the bidding document required a lump sum for the base bid and two alternates. A timber boardwalk was the base bid, and you will notice that a concrete boardwalk is listed as the second alternate. 

The owner recognized the value of precast concrete and decided to go with PermaTrak’s boardwalk system on this project. Knowing that is where the owner was leaning, why not put concrete as the base and timber as the alternate? Based on our experience and having discussed this approach with general contractors, the owner may have gotten a better installation price and better overall value. 


The owner wants precast concrete, and it’s listed as the base bid.

Here’s an example of an owner who wanted precast concrete and listed it as the base bid. 

In this case, the owner is ensuring that the bidding contractors focus their time and energy on the precast concrete base bid. The award of the project will typically be made based upon the submitted total base bid, and the owner can rest assured that they are getting the best possible value. In this approach the true benefits (installation time, foundation quantities, overhead and supervision time required for actual construction duration) will be reflected in the precast boardwalk price.


The Bid Stage of Your Next Project

We recognize that we’re biased, and not all owners will want precast concrete boardwalks as the first option.

The purpose of this post is to help share our experience so that our valued designers and owners can best navigate the sometimes complex bidding process. We’ve heard too often that the owner actually wanted concrete, but wasn’t able to make it happen due to listing it as an alternate bid.

If you do want precast concrete, put it as the base bid. This is the best way to get what you actually want.


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Topics: Boardwalk Design