Bidding Wood Ceilings

Bidding Wood Ceilings

Avoiding the 7 'Gotchas'

Originally posted by 9Wood’s Learning Center on May 29, 2020


“Oh good, I landed the job!  Oh God, what did I forget?!”  

Suspended wood ceilings can be a great way for subcontractors to take on high-value business. But there are risks for estimators. “If I sharpen my pencil to land the job, how do I keep my numbers fat enough to cover surprises?” 


Estimators want to: 


  • Help their company survive COVID: Win enough backlog going forward; preserve cash near-term. 
  • Select the right suppliers: Be sure your specialty suppliers will be in business when you place the order. 
  • Avoid busts: Make sure your scope and all the “surprise” extras are covered in your bid. 
  • Keep expedite options open: If COVID-delayed work releases all at once, you’ll need quotes, submittals, shops, and fabrication quickly once the projects resume. 
  • Trust supplier’s schedules: Know that the wood ceiling will arrive on the date you need it. 
  • Come through for your customers: GCs prefer subs they can trust to handle specialty materials. 


But Estimators regularly run into two big problems when bidding specialty work:  

Problem #1: Answers take too long, and you need them fast.  

You often have a day, maybe two, to bid a job. It takes time to analyze specialty specs, complete the take-off, clarify inclusions and exclusions, and compare suppliers’ quotes—which are rarely apples-to-apples. And you’re always waiting on the specialty suppliers for answers. Sometimes a bid deadline pressures you to go with the cheapest price, even though that can mean trouble: cheapest price often doesn’t mean lowest cost. 

Problem #2:  Hidden gotchas make pricing specialty finishes a headache, and wood ceilings have their own Hall of Shame. 


These are the 7 most common Gotchas we see Estimators trip over. When pricing, look out for:  


  1. Module Sizes: Every product has a size that yields the most bang for the buck. Wood has three different module groups: softwoods, hardwoods, and veneers. For example, as a general rule, softwoods sell up to 12’ without a dramatic increase in costs. Hardwoods up to 10’. The ideal module size for veneer products is just under 8’ or, second best, 10’.  All things being equal, shorter lengths and smaller sizes are less expensive—but installation rates may go up. 
  2. Nominal vs. Net Takeoffs: Wood panels are typically sold in square feet, rounded up to the nearest foot in length. Widths are typically sold to the net inch. For example, 14” x 92” panel is sold as 14” x 8’. Tiles, however, are rounded up in both length and width. Net area take-offs will not account for overages needed for field cutting and attic stock. Check your supplier’s sizes carefully and overlay the net areas with the nominal panel sizes to ensure full coverage.    
  3. Suspension: Not bidding the right grid can add up. Use Heavy Duty, usually 2’ On Center, not Intermediate Duty grid. But be careful, custom grid layouts are often required and need to be covered in your bid.  
  4. Scrims: Scrim slows down install rates—at least if you want the architect to accept it. Sometimes duct liner is the better substitute, which blacks out the plenum, gives the acoustics, and comes at an affordable price. 
  5. Money matters: Since no one wants to be the bank—or take all the risk—suppliers typically require deposits to buy the specific wood for a project.  And don’t forget sales taxes. 
  6. Pricing Good For: Quote windows and escalators vary, and you can get stuck in the middle, so check quotes.  
  7. Schedules: Wood ceiling lead-times are long. The hidden problem is that half the overall lead-time is spent in the fuzzy approval process. If you only rely on the GC to monitor the submittal schedule, you can get caught in the middle.   


Each one of these gotchas is a topic all its own. We get it, there’s a lot to know! Specialty ceilings are challenging. The COVID situation amplifies the uncertainty. You don’t have time to deal with all the nonsense of specialty ceilings. 

We are committed to helping you successfully bid a project with a wood ceiling. We’ve won the performance battle so that we can offer you responsive answers, project flexibility, and real support.  

Take our on-time shipping performance.  It’s 96%. That doesn’t make us experts at helping you bid and win work, but it can help you sharpen your pencil.  

Here’s a term worth knowing if you’re an Estimator: OTIF. It means “On Time In Full”. Look at it this way: the chance of our competitors shipping late is 1 out of 4 (25%).  For years those were our chances too. Now at 96% On Time In Full, the chance that 9Wood will be late is 1 in 25.  And that’s to the day. If you give us a 2-day tolerance, our OTIF jumps to 1 in 50 shipments being late.  

We’ve gotten so good at OTIF manufacturing that our 3-6 week Fast>Track program is the industry’s only guaranteed on-time shipping offer—and it includes the ‘fuzzy’ approvals process. No fine print: you automatically get 5% cash back for each business day Fast>Track ships late, up to the full value of the shipment.  

We’re fast, but we’re not a fast food restaurant. You don’t get off-the-shelf products; each ceiling is specifically made for your project. This is award-winning manufacturing. Comparing all the ceiling manufacturers in North America (not just wood ceilings, but all ceilings), 9Wood has won the CISCA Best-Ceiling-of-the-Year award four times. These four “Oscars” from the ceiling industry have been awarded between 2006 and 2020 (CISCA calls this prize the Founders Award).  We’re the only ceiling manufacturer to win this honor more than once. This is not to boast: the real heroes of these projects were the skilled Installers and creative Designers.  But it reflects 9Wood’s track record of working successfully with construction teams on huge showcase projects as well as  small 200 SF vestibules. We’re specialists. Wood ceilings is all we do. We believe this expertise is another way you can lower your risk and sharpen your bid.  


965 Florida Ave - The Wren | Washington, DC
965 Florida Ave – The Wren | Washington, DC

Here’s a simple three-step plan you can use when bidding a wood ceiling: 


  1. Send us your project information
    • We’ll build you a complete, but clear, quote from drawings and specs. 
    • If one of the 7 Gotchas made you anxious, talk through the risks with our Estimating team. 

2.  Bid the job using our number 

  • Our prices may not always be the lowest, but lowest unit price often does not equal lowest total cost. You pay for what you get.  
  • What’s the cost of unreliability? We all have stories of OT and weekend work, even liquidated damages, because an install got delayed due to late material deliveries. Assume 1 in 4 shipments is late (the industry average). Then assume 1 in 4 of those late shipments causes real problems. If you use 9Wood pricing at 1 in 50 chance of being late, you automatically get a $2,500-$3,000 ‘insurance’ benefit per $100,000 purchased  (this does not mean 9Wood is never late; we just come with a much lower financial risk: 0.13% vs 3.1%.).  

 3.  Hand off your project (once won) to our dedicated Approvals Team 

  • We will assign a 2-person team to your project to ensure responsiveness. 

Here’s what 9Wood will agree to do for you:  


  • Send standard project pricing within 48 hours (2 business days).
    • Expedite quotes: If you tell us you need the quote same day or next day, we’ll do all we can to expedite them.  
    • Projects that require engineering design or use unusual wood species will take longer to price, but we commit to moving fast. 
  • We will be responsive.
    • We will look out for you and hidden gotchas. 
  • We will ship on the date we tell you.
    • We will guarantee your shipment date if you use the Fast>Track program. 


Here’s what we suggest you do:  


  1. If you are bidding a wood ceiling project right now, send us the project information. We’ll tackle the substitution request forms if we are not specified. 
  2. No immediate wood ceiling in your sights, but you are interested in this high margin work – go to our Learning Center to get more information about wood ceilings. Knowledge is power as they say.  

With 9Wood, here’s the three headaches you’ll avoid


  • Hidden gotchas  
  • Rushed bids 
  • Getting a black eye with your GC 

If you work with 9Wood you’ll gain:  


  • Higher chances of winning profitable jobs (who wants to win unprofitable jobs?!). 
  • Solutions teed-up for your PM (might be you!) and your Superintendent. 
  • A wood ceiling installed on-time, on-spec and within budget—and a happy GC. 
  • Growing confidence in your ability to bid high-margin wood ceiling work. 


Learn more about 9Wood