How much does a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment cost?

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Mar 11, 2014

Time to Read 13 Minutes





Learn the cost of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

We frequently get folks calling and emailing us asking every question under the sun about the Phase I ESA process. For most folks, they've never needed one, purchased one, or even heard of a Phase I before. Conversely, there's those that have gotten one in the past, but want to make sure they're not getting burned or ripped off on a new one. A question that invariably comes up at some point in the process is simply what's the cost of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments?

It makes sense, especially when you consider how much of a hassle it can be when buying (or refinancing) anything, especially commercial or industrial properties. We understand that in a world of fiscal restraints and shrinking budgets pricing can be a huge issue, meaning the cost of a Phase I ESA is a crucial thing to understand. Money is very important, and usually pretty tight around closing time for a property, so having an idea of the costs of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments can be critical in making sure you can close without any headaches, on time and within budget.

The biggest problem, in our opinion, and in the opinion of our clients, is that too many 'environmental professionals' like to dance around the cost of a Phase I ESA, and will only reveal the true cost or their average price of a Phase I ESA at the very end. From our clients who have dealt with companies like that in the past, they usually describe the experience as 'sticker shock', akin to dealing with a sleazy used car salesman. Don't worry, we can't stand that practice either, so let's clear the air and openly discuss what impacts the average cost or price of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

Average Prices & Costs of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

If you're looking for the quick answer, here it is.

Simply put, the average cost of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments are going to be anywhere between $1,500 on the low side and $6,000 or more on the high side. Any cheaper and you start to sacrifice quality. More expensive and you're likely looking at a Phase I at a pretty large, complex facility. Expect that a Phase I ESA will cost $2,000 to $4,000 on average for residential, vacant, commercial, and smaller industrial facilities.

Of course, the price you'll pay for a Phase I is going to depend on the variables and specifics of your project, but as a general rule of thumb, you can expect to pay those numbers for a Phase I prepared by a competent & qualified environmental professional. Anything cheaper and you're probably going to get a piece of junk, or stuck with the need for further work in the form of a Phase II (we also discuss this below). Any more expensive and you're probably overpaying.

 

 

What impacts Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs?

So as you just discovered, there's usually a huge range in Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs. A lot of people tend to get discouraged when they hear that, but like any other service, there are a lot of factors that go into it.

For instance, imagine if you called up a mechanic and said I need to bring my car in to get fixed, how much? Or if you called a pool guy and said I want a new pool, how much? Most likely, these businesses are going to say it depends, let's figure out what you need before I give you a price that may be too low or way too high. Quoting the cost of a Phase I ESA is very similar, and before someone gives you a price, there are factors to take into consideration. Regardless of who you end up choosing to conduct a Phase I, these, in our opinion, are the main factors that impact the costs of a Phase I ESA.

Location impacts Phase I Environmental Site Assessment pricing.

When it comes to figuring out Phase I ESA costs, the location of the property is going to impact the price in the end.

The price of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments depends on your property.

There's a few reasons for this, and in order to understand why, you need to understand what a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is. There's one thing you should know, which is the "investigation" part of the report involves reviewing historical records, documents, and reviewing information at governmental offices if necessary.

Yes, there are services that we, and virtually every other Phase I ESA provider uses to help streamline this process, but there still is a lot of information to sift through, and this time does impact Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs. So consider this, if you're hiring us to work on a piece of property in the middle of nowhere, there might not be that much for us to sift through because there won't be too much historical information to sift through (if there's no development, there's no paperwork) and chances are the adjacent and nearby properties are going to be similar as well (again, little to no development means little to no paperwork, usually). All this means less time will be involved in the process. Since time = money, less time = less money.

Now conversely, if you were to hire us to conduct a Phase I on a piece of property in the middle of a highly industrial area of New York City, we're going to have heaps of information to dig through. In fact, we routinely work in the New York City area and often times get historic information regarding properties and land use going back into the late 1880's. That's over 130 years of paperwork to go through, usually spread across hundreds of pages! Then factor in going to town hall, county offices, and getting information via FOIA requests, we could be dealing with thousands of pages of information. As you can imagine, that takes a lot of time and can drive up the cost of a Phase I ESA.

Travel costs effect Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prices.

This is pretty simple, and I just spoke to someone outside Salt Lake City on the phone and drove home this point.

If the environmental professional you hire has to travel a great distance, expect a higher price for a Phase I ESA. For example, as I was discussing with the person on the phone from Utah, in order for us to complete the one Phase I report, since we're located in New Jersey, we would have to fly and rent a car just to get to the property. Conversely if they hired someone from Salt Lake City or another nearby city, that person wouldn't have those additional travel costs to prepare the Phase I report.

Simply put, the distance between your provider & the property can impact travel costs, and travel costs can increase the price of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

The amount of properties impacts the cost of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

This is a no brainer, but not in the way you think. Obviously the more properties you are getting a Phase I for, the higher your overall project costs are going to be. But, like most other things in life, there's usually a discount when you buy more than one. For example, let's say that person from Salt Lake City I just talked about need to get 6 Phase I reports. Well, when you factor in the travel costs and apply them equally to all six properties, you're Phase I ESA costs are going to be lower. Of course if you use a local provider then those costs will be even less, but the point is when you get multiple reports, you can spread additional costs across multiple sites, creating a lower per facility cost.

And, depending on what the locations are like, and who you're using for your reports, some environmental professionals will drop the price somewhat for jobs that include multiple properties. Meaning, one Phase I ESA report might cost $3,000, two might cost $5,500, three might cost $8,000, etc. etc. This might not be the case, especially for jobs with properties that are geographically separated, or complex properties, but it's certainly something to consider when you're investigating Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prices.

Non-scope items increase the cost of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments.

From our experience, this usually isn't a huge issue, but certain clients add on non-scope items for various types of properties, and that can impact the cost of a Phase I ESA.

If you're unsure what I mean by non-scope items let me explain briefly. What has to be included in a Phase I ESA is dictated by ASTM standards. These standards say you have to do X, Y, and Z, and meet these specific qualifications in order to conduct a Phase I. Those X, Y, and Z items are what must be included for the report to be considered a proper Phase I. Those are scope items. Anything not specifically needed, as per the ASTM standards, is a non-scope item.

For instance, many of our clients who use us to prepare Phase I reports at industrial facilities will sometimes have us conduct an environmental audit at the same time since we're already on-site and poking around everything. An audit is a non-scope item in this case, and will raise the price of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment. Some of our clients who typically purchase commercial or residential units will inquire about additional services, such as wetlands delineation reports, mold testing, lead-paint testing, etc. These are non-scope items and will raise the cost of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment as well.

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs depend on the physical features of the property.

This is sort of along the same lines as where you're located. The price of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment should reflect the anticipated amount of effort of the project. That means if you have a very complex industrial property spread over 100 acres with 15 different buildings or structures, you can expect to pay a higher price for a Phase I ESA. If you're getting a Phase I on a half-acre parcel of vacant land you're looking at a pretty cheap Phase I.

But, this is only a generality because sometimes smaller properties have more issues or complexity than larger ones. This relates back to what I mentioned above about where your property is located, and it's history, impacting the records needing to be reviewed. If your half-acre parcel of vacant land is located in the middle of an industrial area in Brooklyn, it's going to be pricey. While Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prices can be based on property size, there's often more to consider.

The environmental experts impact the price of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

We see this a lot, and in my opinion it's a huge issue for people who are solely shopping a Phase I on price alone.

When you get a Phase I completed on your property, it needs to be completed by an environmental professional. This "environmental professional" needs to meet strict qualifications which are laid out in those same ASTM standards that dictate what needs to be included in a Phase I.

But here's where unscrupulous Phase I providers cut corners. What we hear a lot is someone who's providing a low-cost Phase I ESA will get someone else to more or less complete the entire thing on their own. As long as the "environmental professional" oversees the process, it meets the rules laid out in the ASTM standards.

So, you could have a college intern who got a 15 minute pep talk about what to look for conducting your site investigation. You could have another person write your report who never stepped foot on your site. And, as long as the "environmental professional" oversees everything (and there's not really any strict definition what overseeing actually means) your report is completed as per ASTM standards.

See the problem there? There's not a lot of accountability, and by passing the buck, yes you'll get a low-priced Phase I ESA but you might end up with a report that's not worth the paper it's printed on.

When we conduct a Phase I ESA our environmental professionals are directly involved in every step of the process. They're in the field participating in site investigation, they're digging through documents & reviewing regulatory records, and they're writing the actual reports themselves.

Simply put, if your Phase I is completed by inexperienced professionals, or even interns or non-professionals, it's going to be cheap. If you have a knowledgeable, experienced environmental professional conduct the Phase I, it's going to be more expensive. But, you get what you pay for.

A cheap Phase I ESA price is often the precursor for a very costly Phase II ESA.

This is another classic tactic unscrupulous professionals employ. A lot of environmental professionals will quote you a very low Phase I ESA price. In fact, we've heard of people quote Phase I ESA prices under $1,500. That's a steal, right!? No.

What we commonly see if the findings of these cheap Phase I reports will almost always recommend getting a Phase II ESA since there might be contamination on the site, regardless of whether you truly need one or not. The problem is, we see these recommendations even if there's barely any evidence of RECs at a property. If you're unsure what RECs or a Phase II are check these links out:

You might think so what, we'll ignore it and move on. You could, unless you using a financing institution to purchase the property. If a bank or lending institution sees the recommendations to get a Phase II, even if you don't need it, they're going to demand you get a Phase II, or you won't get financing.

The problem is, Phase II costs can vary wildly. We've seen costs between $5,000 to well over $100,000. It all depends on your property and what may or may not be present and being investigated. So if you get a $1,000 Phase I and you need to spend another $20,000 on soil & water sampling, because your environmental professional recommends it (and just so happens to also own a testing company), you're on the hook for $21,000 because you assumed you were getting a good deal.

We discuss this a little more in-depth in these two articles which should be of help:

How quickly you need a Phase I completed impacts the cost of a Phase I ESA.

This is really a no brainer, but if you need a Phase I done quickly, expect to pay a higher price. A lot of customers turn to us at the 11th hour and need a Phase I done ASAP, which sometimes is doable, sometimes isn't. While getting something done as a rush job at the last minute might be possible, expect to pay an "expedited" fee to get that project in question completed. Just like many other professionals, if we need to push other work off, revise schedules, arrange for last minute travel, work overtime, or drop everything to work on your project, we may elect to charge an expedited fee which will raise the cost of a Phase I ESA.

Generally, we break down turnaround times into 10-business day, 20-business day, and 30-business day projects. The 30-business day turnaround time is our normal turnaround time, where-as the 10 and 20-business day project terms are our "expedited" project turnaround times and normally would have an associated "expedited fee" to accompany them. When we figure out the price of a Phase I, we look at the other factors discussed above to calculate the expedited project fee. Sometimes it could be $0, while other times it could be a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars, all depending on the project and the variables listed above.

Costs of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments

 

The average prices & costs of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments.

Here at RMA, the cost of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment is pretty similar to that number above. The cheapest Phase I site assessment we've ever completed cost our client around $1,800. The most expensive one we've ever done cost our client around $8,500. Everything else here at RMA generally falls within that range, with our average Phase I ESA price hovering right around $2,800.

As I said above, the factors to take into consideration absolutely should, and in our business, do change the price of a Phase I ESA. I would be very weary of anyone who offers a Phase I for a flat price, regardless of the particulars of your job. I’d be very wary of going with the low bidder, but I usually don't select the low bidder in most areas of my professional or home life, so that choice really falls upon what you perceive as the value of the product you're receiving. And, anyone who's more expensive should have a good reason why. More expensive doesn't necessarily mean better.

No matter who you choose, be prepared because if conditions warrant you may need a Phase II ESA investigation depending on what is found during the Phase I ESA. That means additional costs you normally can't shy away from.

You’ve got a lot riding on this report, and I highly suggest you don’t shop this one solely on price alone, but rather on what your real goals and objectives are, and the expected quality and professionalism of the environmental consultant you end up using.

As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. So I hate to wrap this up and say it depends, but a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment price really does depend on several things.

Additional Phase I ESA Information

That's a lot to take in, right? If you're overwhelmed, you're not alone. RMA has been actively involved in helping companies get and stay in compliance since our founding in 1992. Long story short, we know the ins and outs of the environmental problems industrial and commercial facilities face and can help you get into compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations, ensuring your business stays out of trouble and in compliance.

Our staff members have been on-site at thousands of commercial and industrial operations across the country, so when we say we've seen it all and done it all, we mean it. We've helped everyone, from globe-spanning, multi-national organizations to small "mom & pop" operations. No matter your size, industry, or location, we'd love to learn how we can help.

So, if you're having any type of issue at your operation and need the help of an environmental consulting firm with a proven track record, reach out. Even if we can't help, we'' do our best to steer you in the right direction.

Feel free to contact us at info@rmagreen.com, click here to contact us, or give us a call anytime at 888-RMA-0230 to learn how we can help your operation deal with environmental regulations.

 

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