Why some consultants hate to talk about Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs up front.

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Jun 10, 2016

Time to Read 8 Minutes

The Upfront Cost of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment & Environmental Professionals

When it comes to Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs, there are a lot of numbers floating around out there. From environmental professionals who dance around numbers, taking way too many variables into consideration, to other firms charging one flat price no matter what, there's a lot of confusion about the true price or average cost of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.

The problem is, and one that most customers don't realize, there's a lot that goes into the cost of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). From reviewing old records online and in dusty government building basements, to conducting a site reconnaissance, and reviewing often times hundreds of pages of relevant information, there's a lot of work that goes into your report, which is why there can be big differences for the price of a Phase I ESA. Depending on your facility, it's history and the work involved, the costs of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments can, and routinely do, vary.

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Costs

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Costs Up-front

Let me give you an analogy with something I'm dealing with right now: getting the price for a hot tub.

I've finally made the conclusion that my 15-year-old hot tub is finished. I need to get a new one ASAP. So, since I live in the modern era, I started to do some research online and found a couple of local companies that sell hot tubs.

Since I don't know much about hot tubs, including the price, I set out to educate myself on them. What are they made of, what's a good brand, average prices, etc.

Turns out, that was a lot harder than I was guessing. Nearly every site I visited had little to no details on pricing. I found some sites that strictly covered the cost of the hot tub, but offered "discounts" and I needed to call and find out what they were. Some sites discussed additional fees for installation & setup, but never mentioned what they were. Other sites gave impossibly cheap prices. Other sites prices were through the roof. After talking to a couple of folks on the phone, I didn't get too much more help.

From our experience, a lot of our customers tell us they have a hard time finding Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prices in a reliable or accurate fashion. So why don't environmental professional discuss Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prices or costs up front? Why do they offer flat rates, or ask for so much information? Why are Phase I ESA costs so hard to pin down?

Why environmental professionals hate to discuss Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs.

In the last 25+ years, I've heard a wide variety of reasons why folks either don't like to discuss their Phase I ESA prices, or why they make it so confusing to the user. Here's the most common.

Phase I ESA prices are hard to pin down because the environmental professional doesn't know what they're doing.

I don't mean they aren't qualified, I mean they simply don't know what they're doing. Maybe they only conduct a Phase I ESA once or twice a year. Maybe they don't have any experience conducting Phase I ESA at facilities like yours or in your regional area. A lot of times we hear of insane proposals because the environmental professional is out of their league or inexperienced. They might meet every qualification to be an environmental professional, but they aren't necessarily the right environmental professional for your project.

Some environmental professionals like to play around with Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prices.

From our experience, a lot of Phase I ESA providers are like used car salesmen. They're quick to figure you out, smooth talkers, and they'll tell you what you want to hear.

Are you facing a deadline? Have you gotten any Phase I ESAs before? Are you familiar with the process? Do you appear or sound like you don't know what you're talking about? Then just like buying a new car, expect to get burned a bit. If you're uninformed, you could be looking at higher Phase I Environmental Site Assessments costs without even knowing it.

Some environmental professionals cut Phase I ESA costs by outsourcing the work to other companies or staff members.

A Phase I ESA needs to be conducted by an environmental professional, or under their direct supervision. This is something in the ASTM standards that I'm not thrilled with since their definition of overseeing a project is marginal. For example, an unpaid college intern could theoretically go out and conduct the site investigation, review the regulatory & historic records, and write the entire report. The environmental professional could skim through the report in 15 minutes and say they oversaw it and claim it's good to go.

Conversely, you could hire a company that outsources the entire job. Suppose you hire Company XYZ and pay for a $3,000 Phase I ESA. That company could hire another company to go out and do the entire thing for $1,500. Same as above, as long as the environmental professional in Company XYZ "oversaw" part of the process, they could sign off on it.

I see this a lot when people pay for a very cheap Phase I ESA. Additionally, we've been approached by larger organizations looking to cheaply outsource Phase I ESA work to other companies for a cheaper rate. I told them to take a hike.

A good environmental professional is going to either oversee every step of the project pretty closely, or even better, they'll be directly involved in every step of the process. Cheap Phase I ESAs can be a risky endeavor, to the point we explain why you should avoid a cheap Phase I Environmental Site Assessment in another article.

Environmental professionals are scared to talk Phase I Environmental Site Assessment prices.

Simply put, they're afraid of letting the competition know how much they charge, which is idiotic. I know what other people are charging for a Phase I ESA. If you're a competing consultant reading this, guess what, I have a pretty darn good guess what you'd charge, just like you probably have a pretty good idea what I'm going to charge someone.

Here's the thing. Providing the costs or price of a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment not only helps the environmental professional, it helps the prospective client. Let me explain:

If I said our Phase I ESA prices are $3,000 to $4,000 every time, it does two things for me and you. If you're looking for the bottom of the barrel $1,000 Phase I, you're not going to call me. That saves you time from having to call every company out there, and it saves me time from having to talk to folks who aren't going to value our quality & time that goes into our report, and pay our prices.

Additionally, a lot of colleagues call me crazy since I do talk about price. They say things like "guys are going to undercut you" or "you're not going to be able to talk people into your prices"!

If you're in the business of undercutting folks and doing things as cheap as possible, go right ahead. There's a clientele out there for that, and they weren't mine to begin with, so no love lost there.

Conversely, if my prices don't align with a prospective customer's expected price to pay, that's fine too. If you think we're too expensive, chances are we're not going to see eye to eye on more than one issue, and when we build business relationships, we like to deal with like-minded individuals & organizations.


Environmental professionals low-ball Phase I ESA prices to hit you with outrageous Phase II ESA costs.

Here's a scenario I've seen dozens of times. A client hires Company XYZ to conduct a Phase I ESA for the amazing price of $1,000! What a steal, right!? Wrong!

All too often, the company that provides a cheap Phase I ESA is going to give you a report back recommending further testing, regardless of whether or not it might be truly warranted. If your Phase I is going to a bank or a lending institution, they virtually always go with the advice of the environmental professional. For them, this is a piece of insurance, and it's not their money to spend.

So, you may have gotten a $1,000 Phase I ESA, only to find out that the Phase II work is now going to cost $25,000.

If they say you have to get Phase II work done, you're in a jam. The bank is going to make you do it, and you're going to be on the hook for $25,000. And no, you can't hire another company to come in for the Phase II work, and it's probably too late for a second opinion. That's not typically how the process works.

Virtually every time we've seen a scenario like this, the original Phase I provider was making up their cheap Phase I ESA costs by overcharging for Phase II ESA work. Phase I ESA costs vs Phase II ESA costs can be extreme, and we discuss how the two differ in that link.

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Costs & Prices Explained

In our opinion, a Phase I ESA provider, aka the environmental professional, worth their salt is going to be able to give you a price for a typical Phase I ESA, regardless of circumstances. Of course there's going to be variables that modify the cost of a Phase I ESA, but you should have a pretty good ballpark of costs before you even pick up the phone.

For instance, we routinely charge anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 for a Phase I ESA at most facilities.

Sometimes we charge more, sometimes we charge less. It's going to depend on your situation and other variables. If you're looking for expedited work, expect to pay more. If you're on the other side of the country, expect to pay more as well for my travel costs. If you're getting multiple facilities assessed, you can expect to get a discount. If your facility is huge, or extremely complex, or is known to be highly contaminated, expect a higher price. And, we only recommend getting Phase II work done if, and only if, our work leads us to conclude it's necessary. I don't like people wasting my money, and I provide you the same courtesy as well.

Realistically though, there's a lot to consider when it comes to Phase I Environmental Site Assessment costs, which we cover in our article How much does a Phase I ESA cost?

The point is, you should be already informed before you pick up the phone. If you were expecting to hire me for $1,000, sorry, I'm not your guy.

So what do you think you should pay for your facility? Have you talked to anyone yet? Are you educated to the point where you could make a call on whether or not you're spending your money wisely? If you're ready, click here for a Phase I ESA price quote or give us a call at 609-693-8301 to discuss your Phase I ESA needs.

Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Cost Quote


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