ConstructionPro Week, Volume: 4 - Issue: 12 - 03/27/2015

January 2015 Estimating Survey – Estimating Best Practices

Last month in ConstructionPro Week, we presented an overview of the results of our January 2015 Estimating Survey, including methods used to perform take-offs, sources of cost/pricing data, use of technology and overall satisfaction ratings.  The survey also asked readers to share three best practices for developing a solid estimate. Here’s what we learned:


Take-offs.  Creating a detailed and accurate take-off was the most frequently cited practice. Several readers suggested marking drawings as the take-off is developed. Two people explicitly stated take-offs should be manual (not automated), forcing the estimator to become more familiar with details of the project. Another person recommended cross-checking quantities across different plans.


Historical data and experience.  Both these terms were used often to describe a best practice. Our interpretations of these terms is that historical data from actual projects can help with developing production rates as well as field support costs on new projects. Experience is more subjective, but helps estimators know what to look for when performing a take-off as well as calculating production rates and having sources for prices.


Checklists.  A number of readers use checklists. This serves as a reminder of specific items to be looking for on the drawings. Other suggestions include using CSI or Uniformat to organize the estimate, thus serving as a checklist, or using the specification to create line items for the estimate. 


Scope.  The implication here is to fully study, understand and become familiar with the scope of work of a job rather than merely jumping in and performing a take-off. Suggestions include: thorough document review, creating your own “scope of work” document, communicate with A/E to understand intent, and be sure the scope is well defined.


Site visit.  This practice should be obvious, but apparently there are companies who perform estimates and submit bids without a site visit. Or the persons doing the site visit may not be the ones performing the take-off and detailed estimate.


Estimate review.  Suggestions for reviewing the estimate ranged from having daily or weekly review meetings, having estimate checked by both junior and senior estimators, having a cost consultant perform a preliminary or independent estimate, having an estimate review process, and performing a constructability review.


Pricing.  A number of readers pointed out the importance of having accurate pricing data. Price books are merely guidelines. There’s no substitute for contacting suppliers and getting current prices. Source of prices should be documented, along with expiration date of prices. Obtaining written quotes from suppliers and subcontractors is optimal.


Miscellaneous suggestions.  Here is a list of individual practices we thought useful:

•  When in doubt, create an allowance for line items for the client to choose from

•  Identify schedules and time lines; price by take-off and price by days of work

•  Adjust productivity for area conditions, access, labor availability, etc.

•  Time study each trade

•  Cost out: Manning, mobilization, manufacturing, distribution and location

•  Obtain three bids for all materials and subcontractors

•  Verify that spreadsheet is pulling forward all costs to the summary page


“Measure twice, cut once” is the mantra for craftsman out in the field. While it may not be practical to perform two take-offs, take-off accuracy is paramount for producing winning estimates. Risk review is essential for judging contingency and profit markups; having a good handle on project scope coupled with a site visit and your own experience helps with the risk assessment process. Let us know if you agree with the best practices above, and any practices or techniques you have found useful in your project estimating.



Add to the above list of best practices the following: "Take photos" on the site visit. Those photos can answer a number of questions where memory has failed..."invaluable" during the construction of the estimate.
Posted by: Rod McAllister - Friday, March 27, 2015 1:38 PM

In this order:

Read and take notes for your specific trade specs, then other trader's specs, then go through the architectural drawings for walls, ceilings, height requirements, etc. Begin your take off with the riser and one-line diagram, then site and the rest.
Posted by: Jibrael - Friday, March 27, 2015 11:16 PM


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