ESTIMATING BY STEPHEN CARR
Let me make this clear: an estimating
software package is a tool. Owning this
tool will not turn you into an estimator
any more than owning a multimeter
makes you an electrician. Taking a software vendor’s class will not teach you to
estimate. The classes are meant to teach
you how to use the tool.
Think about this. How many years
does it take to become an electrician?
Many electricians go through a five-year apprenticeship program. During
that time, they are taught about electricity, installations and how to use the
tools of the trade. If anyone tells them
that buying an estimating system will
make them estimators overnight, it’s
time for them to talk to someone a lot
What does estimating software actually do? In a way, it is like a multimeter
in that it has several functions, including five primary functions. The first is to
provide a predefined list (the database) of
electrical construction materials, including their associated prices and labor
units. The software will also provide a
way to maintain and modify the database.
The second function is to facilitate
getting components out of the database
and putting them into an estimate. The
takeoff interface, which enables data
input using your monitor, keyboard and
mouse, handles that function.
The third function is to perform
the math calculations, which happens
behind the curtain.
The fourth function is to assist in
preparing the recapitulation, or recap
for short. This is where many things get
added, including quotes, rentals, and
direct and indirect job expenses. It is
also where labor hours get converted to
labor dollars and where taxes, overhead
and profit are added.
The final primary function the estimating software provides is to prepare the
various estimating reports. In addition,
most estimating software packages will
have bells and whistles designed to make
the job of estimating easier and quicker.
An estimating software package cannot teach you the concepts and methods
of electrical estimating. It is only a tool
that simplifies and speeds up some estimating tasks. Sure, you could stumble
along trying to figure out how to prepare an estimate yourself. It could be
easy enough to find out how to select the
quantities of materials you need for your
project. As an electrician, you’ve been
doing that for years. However, doing
that puts you at risk of making substantial errors that could hurt your company,
or worse, put you out of business.
In college, I learned a saying that
spoke of the inner workings and hid-
den mechanisms of a watch. Estimating
is like that. Some things are simply not
obvious, many of them having to do with
labor. Labor is very subjective, thereby
making it difficult to predict how much
labor each project will require. There are
dozens of factors to consider when apply-
ing labor to an estimate.
Here is an example that applies to
many electricians trying to become
estimators. Many of you are just starting up companies and are most likely
estimating small projects. The labor
units in many labor guides and estimating programs are based on a building
that is at least 20,000 square feet, with
enough work to keep a crew busy full
time for several weeks. I have received
quite a few calls from contractors asking me why they are going over their
labor estimate on small projects. They
were simply not aware that the labor
estimates for small projects need to be
factored up significantly.
So, let’s wrap this up. Estimating
software is a tool. You are an electrician.
Electrician plus software does not equal
an estimator. To become an electrician,
you learned from someone else, such as
an employer or in an apprenticeship program. To become an estimator, you need
to learn from someone, which could be
an employer or a teacher. Finally, completing a class does not make you a senior
estimator. Only a great deal of experience
can do that.
If I Own a Multimeter,
Does That Make Me an Electrician?
What software can and cannot do
ONCE AGAIN, I was inspired to write after reading a post in a LinkedIn construction
group. The article, “If I Own a Drill, Does That Make Me a Dentist?” laments the
belief that simply buying a tool makes one a skilled craftsperson. I was reminded of
the many times I have received a call from a confused electrician who had recently
purchased an electrical estimating system and could not prepare an estimate. Every
one of them had been told that, if they bought the program and took the vendor’s
class, they would be an electrical estimator.
CA RR has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr
Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—
in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or
firstname.lastname@example.org. M I