ESTIMATING BY STEPHEN CARR
The old days
When I was a junior estimator, the company I worked at was still estimating by
hand. After the counts were finished, I
had to manually explode them into their
component parts, list them on a pricing
sheet, add prices and labor, and do all
of the math required to come up with
material-dollar and labor-hour totals.
Then, those totals had to be transferred
to a recapitulation sheet where the labor-hours were converted to dollars, and
quotes, rentals, subcontractors and direct
job expenses were added. Finally, mark-ups for miscellaneous materials, sales
tax, overhead and profit were added.
What a rush! There were usually four
people in the office on bid day, pricing
labor, extending and double-checking
each other’s math, which usually had
to be done more than once, as new pricing, quotes and the boss’ changes came
in. We always finished just in time to
get our proposals out, leaving very little
time to really study the estimate. We
sometimes ended up erasing all the way
through the paper because of the many
changes made to the estimate. There
were times I thought about buying stock
in Paper Mate, which manufactures Pink
The new days
All of the electrical estimating systems
available today have features an estimator can use to fine-tune an estimate. A
lot of time is saved after the takeoff is
completed, because the estimating system does all of the parts listing, pricing,
laboring and extensions. Some systems
perform these functions instantly, while
others take a few moments to generate
a report. If estimators do not squander
this time savings by procrastinating,
they should have plenty of time to really
study and fine-tune their estimate.
Since I am most familiar with ConEst
IntelliBid, I use its capabilities in the
The best place to do much of the fine-tuning is in a summary report, where
the takeoff is distilled down to one line
item for each type and size of material.
IntelliBid’s on-screen summary report is
interactive, allowing changes to be made
to the estimate while the report is displayed. The first task is to study the line
items in the report, looking for takeoff
and data-entry mistakes.
Here’s an example of an incorrect
item: If the specifications required steel,
compression, insulated-throat EMT
fittings, why did I find some die-cast fittings in the report? The report tells me
where these items are in the estimate, so
I can fix them quickly.
Another thing to look for is missing
items. Say the report contains fusible disconnects but no fuses. It’s time to go back
into the takeoff and add the fuses.
The next thing I look for is items
with no pricing. IntelliBid can create
a separate, zero-price report, but I like
using the summary report. In the sum-
mary report, I can click on any column
header to sort by that column. The first
click results in an ascending sort, while a
second click gets you a descending sort.
The ascending sort is where I look for
material with no pricing.
Next, I will do a descending sort
on the material total column, where I
look for large dollar amounts. Often,
the material associated with large dollar amounts can be sent out for better
quotes. This is also another way to look
for data entry errors. For example, why
do I have $50,000 of 500 MCM THHN
in the report when I didn’t take off any?
Once again, the system guides you back
to where the takeoff was made, so the
error can be corrected.
Next, analyze the labor in a similar
way. First, sort the labor column to look
for zeros, and then sort the labor total
column to look for big numbers. Analyze
the large labor numbers for opportunities to reduce labor hours. For instance,
maybe I forgot to factor some conduit
labor for parallel runs. Again, the program will guide me back to a takeoff that
These are just a few examples of how
you can fine-tune your estimates. Take
some of the time your estimating system
saved you to carefully study your estimate. It’s time well spent.
Getting It Juuuust Right
YOU JUST SPENT A LOT OF TIME taking off a set of drawings and more time
entering the takeoff into your estimating system. Now you can relax, wait for the
quotes to come in, send your final price to the general contractors and win the job.
Right? I don’t think so. Bidding is more competitive now than it has ever been in
my career. It’s the time to fine-tune your estimates.
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. I S T