Construction projects are notoriously risky on the financial side. As they unfold in a linear process, with each subsequent task dependent on the previous one, they also have the potential to generate mistakes on top of mistakes. Even the smallest projects are often complex due to previous work, existing conditions, and unknown aspects that create surprises along the way. A construction estimate is a tool that helps you foresee all of those risks, while estimating software for construction helps you build the most accurate estimate possible.
Construction projects have always relied on estimates. Papyrus and the abacus gave way to pencils and slide rules which then succumbed to spreadsheets. Today software is the go-to tool for estimating. It’s not just useful for construction bidding—this software creates the framework for the project’s schedule. It also confirms or denies the owner’s budget.
What is estimating software for construction?
It is a computer program that organizes, calculates, and analyzes all the inputs needed for constructing something. Software for construction estimates also sets up the structure people use when estimating complex construction projects.
Create the estimating environment
Before starting a construction estimate, make sure you have the right space for it. Estimating construction projects requires a lot of focus, so you need a workplace with minimal distractions.
You also need your takeoff tool to accurately and quickly pull the dimensions from the building plans. It’s common today to use a software takeoff tool that works with plans in PDF format, CAD format, or BIM models. For simple projects, though, you might use just the plans, a calculator, and a spreadsheet. No matter how you do the takeoff, remember that your estimate will only be as accurate as the takeoff.
Get to know the project
You need to know as much about the project as the owner to do the best estimate. Study the contract and the building plans to understand the responsibilities of all the parties to the contract. Know the expected timeline and how payments get handled. Get a deep understanding of the project’s purpose, not just after it’s finished but also its lifetime so you can include alternate and new uses. Know the standards that will determine the expected quality. Visit the site to understand its history, current state, and utility aspects.
Record all the details as notes in your estimating software as they relate to the numbering system used for the project.
Follow the program’s structure
Software for construction estimates will create the template for estimating, so the very first rule in using it is to follow its structure, beginning with the project’s description.
When estimating construction projects, you select materials, labor, and equipment in the correct quantities to accomplish the build within the proposed budget. Construction contracts specify what’s to be built and supply guidelines regarding the materials to use. When you start the estimate, it is helpful to include not only the project name, location, and client information but also the purpose and scope as stated in the contract. When you do that, you create a constant reminder of the project’s goals, which will keep them top-of-mind as you compile the estimate.
Do the takeoff
While estimating construction projects, you need the dimensions and areas of the spaces involved. When using Procore’s software for contractors, you have access to takeoff tools. You can use tools that are part of estimating packages that connect to Procore, like ProEst. Or, you can use a stand-alone takeoff software like Togal.ai that also integrates with Procore.
Regardless of whether you use Procore or not, there are many tools available for doing takeoffs. It’s crucial to use one that works with the format that matches your project’s building plans. You will also need to import your takeoff quantities to your estimating software on anything but the simplest of projects. If your estimating program includes a takeoff tool, all your dimensions and areas will be automatically available for your estimate.
Many takeoff tools will use colors to link the dimensions to their place in the plans. If your takeoff tool doesn’t include this, then set up a system you can use to link them manually.
Follow best practices when using estimating software for construction
Consistency is one hallmark of the best estimators. The idea is to have practices that you consistently use throughout each estimate and across all estimates. Once these practices are ingrained in your work processes, they become second nature and save you time while reducing mistakes.
Use a numbering system to organize the estimate. Master Format numbers and titles provide a widely recognized system that is likely even used in your contracts. A system keeps all estimated items relatable to the portions that precede or succeed them.
The cost data you use must closely represent real-world realities. If your estimating software includes a labor cost database, you should adjust it to your local area. Then, to get even more precise, adjust it according to the productivity of your own crews. If you’ve been collecting work times according to job codes, then you have very realistic labor cost data.
When you already have subcontractor prices, do some spot checking to confirm the sub’s quote is accurate, that they understood the scope, and they assessed the risks realistically.
Document everything that isn’t immediately clear. You need memory ticklers to remind you why you posted numbers that deviate from the expected calculations or how you arrived at an extra-large task cost. Ensure the estimate is getting backed up as you go, preferably to more than one source.
Estimating software for construction turns a complex task into an orderly one. Learn the software because the better you understand its tools and logic, the better your estimates. Then establish your best practices and use them consistently.