Making the jump from residential to commercial construction involves making some changes to your workflow – and that includes beginning to perform takeoffs from blueprints. A takeoff is simply scaling, measuring, and counting from plans to determine materials needed for your estimate.
While it’s extremely important to do accurate takeoffs, time spent on them wastes valuable resources, especially given that competition for jobs can be fierce. And getting it right can be difficult and time-consuming when working on a large project. That’s why on-screen takeoff software is essential for any serious commercial construction operation.
What Is an On-Screen Takeoff?
Traditionally, takeoffs were performed using a scale ruler on printed blueprints. With the advent of technology, on-screen takeoffs have slowly grown in popularity. Using software, estimators are able to scale digital blueprints, take measurements and counts, and convert those measurements to estimated materials needed for a job.
Advantages of On-Screen Takeoffs Over Manual Takeoffs
There are 4 key advantages on-screen takeoffs have over manual methods. Let’s examine each of them in turn.
1. Cost reduction.
Some on-screen takeoff providers offer a free version that’s useful if you don’t perform many takeoffs yet for your business. In this case, the cost savings is a no-brainer. But if you do multiple takeoffs each year, paying for a software license will still significantly reduce your costs.
Think about how much you spend on printing plans – oftentimes it can be upwards of $1000 or more for a single project that you aren’t even sure you’ll win or even if it will be a good fit for you to bid on. An on-screen takeoff software license can pay for itself after bidding on just a few jobs. See how switching to a digital method could save you.
Printed blueprints can be hundreds of pages, and even simply locating the pages that are relevant to your trade can take hours of your time. Then, you have to physically measure or count each section or item, which can take even more hours. For complex projects it’s not uncommon for this preconstruction work to take several workdays to complete. And that’s before you’ve even decided if it’s worth it to bid the job.
With the right on-screen takeoff tool, this time is drastically reduced. There’s no time spent waiting for specialty printshops to produce paper prints, and finding the pages you need is a matter of a digital search. Measurements are done with the click of a mouse, shaving hours and sometimes even days off this onerous process.
Performing takeoffs on paper comes with inherent risks such as misreading measurements, double counting, hitting the wrong calculator button, and other simple human mistakes that can cause big problems down the road. You might even miscalculate the scale and throw off all your measurements.
On-screen takeoff software is designed to alleviate the issues caused by human error by automating much of the process. The best tools will calibrate plan scales for you and ensure that your measurements are precise and correct.
4. Organization and efficiency.
Aside from the drawbacks of paper blueprints already mentioned, there’s a final obvious problem with printing plans: where to store them and how to keep track of them. Paper blueprints come in large rolls that take up a lot of physical space. Often you need to store them for weeks or months before learning if you won the job or until it’s time to start work. By that time, your office could be cluttered with dozens of other project plans.
A good on-screen takeoff software eliminates the need to store physical plans as well as the risk that plans and takeoffs will be lost or damaged between bidding and start of work.
Not All On-Screen Takeoff Tools Are Created Equal
While most on-screen takeoff software options will be at least somewhat of an improvement over paper takeoffs, when you’re making your decision, don’t sell yourself short. As with everything, some choices are much better than others. One extremely important consideration is whether the tool is desktop or cloud-based.
In the early days of computer software, desktop tools were the only option. Users installed the program onto a single device, a desktop computer, and only one person could use it at a given time. Companies could purchase multiple licenses, but each one was only operable on one machine, and any work completed on one computer did not transfer to other systems, resulting in a very siloed workflow for estimators.
With the advent of cloud technology, all of that changed – now the door was open for systems to communicate with each other and for collaboration at previously unimagined levels. Most software providers, however, did not adapt to this game-changing technology and remained desktop-based. Because the construction industry in general tends to be slow to change, most contractors also stuck with their outdated tools.
One outstanding tool did emerge at this time, though, built in the cloud from the start: STACK.
Exactly what is so special about the cloud? Imagine this: you have people on your team who sometimes work from home or from job sites, and they need to be working on the same project at once.
With desktop software this simple scenario is impossible. The estimators will have to complete their work one at a time and download the plans to send to the next person in line via email. This is extremely inefficient. With the cloud, however, no matter where your team is working, as long as they have a computer with internet access, they can measure plans simultaneously and see each other’s changes in real-time.
This becomes even more important if your business expands to have multiple branches, whether across town or across the country.
The cloud also offers the benefit of integration with other software – if you use tools like a CRM, project management software, or accounting software, a cloud-based preconstruction platform can connect and communicate with those tools, allowing your data to move seamlessly among them.
Choosing an On-Screen Takeoff Software
There are several options to choose from, so when you’re shopping for platforms you want to make sure you get the right one for your business. Here are several questions to ask providers while you’re in the evaluation stage.
1. Is the tool cloud-based or desktop-based?
A free version of the software is a great option because you’ll be able to evaluate it for as long as you want – not just the typical 7-day or 14-day trial period. STACK does offer this free software option.
- Is the tool cloud-based or desktop-based?
As discussed earlier, cloud-based on-screen takeoff software is accessible from any computer, tablet, or phone with internet access. In contrast, desktop-based software is only available on the computer on which it is installed. Cloud-based tools also require no installation and are updated by the software provider automatically as new features become available.
- Is the software PC and Mac compatible?
If you use Mac/Apple products, this question is crucial. There aren’t many Mac-compatible takeoff and estimating software platforms. Make sure you’re choosing a tool that you can use with your existing machines. STACK is Mac-compatible.
- Does your software purchase include training and support?
Some companies include free on-screen takeoff training and ongoing support, whereas others charge for training and a support plan. These extra costs can be significant, so be sure to factor those costs into your evaluation.
- What kind of support is offered?
If you run into an issue or have a question, how soon can you expect help? If you’re working on a bid that’s due soon, you don’t want to have to fill out a form and wait for days for a response. Make sure the software vendor is quick to answer email, phone, and chat support channels. Check to verify that they offer a variety of ways to get in touch with them.
- Is the software easy to use?
Most on-screen takeoff software comes with several additional features. The problem can be that the additional features sometimes worsen user experience. Look for the right mixture of features that you need with an easy-to-use, intuitive interface.
- Does the company work with contractors in your specific trade?
Do your due diligence and make sure that the software you’re considering is recommended by companies similar to yours. If you’re a roofer, for example, ask for recommendations from other roofers, not just from plumbers or drywallers.
How to Make the Switch From Manual Takeoffs to On-Screen Takeoffs
At STACK, we’re proud to offer an on-screen takeoff software that’s user-friendly, cloud-based, widely compatible with various devices, and includes a free software option. We also make sure to provide quick responses to support questions from users.
With our software, you’ll be producing accurate takeoffs within a fraction of the time spent on manual takeoffs and getting started is a breeze. You can use that increased capacity to grow your business! STACK’s on-screen takeoff software allows you to: