Before breaking ground on any construction project, construction teams must ensure an adequate supply of materials and equipment are available on-site and ready to be put into action when needed. To bid on projects, contractors need an accurate estimate of all the necessary resources for the job, which is what a construction takeoff is for.
Our guide to construction takeoffs will cover the importance of takeoffs and how to perform a material takeoff accurately. We’ll also look at the manual method of takeoffs compared to the more efficient and accurate digital method using takeoff software.
A takeoff is simply a measurement of the quantities of materials required for construction or installation. Each contractor or homebuilder needs to perform a takeoff to gauge the quantity of each material they’ll need to install or supply to the project. For instance, plumbers need a materials takeoff of piping, fittings, valves and tanks, while electricians need to know the right number of light fixtures, fuse panels and electrically powered equipment for their scope of work.
For every construction project, engineers, architects and designers must create a set of plans that gives builders an idea of what’s required for the project. These drawings can be either highly detailed or a brief overview, depending on which stage of the design the project is in. Once the design has been completed, the plans then get sent to subcontractors for bidding. It’s during this stage that a takeoff of all relevant materials and equipment must be completed.
Takeoffs are crucial to construction management. If material numbers are wrong even slightly, it can drastically skew a contractor’s cost estimate for the project. If a cost is too high, contractors may lose the bid or the project could be scrapped entirely. If the cost is too low, they might win the bid but lose profit on the project.
Having accurate material costs is critical for the financial success of any project, so it’s necessary for estimating teams to be aware of common takeoff errors to avoid. Different types of takeoff errors result in problems of varying severity, which is why it’s vital for estimators to know how to do a material takeoff accurately.
Consider a project that requires thousands of steel studs. If the takeoff is missing a couple of studs, it won’t noticeably impact the estimated cost of the project. If the same project requires those studs to be 16-gauge, but the takeoff lists 20-gauge, this takeoff error could result in a massive cost reduction in the material costs and the equipment required to install the studs.
In many larger commercial and industrial projects, developers use cost estimates to assess whether a certain type of building construction, material or mechanical or electrical system is a viable option. Cost is most often the primary consideration for any developer, so all parties involved, from design engineers to material suppliers, must create a practical and accurate cost estimate.
In many cases, developers like to propose multiple different project solutions to their customers. These can range from variations in heating and cooling systems to wood or steel construction. Each of these options has unique tradeoffs in environmental friendliness, efficiency, product life cycle and other factors. Comparing the cost of each of these options can be very useful — especially before the design details are approved and construction begins.
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Takeoffs are also an effective communication tool between the various parties involved in the project. Most construction projects are made up of a team consisting of three major groups:
- Clients, such as the owners or developers
- Professional service providers, such as designers, architects and engineers
- General contractors who oversee the full scope of the project
- Subcontractors, such as roofers, electricians and concrete companies
The owners and developers put forth the investment but need the help of the designers to create the project plans. After approving the project plans, developers bring on general contractors who determine how much the project will cost, and who hire subcontractors to complete the work.
General contractors hold the primary takeoff responsibility on any project. Since they’re the ones hired to put together the final cost of the project, they must be able to trust that their subcontractors’ takeoffs accurately reflect the required materials and equipment. Sometimes, contractors enlist the help of equipment and material suppliers to perform construction takeoffs so they can be more confident in their estimates.
In some instances, developers may hire cost consultants to produce a separate cost estimate independent of local contractors. Cost consultants play a similar role as contractors by providing construction takeoff services and cost estimates, but they never perform any of the work associated with the project. Instead, they provide pricing to the owner or developer by counting equipment and materials and inputting their cost estimates into the project estimates. They also add a profit mark-up to cover what they estimate a contractor may add.
Hiring a cost consultant allows owners or developers to determine whether the project is within budget and whether the contractors are offering a fair price.
For many years, material and equipment takeoffs were performed manually using pencil and paper. Drawings were meticulously combed over and scale rulers were used to measure lengths and areas of common project material dimensions. Fast forward to the 21st century, and cloud-based takeoff software has revolutionized the construction industry.
Below is a comparison between the manual construction takeoff method and takeoff software.
Manual takeoffs consist of counting materials and equipment without the aid of a computer. Typically during a manual takeoff, a contractor prints out drawings, identifies which materials or equipment they need to count and visually scans each page of the drawing set, marking off every instance where that piece of material or equipment is included.
For most contractors, the drawing set includes various pieces of equipment or materials that need tracking while they count. They’ll use different colors and styles of pens and highlighters to differentiate materials and equipment. Once all materials and equipment are highlighted or circled on the drawing, each item is then counted and totaled in a construction takeoff list on a piece of paper or an Excel spreadsheet.
Because of the multiple steps involved, the manual takeoff method of paper and a calculator is prone to human error. Unlike with a computer program, there’s no way to automatically search for items, which makes it time-consuming to update lists. The more time-consuming a task is, the more opportunity it presents for error or missed items.
Even using an Excel spreadsheet can result in small formulaic errors or number inversions that dramatically amplify mistakes and skew the tally. If not caught early on, these errors can totally misrepresent the actual project costs.
Construction takeoff software has revolutionized the estimating world. Doing construction takeoffs by hand with paper and pen is no longer the most accurate or quickest way to count material or equipment on a project.
The digital takeoff method provides superior estimating accuracy for the following reasons:
- Better organization and communication
- Increased file storage accessibility
- Enhanced digital summaries
- Accurate digital measurements and calculations
One of the key ways that takeoff software is superior to manual methods is in the standardization of the process. With manual takeoffs that use a pen or a highlighter to count equipment on paper, different people follow different practices.
Some circle every material instance with a blue pen, while others draw a highlighter streak over each instance. While neither is better than the other, it can cause confusion if the drawing is filed away and retrieved months later by another estimator. It can be difficult for the estimator to quickly and easily make sense of what the markings mean. For this reason, a digital takeoff with commonly used symbols for similar equipment is better for clarity and repeatability.
The days of digging through an old filing cabinet are long gone. Storing digital files in a cloud-based system makes it easier for colleagues to access remotely and collaborate. Digital cloud-based storage allows multiple users to access the file and work on it at the same time — a feature that does not exist when using conventional paper to complete a takeoff.
With digital takeoff software, teams can produce neat, accurate and highly useful takeoff summaries automatically. By no longer relying on spreadsheet software to organize takeoff information, it saves a huge amount of time and effort.
Digital, cloud-based takeoff software also gives the ability to measure dimensions, including length and area, with great ease. Anyone familiar with a drawing scale knows how time-consuming and challenging it can be to accurately measure dimensions to scale. With digital takeoffs, measuring lengths is as easy as inputting the drawing scale and measuring. If the drawing scale is unknown, digital takeoff software offers the option of measuring a known measurement, such as an 80-inch doorway, which the software then uses to determine the drawing scale.
Depending on the industry or scope of work, contractors must ensure they accurately takeoff all items, compile them in a workable format, price up the project and present the estimate to the client.
The most important things to include in a construction takeoff are:
The very first step in creating a construction project estimate is identifying the scope of work. This includes what equipment and materials need to be provided for the project. If the takeoff is completed using a digital, cloud-based software system, ensure the drawing pages are accurately labeled so the location of the equipment in the takeoff can be easily tracked.
Next, make sure to use proper counting labels to identify different types of materials or equipment. For example, if counting 16- and 20-gauge steel studs, add two different identifiers to count each type accurately. Lastly, organize the counts in an easy-to-read format to ensure colleagues and clients can clearly identify counts quickly in the future. You could even use takeoff templates to make forms consistent.
After the material and equipment counts are accurately determined, cost and price can now be applied to each item. Generally, you add the item cost first for each item, which is the price paid for each material or piece of equipment.
If working with international suppliers, be aware of any exchange rates that may be applicable. Next, calculate the sale price, which is the cost of the materials and equipment to the owner or developer.
If the project is in an early or budgetary phase, follow the construction estimating best practice of including a larger profit margin than if the project were being priced for tender. It’s better to overestimate costs upfront than to underestimate them. As the project progresses to the bid stage, adjust the pricing in greater detail and with more accuracy.
While these factors are important for a job’s overall budget, these factors generally don’t appear in a construction takeoff list:
- Labor costs
- If labor is non-union or union
- Variations in local wages
- Any requirements for skilled labor
- Equipment rental costs
- Fees associated with equipment rental
- Storage fees
- Transportation or shipping fees
- Office overhead
The primary advantages of using cloud-based construction takeoff software include increased count accuracy, cleaner takeoff presentation and accessible cloud storage. Completing takeoffs digitally is also faster than the manual method of printing off drawings to calculate equipment and material counts. Once the drawing scale is input into the software, measure dimensions quickly and easily and store scales in the page or drawing set for future use.
Another huge advantage of takeoff software is the ability to save marked-up drawing files in the cloud. This provides a major convenience for colleagues or clients to access in the future and verify the material and equipment counts. If the design changes and new drawings are issued, it’s much easier to go back to the earlier drawing issue and compare how drawings have changed.
Construction takeoff software also gives the ability to overlay two drawings. This feature is immensely helpful in picking out the changes over the previous drawing set. With paper drawings, it can be time-consuming to go back and forth between two printouts to determine where or whether changes have been made to a design. With takeoff software, any changes stand out immediately.
A final benefit of switching to a takeoff program is the quick learning curve. Takeoff software, like STACK, is designed to be user-friendly and intuitive. Given its many advantages over paper drawings, you will wonder how you ever completed a construction takeoff without STACK takeoff software.
Accurate construction takeoffs are critical to project success and business profitability. With digital takeoff software, you can calculate highly accurate estimates, save time and effort and improve collaboration across teams. For industry-leading takeoff software that prevents takeoff errors and improves productivity, choose STACK to plan your construction takeoff.
Learn more about the STACK platform features, including our cloud-based document management system for calculating detailed material takeoffs and cost estimates. Sign up for a free STACK account today!