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7 Steps to Complete a Fire Suppression System Estimate

by Chris Lee | July 19th, 2018

With the increase in building automation, fire suppression systems are becoming more and more automated every day. However, the estimating process can be a time consuming process that increases your overhead and keeps you out of the field. Shouldn't your estimate process be just as easy? Depending on the project's specs, you could create a different estimate for the same project several different way and get a different answer each time. Fortunately, there's an easier way to get through the process. Here's how to get the job done without wasting a lot of time.

7 Steps to Complete a Fire Suppression System Estimate

1. Consider the Project

The first thing to consider is the project itself. Beyond the materials themselves, is the project a good match for your experience? You'll have a hard time taking your small residential crew into a large commercial or industrial project if you don't have the experience to back up the project's demands. Take the time to look at how the materials must be installed. Are there aspects that will make it difficult to install? Will you need to fit your work between other contractors, potentially tying up your crew and keeping them from other projects? Will the structure make installation difficult?

2. Check the Specs

The next thing to check is whether the specs are complete. Are you missing any pages to the plans or any addendums that have come out since the initial plans were released? Are there any problems with the plans, such as firestopping material needing to be added or amended during the installation? What about pre-existing structural issues? Especially on retrofits, it's important to make sure that the installation of the new fire suppression system doesn't leave the building out of compliance for codes. If the materials included in the project won't work because of structural issues or you know a product that may provide better performance, don't be afraid to talk to the engineer or architect to see if they'll accept the substitution. Take the time to carefully go over everything in the specs to make sure that everything that's needed is covered.

3. Begin Takeoffs

Now it's time to start on the takeoff process. You'll need to look at how much of each material you'll need and keep track of it through the process. This process used to be handled using paper plans, a paper worksheet and colored pencils or markers to modify the plans as the count goes forward. Many contractors still undertake this process using a spreadsheet and digital plans, but the frequent switching between screens and unprotected formulas are errors just waiting to happen.

Digital estimating software makes this process easier, as good software will keep the plans and the list on the same page. They also offer the opportunity to digitally mark up the plans without obscuring the underlying document, and good packages will include the ability to assign tasks to different team members, collaborate over particular issues without having to call everyone into the office and lets you add field notes to the plans themselves, making it easy to pass that information on to crews on the job site. You can also create your own custom assemblies, so you know that a particular items, such as a sprinkler head, will require a particular length of pipe and a tee to connect it to the rest of the system. Instead of entering each component, you can simply add the assembly with all the necessary components already included.

4. Think About Labor Issues

One area to consider is labor costs. Because fire suppression equipment is typically installed up high, make sure that you account for time spent on getting up and down from the ceiling, the cost of a scissors lift or similar expense. Is it a retrofit that will require drilling through structural steel? Consider all the aspects your crew will have to work through when estimating your labor costs.

5. Check Your Work

After you've gone over the paperwork time and again, it all begins to blur together, and that's when it's time to take a break. Step away for a few minutes, then come back and carefully check for mistakes or have someone else double-check your figures. Good estimating software includes the option of checking your work against similar projects around the country, giving you a basic check for your figures.

6. Assemble the Paperwork

Next, you'll want to put your paperwork together. For homeowners, this could be as simple as an estimate form, while larger commercial or industrial forms may include insurance waivers, bonds, extensive documentation or similar information. See if there's a checklist for the project, especially if they want the paperwork put together in a particular way before submitting it. Many companies will accept emailed estimates, allowing you to simply create the estimate document from your estimating software and send it into cyberspace.

7. Don't Forget to Follow Up

Of course, it's also important to follow up on the estimate. If it's close to another contractor's bid, you may not know unless you make a call or send an email. But that doesn't mean you need to take up all your time with it. Modern estimating software often includes analytics and communications modules that allow you to automate your estimate follow-up process, automatically sending emails to your prospects while you're otherwise occupied.

These easy steps make it simple to complete your fire suppression system estimate. But how much time will you have available from your estimating tasks to spend on the project? It's well documented that job site time raises profits, while office time raises overhead costs. Esticom's estimation solutions give you the tools you need to get your estimates done quickly and effectively. It gives you an automatically-updated price database, reduces your overall back-office work and streamlines your process by tying into other software packages. Why not sign up for a free trial to see what Esticom can do?

Chris Lee
Chris Lee has an extensive background in preconstruction management as a former specialty contractor and business owner. As the Chief Estimator at Esticom, he’s helped thousands of specialty contractors digitize their preconstruction process to increase revenue and profitability while decreasing unnecessary overhead.

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