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Considerations When Estimating Plumbing Jobs

by Chris Lee | March 14th, 2017

We've all had projects where some factor ended up costing us much more than we'd anticipated. Suddenly, instead of making a profit, you're actually losing money on the job. How do you avoid running into these situations when you're estimating a plumbing project? Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when you're looking at a plumbing job.

Considerations When Estimating Plumbing Systems

  • Will the project be a good fit for your business? If your crew isn't already experienced in this type of project, it may end up running over significantly in terms of time and waste as each new facet of the job takes longer and requires more material to complete successfully. If your crew isn't familiar with the project's requirements and can't complete it without causing damage to themselves, your equipment or the materials, it may be better to pass it by.
  • What are your existing overhead costs? Every business has a certain amount of overhead, no matter how much reduction is undertaken. Insurance for your vehicles and workers comp, the cost of back office staff such as a secretary or bookkeeper, rent or mortgage payment for your shop, training, taxes and similar expenses all tie into your overhead costs that you'll have to pay whether you have an active job or not.
  • Take a solid look ta the specification for the project, and take the time to write down any issues that may require further research. If there are new fixtures you haven't worked with, new technologies or unique installation issues, it's far better to know about them ahead of time and budget for any additional costs that may be involved. Is it a retrofit on a slab that will require extensive work under the slab to complete? Make sure you include those costs in your proposal.
  • Once you've located any specialty fixtures, take the time to research them. Are there automatic faucets that will require calibration? What about a graywater system for a LEED certified construction? What about a different slope for drain lines for very low-flow toilets? Is there an oddball water supply for an appliance that will require additional fittings to make it work? Make sure you can get the needed items and know price, labor and tools needed to install those specialty items.
  • If the plans have been sectioned, you'll want to ensure that you have all the details you need to bid everything on the job. As an example, if the sprinkler system is on one plan for safety and security systems or PEX radiant heating under environmental, you could miss them if you're only looking at the general plumbing plan dealing with toilets, sinks and drains. If you're not sure whether everything is on a sectioned plan, take a few minutes to look over the master plan to ensure you're not missing anything.
  • Once you know everything that's needed, you'll want to do your takeoff. Use a format that works best for that job and be careful to list every time you find on the plans. Once you're done, go back over them to ensure you haven't missed anything, or even better, have someone else give it a once-over for anything you may have missed.
  • Figure out what your labor costs will be, including whether you're paying union or non-union wages and costs. This is where your notes of specialty installation techniques from above will come into play. How long will it take to finish the installation? Are you working more than four floors above grade and need to add a labor escalation rate for travel time? Take these issues into account when working through the process.
  • Once you've finished calculating, make sure you go back over your figures for accuracy. Have all your suppliers gotten back to you with prices? Are there issues with your takeoffs or labor estimates? Take a mental trip through the plans to check whether anything has been missed. One benefit of some estimating software is an automatic comparison to industry averages.
  • If you're having to do anything with financials, such as carrying a foreman's cost, money for the project manager or a labor superintendent, make sure you're accounting for those costs in your proposal. Don't forget to add in some profit – not only does this help your business make money, but it helps prepare for harder times.
  • Put your paperwork together, including a letter covering everything included in the job. If common tasks are being separated out on your proposal, you need to list them properly so the client doesn't assume they were included. Take some time to look over the spelling and grammar as it shows your professionalism.
  • Once you've submitted your estimate, follow up on it. Attend public bidding sessions when possible to directly address any concerns brought up. This helps present you in a favorable light as the client will trust you to quickly address any issues they contact you with on the job site once it's underway.

Want an Easier, Accurate Way to Estimate Plumbing Projects

Estimating plumbing projects can be a lot of work. It costs you time you could be spending doing what you do best – working on plumbing. Plumbing estimating software packages can give you an easy way to get your estimating work completed in less time with better accuracy. But what should you look for in a good estimating package? How about the ability to pull materials pricing from an automatically updated database? Cross-platform compatibility makes it much easier to automate your workflow and reduce your office time. You can make a good profit on plumbing projects, but only when it's done accurately, efficiently and effectively. For a better way to complete your electrical estimates, why not try Esticom? It provides automated backend processes, cuts overhead and improves profitability. Learn how Esticom lets you do what you do best – working in the field and getting it done.
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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