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How to Estimate Structured Cabling Jobs

by Chris Lee | November 16th, 2016
When you work with structured cabling, estimating can be difficult at times. Depending on the client's specifications and vision of the project, you could potentially estimate the same type of job virtually a different way each time and not duplicate yourself. How do you keep on top of estimating structured cabling jobs? Here's a quick look at how to get the job done without wasting time.

How to Estimate Structured Cabling Jobs

To start out with, you'll need to take a good, hard look at the plans and specifications for the project. Make sure that you understand not only what the minimum required specifications are for the materials, but also consider how the materials will be installed. Is there anything in the project's structure that could make it difficult to run cable? Will you need to go in between particular tasks, locking you into a particular schedule to get the project done? What level of cable will be needed for the backbone need to be to convey the data effectively without significant lag time? Is the cable appropriate to the flexibility required of the facility being estimated? Many organizations will get stuck on a particular type of cable because of the current requirements for the facility without realizing another type of cable may provide better flexibility for future needs. Don't forget to check if the specs are complete. Does it have cabling for the nerve center of the structure? Do workstation and patch cords need to be added? Will firestopping material need to be added or amended because of the installation, especially in a retrofit? Do they have an unspoken assumption that the estimate includes labor-only tasks such as providing workstation setup, installing computer room or communications equipment, or move-in support for the project? Even though a complete system is expected, with checks, insurance, taxes and similar concerns, these type of items are often left off of the specs entirely. Next, you'll need to work on take offs for the project. How many feet of cable will you need to run? What kind of plates will be required for each workstation? Though some contractors still take care of this using colored pencils and a take off form, the prevalence of digital building plans mean that many contractors are starting to use digital estimating solutions to do take offs, often providing an automatic tally of every part and supply that will be needed for the project. Some digital estimating software that provides you with the capability to create your own custom assemblies, such as a particular type of workstation. This capability provides you with a great way to speed up the estimate process, as you'll only need to build one assembly and then copy it into the remaining locations in your take off. In some cases, you can even build an individual sub-set for expansion, such as a floor of a building that needs to remain flexible for a variety of needs. But what about labor costs? In addition to base labor, have you accounted for having to pull cable through a high ceiling, which will take longer and therefore cost more? What about when  you pull multiple cables at a time, reducing your overall labor costs? Will the wiring need to be done after business hours, requiring you to pay a shift differential or overtime to complete the project? Remember to take the time to figure out what kind of time will be involved in the project based on the architectural details of the project. Though most contractors working with structured cabling use some type of computerized estimating system, there are different capabilities available depending on the program being used. Some contractors are still using Excel spreadsheets to develop estimates, but that can leave you open to profit losses if the figures in your spreadsheet aren't exactly right. They also take significant amounts of time to maintain to try to minimize this issue. For estimating structured cable jobs, you'll want a software solution that makes things easier, not more difficult, while still delivering professional results and capability for customization. Though this seems like a hard task to manage, it isn't. In previous years, you would need to spend significant time learning estimating software to be able to use it effectively, because the focus was on the features that the software provided. Modern alternatives focus instead on the user and how they will be putting the tools in the software to use, which helps create a more user-friendly interface. Many programs now allow you to adjust settings to restrict the software to only what you need it to do instead of having to wade through menu after menu of options that don't apply to your particular situation. What about the paper or electronic estimate itself? Many companies have tried to make due with QuickBooks and Excel for the entire estimating process, but that doesn't allow for customization and tends to produce a very generic estimate that takes significant amounts of time to put together for each and every job. Good structured cable estimating software provides the ability to fully customize your estimate forms and have the capability to export your bid information into a Word, Excel or PDF document for a professional appearance and ease of use for your prospective client. By following these simple steps, you'll be able to easily estimate your structured cabling jobs. But how much time will you spend on the project? Construction estimating software can provide you with some great benefits, but only if it has the features you need to get the job done properly. Esticom's electrical estimation solutions providing you with the tools you need to streamline your structured cabling jobs, including capability for working with structured cable within the software, an automatically-updated database of prices, reduction of back-office work and capability to tie into other software packages. Take a couple minutes to sign up for a free trial to see what Esticom can do for your business.
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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