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Top 10 Cool Tools for Electrical Estimators

by Chris Lee | March 22nd, 2016
It's often said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression and this is a mantra that electrical estimators have to abide by in every single bid they send out. After all, a quote that is too high will likely have clients looking elsewhere to get their electrical needs fulfilled while bidding too low results in lower (or nonexistent) profit margins. The best way that electrical estimators can bid accurately is by having a sound understanding of the work needing completed, recognizing the regional rates that other companies are charging, and most importantly using cool tools to make sure the bid is done correctly. Estimating tools are used not only to measure the size and scope of the job, but also to help organize the data and streamline the communication with the customer. Here is an example of 10 of those cool tools.

Time Domain Reflectometer

The TDR is a life-saving product for estimating on fixes or renovations. What the piece of equipment basically does is measure the length of power, telephony, CATV, and LAN cables to determine the distance to an opening or a short. The TDR can locate faults in a metallic cable (twisted wires) and find other discontinuities in an electrical path.

Estimating Software

Software programs are an estimators best friend. They provide a user-friendly way to create detailed reports that can be updated with the click of a button as change requests come in during construction. Electrical-specific software programs help to calculate both time and materials. Items that can be marked include outlets, switches, fixtures, and many different kinds of wiring as well as labor costs. Rooms can be estimated individually and data can be stored by customer or by job. Billing and payment status are also inputted while the software package allows the quotes to quickly and conveniently be e-mailed to clients.

Professional Reference Manuals

While the bidding software is great for use back at the office (or via a laptop/tablet) sometimes in the field you'll have questions about a blueprint. It's always wise to carry an electrical estimators professional reference to make sure the bid is done right. An up to date code cost book is also wise to carry to make sure the bid is for work up to code with costs that are accurate.

Change Order Cost Data Book

While reference books aren't exactly “cool” tools, the convenience they offer will make the job go that much smoother which is cool for both the estimator and the client. One more example of a vital in-the-field reference is a change order cost data book. This manual contains over 20,000 unit cost entries for prices on both pre and post installation change orders. It also features cost saving tips and estimating recommendations so that when general contractors or clients have questions about making a change, you can give them an accurate pricing answer.

Estimating Calculator

Electrical code calculators help to save time, trouble, and money on an estimating job. These convenient calculators feature functions dedicated to electrical estimating and referencing including:
  • wire sizes
  • conduit sizing
  • integrated voltage drop
  • NEC table number displays
  • BTU to kilowatt hours conversion
  • parallel resistance
  • fuse and breaker size calculation
  • grounding conductor size calculation
  • many more
The calculator not only makes these conversions quickly, but also accurately and in line with the latest NEC code.

Electrical Box Locator Tool

Sometimes an estimator has to take apart drywall or outlets to determine the condition of the existing wire. An electrical box locating tool makes replacing the sheetrock that much easier. The product uses rare-earth magnets to locate the box and determine the exact cutouts for mistake-free results. The estimator may not use these products frequently, but they are convenient to have 'just in case.'

Electronic Distance Estimator

Electronic distance estimators are very useful for calculating the size of a job. This is a great product for renovation jobs that do not have any existing blueprints and is a quicker, more convenient way to measure a project area compared to a tape measure (can be used by a single person as well.) The distance estimator takes measurements in feet, inches, or meters and stores the information electronically. Info can easily be uplinked to a phone or tablet via bluetooth for input into estimating software.

Construction Tablet

The tablet is quickly replacing the cell phone as a job site must-have. Tablets are great for electrical estimators for storing your estimating software as well as communicating with clients, taking pictures, etc.

Digital Multi Scanner

Instead of your traditional 'stud finder', modern multi-function scanners feature the ability to detect for metal objects and live wiring with an illuminated LCD display (kind of like a fish finder). This helps electrical estimators determine what is behind a wall without actually ripping into it and they can update their quotes accordingly.

USB Plan Measure

A plan measure tool is basically a way to pull dimensions off a print. The estimator first dials in the scale, then wheels the tool along the blueprints to pull any measurement that may not be included. This works great for electrical estimators who may want to run wiring diagonally across a drop ceiling or at an undefined angle underneath a floor. The plan measure tool calculates the dimensions and the USB transfers the data easily to the bidding software. Obviously it's quicker and easier to perform a digital take off. Estimators know that their bid is just an approximate quote about the costs associated with completing the required work. That being said, these tools help fine-tune that initial estimate and make processing change orders and other alterations that much easier – while giving the client the best possible example of their costs.
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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