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Types of Takeoffs and How They Work

by Chris Lee | May 12th, 2017

Whatever trade you're in, there's one area that is constant across them all: the takeoff. Often met with groans and sighs, it's a vital part of your business process that needs to happen to keep money coming in. But that doesn't mean you have to stick to just one particular way of getting the task done and getting on with life. Here's a look at a few different takeoff processes, how they work and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Types of Takeoff Processes and How They Work

Materials Takeoff

As one of the original ways of creating a takeoff, a materials takeoff typically involves marking up paper plans and recording the count of components in some fashion. Some contractors will use a worksheet to record the count, while others use an Excel spreadsheet or similar document to keep the count. In addition to counting the quantity of individual components, this process involves a second step of measuring distances for pipes, electrical wire, network cable and similar materials. Once these materials are measured and quantified, the cost for each component and material can then be priced and calculated out to determine the exact material cost of the project. Though paper plans can be more portable than a desktop computer, creating a takeoff this way requires you to mark up the plans, making them difficult to read. If there are any miscounts or measurements that are incorrect, it can cost you your profits for the project. Paper doesn't fare well in the field, either, making it difficult to work from on the job site should you have a few free minutes available to work on an upcoming bid. If you are bidding a larger project that requires multiple team members to complete the takeoff in a reasonable amount of time, you'll need to assign specific tasks and hope everyone understands their part of the job well enough to make it all come together in the end. It also lacks the convenience and portability of electronic documents.

On-Screen Takeoff

As electronic plans became more popular, some contractors began performing their takeoffs using a computer. This helped prevent some of the additional costs of printing multiple copies of a document. It allows you to work with a copy electronically while keeping a count on a worksheet or in a computer file, such as an Excel spreadsheet. You can then calculate the overall cost of materials in a fashion very similar to a paper materials takeoff. Unfortunately, though this system does have a few advantages, it almost has more disadvantages than a materials takeoff. If you need to work with multiple team members, you'll need to make sure everyone understands what part of the project they need to perform a takeoff on. Because you can't simply mark the count off of the paper plans, you'll need to work with another program, such as a graphics program, to mark up the plans as you count. At the same time, you'll need to navigate between multiple screens or windows to make and record your count. Once you've completed your count, you'll still need to check that your prices are up to date before pricing out the project. If another person needs to check your work for the takeoff, they'll need to also understand your system and the programs you use to mark up the blueprints during the process. Then you'll need to separately transfer your information into a proposal sheet, requiring you to enter your answers at least twice before it's even ready to go out the door. Many of the programs and systems used don't work well together, so you'll have several other areas where you'll need to re-enter your work for each program to track analytics, profitability, accounting and similar areas of concern.

Estimating Software Takeoff

Another option to consider is estimating software, but many people don't understand how this is different from on-screen takeoffs. Built as a package, it can include a number of options that makes your takeoffs much easier to perform, check and complete to keep moving forward with the process. You can open and mark up the plans digitally, keeping everything within a single system. You can split the tasks up between members of your work group, making it easier for each individual to understand what they need to know and ask questions about components they're not familiar with, with other team members able to answer at their convenience. The right software can also provide you with the tools you need to digitize your business' back office processes. It has a good database of common materials that is regularly updated by the software company, instead of requiring you to track down suppliers. It can still be easily read once it's been marked up, as the markup is simply another layer on top of the plans. It can export your numbers into a customized proposal template, making it easy to get the figures to your prospective clients. It can even export your numbers into your accounting software, making invoice generation simple. It tracks which jobs you're getting and which ones are profitable, helping you decide where to focus your business' effort. It provides you with better business solutions. Whichever takeoff option you use, make sure to have the work you do double checked to ensure accuracy. Many contractors are switching to using digital estimating software to provide better accuracy, easier access and workflow automation. If you choose to use estimating software, you'll want to look at programs that offer compatibility with other programs you use, such as Office, Quickbooks and Adobe Acrobat. Having this capability makes it much easier to automate your estimate process, giving you more time in the field and less time spent in the office. Esticom's free takeoff software trial lets you explore this capability without requiring a credit card. Why not see how easy it is to automate and spend more time on the job without all the extra office work?
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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