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What is a Construction Takeoff?

by Chris Lee | September 1st, 2016

What is a Construction Takeoff?

In the construction industry there are many terms thrown around depending on your specific trade, but one that is common to estimators from all trades is the construction takeoff also known as the quantity takeoff or material takeoff, which is the first step in the construction cost estimating process. Depending on the complexity of the project a construction takeoff can be as simple as measuring the square footage of an area to determine flooring and/or carpet requirements or in more advanced cases counting all the light fixtures, receptacles and measuring out conduit and wire to estimate a fully functional electrical system. In these examples, to perform a construction takeoff the first step in building an accurate estimate you’ll need a full set of construction drawings printed to scale along with a few few highlighters, measuring tools i.e. digital scale master and a way to capture and save the quantities as you perform the quantity takeoff and eventually move over to your estimating solution. Or  takeoff software if working with digital plans in PDF format.  A construction takeoff by definition is the process of quantifying the material quantity required for a construction project by counting and measuring items from a set of drawings that construction businesses receive from general contractors and owners. The items being counted and measured are represented with various symbols that are usually trade specific and depicted on the plans you receive from a general contractor. You’ll use these quantities to build a list of materials required to complete your scope of work and ultimately determine your labor cost and material cost to install each item. The construction takeoff is the starting point to creating and accurate estimate during the construction cost estimating process.  The construction takeoff process itself is simple and involves highlighting an item one by one with a highlighter, while simultaneously clicking a hand counter to track the quantity in the case of counted “each” items, or by measuring an item with a digital scale master to get the “linear footage” or “square footage”. The idea behind highlighting the item or “takeoff” is that you’re marking that item as counted and taking it off the plan to ensure you do not miss an item which would lower your overall costs or accidentally count the same item twice which would increase your costs and possibly cost you the bid. 

Tools Required to Perform a Construction Takeoff 

  • Manual Construction Takeoff with Printed Plans
    • Construction Project Drawings Printed to Scale
    • Highlighters and/or Color Pencils
    • Hand Tallying Tool (click counter)
    • Digital Scale Master or Engineering Rulers
    • Quantity Takeoff Form 
  • Construction Takeoff with Digital Plans
    • Drawings in PDF Format or Image Format
    • Computer, Laptop, or Tablet
    • Excel or Integrated Estimating Module

How to Perform a Construction Takeoff

To begin the process you’ll need to know the unit of measurement the materials are sold and installed in and this can require some additional calculations, so for example light fixtures are counted as “each” while conduit and wire are measured in “linear feet” and flooring is measured in “square feet”. These are just a few examples, but we’ve outlined some of the most common units of measurements below along with common materials.

What are Common Units of Measure for Construction Takeoff?

  • Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing and Low Voltage Trades
    • Each - light fixtures, receptacles, data outlets, bathroom fixtures, air handlers
    • Linear Feet - conduit, wire, cable tray, duct work, copper pipe
  • General Construction, Finishing Contractors, Roofing, Concrete, Flooring, Painting
    • Square Feet - flooring, siding, drywall, ceiling tiles, paint (area footage), carpet (square yards), roofing (converted to squares 100 sqft)
    • Cubic Yards - concrete, excavation, landscaping
Once you know the appropriate unit of measure, you’ll begin to count or measure on the plan one item at a time. Once you’ve taken off all the items on a sheet (page in the plan set) you’ll want to write the quantity down on the same sheet or page. The idea behind writing it on the actual plan is to track the quantities by location, remember in some examples, you’ll eventually want to adjust labor rates for the task based on the area. Imagine installing the same light fixture in an office space with 10’ ceilings and in the warehouse of the same building with 20’ ceilings you would need to increase the labor difficulty for this task, so you’ll need to track the counts by area to make these adjustments during the construction estimating process.  Once you’ve counted and/or measured all the items on the first page and notated them, you’ll move to the next page and begin the same process going through one by one taking off each item and notating. It’s common to miss an item and notice as you’re counting another item. We suggest adjusting your count immediately with the idea being that as you go through and finish the construction takeoff you will have reviewed your drawing multiple times over. It’s also a best practice to take off your most important items first to reduce the chances of missing important items. When you finish performing the quantity takeoff on all the pages, you’ll want to summarize the totals on a quantity takeoff sheet that you’ll use to transfer the counts into your estimating software and quote the project. 

Win More Projects in Less Time Using Takeoff Software

Performing a construction takeoff can be a time consuming endeavor, especially when you consider that most subcontractors win less than 20 percent of the projects they bid and a typical construction estimator will bid 5-10 per projects per week depending on the size of the projects. Think about the amount of time you spend waiting in line at the local print shop to pick up plans and the cost to purchase $3-5 per page and 5-10 pages each time, you do the math it's not cheap. And in most cases, you could be almost finished with the construction takeoff and well on your way through the estimating process and building your quote by the time you get back to your desk to pull out the highlighters all decreasing overhead costs. With digital takeoff software, you can simply upload the digital plans in PDF format and begin your construction takeoff immediately without the lost time spent picking up the printed plans or paying for them. In addition, on-screen takeoff software can save your common material items as single layered items or as multi-layered assemblies to further streamline the estimating process. Imagine having several EMT conduit assemblies with different fittings for different applications and wire counts, so as you measure the conduit runs it automatically breaks down the materials in the appropriate quantities without the need to pull out a calculator.  This is one of the best parts, because as you perform a digital takeoff you're actually completing the construction estimating process because your material lists, labor costs are being added together in a systematized manner.  It gets better, with the power of modern computing, application based construction takeoff software can reliably recognize and count common symbols for you automatically. Which streamlines the process of completing an accurate takeoff and cost estimate. Typically you’ll have to select the symbol on a page and the takeoff software does the rest by going through the digital plans sheet by sheet and finding the symbols for you with symbol recognition technology. From here you can export the digital takeoff to your construction estimating software or create a material list to send out for supplier quotes. Contractors report an average 3-5x decrease in the amount of time it takes versus performing a manual takeoffs. Imagine the amount of time your estimating team will save and the reduction in overhead costs making your construction company that much more competitive and profitable just by investing in construction software. Check out Esticom’s cloud-based takeoff and estimating to see how our auto-count feature works with a free 14-day trial.
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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