Estimating software is a very powerful tool, but it is not just a database of items and assemblies that allows you to enter your takeoff faster. In fact, takeoff entry is probably the slowest feature. The real beauty of today’s estimating software is how fast you can run detailed extension reports, which will tell you everything you really need to know about the project.

Having the ability to extend and look at a project from different perspectives is critical to accurately pricing it. Knowing how much labor you have on the first floor compared to the second, third, fourth and so on is critical for applying a high-rise labor factor. Or what about knowing how much shift work, which must be done during the weekend and at night, will be required for a specific area on that hospital project? Knowing details about specific installations will allow you to tighten up (or add to) your final bid price and will make you more profitable when you’re building the job.

Getting more from your database
Most estimating programs enable you to create custom extension reports, giving you the ability to see your extended database items (materials and labor) in any order you prefer. You can also extend on and extract various elements from each independent database item, such as cost codes and other database item fields.

This process allows you to further segregate your takeoffs beyond the breakdowns you created with your takeoff label sets. Becoming proficient at creating custom extension reports is critical to becoming a better estimator and for being able to provide your boss with a much higher level of information about your projects.

Avoid getting stuck in a groove using basic, out-of-the-box extension reports. Learn how to get the most out of your program’s extension report capabilities. That said, I will offer a bit of caution: experiment when you have time. Don’t try to create new extension reports on bid day, especially ones you are not familiar with or don’t know how to review accurately.

Basing your estimate on the schedule
One of the biggest factors for any project is the construction schedule. It determines whether the project is going to be a long, slow, methodical installation or if the project is going to be a fast-track, which would require two or three crews working different shifts and weekends.

The construction schedule also tells you when the underground work is to be started and when it is to be completed. It tells you when walls are going in and when the painting will be done, which affects when you can install your lighting fixtures and how many work days you will have. This, based on your estimate of how long it will take to install said lighting fixtures, tells you how many electricians you will need.
What about the concept of performing and entering your takeoff based on the construction schedule? Segregate your takeoff in such a way that you will be able to run extensions, which will tell you how much work you will have during each phase of the project. This vital information will allow you to better assess how your company will staff the job and when. Knowing when your labor force will be at its lightest and heaviest is a critical element to being able to factor your supervision needs and any labor losses due to crew sizing. This is a much more accurate way to do it than to simply “ballpark” it based on the total job or an entire floor.

How well organized is your database?
Are your materials and labor database items in their proper place? Are there items in your rough-in cost code that should really be in your trim code? Do you see wire nuts and terminations while you are looking at your floor boxes? Having a well-organized database is critical to generating accurate extension reports, especially those associated with the schedule.

Specific materials get installed during specific phases of the project. If the schedule says you have 30 working days to install the rough-in, then you need to know how many labor hours are in your estimate for the rough-in. In addition, you don’t want that value to be compromised by any non-rough-in installation items.

Segregating your battles
For prebid estimates, there are many valid reasons for highly detailing and segregating your takeoff, though the bid form requirements should be your primary concern. Of course, time is always a factor, especially during the initial bid phase. Performing a highly detailed takeoff prebid is not always an option. So you should only dive into these waters as deeply as time allows—or as deeply as your boss wants you to.

Once you win a project, if you didn’t perform a detailed estimate, you should go back and create a highly segregated project management takeoff. This will certainly require a lot more time, but it will be some of the most profitable time you ever spend.


SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. During the past 12 years, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at stanshook.blogspot.com or contact him directly StanleyShook@gmail.com.