You just spent a lot of time taking off a set of drawings and more time entering the takeoff into your estimating system. Now you can relax, wait for the quotes to come in, send your final price to the general contractors and win the job. Right? I don’t think so. Bidding is more competitive now than it has ever been in my career. It’s the time to fine-tune your estimates.


The old days


When I was a junior estimator, the company I worked at was still estimating by hand. After the counts were finished, I had to manually explode them into their component parts, list them on a pricing sheet, add prices and labor, and do all of the math required to come up with material-dollar and labor-hour totals. Then, those totals had to be transferred to a recapitulation sheet where the labor-hours were converted to dollars, and quotes, rentals, subcontractors and direct job expenses were added. Finally, markups for miscellaneous materials, sales tax, overhead and profit were added. 


What a rush! There were usually four people in the office on bid day, pricing labor, extending and double-checking each other’s math, which usually had to be done more than once, as new pricing, quotes and the boss’ changes came in. We always finished just in time to get our proposals out, leaving very little time to really study the estimate. We sometimes ended up erasing all the way through the paper because of the many changes made to the estimate. There were times I thought about buying stock in Paper Mate, which manufactures Pink Pearl erasers.


The new days


All of the electrical estimating systems available today have features an estimator can use to fine-tune an estimate. A lot of time is saved after the takeoff is completed, because the estimating system does all of the parts listing, pricing, laboring and extensions. Some systems perform these functions instantly, while others take a few moments to generate a report. If estimators do not squander this time savings by procrastinating, they should have plenty of time to really study and fine-tune their estimate. Since I am most familiar with ConEst IntelliBid, I use its capabilities in the examples below. 


Analyze this


The best place to do much of the fine-tuning is in a summary report, where the takeoff is distilled down to one line item for each type and size of material. IntelliBid’s on-screen summary report is interactive, allowing changes to be made to the estimate while the report is displayed. The first task is to study the line items in the report, looking for takeoff and data-entry mistakes. 


Here’s an example of an incorrect item: If the specifications required steel, compression, insulated-throat EMT fittings, why did I find some die-cast fittings in the report? The report tells me where these items are in the estimate, so I can fix them quickly. 


Another thing to look for is missing items. Say the report contains fusible disconnects but no fuses. It’s time to go back into the takeoff and add the fuses.


The next thing I look for is items with no pricing. IntelliBid can create a separate, zero-price report, but I like using the summary report. In the summary report, I can click on any column header to sort by that column. The first click results in an ascending sort, while a second click gets you a descending sort. The ascending sort is where I look for material with no pricing.


Next, I will do a descending sort on the material total column, where I look for large dollar amounts. Often, the material associated with large dollar amounts can be sent out for better quotes. This is also another way to look for data entry errors. For example, why do I have $50,000 of 500 MCM THHN in the report when I didn’t take off any? Once again, the system guides you back to where the takeoff was made, so the error can be corrected.


Next, analyze the labor in a similar way. First, sort the labor column to look for zeros, and then sort the labor total column to look for big numbers. Analyze the large labor numbers for opportunities to reduce labor hours. For instance, maybe I forgot to factor some conduit labor for parallel runs. Again, the program will guide me back to a takeoff that needs adjustment. 


These are just a few examples of how you can fine-tune your estimates. Take some of the time your estimating system saved you to carefully study your estimate. It’s time well spent.