I’ve waited to write about paperless estimating until now. I’ve been estimating with digital drawings and estimating software for many years, but I didn’t want to write this until I was 100 percent paperless and working entirely “in-screen,” as one software company calls it.

Moreover, I wanted to be very experienced and knowledgeable about the process—how well it works, what benefits it provides and what obstacles it brings to your estimating efficiency. More importantly, I wanted to be a believer.

Well, after a solid year of being 100 percent paperless, I can officially say I’m a believer, and I’m not looking back. I hope to never again suffer paper cuts or highlighter stains on my fingers.

In this column, I discuss some of the costs versus rewards.

Don’t be cheap; get the right program
Good computer-aided design (CAD) software and digital design programs are not cheap, but it’s true you get what you pay for. So if you go cheap, don’t expect a great program. Expect frustration.

There are several really good programs on the market, each offering slightly different functionality and performance. Just like your estimating software, in-screen takeoff software will be one of your primary estimating tools, and you should not make this consideration casually. If you use an estimating software system (of course you do), check with that company to see which system works best and integrates directly to your program. I also highly recommend getting a thorough demonstration of two or more systems before choosing one.

For a solid system, you should expect to pay at least $1,500 or more per license, and don’t be surprised if the one you want is $3,000, making it quite expensive for an estimating department with more than one estimator. Of course, a single license can be shared. But I think this is an inefficient and unproductive approach, as you will end up with estimators waiting for access to the program, delaying their takeoffs, or worse: resorting to using paper drawings.

Remember, this type of software is a productivity tool. When efficiently integrated into your estimating system and methods, it will pay for itself with time savings, efficiency and output. The savings in printing costs alone will likely pay for a license within a year.

But wait, there’s more!
This technology enables you to produce professional-looking, high-quality, clearly detailed documents, which are not just for estimating. They can be used for project management and closing sales, too. Imagine being able to provide your field electricians with detailed, dimensioned, color-coded conduit layouts or to present your clients with conceptual budget designs, which can be digitally linked to your cost-estimate proposals. It’s far more polished and functional than a set of hand-drawn plans with scratch marks and illegible handwritten jargon. Therefore, the software may enhance your company’s image.

Expanding your ability to share, archive and have a potted plant
One of the greatest features about using in-screen takeoff software is how it enables you to share your marked-up drawings. You eliminate the need to make expensive, full-size color scans or copies. The costs and time involved to ship drawings overnight is also gone, not to mention the delays of having to wait for your associate or client to receive them.

Because your drawings are marked up digitally, they are easily converted to PDFs or other digital image files. This allows you to e-mail, share on an FTP site or on your company server, transfer using a USB flash drive or copy the drawings to a disc.

Also, your office (and the warehouse) will be cleared of rolls of dead trees—those archived drawings gathering dust and spiders, their rubber bands broken causing them to unravel into a paper-cut nightmare. You will never again have to move and unroll 500 pounds of drawings to find the ones you need. And, you will now have room to place a lovely potted plant in that corner of your office.

All pros, no cons
There are so many benefits to a 100 percent paperless estimating system that I have found it very hard to come up with any issues, drawbacks or problems it presents. I’m not sure if there are any. For those who have not yet jumped into the process, there will be a transitional period. This is common with any new technology or when learning any new software. My recommendation for overcoming this is to not simply dabble at it. You must spend some serious time, fight through the early slowness and retrain your mind. The more time you put in, the faster you will get. It may take a few months and several jobs before you are as fast as you are now with paper and highlighters. But I do believe you will soon reach a point where you will say, “Why did I wait so long to do this?”

In future parts of this series, I will dig a bit deeper into how things are done and provide you with a few tricks I’ve learned along the way. So stay tuned.


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.