It is frustrating for an estimator to come up with a meaningful number to include in an estimate for an item that has not been encountered on previous estimates. While NECA’s Manual of Labor Units has listed many varying labor units, there is no way that all probabilities for future products or assemblies can be included.

Subconsciously, we all do a task analysis for everything we do in daily life. People who know programming language appreciate the process of organizing a flow diagram. Electricians engage in similar functions when working with a schematic diagram, or making a material list for a contemplated section of the work.

The basis of task analysis is that every step of the way must be reduced to the lowest recognizable portion of the assignment. If a list would be made of the individual steps required to drive a car, it is entirely possible that steps would be overlooked. Statements such as “get into the car” are not as elementary as they sound. Some forms of instructions omit salient points of information.

The task analysis relies on minute details. Every action that requires either material or some sort of physical operation is a time-consuming element and must be covered with a time element for the resulting labor unit to be meaningful.

The time required to install a recessed fluorescent fixture ranges widely. It is only when specifics of the installation are known that a labor unit can be chosen. The task list should help to answer all of the questions that must be included when establishing the correct estimated amount of time required for the installation.

A simple example might be a flush-mounted toilet exhaust fan. The tasks required include: delivering the unit to the installation site; unpacking the components; removing the rough-in can; returning the trim items to the box; identifying the box’s contents; assembling the hanger assembly; assembling any items so the wiring method can be accepted; measuring for the proper installation location; setting up a means to reach the ceiling; gathering hand tools; picking up fastening devices; climbing the ladder; holding the can in place; fastening the can to the structure; preparing to connect the wiring type to the can; fastening the wiring system to the junction box; splicing the fan’s wires to the circuit; climbing down the ladder; removing the ladder; and finally cleaning up the installation site.

This list is so detailed so as to demonstrate the agonizing details that must be considered. When all is said and done, and after making a reasonable comparison, it becomes evident that similar tasks are involved in installing a flush incandescent light. Obviously, the labor figure to use would be the same as that for a similar light.

The main point to consider is the similarity between devices. Often such comparisons will lead to using a familiar labor unit, one that might be in use in the company, or on the estimating system in use.

More complex installations are especially assisted by the principle of a task analysis. In most cases, establishing a rational labor unit would involve receiving input from experienced field personnel who have made similar installations. However, one caveat most experienced estimators have experienced is that many of these installers’ time estimates are those they believe they can fulfill. At times, these time allocations are too little.

When an analysis has been made and reviewed, it should be further examined and compared after the installation has been completed. Such an examination may yield improvements that can be used in a future estimate. This review may initially seem time consuming, but with new types of installations, this step can save valuable time when encountered on future projects.

More complicated assemblies are greatly enhanced when an illustration accompanies an analysis. Some companies will file analyses in a procedure guide, which can take a variety of forms. With the relative low cost of digital cameras, scanners and computers, unusual installations can be documented for estimators’ and installers’ reference. Obviously, these guides should be updated as methods or materials may vary, or labor saving ideas are incorporated.

As is the case with any new system, design or idea, the first estimate will always be the most difficult. Labor tables are not prescriptive for every installation. Flexibility and logically identifying all steps and materials for a different installation are the basics of good comparisons. Guessing leads to trouble. Educated evaluations will always stand up to criticism, good or bad. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach City College, Calif., a consultant, and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or by e-mail at