In the previous two articles in this series, I wrote about how to get information out of a database and into an estimate. So, let’s say you have entered all of your takeoff and have a file full of the selected electrical materials, each with its own price and labor unit attached. Now, you need a way to make adjustments and corrections to the estimate. Methods for doing this vary with each software package, but there are reporting features common to most of them. Some software can display these reports on-screen, while others may require you to print them.
The audit trail, or takeoff report, displays the full detail of every item you input. If your estimating system allows you to put comments in the audit trail, use them, as they could be the end of “Why did I do that?” questions. This report can be a good place to study the labor units because of the high detail. However, the audit trail can get rather long (e.g., a small market running more than 40 pages, which is a lot of data to go through when you are trying to get an estimate out). We need a way to simplify that report into a more manageable size. This is when we use a report called the summary or extension.
The summary condenses the takeoff into a report that, most often, has just one line for each type of material in the takeoff. Even if you have taken off ½-inch EMT in 20 different places, one line will total and show it. The small market summary report was just five pages. This condensed format makes it much easier to review and analyze your estimate, so it is the perfect place to look for problems. Here are some examples: typos, such as accidentally inputting set screw instead of compression EMT fittings; a missing takeoff (for example, “I thought there was a manhole”); large quantities that can be sent out for better pricing or a quotation; big labor items that could be factored down; and missing prices and labor. Some of the available estimating systems allow editing in the onscreen summary, which is very handy. When you have completed all of your corrections and adjustments, it’s time to get this estimate finished.
To this point, the software has only been dealing with material dollars and labor hours. The recapitulation is where everything else you need to complete the estimate is added. The following is a list of the most typical categories:
• Labor: There is a section in the recap where labor hours are converted to labor dollars. The programs will prompt you to apply your choice of man-hours to different labor categories, such as foreman and apprentice.
• Quotes: You will add costs for items such as lighting fixtures and switchgear.
• Subcontractors: Here is where you will add costs for such jobs as trenching and communications.
• Rentals: Costs for items such as cranes and or forklifts can be added here.
• Indirect Job Expenses: Costs, such as project management and supervision, will be added here.
• Direct Job Expenses: Costs, such as expendable tools and permits, can be added in this category.
• Markups: Costs, including tax, overhead and profit, are added in this category.
When all of the preceding items are input, the system will display your bid recap totals and/or will allow you to print out bid recap reports. Since all calculations are instantaneous, you should have plenty of time to fine-tune the recap to be as competitive as possible. You can make as many changes as you want, and the computer will recalculate each one immediately. Estimating software makes bid day much less stressful than it is with pen-and-paper systems.
This series has been a review of the basic functions of electrical estimating software. Each software has its own set of features, and each vendor may also have multiple versions of their software, such as basic or advanced. It can be difficult to make a decision when buying electrical estimating software, and it will take some time to do it right. I would suggest making a list of the features that appeal to you and weigh each feature’s importance. Compare the various software offerings to your list, and let the list evolve as you learn. Many software vendors will allow you to test drive their systems at no charge. Take enough time to become familiar with the software, and do not hesitate to call the vendor with questions.