I’m not a huge fan of estimating water treatment plants (WTPs). On one hand, they are typically refined, well-engineered and highly detailed. On the other hand, they are jigsaw puzzles of conduit schedules, details, notes and specification referrals, and they include vague descriptions of extremely expensive installations. They require an intense, uninterrupted focus to estimate. They are just not fun.

WTPs require a deeper level of installation knowledge than most projects. Junior estimators should not do them without the guidance and help of an experienced senior estimator.

For one, each drawing typically doesn’t provide all the necessary information. You must review several for every area of the project. Detailed drawings, conduit schedules, symbol legends and other drawings can’t be ignored, as they could all contain additional work to takeoff.

Typically, there are many sheet notes to each page, often referring to elsewhere. Sheet notes should never be reviewed casually, as they can often contain additional scope requirements for which no design or detail is provided.

All this page turning, reading and fact-finding can drive an estimator crazy and slow him or her down. When estimating WTPs, it’s important to consider that you will not be working quickly, and your takeoff’s flow may not be smooth. You must approach it methodically and ensure you have enough time ahead of bid day to cover everything. So, if you think you only have a couple hours of takeoff on sheet E-5, think again.

Many runs to count before you sleep
In WTPs, there typically are many short conduit runs of less than 20 feet. Consider this seriously, as this fact can carry a heavy labor impact. Short conduit runs require more work and parts than your average straight runs of longer than 20 feet, and most are usually conduit types that are neither fast nor efficient to install, even in long straight runs. Often located in tight working spaces, the runs sometimes start at a wall-mounted panel, travel down to the floor then along the floor to a piece of equipment where they rise up and convert to a flexible connection. Do you know how high? Did you check the elevation details in the drawings? How long does this flex need to be?

Single conduit runs on the floor must be secured to the slab. How? Perhaps use small pieces of strut to anchor them. Now you have more than just straps in your conduit assemblies. You also need the struts and the anchors.

Does the labor in your conduit database properly cover these short conduit runs? Does your strut labor account for having to cut hundreds of 3-inch lengths? Are your anchors labored?

Extend and factor labor accordingly
What labor column will you extend with? I recommend extending WTPs at no less than NECA 1. Some areas may require NECA 2 or even 3. If you apply these labor columns to the entire project, you will likely bid yourself out of the competition, but if you don’t and win the job, you may have bid yourself out of business.

The site work may be relatively common and could be bid with competitive bid labor. This applies to most work in administration offices and other nonindustrial buildings, but if you bid the entire project using competitive bid labor, factor in the labor in the industrial areas, which have tight conduit installations.

I highly recommend segregating the takeoff on as many specific areas, buildings, and installations as time allows. This will give you the ability to extend and factor your labor properly.

How long should they take?
In the world of estimating, five minutes doesn’t get you much. For example, let’s look at a takeoff for the conduit schedule. In my experience estimating WTPs, each conduit run, no matter how long or short, takes an average of five minutes to study, locate (likely shown on more than one drawing), rolloff, build or select a database assembly, and then enter your count. This might account for the time involved to total up (and enter) all the elbows, junction boxes, connections, terminations, etc., but again, five minutes is not really that much time.

Sometimes, there is repetition, or you actually can cover six or more conduits in a single run, such as in a duct-bank. Still, you must study and create those duct banks, which also takes time.

On my current WTP project, I have 830 individual conduit runs. Using my five-minute average, that’s almost 70 hours of takeoff time, not including breaks, interruptions or other takeoffs.

I have always said that estimating a WTP can either be a leisurely walk in the park or a swim through a swamp. The one I’m estimating now is like the Everglades, and I think my boat just sprung a leak. I am currently treading water and waiting for the alligators to come eat me.


SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. Until recently, 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 at StanleyShook@gmail.com.