Estimating the Streets of San Francisco

The NECA Show is just weeks away, and what a glorious location NECA has chosen this year—San Francisco—where wishes come true and everybody leaves with a new takeoff on life. Host to incredible food, swanky clubs, gorgeous skylines, amazing bridges and freezing cold summer temperatures, San Francisco is one of the most diverse, hilly and complicated cities in the world … to estimate. Make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes, a winter coat for your crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge and my column from September 2006, “Estimating the NECA Show” (find it at

All the software companies will be there, showing off their latest, greatest releases and new technologies. ConEst will present Sure Count symbol recognition and takeoff software—a stand-alone program that can send counts directly into its IntelliBid software. Accubid and McCormick also will present breakthroughs in CAD estimating technology, so make sure you get a demo. Also, be sure to check out Estimation’s booth for its digital on-screen takeoff software. All these innovators are the future of estimating.

Another hot topic on the show floor you will see and hear a lot about: value engineering (VE). VE has become a critical part of pricing and building most projects these days. The questions are easy: How can we save the client money? How can we build this project cheaper than everybody else? How can we build it on schedule with limited labor resources? How do we turn a 4,000-hour job into a 2,800-hour job? How do we perform two estimates in the same time? The answers will be at the NECA Show.

Tip: Visit Cablofil’s booth, and check out the VE Plus Program. The company has teamed up with Legrand, Southwire and Pass & Seymour with a cutting-edge approach to helping electrical contractors make greater profits by value engineering projects using their labor-saving materials.

There also will be a couple of technical workshops and lectures on estimating. Get there early for my lecture, “The Future of Estimating: Today’s Estimators Estimating with Tomorrow’s Technology,” (Saturday, Oct. 6 at noon) on the show floor. To quote the NECA Show Web site, I’m presenting “a discussion on how estimating will change dramatically in the near future. The implementation of CAD recognition, 3-D design software, B.I.M. technologies and other software breakthroughs will require estimators to change the way they think and estimate.” Wow! I better get to work on this soon!

I also recommend getting a seat for George Hague’s (ConEst Software) technical workshop on design/build estimating (Monday, Oct. 8, 10:30­–11:20 a.m. on the show floor, Room 2).

And before or after the show, as you hike your way through the city (do not call it “Frisco,” the locals will hate you), you are going to see an amazing amount of construction happening everywhere. So many different shapes, sizes, heights, exteriors, colors, metal, concrete and glass—all squeezed together without an inch in between. Then, at night, from the vista point at the top of Twin Peaks (bring your coat!), the lights put on a show that will give you an entirely different perspective on the term “electrical.”

While you’re out and about, think about how you would estimate the projects here. Look at the buildings underway. Look at their sizes, shapes, the number of stories and how they interact with the buildings next to them. Try to see through the walls. Find all the electrical stuff. Observe the realities of electrical construction in the center of a mega-city.

Try to study each building’s physical location, the parking situation, coordination, where deliveries might arrive and how materials and electricians get to the 46th floor. Think about the concept of lost labor, how you would estimate it and what your labor units account for. There is a “high-rise” factor, but do you apply this factor as you estimate or after, during your recap? Is that one a NECA 1, 2 or 3 project? How about this one? A NECA 5? Perhaps there should be a 5th labor column?

A few buildings I recommend trying to see and study for estimating:

  • The new Federal Building, electrical by Rosendin Electric

  • All of Moscone Center and the entire Yerba Buena Gardens and Center

  • The de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, electrical by Cupertino Electric

  • The Transamerica Pyramid

  • The Embarcadero and Embarcadero Center

  • AT&T Park, home of the Giants, and surrounding areas

Estimating any size project in a major city is different from a new, ground-up building on a giant open lot. You can lose thousands of dollars on the tiniest project and millions on the large ones. Think about this as you roam down the aisles at this year’s NECA Show and while hitting the yellow brick streets of San Francisco, as you search for the place to leave your heart.   EC

Shook is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or



About the Author

Stan Shook

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly

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