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Understanding the Estimating Process — Part 8 of 12

Understanding the Estimating Process — Part 8 of 12

What happens after the take-off

No estimator every really wants to admit something is missing from his or her estimate, but trust me — it’s always better to double check your estimate to ensure everything is covered before you submit your price.

If you use a computerized estimating system, summarize your estimate, then sort the material cost from high to low. Does everything have a cost associated with it? Does anything look unusual? Sometimes in our rush to get things done, we type fast and “fat finger” an entry. For example, you might have wanted to enter a quantity of “7,” but you ended up typing “77,” or worse yet “777,” which can really throw things off. In addition, sort your labor column from high to low. Does everything look normal? Once you are done with these simple checks, here are a few more tips you should find quite helpful.

For every 100 ft of EMT in your estimate, you should have at least 10 couplings. For every junction box, you should have an average of three to four wire terminations. For every 100 ft of pipe (EMT, PVC, rigid), you should have at least three times the wire, or 300 ft plus slack, plus 100 ft of ground wire. For an average job, your material cost plus quotes should equal one-third of your total project cost. The ratio of labor hours to the project square footage can be telling. For a labor-intensive job, this ratio should be 20% to 25%. Conversely, for a less intensive job (building core/shell), this ratio could be 10% or less.

Generally, you should always complete a detailed take-off versus “square footing” the cost of a job. However, if you keep good historical data, an average cost per square foot for a particular building can be helpful to check to see if your numbers are “in the ballpark.”


When you receive your quotes (especially for lighting), check the quantities. Does the quote match the counts you provided to the vendor? Typically, the vendor uses the first set of counts provided, but they may not match yours. Differing quantities (high/low) can make a difference in your bid price (and the bid price of others), so be careful. If your project requires “attic stock” or “spare materials,” make sure those are included in your quote as well.

For gear quotes, check the bill of material. Does it contain all the items from the riser? Is it the specified manufacturer? Sometimes items that the particular vendor does not carry are simply excluded from his quote altogether. Review it carefully. Also, look out for specialty testing, which can be an expensive item to miss. Make sure you know what you own and include the price in your estimate. Ultimately, it is the bidder who is responsible for everything on the drawings, not the vendor.

Here’s one last word about vendors. If you do not cultivate relationships with your vendors, they will be less likely to work with you on bid day. In today’s competitive bidding world, you need every advantage you can get, so relationships become even more important. You won’t get the “whisper” number on bid day if you do not have a relationship with your vendor.

Direct Job Expenses

Direct job expenses are costs that are directly related to the project, including lifts, scaffolding, staging, or ladders. This category also encompasses a place to store your material for the project, and it may include a trailer for a field office, including fax/phone/network connections, computers, phones, copiers, furniture, and a site vehicle. Depending on the site, you may also have to include money for parking or, if the lot is remote, money to shuttle your workers from the lot to the job site. Depending on the tools being used on the project, it may include the appropriate training and certification that your electricians will need in order to work on the site. This could include lift-specific training, harnesses and PPE, and NFPA70E and OSHA 10-30 training. If your project requires this, it’s best to cover these expenses, and make sure you can have the training completed in time to start work on the job in case you are awarded the project. If there is a generator or large switchgear on the project, rigging should be included as a direct job expense, as well as the cost of permits to complete the rigging, such as “over the road” or “wide load” permits. Also check for “factory witness testing” and load bank testing. Oftentimes, general contractors will require a designated person at the factory to witness the testing of the generator. Finally, don’t forget to include money for small tools. They can account for 2% to 3% of the labor cost of the entire project.

As with the take-off phase, checking your take-off and applying quotes and direct job costs takes time. Next month, we’ll discuss your labor force and other labor items that should be carried — and how to adjust your estimate to get you closer to putting together your final proposal.

Candels is president of Candels Consulting, an electrical estimating consulting firm in Niantic, Conn. She can be reached at: [email protected].

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