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What is a commercial construction cost estimator?


Providing an accurate forecast for upcoming project expenditures is crucial to the survival of any business or organization considering future construction. Cost estimators develop the cost information that business owners, managers, professional design team members, and construction contractors require to make budgetary and feasibility determinations.

From an owner’s perspective, a cost estimate may be used for a number of different reasons, from determining the project scope to whether or not the project should proceed. The construction contractor’s cost estimate will determine the construction bid or if the company will bid on the construction contract.

Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to determine the time, money, materials, and labor required to manufacture a product, construct a building, or provide a service. They generally specialize in a particular product or industry. Additionally, most cost estimators need a bachelor’s degree, although some workers with several years of experience in construction may qualify without a bachelor’s degree.

Construction cost estimators may be contractually hired in several different ways: they may be employed by the owner’s representative/project manager, employed by the construction manager, employed as a member of a professional design team, or separately hired by the owner.

Their responsibilities include estimating building costs through all the stages of design and the construction of the project. On large projects, it is typical for estimators to specialize in disciplines that parallel design discipline specialization. Furthermore, it is essential to have the cost estimator involved at the onset of every project to ensure that the project budget reflects the decisions made by the rest of the project team throughout the integrated design process.

Whether you’re a subcontractor, a general contractor, owner, or professional design team member, the services of a commercial cost estimator can be a game-changer for anyone managing a commercial or industrial construction project. Due to the financial impact of cost overruns and failing to complete a project, both builders and clients are prone to worry about the outcome of the construction project at hand.

Therefore, it’s always wise in business to invest time and careful research to estimate the costs of a commercial construction project before moving ahead with any project. More specifically, clients who are considering large projects will often seek several cost estimates, including those prepared by contractors – as well as those calculated by independent cost estimators.

In this article, we’ll review the benefits of a commercial construction cost estimator, and further explore the vital role that the cost-estimating process plays within the industry.

What Is Construction Cost Estimating?

By definition, construction cost estimating is the process of forecasting the cost it will entail to build a physical structure. In order to allocate budgets while determining a project’s feasibility and scope, projects owners will use cost estimates at the onset of a new project. Additionally, contractors will also utilize them when deciding whether or not to bid on a project. In any case, it is customary to prepare estimates with the input of professional engineers and architects to ensure a project meets both scope requirements and financial feasibility.

In the case of an effective cost estimate, it can prevent the builder from losing money while helping the customer avoid overpaying. A key component of earned value management, a cost estimate is essentially a project management technique that tracks a project’s performance against the total time and cost estimate. Although most individuals working within a managerial or decision-making capacity in the construction industry are familiar with this valuable technique, many people outside of the industry lack an in-depth comprehension of the role that a cost estimator plays in the construction process.

Therefore, it’s important to emphasize the value of a construction cost estimate – essentially, if you care about how much your project will cost, it is simply good practice to implement this technique. From building new structures to remodeling, it enables you to implement cost estimates for all kinds of construction projects and strategically track your projects.

Determining an accurate estimate is critical for a number of different types of projects, including:

  • Development Projects: These type of construction projects typically have budgets and timeliness that are closely linked to paying back lenders while generating revenue as quickly as possible.
  • Large Civil Projects: In the case of large civil projects or mega projects, effective cost estimates are essential, due to their sizable scope and the potential involvement of public funding. For example, on a mega-project, small miscalculations can quickly become magnified. In projects constructed with public money, cost estimates not only increase accountability, but provide transparency while enhancing trust in your firm’s ability to manage a project properly.

The Importance Of Accurate Estimates: Ensuring Your Success

While it is nearly impossible to estimate projects costs with absolute precision (and projects may fail for unexpected reasons), a skilled estimator will account for as many factors as possible in order to prepare an accurate estimate. These factors may include numerous variables, including but not limited to:

  • Market conditions
  • The size/scope of a project
  • The accuracy of cost information
  • The experience/skill level of the estimator
  • The level to which the estimator defines a project
  • The quality of any tools/procedures used by the estimator
  • The quality of the project plan
  • The specific industry it’s being constructed for

It should also be noted that the cost estimation may be executed by an individual or a team, depending on the type and size of the project, as well as the industry. Additionally, estimators may hold numerous different positions – for example, in some instances, contractors and subcontractors may prepare the cost estimates for construction projects, although this isn’t regarded as best practice.

In other instances, the construction salesperson may be responsible for creating an estimate. Architectural firms may have in-house estimators; they’re usually individuals who take on the estimator’s function in addition to their primary role. However, it is becoming more common for qualified independent estimators to handle estimates against which one verifies the contractor’s estimates.

Based on this information, obtaining a good cost estimate can reap a host of benefits for both businesses and customers. For contractors, an effective cost estimate can win jobs; typically, customers will select the lowest bid to meet the standards and specifications they set. In a competitive bidding scenario, the time and effort you spend preparing the estimate are not merely a cost of doing business, but an investment in winning the job. Additionally, if urgency is a factor for a project, how quickly you prepare a bid can also affect the outcome.

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Free vs. Paid Cost Estimators: You Get What You Pay For

If you’ve been looking online for free commercial construction cost estimator tools, chances are, you have come across quite a few on the internet. These seemingly convenient, simple tools allow you to enter your desired type of construction, square footage, location and other factors to obtain a free estimate of possible project expenditures.

However, it’s true that you get what you pay for – in reality, these ‘free’ online cost calculators may be appealing for managing your next commercial project, but in the end, they may not deliver everything you hoped for. Although it would be ideal to estimate construction costs based on simple factors (such as square footage and intended usage), these free cost estimator tools are not realistically set up to plug in and process the complex data entailed in commercial construction projects.

In order to arrive at an accurate estimate on your project, you have to take into consideration not only the size, type, and location, but the following additional factors:

  • Current market factors
  • Currently available materials
  • Design
  • Environmental concerns
  • Local building codes
  • Site conditions
  • Type of occupants

Furthermore, your overall construction costs will vary based on whether you intend to hold the property or sell it, and the priority you place on such factors as longevity of materials and components, energy efficiency and other environmental concerns. Last but not least, aesthetics and design must be factored into your expenditures.

The Pitfalls Of ‘Free’ Online Estimator Calculators

While some of the better calculators may address a number of these factors, they will still provide an inaccurate estimate, particularly if you don’t have current industry and market knowledge to apply to your inputs. Although there are some online calculators that attempt to make it possible for non-experts to achieve a reasonable estimate by arranging factors into categories such as “luxury,” “semi-luxury,” “best standard,” “good standard,” “average standard,” and “minimum standard”, these are subjective categories at best, and don’t reflect the broad variation requirements found in commercial building.

For instance, the needs of a medical building that will be client-facing vastly differ from the needs of a retail establishment, a laboratory, or factory floor. Any given commercial building may include a mix of use-types within the same building, and each location will have specific codes and other requirements to meet for each type of use that will occur within the building.

To illustrate how widely variable these factors can be, consider a detail as seemingly basic and inconsequential as the finish on an interior wall. If this wall is the inside of a warehouse, it may not require any finishing; however, if it’s on the inside of a luxury building, it will necessitate a high-end finish. In between these two extremes are an infinite degree of variables. While the hall of a college dormitory may not require a beautiful paint job, it will require the durability to withstand the heavy traffic of dorm life. The interior of an office building, on the other hand, may need neither high aesthetics nor particular durability, but should be attractive enough to meet the aesthetic sensibilities of tenants.

Multiply these seemingly minor details by every wall, floor, window, ceiling, plumbing and lighting fixture, elevator, stairwell, and escalator throughout the entire building – and then continue to multiply them by the factors involved in designing HVAC systems, electrical systems, fire protection, roofing, foundation, and exterior surfaces. Consider also that each new development must also incorporate wastewater management, stormwater management, parking, outside lighting, and many other external features. It quickly becomes apparent that the calculations involved will never be straightforward or simplistic – ultimately, those ‘free’ online estimator tools may lead to costly mistakes.

Paid Online Estimator Services: Reliable Industry Tools You Can Count On

In order to obtain accurate estimates, you will require the expertise of someone who understands the needs of specific types of construction, as well as an individual with current real-time knowledge of market factors, building codes, and the latest construction techniques and technologies. ProEst offers high-quality online estimator services to help you avoid the pitfalls we’ve outlined above, saving you both time and money while providing you with a streamlined project management experience. Although our online estimator tools may not be free, you’ll soon discover how this investment quickly becomes an invaluable resource throughout every phase of your next project, large or small.

At ProEst, we provide your skilled team with the latest tools and technologies of the trade, including state-of-the-art construction cost estimating software to track your projects effectively while saving you and your customers’ time and money. Ultimately, our software will allow your business to simultaneously reduce costs and improve efficiency, enabling you to make an investment in your long-term plan for success.


As we’ve reviewed, putting together an in-depth and accurate construction estimate is a time-consuming process that requires a high degree of skill, knowledge, and technical expertise. If you’re looking to save on valuable time and protect your bottom line, ProEst offers professional commercial construction cost estimating software that has been proven effective within the industry.

Our construction cost estimating software doesn’t replace the estimator, but instead helps streamline their workflow, providing them with the tools they need to complete their job quickly and effectively. Construction cost estimating software can significantly reduce the time it takes to craft an estimate from start to finish, while also allowing estimators to utilize time-saving tools such as digital takeoffs and flexible markups. By streamlining the estimation process, contractors can allocate the time they’d otherwise be spending on creating estimates and explore further business opportunities instead.