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Top-Down Estimating: What is it and how it works

top down estimating

Do you know how your estimated pipeline looks each quarter? Are you sure you'll hit the forecast you developed? Can you answer these questions confidently without depending on reports or phone consultations? Unfortunately, it isn't uncommon for the answers to be "no." Don't worry; you're not alone. Estimate pipeline visibility is challenging for companies throughout the construction industry.

This becomes a challenge because many managers believe staying on track with estimates is as easy as knowing which one is a win or loss. However, what they fail to do is put necessary protocols and processes in place, so communication, bids, and all other components making up the estimate are visible throughout the pipeline.

What Is Top-Down Estimating?

When construction managers use top-down estimating, they're defining the project tasks. In other words, managers are using the final deliverable or goal and then breaking that down into bullet-point planning packages. As a result, those packages experience further refining and break into critical details before team members receive them.

Suppose a project manager has a big-picture idea of how the project contributes to the organization; top-down estimating works the best. The main reason is that there's a proper understanding of the project's details. In addition, top-down estimating is beneficial because it's quick for project managers to define significant tasks. Then, the project team takes those tasks and refines and reviews them to help improve the visibility of your pipeline.

How does it relate to cost-estimating?

The top-down approach to estimating relates to cost-estimating in that you're using this method to determine budgets and evaluating the resources necessary for the project. That way, you can develop a cost estimate alongside a rough estimate for the project's timeline. In addition, top-down estimating helps you understand what you need for contractors, team members, and budgetary guidelines when you don't have the full scope of the project.

Do takeoffs help with top-down estimating?

If you have the blueprint, then using takeoffs helps with top-down estimating because you're creating digital takeoffs in a shorter time, right from those plans. Even though top-down estimating doesn't take as long as cost estimating, using this approach for digital takeoffs reduces the amount of time you're typically spending on this task.

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Tips to Improve Visibility of Estimate Pipeline

According to HubSpot Research, the more visibility and control you have in your estimate pipeline, the more sales and revenue you'll achieve. That's why construction companies need to have maximum visibility. They can accomplish that goal through well-informed decision-making. Let's look at how decisions involving excellent communication helps improve the visibility of your estimate pipeline.

CRM Implementation

The implementation of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) allows you to communicate effectively throughout the decision-making process. Using this technology, construction managers can easily manage the interactions occurring in their company.

That communication includes existing and potential customers. It's easy to use this approach, as you'll be using dedicated cloud-based management tools. That way, when you're facing multiple data sets, you'll stay organized. Every department of your construction company experiences an impact on the outcome of your business's sales. So, you must manage communication effectively.

How Data Integration Plays a Critical Role

Data integration plays a critical role in ensuring all parties involved in the estimating process are receiving the same information, thus reducing mistakes or miscommunications. You can achieve this goal through the seamless integration of valuable data sets with other business tools, including Procore.

Taking this approach helps you unlock additional capabilities available in your estimation software. Using the data that your estimate pipeline generates helps support the decisions you and your team make. Your decisions won’t be based on guesses, but on data.

Use of Reporting

The use of reporting helps you create high-value pieces of information for well-informed decision-making. This effort helps when you're in the estimation process by allowing you to create data-driven and professional reports. In doing so, you'll be driving better decisions through all critical findings that typically don't stand out when using regular reporting.

Improving the visibility of your estimate pipeline also involves evaluating it at least once monthly. That review should include meeting weekly with team members and stakeholders to determine where processes are stagnating and how to identify real opportunities within your pipeline. Make sure you're collaborating with team members to keep every department in the loop.

Pros of Top-Down Construction

Top-down construction builds permanent structures from top to bottom using deep excavations. Some of the pros of this construction approach are;

  • Top-down construction allows for early building of the superstructure even before the completion of the building. As a result, contractors save significantly on time when they build the structures above ground simultaneously with those below ground.
  • Concrete diaphragm walls are reinforced during top-down construction work as a temporary soil retention system and a groundwater cut-off to control underground water flow. As permanent structures, these diaphragm walls help with load-bearing functions for the complete structure.
  • Top-down construction replaces temporary support by installing permanent internal structures such as the suspended slab that acts as an internal protection structure giving stability for excavation and reducing tie-backs. High-leveled slabs are cast before lower-leveled slabs offer safety and a sturdy support system.
  • Constructing a roof is economical and simpler since it is cast on existing grade instead of bottom formwork. The top is built with access openings on a slab to enable construction to continue downwards. 
  • Compared to the bottom-up construction, the excavation width needed for the top-down structure is less. This minimizes the cost and amount of pollution incurred.
  • It gives the wall a robust support system reducing ground movements that can damage the construction.
  • You don't need to underpin alternating structures.

Cons of Top-down construction

Below are some of the cons of top-down construction;

  • Top-down construction makes it impossible to install waterproofing on the exterior surface of the walls. External waterproofing is crucial as it helps prevent water from entering your basements or wall crevices.
  • The complex design is in play with more intricate connections for the base, floor, and roof slab. The management, logistics, and arrangement of top-down construction can take a lot of time and resources as the structure alternates from top to bottom.
  • There is potential water leakage at the connections due to the holes left in the slabs to give access to future excavation. Even in a temporary situation, permanent slabs require vertical support. These joints get stiff as you go down the roofs, floors, and foundation slabs.  
  • Building the substructure in the top-down method is more costly and gradual due to the restricted access to excavation space. This limited space makes it challenging to construct a foundation slab
  • .The columns needed to complete basement floors in top-down construction should be oversized and not slender as in their temporary condition. Increasing the size of the columns to a permanent state means additional costs will be needed.
  • Since the area has limited spaces, concrete pumps, concrete trucks, and reinforcement are allowed in restricted amounts. The value of this construction will deteriorate if the top-down portions are not at par with the bottom-up sections.
  • A top-down structure is suitable for large construction projects. However, building a basement with the top-down technique will take longer than the bottom-up method due to its complexity.


Now that you know the importance of top-down estimating and how to improve the visibility of your estimate pipeline, it's time to get to work. ProEst is a proactive approach to helping construction managers understand tips to enhance the visibility of your estimate pipeline so your business can flourish with an increase in profit.