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How to do a construction takeoff

A construction takeoff, or material takeoff, is an integral part of the construction cost estimation process.

Construction takeoffs help accurately assess the total costs for a project by providing a comprehensive list of materials and associated costs. They are necessary for nearly all construction projects, including anything from relatively simple renovations to large-scale projects.

Construction takeoffs can be time-consuming, so minimizing the amount of time you spend creating one will result in more time for bidding on new opportunities.

This article will dive into what a construction takeoff is, what is included, and provide some tips to streamline the creation of a construction takeoff.

What is a construction takeoff?

A construction takeoff is also commonly referred to as a material takeoff (MTO), or construction material take-off.

The phrase “take-off” refers to the estimator taking each of the required materials off a project’s blueprint.

You’ll often come across different terms in front of takeoff, such as ‘lumber takeoff.’ In this instance, the material is specified and means the total quantity of ‘lumber’ required to complete the project.

A construction takeoff’s central aim isn’t limited to one material; instead, its purpose is to provide a comprehensive list of all the essential materials to complete a project.

Construction takeoffs also provide the prices for those materials. The sum of the cost of materials provides a total material cost for the project, which is then factored into the final construction cost estimate.

construction takeoff

Why are construction takeoffs critical?

Construction takeoffs are essential because they help ensure the profitability of a project.

 An essential component of a construction takeoff is the materials cost estimate. The cost of materials can vary widely depending on the location of a project and market volatility. This can affect the overall cost of a project if it isn’t accounted for correctly.

 Projected increases in material costs are incorporated into a construction takeoff. This gives the contractor the ability to build in a buffer to ensure that they don’t incur losses should the materials’ price rise. Accounting for both short and long-term material price trends can be difficult but is often necessary given the length of time between when a bid is secured and when those materials are required.

Who completes a construction takeoff?

The estimator completes a construction takeoff for many large projects, but some subcontractors may complete the construction takeoff themselves. 

While simple in principle, creating a construction takeoff can be difficult. 

Depending on the complexity of the construction project, it can be a  time-consuming process. A construction takeoff is often presented as a final report that is then incorporated into a complete estimate.

While they do take time, construction takeoffs must be as accurate as possible. Construction takeoffs provide a comprehensive list of materials necessary to complete a project. If defective materials are ordered, it can result in delays in project completion and significant cost overages. If too many materials are ordered, it results in losses for the contractor.

construction takeoff information

What Information is in a construction takeoff?

Construction takeoffs provide a list of all the materials necessary to complete a project and their associated costs.

Materials are the first on the list in a construction takeoff is the list of materials, which is sometimes referred to as a quantity takeoff.

 To get this information, the person preparing the construction takeoff must work off the project blueprint. From this, the estimator can begin building a list of materials.

A construction takeoff will contain a list of all of the materials a project requires. The list must be comprehensive, and it is often necessary to account for any wastage. Each material that appears on a blueprint must be incorporated into the construction takeoff. Alongside the quantity of each material, the estimator must include specific information about the required material.

For example, if the engineer requires certain lumber types or piping, that information would be included in the takeoff so that the correct materials are ordered.

Put another way; a construction takeoff does not merely list “lumber” under raw materials.

Instead, lumber would be broken down into the specific number and type of 2×4’s, 2×6’s, or 4×4’s necessary to complete the job.

Material takeoffs include information for both raw materials and prefabricated materials needed to complete a project. Additionally, a construction takeoff will include any fasteners or brackets necessary for the installation of prefabricated materials.

The quantity of each item on a material takeoff must correspond to the type of item that it is referring to.

Often things like piping or lumber are noted by length requirements. The length specified will most likely include any extra length to account for wastage due to the construction process.

For things like concrete or asphalt, the volume of the material required will need to be calculated. Materials applied over a large area would include the required area, which would be necessary for flooring or tiling materials. In some situations, a simple count is sufficient. This would be the case for prefabricated items such as light fixtures.

Once an estimator has extracted each of the materials necessary to complete their project and calculated the quantity associated with them, they must now assign a price to the materials.

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Aside from volume of materials, is there anything else to include?

When assigning a price during the construction takeoff process, it is important to incorporate any expected changes to material prices that may impact the total material costs.

For example, suppose the market is experiencing higher-than-normal prices for steel. In that case, the estimator may take this into account and increase the total cost for the steel in the project to account for any increases.

Anticipating future cost increases for raw materials is one of the more challenging parts of the construction takeoff process. This is because it requires a high degree of skill and judgment to do correctly. 

The estimator must have extensive knowledge of current material prices and an understanding of any market forces that may exist that could cause those material prices to fluctuate.

types of construction takeoffs

Construction Takeoff Methods

The two most common types of construction takeoffs are manual takeoffs and digital takeoffs.

Digital takeoffs offer many advantages over manual takeoffs. This will become more clear as we explore the difference between the two.

At a basic level, both types of takeoffs seek to present the same information. Both manual and digital takeoffs will provide a comprehensive list of materials required to complete a construction project. Both types of takeoffs will also contain pricing information for the required materials and provide a project’s total materials cost.

Because they provide the same information, both manual and digital takeoffs fulfill an equal role in the construction cost estimation process, with differences in how the process is structured and how long it takes to create a construction takeoff.

You may be familiar with the term ‘blueprint’ takeoff; this refers to the design plan and is the core part in both manual and digital construction takeoffs, which we’ll explore below.

Manual construction takeoffs

A manual construction takeoff is completed without the assistance of construction cost estimation software with digital takeoff capabilities.

Manual takeoffs can be done by hand or by physically reading the blueprint and creating your own takeoff in word processing or database software. To be done effectively, a manual takeoff requires a high degree of skill.

What is involved in a manual construction takeoff?

For manual construction takeoffs, the estimator works directly off a physical blueprint, pulling required materials from the engineer’s instructions. Because of this, the estimator must have the ability to read blueprints.

Manual takeoffs can involve complex mathematical equations, so an estimator must be comfortable calculating things like area, volume, or length, depending on the scenario. Figuring out materials pricing involves more legwork for manual takeoffs.

The estimator must secure bids from material vendors unless they complete simple projects with materials they commonly use and know the price.

Lastly, the estimator must prepare a final report. For manual takeoffs, this will often necessitate entering data into a database program and generate a report from there or entering the relevant information into the estimator’s preferred reporting software.

Manual takeoffs have been around for a very long time. Some contractors and subcontractors familiar with completing a manual takeoff can do so relatively quickly, not see the benefit in digital takeoffs, or simply may not want to learn something new.

Are there any negatives to a manual construction takeoff?

While manual takeoffs can be familiar, there are many downsides to the process compared to digital takeoffs.

First, producing a manual takeoff is much more time-consuming than preparing a digital takeoff. The estimator must pay close attention to detail throughout the process to ensure that no materials are missed or counted twice.

Manually reading blueprints also adds time to the process because the estimator must be sure that all required materials have been ordered. For complex projects, this can be a significant undertaking.

The second disadvantage that manual takeoffs have is a higher likelihood of errors. Materials may be missed on the blueprint, or materials may be counted multiple times or not at all. The complex math involved in producing a manual takeoff also presents numerous opportunities for errors. The increased occurrence of errors in manual takeoffs is one of the most significant disadvantages to them.

digital construction takeoffs

Digital Construction Takeoffs

Although manual takeoffs continue to be produced, the production of digital takeoffs is becoming increasingly popular.

Digital takeoffs offer several advantages over manual takeoffs. These include increased accuracy, decreased production time, and a lower requirement for expertise. There are some other advantages to digital construction takeoff software, such as integration into construction cost estimating software.

What is involved in a digital construction takeoff?

Digital construction takeoffs are produced through the assistance of software programs designed to streamline the takeoff process. A digital construction takeoff is crucial for creating an effective estimate, so digital takeoff software is usually integrated into a construction cost estimating suite that assists throughout the entire estimating process.

Digital takeoffs involve the same process as a manual takeoff, with the difference being that many of the more complex processes are automated.

Essentially, digital takeoff software streamlines the process of creating a digital takeoff. There are many different types of digital takeoff software, each with its own functions that they provide. 

However, in general, a digital takeoff will begin with either a blueprint file or a scanned copy of the blueprint. Rather than being required to read the blueprint, with a digital takeoff, the software reads the blueprint and pulls from it a list of required materials. The estimator can then make any adjustments they need to, such as increasing amounts of materials to account for waste associated with the construction process’s waste.

Digital takeoffs have the embedded ability to perform calculations, eliminating the need for messy equations. However, if an adjustment needs to be made, the estimator or contractor can dynamically update material requirements.

What benefits does a digital construction takeoff have? 

One of the most time-consuming parts of a construction takeoff is applying price information for materials. Digital takeoffs simplify this process through different methods. The estimator may draw price data from a pre-populated database they have created with up-to-date price information. This method is effective if the estimator has current price information for their specific area and materials.

Once the database has been populated, this process can occur within minutes instead of days. 

Estimators can also import current price information from an external database. For example, some construction cost estimator software is integrated into RS Means construction cost databases. 

This method has the benefit of drawing from a nationwide database stocked with current prices on hundreds of local areas. For contractors producing a materials cost analysis for a location they aren’t familiar with, RS Means data can easily account for material price differences between locations.

There is a wide range of benefits for using construction estimating software over-performing manual takeoffs.

Digital takeoffs are inherently more accurate because calculations are performed, and material data is drawn directly from the program’s blueprint. At the same time, because of these two embedded functions, digital takeoffs have a lower expertise requirement than manual takeoffs.

A significant benefit of a digital takeoff is that it can be created much faster than manual takeoffs. As the entire process is streamlined, the estimator or contractor can quickly produce a construction takeoff.

 Finally, if any adjustments need to be made in the future, material quantities or costs can be quickly updated. With construction cost estimating software that can produce digital takeoffs, the estimator doesn’t ever have to leave the same program while producing an estimate.