A construction material takeoff is a core component of a detailed construction cost estimating software. Construction material takeoffs are created for projects of all sizes. Prepared by general contractors, subcontractors, and estimators, material takeoffs can range from straightforward to very complex. For those in the construction industry that don’t regularly prepare a material takeoff, the process can seem obscure. This article will seek to break down what a material takeoff is, what function a material takeoff provides, and how one prepares a material takeoff. Throughout this discussion, the importance of a material takeoff will become readily apparent. If you aren’t sure what a material takeoff is or how to prepare one, keep reading to find out what you need to know about this important component of the construction estimating process.
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What is a Material Takeoff?
Construction material takeoffs are known by many different names in the construction industry. These include a material takeoff (MTO), a quantity takeoff, a construction takeoff, or simply a takeoff. Each of these terms refers to the same process, which often leads to confusion for individuals outside of the construction industry. At a basic level, a material takeoff seeks to provide two types of information. First, a material takeoff is intended to provide a comprehensive list of materials required to complete a construction project. Second, a material takeoff provides detailed cost estimates for each material required for a project. These cost estimates are combined into a total material cost for the project. The total material cost for the project is usually adjusted before a final material takeoff is produced. This allows the individual or organization preparing the material takeoff to account for anticipated fluctuations in material prices that may affect total construction costs.
What Information is Included in a Material Takeoff?
Although material takeoffs are produced with a simple purpose in mind, they are quite complex in practice. This complexity is determined by how the material takeoff is prepared and the complexity of the project that the material takeoff is being prepared for. Because of the important role that material takeoffs occupy in the construction cost estimating process, it is necessary to understand what information is included in a material takeoff. As we mentioned, there are two broad categories that are included in a material takeoff: a material takeoff must include a comprehensive breakdown of all materials for a project, and a material takeoff will provide prices for those materials. Let’s look at each of these broad categories in greater detail to understand more about material takeoffs in general.
One of the primary purposes of a material takeoff is to provide a detailed list of materials necessary to complete a construction project. Depending on the scale of the project and its complexity, the list of materials can be relatively short or very long. In order to prepare a material takeoff, the estimator or contractor must first determine exactly what materials are required to complete a project. This information will be pulled directly from blueprints, architectural drawings, or project plans. The individual or team preparing the estimate will consult the specifications provided by the project engineer and architect to compile a list of necessary materials. For projects where a subcontractor is preparing a material takeoff, they may refer to their own project notes to determine what materials are required.
A material takeoff seeks to provide a comprehensive list of materials for a project, as well as their associated quantities. Material takeoffs are used as a reference to understand exactly what materials must be ordered for a construction project, thus determining the quantities of materials accurately is crucial. The way that materials are assigned a quantity in a material takeoff depends on the type of material. In general, there are four types of quantities that are regularly seen in a material takeoff. First, a simple count may be provided for materials that are prefabricated. These include things like light fixtures, hinges, windows, or doors. Each associated product will have a description to ensure that the exact model needed for the project is ordered, along with a number indicating how many of that particular material to order.
Second, some materials will need to be quantified using length. This is most commonly seen for materials like lumber, steel piping, molding, or ducting. Each material will have detailed length and width measurements, with some material takeoffs providing details like the total weight of the required material for shipping considerations. Third, some materials must be quantified using volume. This is useful for materials that are liquid, such as concrete or asphalt. In order to determine the volume of a required material the person preparing the estimate will need to be familiar with relevant calculations for determining volume. Lastly, some materials will need to be quantified using area. The area is used for such things as flooring, roofing, or tile, and is often provided in the form of square feet.
There are a couple of important considerations that the person preparing the material takeoff may or may not include, depending on their needs. The first is weight. Not all material takeoffs provide the weight of materials required for a project. Weight may be necessary to include in a material takeoff because it can be used to determine shipping and transportation costs for the associated materials. While the weight of specific materials may not be relevant for smaller projects, for large projects where the logistics of getting materials to the job site can result in significant costs the weight of materials is a useful metric to include in a material takeoff.
A second component that nearly all material takeoffs include is detailed product descriptions. These descriptions are important because a material takeoff is used as a reference from which materials are ordered for a project. In order to guarantee that the correct materials for the project are ordered, each material must be described to an adequate degree. For example, if the engineer provides specific requirements for a load-bearing beam, including the size of the lumber and any special treatment it may require, this information would need to be included in a material takeoff. This is not only to ensure that the correct materials are ordered but is also necessary to ensure that the material cost estimate for the project is accurate.
The second type of information that a material takeoff provides is a breakdown of material costs. Depending on how the construction material takeoff is prepared, determining construction material costs can be very time-consuming. Essentially, this aspect of the material takeoff requires the person preparing the estimate to apply an estimated cost to each type of material required for the project. Once an itemized breakdown of the material costs has been formed, the estimator will then determine a total material cost for the project.
Arriving at a total material cost for a project requires good judgment, critical thinking skills, and a broad knowledge of trends that affect material prices in the construction industry. Most material takeoffs include a manual markup for certain material costs. The purpose of raising material costs for certain materials isn’t necessarily to increase profits, but rather is used as a way for the contractor or estimator to ensure that a project remains profitable. This is because material prices can increase over the time between when a bid is submitted and materials are actually ordered. Marking up certain material costs can ensure that even if material costs rise, the project will remain profitable.
Assigning material costs to each specific material can be quite time consuming depending on how it is done and the scope of the project. In a situation where a subcontractor is familiar with the prices associated with the materials they require, this process can be relatively straightforward. However, for large projects, or projects in a different location, the material takeoff preparer will need to secure bids for certain materials or raw material costs from a source that provides location-specific material costs.
There are a couple of different ways that material costs are often determined for a material takeoff. Getting bids from material suppliers is one way that is often used for large projects. Another way that material costs are determined is by drawing from a self-created database populated with material costs for commonly used materials. This approach is most often used by contractors who work with the same materials and material suppliers on a regular basis, and therefore are sure that their material cost estimates are accurate to real-world market conditions.
Lastly, the preparer may reference a construction material cost database like RS Means to determine material estimates. The advantage of this approach is that databases like RS Means construction cost data consist of nationwide averages, but can also be assessed according to the location of the project. This is useful because material costs can vary significantly depending on where the project is being completed. Many contractors placing a bid in a location they don’t normally work in will draw construction cost data from either local vendors or from a database like RS Means. This allows them to produce an accurate material cost estimate that reflects local variance in material costs.
How a Material Takeoff is Created
There are two broad methods through which a material takeoff is created. Material takeoffs may be created manually, or they may be created digitally with the assistance of construction cost estimating software with digital takeoff capability. Creating a material takeoff manually is a very time-consuming process that has been around for a very long period of time. In contrast, digital takeoffs are relatively new and are still gaining traction in the construction industry. Manual takeoffs have some significant disadvantages when compared to digital takeoffs. Understanding these disadvantages can help inform the preparer on which method of preparation they should use for the material takeoff.
A material takeoff is traditionally prepared manually. In the past, this meant that the takeoff was prepared by hand, but increasingly even manual takeoffs rely on computer software to assist with some of the more difficult aspects of preparing a takeoff. When preparing a manual takeoff, the person preparing the estimate will read the project’s design papers or blueprints to determine which materials are necessary. They will then need to perform calculations to determine the quantity of each required material, and incorporate adjustments for any wastage associated with the construction process. Lastly, the preparer will need to assign a price to each material. Most often, this will require securing bids from material suppliers for accurate price information.
The amount of time that a manual takeoff takes is one of the most significant disadvantages. Put simply, preparing a material takeoff by hand is a labor-intensive process. This is true even when relying on computer programs to help with complex calculations. A second inherent disadvantage of a manual material takeoff is that they are more prone to errors. It is much easier to miss a required material, count materials twice, calculate a quantity incorrectly or calculate material costs incorrectly with a manual takeoff. Lastly, both of these disadvantages are exacerbated by the fact that material takeoffs are often adjusted many times before materials are actually ordered, which requires more time and leads to more opportunities for errors.
More recently, material takeoffs are increasingly being prepared with the assistance of digital takeoff software. Digital takeoff software streamlines the entire process of preparing a material takeoff by automating many of the most time-consuming processes. The process for preparing a digital takeoff will vary depending on the specific type of digital takeoff software used, but in general, all digital takeoffs follow the same basic workflow. First, a digital blueprint is loaded into the cost estimating software. From this, the software generates a list of all required materials for the project. The estimator can then review the material quantities provided by the program and make any adjustments dynamically to account for material wastage. Once this has been completed, a price is then assigned to each material. For the most part, this process is automated as well. This process is done by importing material costs from a database that is integrated into the construction cost estimating software. The material cost database may be populated manually by the contractor or may draw data from an external source like RS Means construction cost data.
The construction estimating software for a digital takeoff are numerous. First, the entire process is streamlined and automated. This reduces much of the legwork required to complete a takeoff, which consequently reduces the labor cost and time associated with producing a takeoff. The second clear advantage of a digital takeoff is in its increased accuracy. A digital takeoff is inherently less likely to have errors due to the fact that the program itself determines the materials required, performs any necessary calculations for quantity, and can assign material prices directly from a cost database. Because a material takeoff is a core component of a detailed construction cost estimate, a high degree of accuracy is required. When it comes to accuracy and speed, digital takeoffs have a clear advantage over producing a construction material takeoff manually.
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