What is a Construction Takeoff?

Construction takeoffs are a crucial component of any construction project. An accurate takeoff gives both the client and contractor a firm outline of the total material cost for a project. Depending on the size and scope of the project, construction takeoffs can vary from relatively simple to incredibly complex. The construction cost estimating process in many ways revolves around the construction takeoff. Because of the importance of this component of construction cost estimating, this article will answer the question, “what is a construction takeoff?” Answering this question will shed light on how a construction takeoff is crafted, what the core components of a construction takeoff are, and what some factors are you should consider when creating a construction takeoff.

Construction Takeoffs Explained

Chances are, if you work in the construction industry then you have probably heard of a construction takeoff. Construction takeoffs are known by many names. Most commonly it is referred to simply as a “take-off”, “construction material take-off,” or “construction takeoff.” Both of the terms “take-off” and “takeoff” are used interchangeably. While the many names for a construction takeoff can be confusing, they are all referring to the same thing.

At its core, the construction takeoff’s purpose is to give the estimator a breakdown of all of the components required to complete a construction project. It doesn’t matter if it is a new project or a renovation since both will require a construction takeoff. In order to create a construction material takeoff, an estimator will need to quantify every single component required to complete their project. Construction takeoffs include all of the raw materials you’ll need for the project, such as wood, rebar, piping, and concrete. Each of these materials is quantified, and a price is assigned to each. These two steps are usually done separately, with the estimator first creating a quantity takeoff list and then assigning a price to each material. While creating a comprehensive list of materials for a project can seem daunting, assigning accurate prices to each material is often more challenging.

In order to be an effective construction takeoff, it must be accurate. Estimators must ensure that their material take-off is comprehensive, meaning it covers all of the materials that will be required to complete a job. An accurate material take-off is essential for arriving at an accurate estimate for the cost of a project. Creating a comprehensive construction takeoff can be extremely time-consuming if done by hand. In order to create a construction takeoff, the estimator must understand how to read blueprints and draw item quantities from the outline. The final product of a construction material takeoff is the total material cost for a project. Because of this, the construction takeoff is essential for the overall estimating process.

What is Included in a Construction Takeoff?

The concept behind a construction takeoff is relatively straightforward. An estimator itemizes every material that is necessary to complete a project and assigns it a price. In practice, a material takeoff is often much more complex. This is not to say that a construction takeoff is always complex. For relatively simple projects an experienced contractor may be able to create an accurate list of materials in their head. While this is not technically a material takeoff, it does illustrate the fact that there can be very simple material takeoffs for small projects. That being said, for complex projects, a construction project can be a time-consuming process that involves a team of estimators. There are some ways to streamline the construction takeoff process, including the use of construction estimating software, but it is important to understand that construction takeoffs can be very demanding for complex projects. Taking a look at what is included in a construction takeoff will illustrate why they can become very complex.

One of the challenges that many contractors run into when creating a construction takeoff is figuring out what is included in a takeoff. First, a takeoff will include all materials that are required to finish the project. The types of materials that are included in a construction takeoff will be determined by the project. Typically, the materials in a construction takeoff include any lumber, steel, concrete, or sand required. In addition to raw materials, a construction takeoff will include a comprehensive list of any prefabricated components required for the project. These include things like electrical cabling, light fixtures, pipes, tile, windows, etc.

For each material listed in a construction takeoff, the estimator will have to assign a quantity. How an item is quantified depends on the type of item. For prefabricated materials, a simple count is usually sufficient. For things like lumber or piping, the estimator will need to provide accurate length requirements. Components like roofing, flooring, or cladding will be quantified using area. For some components, such as concrete, the quantity will need to be provided in volume. An accurate quantity for each component is a crucial part of the construction takeoff but is also one of the most difficult aspects of the construction takeoff. Without the use of digital takeoff software, the estimator must be able to perform complex equations to arrive at accurate quantities for things like concrete or asphalt.

Each material will also need to be specified so as to ensure that the pricing is accurate and the correct materials are ordered. If a project has specific requirements for materials then they need to be noted along with the quantity required. During this part of the takeoff process, the estimator will draw on the expertise of the engineer by following any blueprints provided. The materials in the takeoff must match the requirements set forth by the engineer and architect. So, if a specific type of lumber or grade of steel is required, this information would be noted on the construction takeoff.

Once the estimator has provided a quantity and description for each required material they must then assign a price to each item. Determining the price of materials is one of the most time consuming and difficult parts of the construction takeoff process. Prices must be accurate in order to ensure that the materials cost for a project doesn’t run over budget. Accurate prices in a construction takeoff are therefore crucial for guaranteeing a project is profitable. During this part of the construction takeoff, the estimator will often seek out bids from material suppliers. Experienced contractors may already have prices for commonly used materials, which can streamline this part of the construction takeoff process significantly.

It is important to note that while a construction takeoff must be comprehensive, certain items generally aren’t itemized in a granular fashion. For example, a construction takeoff won’t include the exact number of screws or nails required for a project. Obviously, counting each of these small components required for a project would be labor intensive and would often be an exercise in futility. Instead, these types of items can be roughly estimated and won’t significantly impact the overall material costs for a project should the estimate be slightly off. The expertise of the estimator will be necessary to roughly determine how many of these types of items to order.

What Isn’t Included in the Construction Takeoff

Knowing what isn’t included in a construction takeoff is just as important as knowing what is included in one. Construction material takeoffs don’t take into account the labor required to complete a project. Labor costs are an essential part of the construction cost estimating process but aren’t included in a construction material takeoff. Calculating the labor cost of a construction project involves its own complex set of considerations, including whether the labor is union or non-union, local wage variations, and skilled labor requirements. In addition to labor costs, any other costs required for completing the project will be added in another part of the estimating process. This includes things like equipment rental fees and associated operational costs, storage fees, shipping and transportation fees, and office overhead costs. While each of these is important to accurately quantify, it will be done so in a different part of the construction cost estimating process.

Types of Construction Takeoffs

Construction takeoffs vary depending on the type of construction project. Subcontractors, such as electricians and plumbers, will produce a different construction takeoff than a general contractor. However, while these two takeoffs may look different they follow the same fundamental process. Aside from these differences, there are generally two types of construction takeoffs; manual and digital. Manual construction takeoffs have probably existed, in one form or another, since the earliest construction projects were commissioned. In a manual takeoff the estimator or contractor will read the blueprint, list each component required including the type of material and important considerations such as length, volume, or area of the material. Once each material has been quantified, the estimator then has to assign a price to each by hand and then calculate a final material total.

There are a couple of downsides to manual construction takeoffs. The first is that they can be extremely time-consuming depending on the complexity of the project. Second, manual construction takeoffs are prone to errors. Materials can be miscounted, counted twice, or not included at all. It is much easier to miss errors in a construction takeoff when completing it by hand. Third, manual construction takeoffs require a high degree of skill to complete in order to be accurate. The estimator must be able to perform complex calculations and verify that they are correct.

In contrast to a manual takeoff, digital takeoffs offer a number of benefits. A digital takeoff is a takeoff completed in a construction cost estimating software platform that offers takeoff capability. Not all construction cost estimating software can help the contractor perform a digital takeoff. A digital takeoff automates many of the more complicated aspects of the construction takeoff process. The features associated with a digital takeoff will vary depending on the platform. Some digital takeoff software gives the user the ability to upload a blueprint directly into the software suite. From this blueprint, the software can pull a comprehensive list of all material requirements for the project. From there, a contractor or estimator can make any adjustments they need to, such as increasing the number of materials required for the project manually so as to account for material waste.

Once the estimator is satisfied with the materials list, they can then use the software to apply a price to each item. Contractors that commonly use the same materials and have accurate prices for those materials can build a database of their materials costs. Some construction takeoff software platforms can draw material costs data from databases such as RS Means, which offers a comprehensive database of construction material data that is adjusted based on location. If the software platform doesn’t have this capability, the estimator will need to populate their materials price database manually. Digital takeoff software can also assist the contractor by allowing them to adjust material prices dynamically. This is useful to account for market fluctuations in materials prices, which can significantly impact the profitability of a construction project.

Once the prices have been assigned for a digital takeoff they can then usually export the data in a variety of formats. Some software platforms have integrated reporting functionality, which can offer tremendous time savings. For manual takeoffs, once all of the data has been gathered, the estimator must then create a detailed takeoff to provide to the client or design team. With digital takeoff software, this process is vastly more simple. The digital takeoff data can be exported to another program that can generate reports, or if the platform has integrated reporting functionality the report can be generated without ever leaving the program. This saves time by avoiding having to enter data twice, while also increasing the accuracy of the final takeoff. This also allows contractors and subcontractors to spend less time creating reports and more time bidding projects.

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