Quotes and Expenses: Checking your take-offs for accuracy

Quotes and expenses are highly detailed and an important step throughout your estimating process. Check your take-off for accuracy with these steps!

  • Summarize your estimate
  • Sort the material cost from high to low
  • Does everything that is supposed to have a cost associated with it have one?
  • Does anything look unusual? (Sometimes in our rush to get things done, we type fast and “fat finger” an entry…for example, you might have wanted to enter a quantity of “7” but you ended up typing “77” or worse yet “777,” which can really throw things off.)
  • Sort your labor column from high to low. Does everything look normal?

Some other tips!

  • For every 100’ of EMT in your estimate, you should have at least 10 couplings.
  • For every junction box, you should have an average of 3 to 4 wire terminations.
  • For every 100’ of pipe (EMT, PVC, rigid), you should have at least 3 times the quotes and expenseswire, or 300’ plus slack, plus 100’ of ground wire.
  • For an average job, your material cost plus quotes should equal 1/3 of your cost.
  • For every project, you should know the square footage. The ratio of labor hours to the project square footage can be telling. For a labor intensive job, this ratio should be 20-25%. Conversely, for a less intensive job (building core/shell), this ratio could be 10% or a little lower.

Generally, you should always complete a detailed take-off versus “square footing” the cost of a job. However, if you keep good historical data, an average cost per square foot for a particular building can be helpful to check to see if your numbers are “in the ballpark.”


When you receive quotes (especially for lighting), check the quantities.

  • Does the quote match the counts that you provided the vendor? Often the vendor uses the first set of counts that he is provided, but they may not match yours. Differing quantities (high/low) can make a difference in your bid price (and the bid price of others), so be careful!
  • For gear quotes, check the bill of material.
  • Does it contain all the items from the riser?
  • Is it the right manufacturer?
  • Sometimes the items that a particular vendor doesn’t carry are simply excluded from his quote, and he might not tell you about it to make his price look “better.”
  • If your project requires “attic stock” or “spare materials,” make sure those are included in your quote.
  • Specialty testing can be an expensive item to miss. Make sure you know what you own, and be sure to include the price in your estimate.
  • Buyer beware! Ultimately it is the bidder who is responsible for everything on the drawings, not the vendor!

One last word about vendors. If you do not cultivate relationships with your vendors, they will be less likely to work with YOU on bid day. In today’s bidding world, you need every advantage you can get, so relationships become even more important. You won’t get the “whisper” number on bid day if you do not have a relationship with your vendor.

Direct Job Expenses

Direct job expenses (DJE) are costs that are directly related to the project. This includes:

  • Lifts, scaffolding, staging or ladders.
  • A place to store your material for the project which may include a trailer for a field office with fax/phone/network connections, computers, phones, copiers and furniture.
  • A site vehicle/shuttling costs. Depending on the site, you may also have to include money for parking or if the lot is remote, money to shuttle your workers from the lot to the site.
  • Depending on the tools being used on the project, it may include the appropriate training and certification that your electricians will need in order to work on the site.
    • This could include lift specific training, harnesses and PPE, and NFPA70E and OSHA 10-30 training. If your project requires this, it is best to cover these expenses, and make sure you can have the training completed in time to start work on the job in case you are awarded the project.
  • If there is a generator or large switchgear on the project, rigging should be included as a DJE, as well as the cost of permits to complete the rigging such as “over the road” or “wide load” permits.
  • Check for “factory witness testing” and load bank testing also. Often general contractors will require a designated person at the factory to witness the testing of the generator.
  • Finally, don’t forget to include money for small tools! They can account for 2-3% of the labor cost of the entire project.

As with the take-off phase, checking your take-off and applying quotes and direct job costs takes time.


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