Electrical Estimating Take-off

Does knowing software make me an electrical estimator?

You took the electrical estimating software training. Are you now an estimator?

One of the biggest fallacies in the electrical industry is that knowing how to operate an electrical estimating software package automatically “makes you an estimator.” While knowing software is very important to the estimator’s role, this is only a piece of the estimating process. There is that old phrase “garbage in, garbage out” which may apply when a software operator randomly takes off items with no thought to reviewing any of the bid documentation. As you may know, apprentice electricians must complete 4 to 6 years of education and training to be a licensed journeyman electrician. What makes you think that taking a software class could make you an estimator in a week?

The estimator’s role is to determine the true cost of the project.

One thing that I think owners should remember is that the estimator’s role is to determine the true cost of the project. In that regard, an estimator has a fiscal responsibility to the company to determine the costs so that the company makes the anticipated profit, or at least doesn’t lose any money. We had one customer say “If I read the specs and covered everything, I would never get a job.” That is dangerous thinking right there. Determining the true cost doesn’t mean you have to bid at that price. The true cost becomes a guideline to make cuts to the costs based on known factors and historical data that you have collected over the years. That’s how you become more competitive on bid day.

This estimator not only knows the electrical estimating software, he knows how to estimate too!

Software does not teach you to think.

Every estimator’s career needs a foundation. In other words, an estimator must be taught to think and interpret drawing notes, specifications and other documentation. If you are never taught to look at the building construction before starting your take-off, how would you know that devices in block walls require different labor units than those in a sheetrock wall? If you never look at the reflected ceiling plan, how would you know to take-off a fixture in a grid ceiling versus a hard, gypsum board ceiling.

Is there demolition or existing walls that need to be chased or snaked? Different ceilings may require different wiring methods, flange kits, or even lifts depending on the height. Does your software determine this for you? No! Will software help you with project acceleration or delays in the schedule? The simple answer is no.

Electrical estimating software is great, but can it……????

You are back from your week of software training. Now you are back and ready to work. Where do you start? Does your software lay out a systematic approach? Will it help you get the counts out to the vendors for lighting fixtures? Or help you determine wiring methods for the project? Does the software calculate what you will need for homeruns? How does the software handle both human and non-human factors of labor effectiveness such as overtime work, compressed schedules, or building height adjustments?  Will the software prepare your scope letter, detailing what it included in your proposal and our legal terms and conditions that may protect you from lawsuits?If you are lucky to get a project, will the software put together your schedule and manloading chart?

Electrical estimating is part science, and part art!

Perhaps being a great software operator will help you with the science part of estimating. However, there is an “art” to bidding and negotiating work. Determining the bid price has a psychological element to it. Software doesn’t think for you. Software is merely a tool that you use, just like a pencil. Electrical estimating software also does not help you to negotiate work. It doesn’t help with the human side of developing relationships with general contractors in your area. They don’t care what software you use! They care that you can do the work for the price that you quoted. Let’s not forget that there are many electrical estimating software systems available. All operate somewhat differently. If you aren’t a professionally trained estimator, how do you know which electrical estimating software is right for you? Some of our clients use multiple software systems due to estimators rolls and requirements within the company as well.

It’s like learning to drive…………

A software operator (versus an estimator) is like a new driver that never took driver’s ed. Sure you may be able to get in the car and drive down the road. However, you won’t know what to do when a light turns red, or there is a school bus stopped in front of you because you never learned the rules of the road. This may be a rather simplistic example, but estimating is just like this. You learn the rules of the road first, such as estimating theory, building construction, how to read and interpret the bid documents and more.

Want to learn more about electrical estimating? Candels is offering its premier “Electrical Estimating Apprenticeship” from January 29 through May 30. Visit our website or call for details 877-CANDELS.


One thought on “Does knowing software make me an electrical estimator?”

  1. Jerry Tucker says:

    That is very good insight. It would be nice if it was as easy as just taking a class but I have had to work at it for a much longer time and still am learning.

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