There are two different types of construction takeoffs that are regularly seen. These are manual takeoffs or 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, as well as provide a total materials cost for the project.
Because they provide the same information, both manual and digital takeoffs fulfill an equal role in the construction cost estimation process, with differences lying in how the process is structured and how long it takes to create a construction takeoff.
Manual Construction Takeoffs
A construction takeoff is done manually if it is done 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. In order to be done effectively, a manual takeoff requires a high degree of skill. For manual construction takeoffs, the estimator works directly off of a physical blueprint, pulling required materials from the engineer’s instructions. Because of this, the estimator must have the ability to read construction drawings.
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 are completing simple projects with materials they commonly use and know the price for. 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 estimators preferred reporting software.
Manual takeoffs have been around for a very long time. Some contractors and subcontractors who are familiar with completing a manual takeoff can do so relatively quickly, and may not see the benefit in digital takeoffs or simply may not want to learn something new. While manual takeoffs can be familiar, there are a number of downsides to the process when 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 construction drawings 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
Although manual takeoffs continue to be produced, the production of digital takeoffs is becoming increasingly popular. Digital takeoffs offer a number of 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. Digital construction takeoffs are produced through the assistance of software programs designed to streamline the takeoff process. A digital construction takeoff is one crucial part of producing 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 their own functions that they provide. That being said, in general, a digital takeoff will begin with either a blueprint file or a scanned copy of the drawings. 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 certain amounts of materials to account for waste associated with the construction process. Digital takeoffs have the embedded ability to perform calculations, eliminating the need for messy equations. However, if an adjustment needs to be made then the estimator or contractor can simply update material requirements dynamically.
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 allow them to easily account for material price differences between locations.
There is a wide range of benefits for using a 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 blueprint by the program itself. At the same time, because of these two embedded functions, digital takeoffs have a lower expertise requirement than manual takeoffs. Lastly, digital takeoffs can be created significantly faster than manual takeoffs. With the entire process streamlined, the estimator or contractor can quickly produce a construction takeoff. Additionally, if any adjustments need to be made at some point 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.