On-Screen Electrical Estimating – Chapter Two

As mentioned in my last post, here are some of my likes and dislikes regarding on-screen estimating. The likes are first.

  • No Paper Handling – Some of our larger projects show up on a pallet. Even small project documents add up after awhile, requiring substantial space for archiving.
  • A Minor Point – No more paper cuts.
  • Faster Estimating – Time is saved during takeoff. When you click on an item, it is counted, highlighted, and listed in a takeoff. All this is done in one step, instead of three. It also eliminates data entry errors.
  • Overlays – No more light tables. You can overlay any plan sheet (or portion of a plan sheet) on another plan sheet. Need to see where the homeruns go to on another floor. Just overlay the two floors. Got change orders? Overlay the new plan sheets over the original plan sheets, and the differences are clearly shown.
  • Ergonomics – About 5 years ago, I started experiencing neck pain. The doctors concluded that over thirty years of looking down at a desk was starting to create damage. I was sent off to the chiropractor. I have been using an on-screen takeoff program for about eighteen months, and have not been to the chiropractor for about twelve months. Not looking down at a set of plans for eight hours a day has been very beneficial.
  • Portability – I think my UPS driver is mad at me. He does not deliver here very often anymore. Being able to obtain and deliver documents with the Internet and email is a boon. It also makes collaboration on a project easier.
  • Supplies – I think the local Staples Office Store manager is also mad at me. I no longer purchase box after box of highlighters and pencils.
  • Advanced features – These programs all have special features that make estimating and plan handling easier. For instance, you can create a snapshot of a feeder schedule, and display it on a second screen while doing takeoff on your primary screen. Another is the ability to create bookmarks, which make it simple to move around large projects.
  • Vision Issues – For those who need vision correction, the ability to set a monitor at a fixed distance makes it much easier to manage. You will no longer need to move closer or farther from the plans, put glasses on or off, or be adjusting to look over and under your bifocal line.
  • It’s More Fun? – One of my estimators told me that working on-screen is more fun. Maybe I’ll get more work out of him. For a while.

Here is my dislike.

  • Screen Size – These programs do work on smaller monitors. I currently use a 22″ wide screen monitor. The zoom and pan controls make it very easy to move around the documents on this screen. I am however, keeping an eye on large monitor prices, and will soon purchase a larger screen. It will probably be sized around 30″. Take note that large screen TV’s may not have a very high resolution for the PC input. I have seen 37″ TVs with only a 1366 x 768 resolution. By comparison, my 22″ monitor has a resolution of 1680 x 1050.

Well, that’s it folks. let me know wht you think.


22 responses to “On-Screen Electrical Estimating – Chapter Two

  1. Steve, have you looked into conest sure count software? If you did, I would like to hear your comments about the software.

  2. I have reviewed the software several times, as I am a ConEst Intellibid user. The first time I looked at it, it was, well, less than acceptable. However, the most recent review showed that SureCount had come a long way. The auto count feature’s speed had improved dramatically. I was also shown some strategies to overcome some of the technology’s limitations. I will get more specific in my next post.

  3. Is there any software in particular that you would recommend for on-screen estimating?

  4. I am downloading it right now. Could you recommend an estimating software?

  5. All the major’s are good, including Accubid, McCormick and ConEst. I prefer ConEst for many reasons, including the database, the user interface and the cost structure.

  6. I have been using Accubid T&M Billing for the past 2 – years. I have trouble importing accounting info into Quickbooks. I wish I could try Conest Intellibid for 30 days.

  7. I think you might be able to get a two week trial.

  8. Great, I will talk to Larry Ecklund, thanks.

    Oh, by the way I was looking for an estimators forum yesterday, somehow I stumbled upon you today. I guess the old saying is true “A squirrel finds a nut every day”.
    Right now I am viewing the planswift tutorial. Thanks for the link.

  9. Steve:

    After the Planswift 1 – hour online guided tour and the free demo I am beginning to see the great advantages of on-screen estimating, and Planswift sure is looking like a keeper. I can presumably scratch a drawing on a sheet of loose leaf paper, scan it into planswift, and voila I am ready to start taking off. Just have to build my data base first though.

    Thanks Steve for the great advice about Planswift.


  10. Planswift sounds too good to be true.

  11. I meant SureCount, sorry.

    • Jim – I don’t think it is to good to be true. More like it is not quite ready for everyone. I know people who are using it. They are however, the type of people who like working with new software, figuring out the bugs and making it work for them. Others would be very frustrated.

      It also depends on document quality and engineering parctices. If you have great drawings and good symbols, the software works well. If you have messy drawings, scanned at a low resolution and confusing symbols, the software will be confused as well.

  12. Can someone please give me the code reference for calculating the feeder load for a residential detached garage?


  13. Hello Steve:

    I have been looking at Planswift today and was wondering if you just used it as a takeoff tool and then transferred it into Conest, or did you build a database inside Planswift or did you import a database from Conest into Planswift? There are so many options I am willing to pay someone to set me on the right track.


  14. You don’t need to pay someone. Just talk to people. Talk to people at ConEst & Planswift. Here is my opinion.

    ConEst, and other programs like it, are dedicated electrical estimating programs. They come with extensive databases, including components and assemblies. The databases include links to the most of the price update services. They also have interfaces specificaly designed to help input an electrical takeoff.

    For me, Planswift is first a takeoff program. It replaces paper, highlighters, thumb wheels and rotometers. It can however, be a fairly complete estimating system. You can build a complete database of components and assemblies, including prices and labor.

    The question you must ask is how much time will you spend building a database? Let’s say, a small one, with 100,000 items and 10,000 assemblies. It takes quite a while to build and test such a database.

    So here is my opinion. Use a program like Planswift for takeoff, and an electrical estimating system such as ConEst for pricing, laboring, summarizing and recaping.

  15. Hello Steve:

    I appreciate the friendly words of advice. Mind if I keep asking you some more questions?

    How do you get the info from Planswift into Conest?

    Would you use Planswift on tiny jobs like an O’Reilly Auto Parts Store or even a room addition?

    Would you use PlanSwift for a small designbuild project like a master bedroom and bathroom?

    You would have to do some building in Planswift (120v 20a white duplex receptacle comm grade) correct?

    Would you also have to build some assemblies?

    Last but not least, I own and use Accubid T&M Billing. I use it for billing and estimating. Would you recommend that I continue using it for estimating jobs like O’Reilly Auto Parts stores and small design build jobs, or would you upgrade to their estimating software?

    Would you recommend that I upgraded to Conest’ s estimating software (I like the thought of supporting an American Co.. When I bought Accubid I thought they were light years ahead of Conest)?

    Thank you for the thoughtful advice. If there is any advice you need on a particular subject (RC airplanes, chicken raising, North Carolina & Louisiana, Electrical Contracting, Politics, Tesla Coils, Electrical Theory, etc… please feel free to fire away.


    • Let’s take these one at a time.

      One – I use Planswift as a takeoff tool. It is simply a digital replacement for paper and highlighters. All takeoffs are entered into my electrical estimating program.

      Two – I started using Planswift for small jobs first. I was more comfortable learning the program on small jobs.

      Three – I use it for all projects now. The points for me are; not having to deal with paper, upper spine health and portability. However, extremely small projects may not be worth setting up in Planswift.

      Four & Five – I do not build items or assemblies in Planswift. I create the takeoff items on the fly, just like doing it on paper.

      Six – There are reasons to upgrade to an estimating system. They have more tools designed to facilitate the entry of larger takeoffs, as well as summarizing and recapping.

      Seven – I have used both programs, and prefer Conest to Accubid for many reasons. However, you should get demos from both companies and make your own decision.

  16. Thanks Steve:

  17. Hi Steve,

    I stumbled upon this blog when looking for on-screen takeoff software to use with Conest Intellibid. I’ve tested both Planswift and Surecount. I was wondering how you move the information from Planswift to Intellibid. Do you do it manually or have you found a way to automate that process? Have you seen a savings in your expenditures for plans? Thanks for putting this information out there!

    • There is no way for either program to import directly into ConEst. Surecount imports into the count sheet feature in ConEst. You then import the count sheets into the takeoff. The count sheet feature assists you and offers optioins for importing the counts into the takeoff.

      My current estimating model uses a mixed input system. Some items are just highlighted in Planswift and entered diectly into ConEst such as switchgear, panels and feeder schedules. This saves the step of writing or typing the same information twice. Other items are counted in Planswift such as fixtures and outlets. Planswift gives me a total for these items which is entered into ConEst just once, instead of multiple times. This saves time in the estimating phase. If the project becomes a contract, we can go back to Planswift and get any needed breakdowns, such as by floor or by plan sheet (Planswift by default keeps track of takeoff by the sheet). The input goes very fast if your ConEst assemblies are setup for what you are doing.

      I and my customers are saving a substantial amount of money on printing. Out of the 60 or so projects we have estimated this year, only three have been on paper. Every once and a while, I will have to get electronic plans from a plan room. They generally charge the same amount per plansheet as they would if it was printed

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