Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Branch Takeoff Argument

I learned my trade from two excellent estimators, a series of N.E.C.A classes, and of course, the school of hard knocks. I was taught to measure the branch conduit. Everywhere I have worked, it was expected that the branch conduit would be measured. All this was on the west coast.

Soon after starting this company I begin getting work from the east coast. Imagine my surprise when I opened the plans and found that the branch was not engineered. No solid lines. No dashed lines.  No hash marks to indicate how many wires. Just circuit numbers at the outlets.

 At first I thought this was a fluke. Maybe it was just one lazy engineer. But that was not the case. Most of the projects I received from the east did not have engineered branch. At first, I drew the branch in, and then took it off. This got to be a very time consuming on larger projects.

 While this was going on, I switched to the ConEst Intellibid estimating system. I soon found that the fixture and outlet assemblies included the branch conduit, and prompted for the average footage between outlets. Since ConEst was developed by an east coast estimator, I started to get the picture. Fortunately, I was able to find a mentor who taught me how to take branch off using the averaging method.

 Being west coast trained, I am more comfortable with measuring. For my customers that prefer to save on estimating costs, I will use averaging, very carefully. Consider a project I recently estimated, a large furniture store. The main sales floor lighting consisted of about (50) 12’ tracks. If an estimator did not study the circuiting very closely, they could have missed the fact that each 12’ track was on a separate circuit with an average homerun close to 100’. Additionally, the specifications did not allow combining of circuits in homeruns. This could have been an estimating disaster.

 So this leads to the argument. Many estimators believe strongly that the only safe way to take off branch is to measure it. Others argue with equal passion that measuring is a waste of time, time that could be used to get out more estimates per estimating dollar.

 I am looking for comments on this topic. Please let me know how you feel about this argument.

Update #2 to BIM and Electrical Estimating

I am now working on my first project with  requirements that a BIM model be provided by the electrical subcontractor. The project is not very large. It is a small piece of a much larger project, which I presume is why the model is required.

The BIM model is not for estimating. It is for project coordination, and must be integrated into the “Consolidated” project model the construction manager is maintaining. The electrical contractor is required to include all conduit/cable bundles over 1″, all equipment and all light fixtures. The model must be done on the same software the construction manager is using.

This can be a considerable expense for a smaller contractor. He will have to hire or contract with someone experienced in BIM modeling on the required software. The modeler will have to own a copy of the software. The costs will continue for the duration of the project, as the model is updated with any changes.

So there you go small to medium electrical contractors. Large contractors with BIM modelers on-board may have an advantage when it comes to the cost of this requirement.

Should You Use Electrical Estimating Software (Part 3)

Organization is a very important key to error free estimates. Accurate estimating requires an organized and consistent approach to the takeoff. When using estimating software, your takeoff and input tend to become consistent in order to match the estimating system’s layout. For instance, to match my estimating system’s layout, I organize my outlet takeoff as follows:


            LV outlets (data, tele, etc.)

            Motion sensors



 Organizing the takeoff to match the layout of the estimating saves keystrokes and encourages consistency.

 Organization can also be necessary to meet other necessities, such as the bid form, accounting or project management requirements. Estimating packages offer many ways to get and stay organized.

 Let’s consider the bid form first. Most small projects do not have complex bid forms. However, as you start doing larger work, you will begin to see more complexity in the bid forms. The bid form for an elementary school may require separate numbers for each building, looking like this:

            Bid Item 1 – Administration Building

            Bid Item 2 – Multi-Purpose Building

            Bid Item 3 – Kindergarten Building

            Bid Item 4 – Elementary Building 1

            Bid Item 5 – Elementary Building 2

            Bid Item 6 – Site

 The bid form requires that you complete an individual estimate for each of the above line items. If you are estimating by hand, this estimate would take 6 times longer than a lump sum estimate. Since a computer estimating system does the math for you, you save most of that time. The only extra work required over a lump sum estimate is making sure you input your takeoff in the proper phase.

 I may need to define what an estimating phase is for some of you. Phases are called many different things in the various estimating system available today. It may be a section, breakdown, level, etc. Quite simply, it is just a way to get a sub-total for a certain part of the work. As an example, ConEst has a 4 level phase tree. It looks like this.



                                    Level 1

                                                Level 2

 You can make use of this 4 level phase tree any way you want. This may be where your company requirements come in. Let’s say that your company wants the estimate broken down by the system and plan sheet. The bid for the school would now be broken down like this:

             Bid Item 1 – Administration Building


                                    Dwg E100

                                     Dwg E101

                                    Dwg E102

                                    Dwg E103


                                    Dwg E100

                                    Dwg E101

                                    Dwg E102

                                    Dwg E103                  

There are a lot of possibilities here. You can assume any title you want for each phase level. The following are the default phase tree names we use in ConEst.

            Phase – Bid Item

                        Sub Phase – Building or Area

                                    Level 1 – System

                                                Level 2 – Drawing Number

 Another type of organization these systems can provide is the availability of reports based on user defined sort keys. One example would be job costing. If your shop keeps track of field labor by categories like underground, rough-in, fixtures, etc, the estimating systems can be fine tuned to provide reports to meet these accounting requirements.

 That’s it till next time. Feel free to post any questions you may have.