For those of you who are new to electrical estimating software, it is very important that you understand how it works. Not knowing will certainly lead to problems with the software and your estimates. Additional frustration is the last thing you need when you’re trying to get an estimate complete. Please note that most of the available programs have many features designed to make the estimator’s job easier. In this article, I will be presenting only the basic features.
All of the electrical estimating programs I am familiar with provide the same four basic functions. First, they have a database (library) of electrical materials. Second, they will provide a way to enter your takeoff quantities. Third, they will have a way to summarize the takeoff quantities you entered, and fourth, they will provide a recapitulation, or recap for short.
Function 1 – The Database
Electrical estimating software is built around a database. The database is simply a list of items. In an electrical estimating database, each item would be a piece of material, such as a 4S box. Each item in the database is called a record, and each record will have a number of fields. Imagine a piece of paper with rows and columns. Each row is a record, and each column is a field. The fields for an electrical database would include titles such as description, price, discount and labor unit.
The software may have a second database that stores assemblies. An assembly is a collection of electrical parts. For instance, a duplex receptacle assembly may include a box, support, ring, device and plate. The joy of using assemblies is the time saved inputting your takeoff. Using an assembly can easily save dozens of keystrokes or mouse clicks for each takeoff item.
Each of the estimating software packages will come with a factory created database. Each vendor will have different numbers of items and assemblies in their databases. For instance, one vendor advertises they have 125,000 electrical items and 50,000 assemblies in their database.
Function 2 – Entering your Takeoff
So now you have all this data. How do you get to it? This is where the various estimating programs begin to differ. Each one has a different way of getting the material out of the database and into the estimate. At the simplest level, these systems copy the material you select from the database, multiply it times your quantity, and store the result in a takeoff, or estimate file.
There are two basic methods these programs use to access the database. The first is the “lead you by the hand” method to input your takeoff quantities. The user selects a takeoff module, such as outlets. The program then prompts the user to select the components required for each takeoff. For outlets, it would prompt you to select a box, ring, device and plate. The programs usually provides a way to select other miscellaneous items that may be needed for each outlet.
The other method of inputting your counts is through the use of lists. The program will present you with an organized list of items and assemblies. These lists are organized by groups such as fixtures, outlets, branch, etc. You simply work through the list until you find the item or assembly you want, select it and enter a quantity.
Function 3 – Summary
The next function the software provides is the summarizing of your takeoff input. Let’s say you entered 1/2″ EMT twenty times when you input your takeoff. The summary will add up all twenty entries and display the total quantity, material dollars and labor hours on one line. The program will do this for every item you input, and present you with a complete list of all material pricing and labor hours. This is similar to the price sheets used in paper and pencil estimating methods.
Function 4 – Recapitulation
Finally, the software will assist you with the recap. First, the total material dollars and labor hours are brought in from the summary. Next, the labor hours are converted to dollars. The next step is to add the quotes, subcontractors, rentals, indirect labor and direct job costs. The final step is where taxes, overhead and profit markups are added.
That is it for the basics. I will get onto more detail about each function in future articles.