How to Make Your Construction Estimates Clear, Concise and Consistent

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Consistency with your construction estimates can make a huge difference to the quality of your predictions and the success of your projects.

Few things in construction ruin a project quicker than a bad estimate.

Once that budget is locked in and signed off, you’re stuck with it: For better or for worse.

And if you’ve underbid, you’ll struggle to make the sums add up when it’s time to start building. 

Construction projects rely on accurate estimates. But if you’re reinventing the wheel with each one, there’s a good chance you’re spending too much time on estimates that just aren’t delivering the goods.

But with a more structured, consistent process, you can start to overcome these challenges. 

Consistent construction estimating: Why does it matter? 

So why is consistent construction estimating so important? Well, it all comes down to three main benefits:

  1. Speed: Construction estimating is, by its nature, a time-consuming process. It requires a detailed understanding of costs, materials, labour prices and much more.

None of that is quick - and time, after all, is money. Consistent construction estimating aims to reduce this to an absolute minimum. 

  1. Accuracy: It’s easy for simple mistakes to ruin an estimate. If the numbers don’t add up, you’re going to be in trouble later in the project.

A clearer process helps stop errors from sneaking in – and ensures they’re caught even if they do. 

  1. Efficiency: Greater consistency in construction estimating can make it much easier to compare trends from project to project.

That means if you’re regularly under or overestimating, it’s much easier to spot and rectify this.

Simple changes like keeping the format, style or detail of your estimates the same can make it much easier to spot issues and make proactive choices to resolve them. 

Consistent construction estimating helps save time, produce better estimates and makes it easier to learn from project to project proactively. 

I found consistency in my construction estimates made a huge difference. We got estimates out  much quicker and more accurately, meaning we’re not so worried about underbidding and losing projects.”

Danny Mitchell, Head of Content at Archdesk and former Construction Estimator

So how do you make your estimates more consistent? 

The industry standard in construction estimating

But what exactly does a ‘good’ structure look like? 

A good place to start is to consult the industry-accepted expertise, of which there are two major publications:

  • New Rules of Measurement 

The New Rules of Measurement (NRM) were first published in 2009 by a group of people with seemingly little regard for how well the word ‘new’ would age.

Nonetheless, it’s since become an industry bible for consistent construction estimating.

Now in its second edition, it offers straightforward guidance on calculating and quantifying costs in your construction estimates.

It also offers practical suggestions about managing overheads, profit margins, inflation and other challenges.  

The latest edition of NRM was published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and breaks the framework down into three parts: 

  1. Order of cost estimating and cost planning for capital building works
  2. Detailed measurement for building works
  3. Order of cost estimating and planning for building works
  • Civil Engineering Standard Method of Measurement (CESMM4)

First published in 1976, the CESMM is now in its fourth edition.

Much like the NRM, it seeks to provide an industry standard for measuring and construction estimation. 

Unlike the NRM, however, CESMM focuses specifically on civil engineering projects, like dams, bridges, railways, roads and others.

It offers advice on how to quantify, price and estimate these jobs. 

Top tips for concise and consistent construction estimating

But as well as checking out the NRM and the CESMM, there are plenty of changes you can make now which will help improve your construction estimates.

Here are some of the most important: 

  • Map out a clear estimating process


One of the best ways to achieve consistency in your construction estimates is to develop a clear process that everybody in the company can easily understand and follow.

The goal is to avoid conflicting information and estimating techniques from project to project. Instead, establish firm guidelines around things like:

  • How data is collected
  • The techniques/calculation methods you’ll use
  • What software/tools you’ll produce estimates with

This should help reduce confusion and avoid construction cost estimators having to reinvent the wheel with each new job. 

  • Maintain a comprehensive item library

Historical information is your best friend when it comes to construction estimating.

If your current estimate includes information on, eg, the price of tiled flooring per square metre – you can use this to speed up similar estimates in future. 

The best way to do this is to maintain a central library of commonly used items, complete with quantities and rates.

That means when estimators need to price up tiled flooring on future jobs, they can simply check the library for rates and quantities used previously, then add them to the estimate. 

The more items you can quickly add from the library, the quicker the whole process becomes. 

  • Develop estimating templates

Anyone who’s ever priced up a construction job will tell you there’s a frustrating amount of admin involved.

Using consistent construction estimating templates can help reduce the amount of time spent on these tedious tasks. 

A construction estimating template should include information on item descriptions, quantities, unit rates, labour costs, material costs and any other relevant items.

It’s also helpful to keep the format of this information consistent between your templates and your item library.

That’ll make it easier for your construction cost estimators to add the information from one to the other easily. 

  • Define and document all your assumptions

Even the best construction estimates involve a little bit of guesswork. The problem is that reality has an annoying tendency to get in the way. 

As we discussed in a recent blog, construction time management almost invariably involves a level of ‘optimism bias’ towards events outside your control.

If you don’t account for this, it can easily send your projects off the rail. 

The best way to do this is to carefully document every assumption you make on factors outside of your control.

This can include productivity rates, labour availability, material costs and more.

It’s important to be clear about what assumptions you’re making at the start of the project so you can compare them against the reality when that actually happens. 

  • Keep an eye on quality control

It's easy for small human errors to sneak into construction estimates.

Something as innocuous as a digit in the wrong place, a broken formula or a bad calculation can totally throw the estimate off. That’s why quality control is so important. 

All estimates should involve an element of peer reviewing, in which other construction cost estimators go through and compare the figures with historical data and make sure everything adds up.

It’s not an exciting job, but if it stops a simple error from ruining your budgets, it’s definitely worth it. 

  • Make the most of construction symbols

Blueprints and construction diagrams generally use a set of standardised symbols to convey what components are needed.

This can include architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical items. 

By understanding which symbols relate to which items, you can quickly identify the right component and add it to your inventory.

This also makes it easier to rinse and repeat from project to project – particularly if these symbols correspond to entries in your item library. 

The NRM and CESMM4 frameworks both include comprehensive outlines of construction symbols and how to use them.

Construction estimating software: The easy way to effective estimates

While it’s possible to implement the advice in this post through paper and Excel-based processes - it’s certainly not easy. And we definitely wouldn’t advise it. 

Luckily, construction estimating software like Archdesk can make a huge difference, allowing you to:

  • Create a digital record of all previous estimates for easy reference 
  • Compile a digital library of itemised materials, labour costs and others that can be easily added to future estimates
  • Access simple templates for construction estimates 
  • Calculate and add other costs such as overheads, profit margins etc. 

Want to find out more? Request a demo today. 

Karolina Dobrowolska
Content Marketer

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2024-04-16 01:46:53