A serious construction estimator needs a good program to calculate the estimated cost of building a property. A window shopping trip on the internet will reveal a number of cost estimating software, which upon testing, it becomes apparent that the developers didn’t incorporate the input of a professional quantity surveyor, who knows the take-off process better than anybody in the construction industry. That’s why you should take time to test any software before you buy it. Although a software program is touted to be a specialist program for a specific task or profession, it may turn out to be something unexpected or something too basic to be of any use for a professional estimator.
Look for programs that give you a free trial period of at least 30 days. During this period, you should be able to experiment with all the features and come to a conclusion. There is a variety of programs with different capabilities and you should know what you are looking for if you are an estimator. If you are not an estimating technician, software with a few basic functions will be suitable for you. This might be a simple program that allows you to input values (e.g. Floor Area) to calculate the estimated cost. For advanced estimating gurus, you will need a program with full capabilities, from taking off quantities to creating a Bill of Quantities, as well as preparing valuation certificates.
The best cost estimating software has the following features:
Bill of Quantities Layout
On opening the software, you should see a sample BOQ that guides you in measuring different trades from Earthworks to Plumbing and Drainage. The interface should look familiar if you have ever handled Bills of Quantities i.e. the page layout is programmed and designed to look exactly like the hard copy that you are going to print. The software should give you a choice of page layouts and if you are a consultant, it is good to use a standard layout that is consistent with your product. Changing layouts for every project does not do any good for your brand and reputation. After a few projects, you should have an idea of a layout that works best for your needs. A standard layout consists of six columns – Item No, Description, Quantity, Unit, Rate and Price.
Cost Estimate Layout
A cost estimate is the first estimate that a Technician makes in the early stages of project planning. It is followed by a detailed BOQ when tender drawings are available. Advanced software allows you to create an estimate based on approximate quantities. A more reliable estimate that is used by professionals is the Elemental Estimate. The good thing about this estimate is that it can be linked to a BOQ.The interface and layout of an estimate is going to be different to that of a BOQ.
An estimating program should have layers where you can edit and enter details. The BOQ page is the first layer that you should see when you open a project on your computer. You should be able to click to the next page or choose a Trade from the menu. When measuring a project, the first Bill is Earthworks. Like every other page in a BOQ, the layout has columns for Item No, Description, Unit, Quantity, Rate and Price.
Columns like Description can be edited directly on the first layer, but a column for Quantities is edited on the second layer. This involves clicking through to access the dimension sheet. The dimension sheet is opened to enter measurements obtained from a plan takeoff.
Rates can be entered on the first layer but if the program has a Rate Build Up feature, you have to click through to the second layer to build up your rates.
Cost Estimate Layers
The concept of layers also applies to an Elemental Estimate. Since an estimate is done separately from a BOQ, it comes with its own layers for entering dimensions and editing the rate build up formula. The sections and descriptions are also different to that of a BOQ.
Linking the Cost Estimate to Bills of Quantities
An advanced cost estimating software allows you to link an estimate to a new Bill of Quantities. You are able to create a Bill based on major items from an estimate. Depending on the capabilities of the program, you can convert elemental quantities into Bill items, saving you a lot of work that would be required when starting from scratch. Elemental quantities such as foundations, floors, walls, windows, doors and finishes can be imported into a new BOQ, and you only need to do a few adjustments if the drawings haven’t changed much.
A prepopulated template saves you a lot of work and effort that would be required in learning the program. There are computer programs that allow you to work with a sample project but unless you upgrade to a full version, you won’t be able to print the project. Programs like these are useful because you have a lot of time to learn the program and create projects using essential features.
Switching Between Layers
While you are working on a project, you should be able to switch between the dimensions and the interface of the BOQ item that you are measuring. The most convenient procedure when measuring an item involves selecting the item and clicking through to the dimension sheet, entering measurements and saving your work. You then exit the dimension sheet to select the next item on your Bill.
Any program which doesn’t have a dedicated dimension sheet that functions as a worksheet will be a pain to use. Sadly, there are programs out there which don’t have a convenient dimension sheet. With such programs, you have to add up all your take-offs on paper or calculator before you enter the measurements on the program as a single figure. An estimating dimension sheet should not just be a space to enter numbers that you have worked out off the computer, it should be a fully functional calculation and data entry sheet that works like a Microsoft Excel worksheet. There is a reason why many Estimators like Excel, it is the best program for calculations and data organization. However, when you get an estimating program with a good dimension sheet, you will never need Excel.
Convert Bill to Excel or PDF
An estimator often needs to send an electronic copy of the estimate or BOQ to the client and other parties in the construction team. During the tendering process, some contractors will request a blank copy of the Bill in Excel format. They use this copy to input and adjust their rates before transferring the final rates to the Bid documents. Copies of the Bill in PDF format are also sent to the Architect and Consulting Engineers prior to a scheduled meeting. The client will need to see a copy of the Bill for purposes of budgeting and financing.
Prepare Valuation Certificates
It is hard to find cost estimating software which can actually prepare valuation certificates, only a few programs exist and they are usually the advanced ones. Preparing valuations is the job of a professional estimator and there are standard procedures set by professional bodies which should be followed. If you can get a program that includes valuations, then you should go for it because it will save you a lot of work i.e. the work that you are required to put in an Excel worksheet.
Locations and Sections
When preparing a Bill of Quantities, you have to plan how you are going to group your work. Work can be grouped into Sections, these are BOQ trades (e.g.Earthworks, Concrete and Formwork, Brickwork, Roofing, Ironmongery, Carpentry and Joinery, Metalwork, Plumbing etc).
If the project drawings involve multi-storey buildings, departmental buildings and complex housing, it is more convenient to group the works into Locations. Locations are separate mini-bills and after measuring the work items in all locations, you will get a total cost of each location. To find the total cost of the whole project, simply add up the locations.
Print Out Dimensions & Bill Preview
A program that allows you to print data on the second layer (i.e. Dimension Sheet) is useful because you need to see this data in order to check the accuracy of the calculations. A senior Quantity Surveyor can check the work of a Junior Estimator by printing out the dimension sheets. A contractor who wants to dispute item measurements can ask the QS to print out a dimension sheet.
A Bill of Quantities has to be previewed before printing out. This allows you to see any errors that you might have made. You have to check the descriptions, rates and the layout.
WinQS and QSPlus Estimating & Quantity Surveying Programs
Are you looking for software with all the essential features stated above? Among the best software that you can find in the world are two products from South Africa. WinQS and QSPlus are two of the best professional construction estimating software for Quantity Surveyors with all the features stated above. They are used by most Quantity Surveying firms in South Africa and English speaking countries such as Australia, UK and Ireland.