3 Bad Practices: Describing Items in Bills of Quantities – How To Properly Describe BOQ Items


Preparing Bills of Quantities (BOQs) is one of the tasks of a Quantity Surveyor or Construction Cost Estimator. One important thing that makes a Bill useful to the contractor, owner and other members of the project team is how the Bill items are described.  BOQ descriptions should be specific with relevant information that helps the reader (especially the contractor) to understand the items that have been measured. Descriptions should be complete and properly described in accordance with the standard system of measurement. The quality of an Estimator’s descriptions does not only make a difference in the comprehension of the Bills, but it has legal implications. Misleading, inaccurate and incomplete descriptions can give the contractor valid reasons for litigation.

With more responsibilities on their hands, modern quantity surveyors are paying less attention to descriptive requirements, and this sometimes makes it hard for other parties to comprehend the document.

A Construction Cost Estimator or anybody who is tasked with preparing Bills should keep in mind that Bills of Quantities are not personal documents that are prepared for his or her own use, but they are documents that will be accessed by anybody involved in the project. Of course, the Estimator’s rates are confidential and these should not be revealed to anybody, but the unpriced copy is for public access. The final cost summary can also revealed to the project team, but not the bill rates.

Seeing that the BOQ is a document that will be shared with others, it should clearly show items which have been measured, omitted or measured elsewhere. Clear descriptions, annotated and orderly dimensions will also help any Quantity Surveyor who has been tasked to review the measurements. Although there is a standard system of measurement to guide the estimator, when you analyze the dimension sheets from different quantity surveyors, you will realize that the order of takeoff and layout of calculations is not the same. Dimensions are entered in different ways and if the data is not clearly arranged or annotated this can cause a headache for someone who is trying to follow your takeoff.

The following are some of the bad habits and practices found in BOQs that are prepared without paying attention to detail:

Items Measured Elsewhere Not Stated

In this case, the Bill item includes a component or accessory that is part of the fixture, but the Estimator did not mention that it has been measured elsewhere. An example is a Vitreous china drop-in vanity basin that includes a vanity top or cabinet. The estimator will measure the drop-in vanity basin under Plumbing and Drainage, but does not mention that the vanity top/cabinet has been measured elsewhere (under Carpentry and Joinery).

If you are measuring a Bill item that comes with accompanying components or installations in different trades, you have to state that the component has been measured in another trade. You can include this in the description or you can list the items at the beginning of the Bill or trade section.

There are items which can fit in more than one trade, for example bathroom fittings and sundries such as metal toilet roll holder, metal soap holder, chrome plated towel rails, and chrome plated curtain rails can be measured under Ironmongery or Metalwork.

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