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

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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.

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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.

If you are measuring wooden cabinets or built-in wardrobes that include metal components such as hanging rails, you should make it clear if the hanging rail has been measured separately. In this case, the built-in wardrobe is measured under Carpentry and Joinery, and the metal rail is measured under Metalwork. In your description for built-in wardrobes, state that the rail has been measured elsewhere, and include the name of the trade. An example of this description is shown below:


Built-in Wardrobes (Refer to Drawings):
1.1 Wardrobe unit size 600mm wide x 2200mm high, with 2No. full height 18mm thick veneer doors, 18mm thick particleboard shelves, 2No. vertical dividers, and 4 No. drawers at the bottom, 50x25mm framing support to shelves, 75x50mm framing support to drawers and front mirror size 700mm high x 400mm wide x 4mm thick fixed on the middle section, including 20mm diameter chrome-plated hanging rail (measured elsewhere under Metalwork).



An example of description for Vanity Drop-in basins:

‘Vaal Sanitaryware’ vitreous china drop-in vanity basins:
1.1 520 x 440mm ‘Azalea’ white vitreous china semi drop-in vanity basin (product code 7021) with one taphole including integrated overflow and chainstay hole, waste union, plug, chain, flexible connection tubes, fitted into recess in vanity top (measured elsewhere under Carpentry and Joinery) on and including two fixing brackets (product code 8103) plugged and screwed to wall.



Product Name and Code Not Stated

Some BOQs lack specification detail which makes it hard for the contractor to price the item because the product code and manufacturer is not known. If you are measuring items like locksets, tiles, windows, sliding doors and sanitary fittings (wash hand basins, sinks, mixers, valves, W/C suites etc.), you should state the manufacturer’s product name and code, including the size, method of fixing and any accessories that should be installed with the item.


An example of description for Locksets:

‘Solid’ or similar approved:
1.1 Lockset code “365/A40” cylinder lock with “Solid 799” rebate conversion set


An example of description for Windows:

Wispeco or similar approved standard industrial windows including NBP 2 burglar bars to all sections:
1.1 Window type ND510S size 1511x1559mm high


1.2 Window type NC4 size 1511x949mm high



Describing Extra Over Items ( Main Item Not Mentioned)

Sometimes, when you are going through a Bill, you will encounter an item that has been measured Extra Over (EO), but the Estimator does not mention the main item over which the extra-over item is measured. Extra-over items should be listed immediately under the main item over which they are measured. Listing EO items immediately under the main item makes it easy for the contractor and other parties to recognize its connection to the main item. At least, if you can’t list the EO item immediately under the main item, you should give a complete description that gives reference to the main item. Examples are illustrated below:

Listing EO items immediately under the main item:

In the example below, 1.1 and 1.2 are main items:

1mm Galvanized Mild Steel sheet:      
1.1 102 x 102mm Eaves gutter. m 208  
Extra over for stopped end No. 15  
Extra over for outlet No. 20  
1.2 100 x 75mm Rainwater downpipes m 60  
Extra over for eaves offset No. 20  
Extra over for plinth offset No. 20  


If EO items can’t be listed immediately under the main item for whatever reason, you should give reference to the main item in your description. Anyway, giving reference to the main item is recommended at all times, regardless of the case:

In the example below, 1.1 and 1.2 are main items:

1mm Galvanized Mild Steel sheet:      
1.1 102 x 102mm Eaves gutter. m 208  
1.2 100 x 75mm Rainwater downpipes m 60  
Extra over Eaves gutter for stopped end No. 15  
Extra over Eaves gutter for outlet No. 20  
Extra over Rainwater downpipes for eaves offset No. 20  
Extra over Rainwater downpipes for plinth offset No. 20  


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