The key to any successful electrical estimate, is organization and preparation! You need to develop a system for how you do your take-offs, and how you tabulate your information. Before doing anything else, read the plans and specifications cover to cover. As you read, note items of particular impact to the electrical scope on a separate sheet, and hi-light the corresponding passage right on the specification documents. I usually note specific requirements, especially oddball ones directly on the corresponding plan sheet(s) as well, before I even start counting anything! Missing a restrictive note in the specifications can be disastrous.

The next step is to develop a “Cheat Sheet” to ensure that you don’t miss any items or phases that should be included. For most any type of estimate this can be as simple as a full or partial list of CSI codes. List the phases that apply to your specific situation, or develop a master list, and then drill down from there. Treat it kind of like a report outline similar to the ones you probably did in High School. For example:

General Conditions a) Temporary Electrical Power i Temp Service & Panel w/ conduit & wiring, breakers ii Temp Outlets w/ conduit & wiring, devices b)Temporary Lighting c) Site Trailer
Site Work a) Excavation & Fill i Equipment Rental ii Trucking Service b) Underground Conduit i Transformer to CT Cabinet c) Concrete Encasement

You get the idea. There is NO SUCH THING as too much detail- remember that. The goal is to itemize all the expected costs accurately. The cheat sheet should be as detailed as possible to act as a “memory jog” and will ensure that you don’t leave out a potentially costly part of the scope of work that you will later find yourself responsible for completing out of pocket! This is where a commercial electrical estimating program can be invaluable. The entire program acts as your “cheat sheet”. While pricey, the best ones will save you enough time to recover the purchase cost very quickly. For links to our top picks, see our web site below.

The take-off should be done phase by phase, following the layout of your estimate “cheat sheet” closely. A key trick I use is to hang all the plan sheets containing schedules, riser diagrams, installation notes, etc. on the wall in front of my estimating table. This can take up a lot of room, but I highly recommend it, as many times the plan sheets will reference each other or overlap, and you must be able to visualize the cross-connections quickly and clearly. If you don’t have the luxury of that much space, consider making copies of key sections of the documents at your local copy center.

Once again, a commercial electrical estimating program is worth it’s weight in gold for your take-offs. Alternatively, you can use a spreadsheet, but you need to have the work experience and project track records to allow you to build one. Several examples are posted on our website to give you an idea of what you need. If you are interested in learning more about electrical estimating, go to our site and sign up for the full series on electrical estimating.

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