Construction estimating software

Construction estimating software

Construction estimating software is computer software designed for contractors to estimate construction costs for a specific project. An estimator will typically use estimating software to estimate their bid price for a project, which will ultimately become part of a resulting construction contract. Some architects and engineers may also use estimating software, but usually only to provide a budgetary cost estimate to an owner prior to construction.



Traditional Estimating Methods

Contractors review a project's plans and specifications to produce a takeoff (a list of item and material quantities needed for the project). This is traditionally done by analyzing the project plans and, utilizing knowledge of required construction methods, producing an itemized list of the project requirements. Then, based on this list, a contractor will tabulate the various resources and costs for every aspect of construction. There are many ways to estimate with so many different programs. These resource costs include labor, equipment, materials, subcontractors, and any other related costs.

The Rise of Spreadsheets

A basic estimating spreadsheet.

With the advent of computers in business, contractors began using spreadsheet applications like VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, and Microsoft Excel to duplicate the traditional tabular format, while automating redundant mathematical formulas.[1][2]

As the popularity of spreadsheets has grown, exchanges are starting to appear where professional estimators can buy or sell construction estimating spreadsheets that they have created.[citation needed]

Database Applications Emerge

As more and more contractors came to rely on spreadsheets, and the formulas within the spreadsheets became more complex, spreadsheet errors became more frequent.[3] These were typically formula errors and cell-reference errors. Hard-coded formulas in database applications were originally created to overcome these errors. As these applications became more and more popular over the years, additional features, such as saving data for reuse and trade-specific calculations, have become available.[4]

Many of these software applications are specific to different construction markets, such as commercial drywall, residential building, remodeling, masonry, electrical, and heavy construction. For example, programs like On Center Software's On-Screen Takeoff, Quick Bid and Digital Production Control[5], Sage Timberline Office, MasterBuilder and Goldenseal[6] that are designed for building construction, include libraries and program features for traditional builders.[7] In sharp contrast, programs like BID2WIN Estimating & Bidding[8], KUBUS[9], Cleopatra Enterprise[10], HCSS HeavyBid, Candy Project Control and SharpeSoft Estimator, that are designed for civil construction, include libraries and program features for roadway, utility, and bridge builders.[11] In some instances, applications are provided without included resource databases. This requires that the user develop their own resource library; including discipline-specific resources (as an example: for civil infrastructure, mining, mechanical and electrical).

Many of the larger construction contractors in the Australian market use commercial products such as ‘Expert Estimation by Pronamics Pty Ltd or in-house applications such as the Leighton Holdings Group’s program ‘CATS’, which is used by Thiess, Leighton Contractors, and John Holland.

Applications such as CATS and Expert Estimation are unit rate or first principles estimating tools[12] and generally offer a greater level of flexibility for combined discipline projects (projects containing a mix of pipeline, civil, and structural as an example).[citation needed]

Like most other business applications, estimating programs typically run on Microsoft Windows-based computers, but some, such as Turtlesoft Goldenseal, will also run on Macintosh computers.

Typical Software Features

The SharpeSoft Estimator, displaying an example of a trench calculation.
  • Item or Activity List: All estimating software applications will include a main project window that outlines the various items or activities that will be required to complete the specified project. More advanced programs are capable of breaking an item up into sub-tasks, or sub-levels. An outline view of all of the top-level and sub-level items provides a quick and easy way to view and navigate through the project.
  • Resource Costs: Resources consist of labor, equipment, materials, subcontractors, trucking, and any other cost detail items. Labor and equipment costs are internal crew costs, whereas all other resource costs are received from vendors, such as material suppliers, subcontractors, and trucking companies. Labor costs are usually calculated from wages, benefits, burden, and workers compensation. Equipment costs are calculated from purchase price, taxes, fuel consumption, and other operating expenses.
  • Item or Activity Detail: The detail to each item includes all of the resources required to complete each activity, as well as their associated costs. Production rates will automatically determine required crew costs.
  • Calculations: Most estimating programs have built-in calculations ranging from simple length, area, and volume calculations to complex industry-specific calculations, such as electrical calculations, utility trench calculations, and earthwork cut and fill calculations.
  • Markups: Every program will allow for cost mark-ups ranging from flat overall mark-ups to resource-specific mark-ups, mark-ups for general administrative costs, and bonding costs.
  • Detailed Overhead: Indirect costs, such as permits, fees, and any other overall project costs can be spread to billable project items.
  • Closeout Window: Many estimating programs include a screen for manually adjusting bid prices from their calculated values.
  • Reporting: Project reports typically include proposals, detail reports, cost breakdown reports, and various charts and graphs.
  • Exporting: Most software programs can export project data to other applications, such as spreadsheets, accounting software, and project management software.
  • Job History: Storing past projects is a standard feature in most estimating programs.


  1. ^ Christofferson, Jay. "Estimating with Microsoft Excel," Brigham Young University.
  2. ^ Nickols, Robert Duane. "Construction Estimating Using Excel," Lexington Technical Institute, University of Kentucky.
  3. ^ Caulkins, Jonathan P., et al. "Do Spreadsheet Errors Lead to Bad Decisions," Carnegie Mellon University.
  4. ^ TechTarget. "Construction Estimating Software Buyer's Guide: Benefits," Construction Software Review.
  5. ^ On Center Software. "On Center's History"
  6. ^ Goldenseal. "Residential Construction Estimating," Turtle Creek Software
  7. ^ Sage CRE. "Sage Construction and Real Estate Products," The Sage Group.
  8. ^ BID2WIN Estimating & Bidding "Construction Estimating Software," BID2WIN Software, Inc.
  9. ^ KUBUS Software for Construction Industry from Capgemini Germany GMBH "Kubus Project Estimating and Control Software,"
  10. ^ Cleopatra Enterprise Cost Estimation Software from Cost Engineering Consultancy "Cleopatra Enterprise Cost Estimation Software,"
  11. ^ SharpeSoft. "Civil Construction Estimating," Sharpe Software, Inc.
  12. ^

External links

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