4 Tips to Save Time on a Construction Estimate

September 7, 2022
frustrated and tired construction worker

Find the right cost data and tech tools to speed up your preconstruction process.

When you don’t have a full-time construction estimator on your team, bidding new projects can consume any and all hours of your day. Early morning calls to subs and late night spreadsheets drain the energy you need to focus on customer service, crew management, and actual building. And don’t forget all that time you wish you had to spend with family or - gasp - on a hobby.

So how do you create a more efficient bidding process using accurate prices that will win projects and produce profits? Here are four estimating tips to turn the pricing struggle into a more automated (and, dare we say, enjoyable?) process.

  1. Check your construction cost sources
  2. Update your tech tools
  3. Create estimating templates that work
  4. Bid on projects that align with your business goals

Check Your Construction Cost Sources

Even if you’re only a casual big box shopper, it’s obvious that material and equipment prices fluctuate nearly every day. The high lumber prices we’ve seen over the past year are now dropping as concrete and gypsum are on the rise. So what construction cost sources can you actually trust?

Let’s first check where you’re currently getting your construction material prices:

  • Annual paper cost books
  • Your own historic data from past projects
  • Calling suppliers every week
  • A crystal ball (just kidding, but that would be awesome)

These have some problems.

Annual paper cost books are outdated before you even open them. These print national data and will never be able to keep up with the real-time, local prices you need to stay competitive in your specific market. And a digital cost book, even if it’s published quarterly, is just a searchable version of its paper counterpart: National construction cost data that isn’t updated in real time. All in all, you don’t get the region-specific costs and projections you need on a weekly basis.

Any pricing data you’ve saved from decades of projects can’t keep up, either. In a post-COVID construction world, supply chains and material inventory aren’t the same as they used to be. Construction material cost fluctuations are all-too-common and what you paid in 2019 can’t predict your 2023 costs, even if a project scope is nearly identical.

And you know - and we know - you don’t have time to be calling for this week’s pricing for every window casing or spool of wire. Even sending texts or emails to suppliers is a huge time suck, and it’s easy to lose track of the numbers you needed yesterday.

The solution? 1build’s integrated cost data library - as close to a crystal ball as you’ll get. For every line item (whether it’s material, equipment, or labor) real-time pricing is available for any region you serve. Just choose the item you need, adjust quantity, and add any construction formulas to get the final cost. Need a markup, profit, or specific tax? Not a problem. These can all be calculated in 1build.

Update Your Tech Tools

We’ve seen some outdated methods slowing down even the best contractors, from napkin sketches and paper takeoffs to clunky spreadsheets and manual calculations. But like any project you take on, you need the right tools to get the job done. This same thing is true for your estimating process.

But, where do you start? Here are three must-haves you should look for in your next construction estimating tool:

  1. Searchable construction material library with accurate, up-to-date prices
  2. Flexible estimate builder that allows you to duplicate projects and use templates
  3. Easy proposal sharing to quickly connect with clients

If you have a tech tool to handle these tasks, think about how much faster your estimating process will be! Faster = more time to get back to building or to take that vacation you’ve been putting off for way too long.

Create Estimating Templates that Work

The best way to speed up your daily estimating tasks is to avoid unnecessary rework. And the easiest way to do this? Create reusable templates from past projects that will help you jumpstart a new estimate similar in scope.

Here are few things to keep in mind when building a template that works for you. It doesn’t have to cover an entire project, since you typically won’t bid on projects that are 100% identical. But pieces that can be recycled and reused in other construction estimates - like wall assemblies, roof framing, flooring scope, or sets of mechanical items - are perfect for templates.

In 1build, creating reusable templates is a breeze. Once you have sets of items you know you’ll use across projects, you can drag-and-drop them into your estimate and update their costs with real-time pricing local to you. This also works for a set overhead expenses, like onsite trailers or liability insurance.

estimating template for excel

Bid on Projects that Align with Your Business Goals

It may feel counterproductive, but not every bid request is worth pursuing, especially if it doesn’t fit your business goals. Here are some questions to get you thinking about which bids to estimate and which to decline:

  • Does the project fit your current crew, available supplies, and process?
  • Is it one larger, more profitable project that will sustain your business for several months? And are you ready for it?
  • Or do you need a series of smaller, similar projects that makes more sense for the current stage of your contracting company?

By identifying the project types, number of projects to bid, amount of projects you need to win (your win rate), and the profit you need to make will help you quickly understand which bids to decline and which to estimate. The general rule of thumb: If an invite to bid doesn’t help you reach your business goals, then it’s not right for your business.

So, why is this important? If you spend time chasing projects that won’t be profitable or help your contracting business grow, then you’re wasting time that should be spent estimating projects that bring in the money and help you level up. Even when a project looks interesting or high-profile, it may not be the right fit. And saying yes to every RFQ is never the right approach.

Start Taking Control of Your Time

While you work through updating your process to save time and win more bids, take 1build for a test drive and see how estimating powered by real-time, local cost data will make those paper cost books seem like a bad dream. Learn more and get all the details you need to start making estimating easy.

1build provides an easy-to-use integration with construction supplier catalogs and purchasing systems. Get access to millions of construction materials with our API today