What Does a Construction Estimator Do?

March 10, 2020
what does a construction cost estimator do?|what does a construction cost estimator do?

Roles and Responsibilities of a Construction Estimator

Whether your project is a small neighborhood revitalization or a large international airport, a construction estimator will always be on hand before the work begins. This construction professional helps keep track of the project's budget, from start to finish. Working with contractors, engineers, and clients, a construction cost estimator takes the details of the project and develops an accurate cost estimate that clients use for contract bids.

A cost estimator may work within a specific market segment, such as manufacturing, civil, residential, or commercial construction, and/or work within a specific trade category like interior finishing, foundation work, or building exteriors. Some estimators may also work directly with building equipment manufacturers, building owners, and architects.

A Construction Estimator's Role

There is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to estimating a construction project. You don't sit down and pull out a book that outlines the basic costs based on certain building structures. Every construction development varies based on size, building materials, skilled labor, architectural features, building functions, and project deadlines.

For these reasons, construction estimators play a vital role. When you hire an estimator, they will review the technical details and blueprints to develop the cost aspects suitable for each construction project. Here are some key job responsibilities they may take on:

  • Determine the project scope
  • Develop time, materials, and labor cost estimates
  • Evaluate general and special factors in contracts that will impact cost estimates
  • Provide alternative recommendations to lower project costs
  • Factor in additional overhead or unexpected costs due to weather, shipping delays, and unforeseen issues

Determine Project Scope

The project scope of work (SOW) involves determining the construction logistics. It helps contractors and construction managers understand their responsibilities by helping to further define the project's objectives and requirements. Your construction estimator will provide details regarding the labor, materials, and equipment necessary for the project as well as cost benchmarking for the area in which the project is taking place. 

Develop Cost Estimates

Every element of the construction project will come with a cost. You and the cost estimator will create the material take-off list, which is a detailed report of the materials used and their associated costs. The material take-off list will encompass the entire scope of the project from figuring out the expenses of the cement used for the foundation to wall studs for framing and the interior finishes at the end of the project. Since material costs will vary based on vendor and fluctuating market values, the construction cost estimator will narrow down the anticipated material prices as much as possible. In addition, an estimator would also have to determine logistical expenses in shipping materials to worksite locations from distribution centers and warehouses.

Evaluate General and Special Contract Factors

Beyond developing cost estimates, there may be general and special contract considerations based on how the building is constructed to serve a specific purpose. For example, your company may be building a food processing plant that will need to be constructed to follow all FDA health and safety regulations. So project managers and contractors will provide construction requirements that will indirectly impact costs as a construction estimator must take these factors into consideration when creating estimates.

Provide Alternative Recommendations

Sometimes scope creep occurs with a building project. The owner, contractor or architect will continue to add more aspects into the scope of work that can blow up the budget. In these instances, a cost estimator is vital for keeping actual expenses closer to estimated budgets. They will be able to offer you cost-effective alternatives in materials, construction equipment, and methods for constructing the building that will still abide by the blueprints and project specifications.

Unexpected Cost Factors

Many unexpected factors will also have an impact on cost estimation work. You also have to take into consideration the weather that can slow down construction deadlines, shipping delays for material vendors, malfunctioning construction equipment, and unforeseen building issues. Risks can drastically throw off construction projects, causing budgetary concerns if proper risk assessment is not performed and accounted for. An estimator should be able to communicate effectively with project teams, contractors and other required professionals when problems arise that can impact the project. Then they can develop alternatives to bring costs back under control.

Becoming a Construction Estimator

The requirements for becoming a cost estimator will vary based on the industry. A bachelor's degree is typically a requirement for cost estimators. However, if a person is a highly experienced construction worker with years in the field, they may become an estimator without this degree. If pursuing a bachelor's degree, having one in an industry-related field such as engineering or construction management is preferred.

In 2022, Indeed reported that construction cost estimators in the U.S. can expect a median salary of $78,807 per year—not including overtime. Some cities—like Minneapolis and Los Angeles—offer higher paid positions closing in and over $90,000.

Previous work experience is typically a must for construction estimators. You may find an estimator that has previously worked in a related field such as electrical or plumbing. Some companies may also require professional certification from organizations such as the American Society of Professional Estimators or the Association for the Advancement of Cost Estimating International. Estimators may also seek out voluntary certification as they will need to have two years of experience and pass an exam to obtain it. On-the-job training is also common for this field.

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Having the right skill qualities will allow a person to better position themselves to competitive companies to obtain the best salary and position. Necessary skills include:

  • Math Skills: Estimators have strong math expertise to calculate all the slightest details about the construction project.
  • Time Management Skills: Projects must run within certain timeframes. An estimator must understand these deadlines and work within the specified period efficiently.
  • Detail Oriented: Estimators will work with numerous reports and blueprints. Every material, labor and equipment detail must be understood to develop the appropriate expense reports. In addition, project change orders are common in the construction industry, as estimators need to keep track of minor changes that can impact cost estimates.
  • Communication Skills: Construction estimators will be working with a range of different people for each project. They will need to coordinate communication between contractors, project managers, engineers, architects, and owners to ensure that everyone understands the scope of the project and the budget.

The Future of Construction Estimation

Construction estimation has evolved for several decades. In the past, paper-based estimates were the standard up until the 1980s. Estimators would obtain numerous calls from contractors and subcontractors as all those bids had to be written down before being placed into generated reports. This situation took enormous amounts of time, as estimators had to perform estimation preparation, determine project feasibility, provide a comprehensive budget estimate, and verify budget conformance. From there, the estimator had to confirm budget allocations, and have a design-build-bid delivery system ready for construction contracts. All these tasks were done manually.

From the 1980s to the 2000s, construction software entered the scene, as spreadsheet applications could perform the cost tabulation effortlessly. However, many companies were slow to adapt to this technology. The initial setup costs placed financial burdens on smaller companies. In addition, they were faced with taking on the time and costs for training existing workers to the software and this training hampered workplace productivity.

Another problem that cost estimators faced was the pace of changing technology. Every few years a new software or application would appear, requiring new training methods. Then Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) arrived in 2010, providing new challenges for cost estimators. While they benefited from being able to put aside manual paper tasks and software spreadsheets for cloud-based apps, the wide-range of construction software capabilities made it difficult to use for many estimators who were not tech-savvy.

To further streamline the estimation process, a new kind of construction estimation service recently appeared to take some of the work burdens off of contractors, engineers, and architects. That’s right, automated services have now arrived, combining AI software with human construction estimators. Instead of taking on the work themselves, companies can now outsource the work for a simpler process while receiving more accurate estimates that allow them to create more competitive bids. The world of construction estimating is always changing. Yet one thing remains constant: the need to have accurate estimates to ensure that a construction project runs smoothly and on budget. To save on costs, obtain superior cost estimation reports, and work with a team that handles every aspect of the changing construction technology, turn to construction estimating services to provide you with the best estimates for the project so you can submit successful bids.

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