Going Old School: What You Need to Know About the Estimating Evolution

By Craig Carson

Over my work life, I’ve seen many changes to our industry. Specifically, I’ve seen changes in the way estimates are created. I first learned estimating by doing manual take-offs of plans. We broke down the glass types and sizes, and the framing, by hand— from individual pieces to the stock lengths that we would need for the project.

The Digital Age

Over the years, this has evolved to computer estimating programs where you can input frame and glass types and it will provide the takeoffs needed. I like this because you can use your own experience to decide the frame type and then adjust it to the fabrication preference (stick, screw spline or unitized) and custom configure your glass needs. The programs are sophisticated enough that they can also help with basic to complex engineering review of the systems if you know what parameters to set.

It does take time to enter all of the information, and you need to understand the system choices to provide useful information. Remember, garbage in, garbage out. When you can do this well, it means you’ve made the effort to understand the computer program’s capabilities, and you know your aluminum and glazing options. I think it also means you’re engaged in the project you’re working on and understand what needs to be covered
within your bid.

Knowledge Matters

Recently, I’ve seen a disturbing trend. Many of the bright and smart people who have joined our staffs aren’t engaged enough in their projects to see how they can do their job better. Instead, they send the project off to an aluminum supplier to provide a factory quote. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if they don’t know the project or product options well enough to give the supplier directions on what to quote, they’ll end up with whatever the architect has detailed. And that may not be cost effective. It’s important to review the options that are needed in order to be the most effective with the fabrication and/or installation of the project.

When I have asked these new employees about the means and methods of the project that they are bidding, I get a blank stare most of the time. This isn’t a problem of the young people, but a failure of management to train them to understand the logistics of different product options and how they can affect a project’s labor. Have you chosen a system that allows for the live-load deflection? Does it need a head receptor, or in the case of a multi-level curtainwall, a stacking horizontal? This ultimately affects the crew size and equipment considerations as well.

So, if you are wondering why your cost estimates are not representing the results in the field, one of the first places to start is with your estimators. Make sure they are reviewing the project specifically for its correct approach. Encourage them to ask questions and review their ideas with project managers and field people before they start the estimate.

Remember, the devil is in the details.

Craig Carson is the vice president and general manager of 8G Solutions in Denver

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.