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What’s the Difference Between a Construction Takeoff and an Estimate?

  • May 30, 2024

Before a construction project begins, much planning must be done. A crucial part is determining what labor, materials, and equipment will be needed to complete the project.

This initial planning phase includes two processes: the construction takeoff and the estimate. A construction takeoff and an estimate are closely linked, but have key differences. 

This article will make an in-depth comparison of these two construction planning processes. 

Table of Contents

1. What is a Construction Takeoff?
2. How is a Construction Takeoff Used?
3. How is a Construction Estimate Used?
4. Types of Construction Takeoffs
5. How to Conduct a Construction Takeoff
6. How to Complete a Construction Estimate

What is a Construction Takeoff?

A construction takeoff is a detailed list of the materials needed to complete a project. This document includes the precise amount of each material, along with the unit price and total price for each material.

How Do Takeoffs Differ from Estimates?

An estimate is a comprehensive projection of the total cost of the project. It considers not only the cost of raw materials, but also the cost of labor, equipment, and other overhead expenses.

The construction takeoff is necessary to complete an accurate estimate, but it is only one part of the planning process.

Not only are the estimating process and takeoff process different, how each calculation is used – and the person responsible to complete them – is also different.

Who Completes Construction Takeoffs?

Contractors or estimators can complete a construction takeoff. Contractors have enough knowledge of the project and its required materials to create this document. 

Who Completes the Estimate?

Estimates should always be completed by an estimator. That’s because they use a complex construction estimating process to quantify all costs that could arise over the course of the project.

How is a Construction Takeoff Used?

Material takeoffs are beneficial for a variety of reasons and several common situations within the construction industry. 

General contractors and subcontractors use the material takeoff during the project bidding process. As a key part of the construction cost estimating process, material takeoffs provide a more detailed and accurate bid.

When purchasing construction materials, the quantity takeoff is used to ensure the correct amount of materials are ordered. Having the required materials on hand when needed streamlines the project plans to prevent unnecessary delays.

When construction professionals create an estimate during preconstruction, an accurate takeoff will better anticipate the total project cost. 

How is a Construction Estimate Used?

Estimates can be used for the same reasons as a material takeoff, but have broader applications. 

The project estimate assesses the financial feasibility of a project. With an accurate construction estimate, estimators can forecast the total cost of a project, such as labor costs and the cost of materials.

An estimate clearly conveys cost expectations to financiers and stockholders. Based on this information, the project owner may decide to reduce or expand the project scope. 

Project managers use estimates when budgeting for and bidding on construction projects. The estimate outlines how much capital will be needed for each stage of the project.  

When controlling costs and managing risk, estimates can identify potential problem areas and higher-than-average costs. In turn, project managers can proactively work to find a better or more affordable solution. 

Contractors and subcontractors can also use estimates when submitting project bids, just like they can with material takeoffs.

Check Out: Mastering Construction Budgeting: A Comprehensive Guide

Types of Construction Takeoffs

Before the takeoff process can begin, a choice must be made. Will the takeoff be done manually or will construction takeoff software be used?

Both manual takeoffs and digital takeoffs have benefits and limitations. Let’s break them down. 

Manual Takeoffs

Because the calculations must be done by hand, more time is needed to create a manual takeoff.

To calculate accurate measurements, the square footage of a surface area, length of a linear area, volume by cubic yards, and individual numbers of bulk materials must each be carefully recorded. Next, all of this information must be entered into a paper spreadsheet. 

Copies of the spreadsheet can be made. However, if any changes are later made to the manual takeoff, they won’t be shared with those who have a copy of the original version. 

Although manual takeoffs provide more autonomy to the professional completing them, they are often used solely for smaller jobs. Manual material takeoffs for large commercial projects can become a tedious, lengthy, and complicated process. 

Digital Takeoffs

Digital takeoffs are far less time-consuming because they automate calculations. Upload the project blueprints and a few other important documents, and the software will analyze them to create a takeoff.

As simple as this sounds, construction takeoff software must still be reviewed for accuracy.

The software provides various printable spreadsheets for quantities of materials, the cost of each type of material, and more. Use it to create a digital material takeoff, then merge the information into the estimate when it’s time. 

If you’re using cloud-based digital takeoff software, everyone on the team can access it in real-time. That means everyone will be on the same page whenever a change is needed. 

How to Conduct a Construction Takeoff

To complete a material takeoff, the following steps need to be followed:

1. Scan or Review Blueprints and Plans

Software users must first scan the blueprints and documents in the program and allow them to be analyzed.

If you conduct a manual takeoff, you must examine a physical copy of the blueprints and documents to get an overview of the project’s needs.

If any information is missing or uncertain, now is the time to ask any questions about the specifications.

2. Measure Square Footage

For flat surfaces, such as roofs, ceilings, drywall, concrete flooring, and concrete walls, the square footage must be measured to determine how much  material will be needed for each.

3. Measure Linear Footage

Materials calculated by length, such as steel beams, piping, wiring, cables, and rebar, must be measured by linear footage to ensure accuracy.

4. Measure Volume 

Another way to measure materials is by volume. This can be a liquid measurement, such as for asphalt, or in cubic yards, such as for soil. 

Concrete is another material that is measured by volume or weight. 

5. Provide Material Count

Lastly, some materials will be measured by a simple number count. 

Sinks, light fixtures, and doorknobs are good examples. These materials will be added together based on the number required. Meanwhile, windows and doors will be counted by type or size. 

Fasteners, such as nails, screws, and concrete anchors, may be counted by number per square foot. 

6. Determine Quantities

Some materials can be bought in bulk. You should calculate how many pieces of each material will be needed to fill the specific measurements.

For example, the number of buckets of paint or drywall sheets would be calculated based on the previous square footage measurement divided by the amount a bucket or sheet would cover. 

The same principle applies to boxes of screws, strips of nails, or other fasteners. 

7. Determine Cost

Once you have quantified a list of materials prices for the project, you can calculate the cost.

The formula is multiplying the cost per unit by the number of units.

Read About: What Does a Commercial Contractor Do?

How to Complete a Construction Estimate

Remember that construction estimates are more detailed than construction takeoffs. 

Completing an estimate will require much more information and calculations. Here are the steps:

1. Use Material Cost Calculations

Prior to beginning an estimate, the material takeoff has been completed and prepared for use. Those calculations are then factored into the total cost to produce an accurate estimate. 

2. Add Cost of Labor

The estimated cost of labor must be included in the calculations.

To make these calculations, you must know the average hourly pay for each worker, including their overtime. 

You will also need an estimate of the number of hours each construction and administrative team member will spend working on the project. 

Insurance and other employee expenses and benefits, such as workers’ compensation, must also be tallied. 

Taxes, union dues, and other miscellaneous labor costs should not be forgotten or left unaccounted.

3. Calculate Overhead Costs

Overhead is any expense required to complete the construction project. 

Administrative fees fall into this category. This includes office rental and storage space, utilities, permitting, insurance, and bonding. 

Professional services such as a payroll company, accounting, legal defense, and marketing are included in the overhead.

Smaller expenses, such as software subscriptions, printing fees, and office supplies, may not seem significant but should still be considered. 

4. Add Equipment Costs

Construction projects require a lot of equipment. The cost of using this equipment should be included in the estimate. 

While the construction company or contractor may own some equipment, large or specialized equipment is typically rented. The rental cost must be included in the total cost of the equipment.

Don’t overlook the cost of fuel to run the equipment, or the cost of repairs and maintenance. 

Insurance on these vehicles and equipment, along with the depreciation involved in using them, should also be included in the total cost of equipment for a project. 

5. Account for Profit and Contingency

Using estimating software, input all data from the construction takeoff, labor estimate, overhead estimate, and equipment estimate. The software will provide an accurate number for you to present to stakeholders and financiers.

Never forget to set aside contingency funds when writing an estimate. Expect the unexpected, and have some money in your budget to cover a sudden expense.


Takeoffs and estimates are equally vital when planning a construction project. Project owners, contractors, and construction managers rely on them to fulfill their responsibilities. 

However, these documents have marked differences and uses. Always prepare a takeoff before you write an estimate. Estimates are more detailed, but rely on takeoffs to calculate the total projected cost of a project.

Contact FMP Construction today to get an accurate takeoff and estimate for your next construction venture. 

Up Next: Construction Jobsite Safety: What Site Owners and Stakeholders Need to Know

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