A Quick Tip for Accurate Estimating – StrawBale.com

Written by Andrew Morrison

construction plansThere are lots of ways to estimate the cost of your house. The reality is that most homeowners turned contractors have very little experience with estimating and have even less experience compiling numbers for labor rates related to specific aspects of the job. As a result, many owner/builder or owner-contracted homes go way over budget. With the right training and practice, however, even someone new to contracting can be successful. Here’s a quick tip for accurate estimating.

sample take off sheet
A take-off sheet

It’s important to realize that estimating is a blend of art and science and is something that takes a long time to completely master. That said, success can be had with the help of proper training and material use. One way to get insight into the estimating process is to use estimating books; however, their exclusive use can be a bad idea. In my experience, the best way to fully utilize these books is to set up a spreadsheet to help you with the process. With your construction drawings in place, you can create take-off sheets to help dial in the details of the job. A take-off sheet is simply a spreadsheet on which you write down all of the materials and their costs from a specific job.

Be sure to get as detailed as you can in the creation of the sheets. For example, when you are estimating the cost for the foundation of the house, the obvious things to price are labor, form boards, concrete and rebar. Items that can ruin your estimate if forgotten are things like concrete stakes, form nails, and other connectors. These things are often thrown into the “add a few bucks for nails” column, and the results are poor estimates. Breaking down the individual aspects of the job in finite detail will also help you build the home in your mind ahead of time, making the actual construction easier later on.

If your take-off sheets are really accurate, you can go directly to the suppliers and get material prices for each aspect of the job. This will give you accurate material pricing; however, estimating labor can be a bit more difficult without the help of professionals if you have never completed a similar job before. When it comes to labor, the estimating books are a great place to start, but keep in mind that the numbers in those books are based on professional contractors. You’ll need to adjust those numbers to reflect your labor skills.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi,

    We hired a reputable straw bale company from the bay area to design and possibly build our 2100 sq ft home in shasta CA. Thier construction bid came out high at approx 520k+ for a basic square house with a metal roof and radiant heat. We are currently getting other bids from local general contractors and the first preliminary bid was 310k minus the straw bale. We still have to iron out the details of the lower bid but 200k is still a big difference. The bay area company will be using many of the same local subs that the local general contractor uses. Any advise on how we should proceed?
    Thanks for your help and we love your website.


  2. That’s a tough one John. There is a lot that goes into the straw bale portion of the house; however, $200,000 seems like way too much to me. I think that with some personal attention to the general contractor, he or she should be able to handle the bale portion just fine; however, there is more to it than stacking bales. You might consider hiring a regular contractor and then teaching them the details of baling by using my DVDs and a consulting relationship with me. That will be much cheaper than the $200,000 earmarked by the Bay area contractor.

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