The request for “a quick takeoff” means different things to different clients. When a client makes this request, I generally know exactly what they need. The quick dirt number I provide usually leads them to knowing how much Teflon tape they’ll need for the water pipe joints.

The procedural filters we use while doing a scope of work will change over time, coinciding with the different stages, to make our job easier and more productive. Clients each have different requirements for their takeoff, eventual bidding, and final production. To walk you through this process, I will begin with the basics and investigate advanced ideas while I progress.

During this offering, I will speak in the first person, like it is “our job,” acting as a consultant who will perform the takeoff and processing services for our clients and not perform the work ourselves.

Just a Takeoff

When we “old timers” used to receive a request for a takeoff, the rules were simple and worked well for years. With more technology introduced, the deliverables clients expect to receive are much more advanced. Acquiring additional information, in respect to a civil site takeoff, may help you get your numbers right. The data in hand is purely for bidding purposes, but clients often want more information than they need. It only wastes their money.

Takeoff to Project Management

Once a client has won a job, I am all for details and more information. Many of you know my old line, “if you’re using your takeoff for data, you are doing too good a takeoff.” The same holds true for takeoff detail. If your takeoff can instantly become a project management document, you’re wasting your time with a too detailed takeoff.

The difficulty comes from transitioning a file from takeoff to production. Many think that you need to start over in order to make things work for production. As an old timer, I would agree with this, but industry software has made this a non-issue. Here are some of the transitions we need to make when the job is won.

The Dirt Number

As an experienced estimator and large-scale project manager, I always keep some money safely tucked away in different scopes for the eventual rainy day. The dirt number was one way to do this. During the bid phase we might have listed the strata from bore logs, but often they are not available, or time won’t allow it. Now that the job is ours, I start the deep dive into the actual cost of dirt moving and investigate the following items:

  • I get our drone, or hire a local drone operator, to fly a pre-start topo. We all know once you mobilize to a site and put a tooth in the ground, all bets are off for another trip to the well for more money because the OG information supplied in the plans was incorrect.
    When we get the topo information, the takeoff is rerun. If we are better than before, I use the advantage in my rainy-day fund. If the numbers go bad, we call a meeting with the owner and renegotiate. Make sure this is all done before digging. When fast-tracking, you still have the date the topo was flown as well as images that show no disturbance. An email to let everyone know this is an issue will serve to keep the issue open until a change order is processed.
  • The different amounts of each type of dirt that needs to be moved is the next area I look at. If you had the bore logs and they were entered into the takeoff numbers, review them and start to look at actual costs for handling each material type. Many contractors know their areas well and will assign an average dirt number to the quantities at bid time and come back later for refining. You can now figure amounts much more closely with additional information.
  • For mass haul analysis, cut/fill and enter our average number for dirt moving works well for bidding. These quick numbers are a result of careful figuring based on prior work and should get you in the ballpark to win some of the hard-bid jobs you go after.
  • When you get the job, it’s time to start drilling down into the numbers and squeeze those few percentage points to make the boss some money. The amount of dirt getting moved at what distance on what quality surface is the breakdown. I will review a site mass haul in the video and go over what I look for in the reporting.
  • Many site jobs require going offsite to dispose or import material. This is another chance to make some calls, shorten distances and lower costs. During the bid, you might have used local numbers or made a quick call to plug in a price. Now is the time to get some savings from the averages used in the proposal.
  • Now that we have won the job and returned from the celebration, it’s time to be good to the owners, and help us a bit along the way. We all need to bid to the plans and specifications and consider the pricing on additions and alternates. There are too many variables to go over here, but each contractor knows that there are a lot of better ways to do certain parts of a job than what’s been drawn by the engineers. We see the biggest disparities in chain business when plans have been drawn out of state without intimate knowledge of the area. Others have some luck by having worked in the immediate area and are then able to recommend some changes that will enhance the job and save everyone some money.

To this point, I have used quick and basic takeoffs that drove the dirt numbers without having to redo anything. I just spent more time drilling down in the listed areas. I made a lot of owner’s good money by being diligent in the above areas except when back in my day we walked the topo, drones weren’t invented then.

You need to perform the above first. This ensures the original ground information is good, you understand conditions, as well as knowing how far you’ll need to go for material import or export. With this completed, it’s on to the next phase.

Project Management Process

A lot of time is wasted moving materials on a jobsite. It could be dirt that was set incorrectly. To pipe and other import items that always seem to be in the way. We now need to elevate the quality of our data from a takeoff to a performing site data model. The big question is whether to start over or improve the takeoff to data quality. Here is my process:

The Big Stuff

My first question is, did the overall footprint change? With the basic layout still intact, the improvement of the takeoff is my first choice for a data model. We already have the layers broken out and most of the COGO (Coordinate Geometry) is good.

Many times, there are changes to the plans after we have won the bid. Hopefully some of them are from our value engineering proposals to the owners and engineers. With that information in hand, a fresh look at the model will tell you if you should start over or improve things that were in the takeoff. With good layer naming and consolidation, it is not hard to add islands or redo a changed curb line. Resized retentions and other common areas are easy to remove and replace. I will go over a few of these points in a video regarding the use of layers and how to use them to your benefit.

The Details

When we do a takeoff, little attention is paid to making a parking lot look great. We elevate curb lines and possibly change bad spikes. I have done countless studies and presentations from a takeoff to data model quantities and the difference is miniscule. The price of a data model is about 3-times what a takeoff costs. It is not worth our client’s money to get crazy detailed with a takeoff. During the bidding phase, plans are often not approved by all agencies and will change before being issued with final approval. It is important to note the delta changes on the latest and greatest set. A word of advice; never trust clouds on the plans to indicate all the changes made to the job. I like Bluebeam sheet compare for this, I will do a video to explain.

With a final set of approved for construction plans in hand, we can get to work. Let’s elevate the takeoff data and prepare it for construction.

  • Drill down into the dirt as explained above. Get those numbers correct and detailed.
  • Break out the job the way you need for phasing and ordering. You have gross numbers, now you can meet with project managers and superintendents to organize things better.
  • Verify the data model is good, (at least for now) with current changes. During data building, we will find issues and submit questions. In the mean time, you can leave the data as-is for the rough grade phase. If the questions would affect the initial mass earthwork calculations, leave the area blank in the model until you get guidance. Don’t move dirt twice to look busy.
  • Add numbers to the quantities. All current takeoff software can export to your spreadsheet estimating program or Excel for adding prices.
  • Go back to the takeoff and add any additional information you want to run through the process of measure, export, and price. We will do everything from count light poles, measure striping, breakout straight and curved curb, and place playground equipment bases. With the plans in front of you digitally, we find it good to even measure items that will be subbed out. It sure is nice to adjust a supplier’s estimate and save some money.