Construction Cost Estimating

One Engineer’s Perspective

It is said that all good jokes have a bit of truth in the punch line. This is the case (I think) in a joke I heard about those of us engineer’s that do budgetary construction cost estimating. The joke is set up with a question: What is the definition of an “engineer’s estimate”?  Answer: The cost of construction in heaven. Ouch!  Not so funny but it does have a bit of truth in it. The reality is, engineers (and architects alike) do not have a great record with accurate budget cost estimates through the design phases.  Construction  estimating (particularly with remodel projects) has a lot to do with  the “heaven” of well-defined plans and specifications but also much accounting for the “hell” of the physical construction in the field. Everything fits well in the plan; the devil is in the physically getting the project built. Budgeting or bidding construction is all about capturing the realities of the heaven and hell in the project in the estimating process. This article is about the process of cost estimating construction and getting it right!

The process of construction cost estimating always begins with a thorough understanding of the project’s scope of work. Architects and engineers (AE’s) define scope well in plans and specifications but for construction estimating this scope is incomplete. Successful contractors will tell you that construction scoping for estimating purposes (as with scheduling) goes well beyond the AE scope and includes field specific realities such as weather, on-going operations, soils conditions, access/ egress to the site, security, safety, time of the year, site lay out, environmental considerations and other site specific scope. Beyond the context scope the estimator needs to account for the means and methods used in the execution of the work. All scope has a cost. The best estimators will think like a contractor and mentally build the project many times before the project is actually built. The savvy estimator knows construction well and is able to identify and capture the AE, context and execution scope in the process of estimating the projected cost of a project.

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