Construction Takeoffs: A Complete How-To Guide

what is a construction takeoff

Today’s construction landscape leaves very little room for error. With rising material costs and razor-thin margins, construction professionals must ensure that project costs and materials are precisely estimated so they can make accurate projections and optimize their bids.  

Accomplishing all of this will require you to learn how to successfully approach a takeoff in construction. Done well, construction takeoffs give you clarity on all the components of the project so you can make accurate estimates and move forward with confidence.  

In this article, we’ll discuss the fundamentals of a construction takeoff, including what it is and how to do it right.  

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What is a Takeoff in Construction?  

A construction takeoff is a process of listing and measuring the materials required for the project to calculate the cost to complete it. The construction takeoff is the first step in the estimation process and involves quantifying the materials necessary to start and execute the job. 

The Anatomy of a Construction Takeoff 

Accurate construction takeoffs and quantification lead to more profitable projects. Precise information about materials and costs enables general contractors and subcontractors to allocate resources effectively and produce more competitive bids.  

But what exactly does it take to successfully complete construction takeoffs? 

To answer that, we need to understand who’s involved in the process and the components required to do a takeoff.  

Who Completes Construction Takeoffs? 

At both general contracting and subcontracting firms, construction takeoffs are typically done by estimators to determine the material, labor, and equipment costs to generate an accurate and competitive bid.   

While each project is unique, estimators often rely on years of knowledge of what materials are required to complete the project. They also draw from their experiences from previous successfully completed projects to identify savings. Ultimately, their focus is to accurately quantify the materials and calculate construction costs to ensure that they have both a winning and profitable bid.   

Bigger firms will likely have multiple estimators working on larger more complex projects quantifying different scopes that they specialize in. 

In many cases, estimators refer to the project plans, models, and documents, then begin creating the list of materials from there.  

What's Included in a Construction Takeoff? 

At a very high level, a construction takeoff lists the materials needed for the project, along with their respective quantities and costs.  

In practice, construction takeoffs are incredibly detailed documents that outline the specific types of materials required, along with their measurements and pricing. Estimators then enter each type of material, its description, measurement, required quantity, and price into a spreadsheet or better yet, an estimating solution. 

For example, when entering the required amount of concrete for the project, the estimator may input the following information in the construction takeoff: 

  • Description: 6" concrete slab on third floor 
  • QTY: 1000  
  • UNIT: Sq. ft.  
  • UNIT PRICE: $xx 
  • TOTAL PRICE:  $xx 

How to Do a Takeoff in Construction from Start to Finish 

Now that we’ve covered what a construction takeoff is and what it does, let’s explore the steps you need to take to implement takeoffs in construction. 

Step 1: Review the Project Plans 

The first step in the construction takeoff process is to get your hands on the project plans and documents. These will enable you to visualize the project to figure out what materials to use and their respective quantities.  

If you’re doing a manual takeoff, then you’ll need the physical copies of these documents so you can review them by hand. If you’re using a digital construction takeoff solution, you can request scanned copies which you can then upload into the software. 

Estimators pay meticulous attention to details within project documents to ensure that they have identified all the documents relevant to the scope they are quantifying and understand the specifications documented. 

Step 2: Count and List the Materials Required  

As you’re viewing the project’s blueprint, you need to start counting the number of items needed to execute the project. For example, you’ll need to know the number of doors, windows, and fixtures needed in the building, so you can calculate the costs. 

The specific actions you’ll take at this stage will depend on how you’re implementing the construction takeoff. If you’re doing things the old-fashioned way, then you’ll have to perform counts manually.  

On the other hand, many construction takeoff software tools automate the counting process, so all you have to do is review and modify the counts when needed. 

Step 3: Measure the Various Components of the Project 

You’ll also need to determine accurate measurements of whatever it is that you’re building. After verifying the scale, you should calculate the square footage of a given room, for example,  to figure out the quantities of materials necessary to build it whether it is determining the surface area for installing drywall, paint, or insulation, or calculating linear footage for trims, cables, and such. 

Again, the exact procedure here will depend on whether you’re doing manual or digital takeoffs and the exact scope of your project. Manual processes will use a scale ruler on paper plans; meanwhile, construction takeoff software can generate those measurements faster. 

Step 4: Determine the Quantities 

Once you have the list of materials for the project and the relevant measurements, you’ll need to figure out the quantities for the required materials. Take stock of the necessary materials along with measurements of various project components, and then use that data to determine the right quantities.  

For example, if the plan calls for a 2,500-sq ft. indoor area, you’ll need to iron out the different types of materials required to build that room and the quantities for each. 

Step 5: Determine the Costs 

The next step is to calculate the costs for the items on your list. At this stage, you may need to rely on your industry knowledge to determine the cost of materials. In some cases, your suppliers may have provided their quotes, so you can use that information as well.  

Construction software can also make this step easier. Some digital tools contain databases of updated pricing, so estimators can leverage that data when figuring out their costs.  

When the above-mentioned steps are complete, you can proceed with the rest of the estimation process. This factors in your other costs as well as your markup to come up with a final estimate and bid. 

Construction Takeoff Software Saves Your Business Time and Money

As we mentioned earlier, construction takeoffs can be done manually or digitally. The former involves examining physical documents and conducting material counts and measurements by hand. The latter can streamline takeoffs through automation and more user-friendly features.  

While using digital tools requires you to invest in technology, today’s takeoff software offers a substantial ROI. To decide which method is best for your practice, you should consider the following. 

Save Time 

Construction software like Autodesk Takeoff will optimize every part of your takeoff workflow. Whether you’re counting fixtures, calculating flooring, or wall surface area for painting, or even trying to access quantifies from a BIM model to achieve tremendous time savings, using a digital solution can speed up your tasks.  

In many cases, digital takeoff software can help automate some of the more tedious elements of construction takeoff. For example, machine learning capabilities like symbol detection on 2D drawings can help minimize the mundane and tedious task of individually taking off similar symbols such as light fixtures, outlets, columns, and doors.  

Estimators are often asked to put together a high-level conceptual estimate for various reasons, such as determining feasibility and if a project is worth pursuing without spending considerable time performing a detailed estimate. Sometimes, it could be just to explore different material options to align with the project budget. Using unit cost capabilities within Autodesk Takeoff, estimators can quickly generate a rough budget for 2D and 3D takeoffs and see the cost change within their inventory as additional takeoffs are performed. 

Furthermore, with real-time cloud-based document management – estimating teams can access the most up-to-date construction documents, drawings, and models at any given point. The accessibility enables more efficient change management process to easily visualize and account for changes when new documents are issued. 

Read more: How Windover Construction Reduces Quantity Takeoff Time by More Than 50% 

Boost Efficiency 

In addition to saving time, construction software also minimizes the effort required to complete certain tasks. For example, Autodesk Takeoff has 3D takeoff capabilities so you can easily access quantities from BIM models.  

In addition to improving the visualization of the project to identify any gaps, it further streamlines the takeoff process so teams can devote more energy and resources to higher-level responsibilities.  

 Simultaneously working in 2D and 3D in one application can help estimators quantify project scopes more efficiently.  

Digital solutions also reduce human error, so teams can confidently proceed with the estimation process knowing that the takeoff is error-free. 

Increase Profitability 

The construction industry is known to have notoriously tight margins, which is why accurately priced data is critical. In addition to streamlining the process of cost calculations, digital takeoff solutions help eliminate the need to print out blueprints to perform manual takeoffs, which is both a costly and time-consuming task.  

Companies no longer need to store pages and pages of documents within their offices. Everything can be stored safely on the cloud and can be referenceable whenever needed.   

Easy access to historical project data also helps inform future bids, so estimators can generate more accurately priced estimates. Estimators are often working on multiple projects at a time. Therefore, by minimizing manual processes and reducing rework, estimators are empowered to perform takeoff in a fraction of the time.  

Improve Collaboration 

Construction software is essential for firms with large estimating teams. Working with desktop-based takeoff solutions can be very challenging. Estimators have to save all their project files and takeoff to their local device, which makes it inflexible to work from anywhere they like and makes collaboration with other estimators on the team impossible.   

When multiple silos exist, it becomes difficult to ensure everyone is working from the latest project documents and accurately accounting for all the changes made with a revision. This can result in costly mistakes that can cost companies to either lose the bid or win a job that may not be profitable. 

Cloud-based solutions like Autodesk Takeoff can be the game-changer in keeping team members on the same page and ensuring that everyone can view and access updated information at any given time.  

The software also notifies stakeholders when documents are updated, so all collaborators are aware of any changes.  

Since everyone is working on the same platform, teams can stay aligned and experience fewer headaches and miscommunication issues. Estimating teams can even leverage project templates in Autodesk Takeoff to save time when starting a new project and improve standardization across their organization. Estimators can finally stop working in silos and create a consistent process across the organization. 

Read more: DPR Enhances Its Quantification Workflows with Autodesk Takeoff, Saving Time and Resources

Create More Competitive Bids 

All of the above result in higher quality bids. Estimators can determine quantities and costs more accurately, which means they can produce competitive bids that win more work 

A Better Solution for Estimators 

Construction takeoffs can make or break the profitability and success of your projects. For this reason, the process needs to be as efficient as possible. Autodesk Takeoff helps you do just that by giving you and your teams access to powerful tools that improve takeoff speed, accuracy, and collaboration.  

Use the software's 2D and 3D takeoff capabilities to get a complete view of your projects and easily capture their scope. Multiple estimators can simultaneously access the same project files to review and perform 2D and 3D takeoff, creating a synchronous workflow experience. Gain confidence in your calculations and generate more complex quantities by using formulas in Autodesk Takeoff. Unit costs can be applied to the outputs for both 2D and 3D takeoff to help establish rough budgets and conceptual estimates.

 Autodesk Takeoff also serves as a common data environment that keeps your teams, documents, and information in one place. The software empowers estimators and other project stakeholders to collaborate better and produce high-quality estimates.  

As a member of the Autodesk Construction Cloud family, Autodesk Takeoff functions alongside other powerful tools—including Autodesk Build and Autodesk BIM Collaborate—enabling teams to be connected across the entire project lifecycle. 

Get a free trial of Autodesk Takeoff and discover how the platform can level up your practices when it comes to construction takeoffs and beyond. 

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.