The Construction Takeoff: What is it & How to Complete One

by Alexander Fraser

Have you ever had to plan for a birthday party or an event that required you to gather materials? 

For a party, you must consider how much food you’ll need, tables for people, and maybe even drinks. Well, this is the basics of a takeoff in construction. 

What is a Take Off in Construction? 

A construction takeoff, material takeoff, or quantity takeoff is about determining your material needs for a construction project. It’s valuable because it helps construction estimating deliver an accurate price and provide a competitive bid. 

The takeoff can play a part in successful project management and construction project planning. 

Conducting a construction takeoff before placing an order for material is good practice. Not only does it help with your construction cost estimating but the construction project scheduling too. 

You should have your takeoff completed early on to determine the material cost. Also, when the time comes, you’ll be ready to place your material order. 

So, you might be wondering, who’s responsible for performing a construction takeoff? Typically, it’s the project managers and estimators who conduct this task. It applies whether you work for general contractors or subcontractors. 

In this article, you’ll learn about a takeoff in construction. We will be covering the following topics. 

Why Accurate Construction Takeoffs Matter

Having an accurate construction takeoff can impact your project in many ways. An accurate takeoff is essential for tracking project costs in the construction industry. 

The takeoff is one of the steps required when working on a construction estimate. You’ll use this to determine the required equipment and material for the job. With that, you can obtain pricing from vendors to add to the cost estimate. 

A good estimate helps construction companies make informed decisions. It is also critical for predicting labor costs, material costs, and overhead costs. 

You’ll submit your estimate to customers or general contractors during bidding. An accurate takeoff will ensure that your construction bid estimating remains competitive and profitable. 

The inaccuracy of the construction takeoff can make or break a project. 

How an Accurate Takeoff Benefits Larger Projects

For larger projects, having an accurate takeoff can have even more impact on your project. 

These jobs have more materials, labor, and equipment involved. Errors in the takeoff process will affect your bottom line (i.e., profit margin) throughout the job. 

Therefore, greater takeoff accuracy is essential for larger projects’ success. 

The Importance of Performing a Complete Takeoff

We can now Segway into why you need to perform a complete takeoff. It ties into the accuracy of it, but ensuring that your takeoff includes everything in the drawings is critical.

Carefully review the construction drawings and specifications. Look out for any addendums or changes to the drawings during the bidding process. 

Generate a list based on the plans and specs to track everything included in the plans and specs. 

Here’s some advice that I have for your takeoff. 

  1. Equipment: Look to see if there are any equipment schedules you can use for tracking. Check this against the plans and note any discrepancies to RFI
  2. Materials: Mark up the floor plans physically or digitally to track the required quantities. Number any fixtures or dimensions out of the plans for tracking. 

Using a spreadsheet software like Google Sheets can be a method of tracking equipment and material. 

Tackling Complex Projects

A complex project might involve multiple phases, large teams, and numerous material types. An accurate takeoff is vital here. 

Project managers must know the specific materials required and the quantities to track. 

Manual vs. Digital Takeoffs: What’s Better? 

Now that we know more about construction takeoffs let’s look at manual and digital takeoffs. 

Traditionally, construction professionals performed manual takeoffs using physically printed blueprints and measuring tools. Unless you’re a seasoned estimator, this method is prone to human error and is time-consuming. 

These days, digital takeoff software is becoming a standard practice in the construction industry. With digital takeoff software, estimators can improve their efficiency in calculating material quantities. 

Ironically, the estimators I work with are old school and still use the manual method. They’ve been estimating long enough to have an efficient system, even manually. 

The Process of a Construction Takeoff: Step-by-Step

Before you begin, you’ll need to ensure you have all the documents for the project. These consist of the following:

  1. Contract Drawings
  2. Contract Specifications
  3. Any addendums and RFIs during the bid

Before covering the step-by-step instructions, I want to emphasize the importance of the construction drawings in the takeoff process. 

Construction or contract drawings provide essential information about the project. It includes dimensions, material types, and the required quantities. 

Estimators study the drawings to determine the necessary materials for the project. These materials include items such as lumber, steel, and light fixtures. 

When taking measurements off the drawings, make sure you’re using the correct scale. If not, your takeoff will be inaccurate, and your total material cost for the project will be wrong. 

The Step-by-Step Instructions

Now that we have covered construction takeoff let’s examine the process. I’ll also provide you with an example for you to use. 

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Gather the necessary documents: As mentioned, you’ll need the construction drawings and specifications that detail the project requirements. 
  2. Review the documents: Carefully review the contract documents to identify the required materials, like lumber, steel, and light fixtures. 
  3. Measure the materials: Next, you’ll need to measure the materials needed for the job. You’ll need to calculate each material type’s square footage, linear footage, and cubic yards. 
  4. Calculate the quantities: With the measurements you’ve taken, determine the material quantities and material amounts for the project. 
  5. Enter the data into a spreadsheet: Record the quantities of the materials and equipment shown on the plans and specs. I suggest using digital takeoff software over the manual method for easier tracking. 
  6. Review and finalize the takeoff: Review your data to ensure takeoff accuracy. Make adjustments if needed. Use the takeoff for your estimate or material order as needed. 

Tips for Performing a Construction Takeoff

To develop an accurate estimate, I suggest you follow these best practices: 

  • Use the right tools: I highly suggest using digital takeoff software. It will help improve your efficiency and reduce human error. 
  • Be accurate: Have an accurate takeoff and measurements to avoid costly errors. The worst feeling is missing something in the estimate, hurting the job. 
  • Be organized: Find a systematic approach for your takeoff. Create a comprehensive list of materials and keep track of your progress. 
  • Be efficient: Prioritize the more apparent items first, and RFI what you can’t confirm. Streamline the process and consider using technology to save time and resources. 

A Specific Example: Concrete Takeoff

One of the most straightforward examples I could think of is a concrete slab. To perform a takeoff for a slab, you will need to determine the volume of concrete. Another item to consider is the rebar. 

Let’s just look at the concrete required for this example.

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Detail of a concrete footing for our takeoff example

Determine the footing’s square footage (SF) with the slab detail. We can multiply that area we found by the slab’s perimeter. 

For this example, since we don’t have the floor plan of the slab, let’s assume it’s a 10’x10’ pad. That would leave us with a perimeter of 40’. Multiplied by 1.28 SF, we end up with a 51.25 cubic feet (CF) volume for the footing. 

Next, we need to look at the pad. Based on the drawing, we can see that our pad will be about 6” thick. We also know the pad is 10’x10’, giving us 100 SF. 

Take your 100 SF and multiply that by 6” or 0.5’. You should calculate 50 cubic feet. 

Now add the footing and pad, which will give you the total volume of concrete required. Take 51.25 CF + 50 CF for a total of 101.25 CF. That’s how much concrete you will need to order for your new concrete pad. 

Then plug your quantities into the spreadsheet of your choice. I will use the template I’ve created for construction budgets. 

You can click here to access the construction budget template on Google Sheets

You’ll need to enter the price per unit to use in your estimate. 

You can also apply this method to a lumber takeoff. What will be different is the type of material and quantity of each material. You’ll calculate the linear footage for your lumber in this type of takeoff. 

Once the construction takeoff is complete, project management can use this to plan accordingly. As the PM, you must consider the project expenses, resource allocation, and scheduling. 

The next step is refining the estimate or proceeding with a material order. 

Key Takeaway

At this point, it should be clear that a construction takeoff is an integral part of the construction estimation process. 

Without an accurate takeoff, you couldn’t produce a reliable estimate. The company must cover anything missed in your takeoff out of pocket. 

That can hurt. 

I hope you can perform your own takeoffs by following the process and tips discussed. Having a good understanding of how to perform a construction takeoff will help with your success in this industry. 

Before you go, consider checking out my article on construction budgets. You will find an example of a finished takeoff included in the estimate. 

Thanks for reading. 

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