Price of Precision: Process of Creating Accurate Construction Cost Estimates

Author: Gourav Bhaidage
Published: June 15, 2023
Danist Soh 8gg2ne Utcm Unsplash

Price of Precision: Process of Creating Accurate Construction Cost Estimates


In the world of construction, project cost estimation isn’t just a step in the process—it’s a critical factor in project success. This article, “Price of Precision: Process of Creating Accurate Project Cost Estimates,” will take you through the intricacies of creating accurate cost estimates in construction. We’ll explore why they’re important, the techniques and tools used, and how to account for potential risks. Finally, we’ll underscore the importance of double-checking estimates to ensure accuracy. With these insights, you’ll gain a better understanding of what goes into creating a precise construction cost estimate.

Understanding Construction Cost Estimates: What They Are and Why They Matter

The process of constructing any project, whether it be a towering skyscraper or a modest residential home, begins with a number, or rather a series of numbers, collectively known as a construction cost estimate. This financial blueprint outlines the expected costs associated with a particular construction project. Yet it’s not just about the numbers – an accurate construction cost estimate serves as the cornerstone of a project, shaping its trajectory from inception to completion.

Accurate project estimates are not just numbers in a spreadsheet; they are the pivotal groundwork that drives effective planning, efficient resource allocation, and prudent budget management. They allow for the identification and mitigation of potential risks, the setting of realistic expectations, and informed project scheduling. 

The significance of a well-determined estimate extends beyond the financial aspects of a project. It directly affects client satisfaction, guiding decision-making processes, and aiding in prioritising project tasks. By providing a reliable and detailed financial framework, accurate estimates ensure that projects stay on track, remain within budget, and meet stakeholders’ expectations. 

The process of creating such estimates relies on an array of data sources, each providing key information required for a comprehensive financial analysis. Existing and proposed architectural drawings, designs and reports from structural engineers, material specifications, and various survey reports all form an integral part of the data collection process. Surveys may include arboricultural, drainage, asbestos, or trial hole investigations, amongst others. Other vital elements encompass schedules detailing specifications for doors and windows, joinery, sanitaryware, electrical components, plumbing, heating, and more. 

In essence, constructing an accurate project cost estimate is an intricate process, combining art and science. It’s about understanding the story that the numbers tell about a project’s feasibility, scope, and potential challenges. It’s a tool that, when used effectively, can lead to successful project delivery, satisfied clients, and a respected reputation in the industry.

Techniques and Tools: How Construction Cost Estimates are Calculated

Calculating an accurate construction cost estimate is a meticulous process that requires keen attention to detail and a comprehensive understanding of the project scope. This section explores the critical steps involved in developing a reliable estimate.

1. Understanding the Project Scope and Requirements

The first step involves defining the scope of work based on the provided drawings. In Multiproject, we generally undertake various types of projects including new build houses/apartments, extensions of existing buildings, major internal alterations and refurbishments, and roof and basement extensions. Any specific client requirements outside the general scope are also taken into consideration during the estimate preparation. This step involves understanding the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders and aligning them with the project’s needs.

2. Gathering and Analysing Project Data

Data collection forms the bedrock of a solid estimate. The client and the design team are asked to provide facts, figures, and any relevant documentation, such as project plans and specifications, which help in determining the work scope. A careful review of these materials ensures that all critical elements of the project are taken into account.

3. Breaking Down the Project

After gathering and analysing the data, the project is broken down into workable sections for precise quantification and pricing of materials and equipment, at Multiproject we use up to date BCIS data for these.

  • Materials and Equipment: This stage involves identifying necessary equipment, machinery, and specialised tools. The time and cost associated with equipment usage, including rentals, fuel, maintenance, and operator wages, are estimated. Furthermore, a detailed quantity take-off is performed to calculate the volumes, lengths, areas, or quantities of different materials required for the project. Material prices are then obtained from suppliers or internet resources. For items where details are lacking, provisional sums are used, which will be confirmed by the contractor later.
  • Labour Costs and Productivity: Estimating the labour costs involves calculating the labour hours required for each task. The skill levels, productivity rates, and crew sizes needed for different activities are taken into account. Historical data or industry standards serve as a reference for labour estimation.

4. Adding Quotes from Sub-contractors and Third Parties

Quotes are requested from subcontractors for specialised work or specific tasks. The quotes are analysed to understand the cost implications and potential resource requirements for subcontracted work.

5. Data Synthesis and Cost Estimation

The collected data, including material costs, labour expenses, equipment rentals, and subcontractor quotes, are then analysed. The data is summarised and aggregated to arrive at an overall construction cost before the preliminary costs and risk allowances are allocated.

Navigating Variables: Accounting for Preliminaries and Risks

Construction cost estimates extend beyond the direct costs of materials, labour, and equipment. A well-rounded estimate also factors in overheads, indirect costs, and potential risks that could impact project finances. This section explores how to account for these variables during the estimating process.

Accounting for Overheads and Indirect Costs

Overheads or indirect costs are expenses that are not directly tied to a specific project task but are essential for the successful completion of the project. These may include:

  • Insurances: Various types of insurance are required in construction projects to cover potential risks. These include all risks insurance, professional indemnity insurance, product liability insurance, public liability insurance, and employers’ liability insurance.
  • Loans and Other Fees: These include any interest or fees associated with loans or finance obtained for the project.
  • Profits and Fees: Profit margins depend on the contractor and the type of project. Larger projects often have smaller profit margins compared to smaller projects due to the extent of the project, although this can vary from contractor to contractor.

Risk Management

Risk management is an integral part of preparing a construction cost estimate. It’s about identifying potential problems that could arise during the project and accounting for them in the estimate.

  • Potential Delays and Associated Costs: Delays can significantly inflate the cost of a project. Factors such as design changes, insufficient details, adverse weather conditions, accidents, theft of materials, unexpected adverse site conditions, and fluctuating labour productivity levels can all lead to delays. These need to be considered and priced into the estimate to avoid unexpected cost overruns.
  • Suitability of Plants and Equipment: The performance of plants and equipment used in a project can impact the project’s costs and timelines. The suitability of these assets for the tasks they’re assigned to needs to be assessed and potential impacts on costs should be factored into the estimate.

Accounting for these variables and risks ensures a more accurate and comprehensive construction cost estimate, thereby facilitating smoother project execution and financial management.

Crossing the Ts: The Importance of Final Checks in Construction Cost Estimation

The meticulous process of creating a construction cost estimate doesn’t end with tallying the figures; final checks are an essential last step to ensure accuracy and validity. It’s during this stage that any discrepancies are identified, assumptions are clarified, and adjustments are made. As such, it is a fundamental aspect of the whole cost estimation process.

One of the crucial elements of this stage is understanding the scope of the project. Revisiting the project documentation, architectural plans, and specifications can provide a valuable perspective on whether the estimate aligns with the project requirements. Any discrepancies or misinterpretations spotted at this stage can significantly influence the final numbers, so it’s important to thoroughly comprehend the scope of the project.

A detailed itemisation of the estimate is vital to ensure that every cost component has been taken into account. The cost estimate should be broken down into various components such as labour, materials, equipment, permits, subcontractors, and overhead costs. This granular view can provide valuable insights and make it easier to identify any potential oversights or miscalculations.

Quantity takeoffs, a measure of the quantities of materials and labour required for each task, need to be verified for accuracy. Any errors in these calculations can considerably impact the accuracy of the final estimate, and therefore must be diligently checked.

Contingencies and overheads are another vital aspect of the estimate that need validating. These costs, often considered indirect, can significantly impact the project’s financial viability if underestimated or overlooked. It is therefore essential to review these figures and make adjustments if needed.

Documenting assumptions made during the estimating process and providing clarifications for any uncertainties or ambiguities is also crucial. These notes serve as a record and can be valuable for understanding the rationale behind certain cost elements.

Lastly, once all identified issues or discrepancies have been addressed, it’s time to update and finalise the estimate. This involves double-checking all calculations, totals, and subtotals, ensuring every penny is accounted for. This thorough final check guarantees that the construction cost estimate is as accurate and reliable as possible, ultimately contributing to the successful delivery of the project within the budget.

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