You are on page 1of 7


How to Estimate Electrical

Construction Projects

Reference material on installations of other trades

T his information and instructional material is de-
signed for those who have experience as an electri-
cal contractor, electrician, electrical draftsperson, or
Pads of rough takeoff, estimate, feeder, recapitu-
lation, and change-order sheets
electrical engineer in the construction industry, and
also for those who want to increase their knowledge of Estimator's Tools Required
the estimating field. If you have some knowledge of Triangular architect's rule
blueprint reading, electrical materials, and field instal- Triangular engineer's rule
lations on construction projects, this material will be
Miscellaneous drafting tools (angles, protractor,
easier to learn and then apply. After you complete this
book, you will need to have access to the essential refer-
ence materials and tools that are listed below, whether Manual hand counter
you are a beginning or a seasoned estimator. Map measuring wheels (1 inch, % inch, and M
inch to the foot)
Electronic probe counter and measurer in lieu of
Contractor's Libray: Reference Material
manual counter and wheels
for the Estimator
Walking measuring wheel
Latest edition of the National Electrical Code
A 100-foot tape measure
Latest edition of the National Fire Prevention
Highlighter markers
Access to a computer is recommended
Latest edition of the BOCA Code and local codes
in the area of construction
Estimating is the art of translating blueprints, scopes
Catalogs and digests of electrical materials of work, prebid field inspections, and verbal requests for
Material pricing references proposals into costs of materials and labor required to
Labor unit manual for electrical materials produce a complete electrical installation with an ade-
(enclosed within Chapter 3 preferred) quate profit margin. Although there are various types of

2 How to Estimate Electrical Construction Projects

estimating, such as the square-foot method or the assem- A site plan and partial site services plan show the
bly method, this course will use the labor-unit ap- site lighting poles and fixtures, the wall and floor open-
proach. There may be instances where the estimator ings for the electrical service, and communications and
uses methods other than the labor-unit approach to pro- site lighting that the builder installed in the concrete
duce a budget or ballpark price. This often occurs when bearing walls below grade. Also shown are details on the
time does not allow for a labor unit estimate, but the site lighting pole bases and conduits for the service, in-
contractor feels compelled to submit a proposal to the cluding wire size, conduit size for the communications,
requesting party. These proposals are often costly to the and conduit size with wire sizes for the site lighting. The
contractor and have a negative effect on the relationship location of the temporary electric service for the project's
between both parties and perhaps others who have an construction and staging area is also shown.
interest in the project. Included in the bid package are the plans, contract
specifications including a scope of work, and a form of
SECTION 1: Preparing Estimates from Plans, proposal to be used by the bidder when submitting his
Specifications, and Related Documents or her price. The scope of work defines what is to be
For this exercise, let us assume that a shell of a 5,000- included in each contractor's proposal. There is also a
square-foot (50' x 100') building has been erected for bulletin #1 (sometimes referred to as an addendum)
future office space. The floor has been poured with 4 that is to be acknowledged as received, and any cost
inches of reinforced concrete, the exterior walls are impact must be included with the contractor's pro-
constructed with cement blocks, and the roofing mate- posal. Bulletins and addenda often arise in response to
rial is supported by steel bar joists on 4-foot centers. questions of clarification asked by the contractors. This
There is a main front entrance and side and rear exit method keeps all of the bidders aware of any changes in
doors. The building will be heated by natural gas and their scope of work, which may affect their proposal.
will be fully air-conditioned by four roof-mounted, Bulletin #1 is issued to change the bid due date only.
prepackaged HVAC units. The men's and women's rest-
rooms will have a roof-mounted exhaust fan and their STEP 1: What Documents to Look for
walls will be constructed of cement blocks. The entire and Examine
building will have an automatic wet fire-sprinkler sys- Invitation to Bid
tem. The finished ceiling will be constructed with sus- The invitation may come to the bidder in the form of a
pended tee bars and acoustical ceiling tiles sized at 2' x letter, postcard, newspaper advertisement, facsimile,
4' and 2' x 2' as required. The interior walls will be steel email, or by telephone. Let us assume it was delivered
studs with sheet rock. A utility room with exposed ceil- to the bidder by letter, requesting a proposal for his or
ing construction has been provided for the electrical her portion of the work. In this case, it is for the electri-
equipment, building maintenance items, and communi- cal installation of the proposed office space. The invita-
cation space for voice and data distribution. tion usually provides a project description along with,
There are electrical floor plans that show the electri- but not limited to, other related information such as the
cal panels, lighting fixtures, switches, receptacles, ex- physical size of the building, its present condition,
haust fans, HVAC units, exit and emergency light units, location, owner, a time and date for a prebid meeting at
time clocks, fire alarm panel, fire bells, fire pull sta- the site for all the bidders (sometimes attendance is
tions, smoke detectors, telephone and data outlets, and mandatory), and a time and place to receive the bids.
detailed riser diagrams for power, fire alarm, and com- This invitation may be sufficient for the contractor to
munications systems. Most estimators will review the either submit or decline to submit a proposal. In this
electrical plans immediately and notify the various case, we will review the invitation along with the form
major material suppliers of the need for pricing and of proposal (bid form) prior to proceeding with the
the date their prices are required. decision to submit a proposal.
How to Estimate Electrical Construction Projects 3

Form of Proposal or Bid Form tractor with specific requirements for the completion of
This will give the contractor information on bonding their work. Here the contractor will review information
requirements, among other things. Is there a bid bond, let- on all of the contractors obligations for their work. A
ter of surety, or performance and payment bond required, scope of work is outlined, and also information on in-
and to what percentage are the performance and the pay- surance requirements, time of completion, payments to
ment bonds rated? This is important for the contractor to contractors (including a schedule of values), damages,
know prior to investing time and dollars in an estimate. conflicts, disputes, arbitration, progress scheduling
The contractor may or may not be able to acquire addi- (either by a bar chart or a more complex critical path
tional bonding for this project for various reasons. Per- method), temporary facilities required, inspection re-
haps the contractor has a limit on the dollar amount of ports, cooperation with other trades, cleanup, storage
volume the bonding company (also referred to as the facilities, shop drawings, etc.
surety) has predetermined to be the limit of liability.
There are many different ways a total estimated price Supplementary Conditions. Not all projects will re-
might be requested. Instead of asking for just one total quire this type of supplement. These are used primarily
price for the contractors entire scope of work, the bid when a generic set of general conditions is used for a
request might require a breakdown of the total price by project. This reduces the cost of designing a whole new
tasks within the scope of work. Thus, there will be many set of general conditions. As each project stands on its
different forms of proposal that the contractor will be ex- own as to conditions, it is more cost effective to use sup-
posed to. The estimator must prepare the estimate ac- plements along with a generic set of general conditions.
cording to the requirements as described in the proposal
form. Special Conditions for the Mechanical and Electrical
Note: It is the estimators responsibility to inform Trades. These trades require specific instructions be-
the contractor of bidding and bonding requirements as cause each trade either supplies electrical materials for
soon as possible, to give the contractor ample time to installation by others, or is obligated to supply and in-
make an intelligent decision as to whether to bid on the stall certain items requiring electrical power supply in
project or decline. This also gives everyone concerned one form or another. It is very important that the electri-
ample time to complete their tasks prior to the date cal estimator read the requirements of all the mechani-
fixed for submitting proposals. cal trades to ascertain the responsibility of the electrical
Now that we have examined the invitation to bid contractor. Examples of items that would need to be
and the form of proposal, the contractor has made the clarified are motor controls, disconnect switches, duct
decision to submit a proposal on the project. heaters, automatic temperature control systems, han-
dling of motors, fire-pump controls, and the like.
Project Specifications
Contained within the specifications are the general con- General Construction Division. Although we will be
ditions, the supplementary conditions, and the special assuming that a shell of a building is in place and the
conditions for the mechanical and the electrical trades. scope of work will govern, it is necessary to become
Next we will follow the various trade divisions of the familiar with all building specifications that follow.
work. Let us look at each division for the items that This section will discuss who is responsible for the
may impact the estimators price structure. following: site clearing and preparation, civil work,
drainage, roadways and parking areas, surveying, exca-
General Conditions. These apply to all the prospec- vation, forms, reinforced concrete work, masonry units,
tive contractors who may be contracted to install a por- roofing materials, miscellaneous metal, insulation,
tion of the construction project. A scope of work, which weatherproofing, partitions and interior wall finishes,
is part of the general conditions, will provide each con- windows, glazing, interior and exterior doors, magnetic
4 How to Estimate Electrical Construction Projects

door holders for the fire alarm system, hardware, floor electrical contractor. The specifications will define all
covering, painting, suspended ceilings, acoustical treat- of the electrical components as to type, installations,
ment, carpentry, openings for other trades, and other sizes, manufacturers, shop drawing requirements, etc.
miscellaneous items. When the specifications and plans conflict, a general
rule of thumb would be that the plans take precedence
Structural Steel Division. This section will not be as over the specifications. The thought behind this is that
detailed as the general construction division. The esti- the plans are drawn for a particular project, while the
mator should review this and look for such items as specifications are used by many electrical engineers for
openings in the roof material and bar joist construction. many different projects.
There may be specific loading and or hanging require- If a major conflict is detected and a cost impact is
ments allowed from these joists, in addition to other apparent, the electrical estimator should write to the
agencies having jurisdiction. electrical engineer, with a copy to the architect, asking
for a clarification. Beware of seeking answers in phone
Plumbing Division. Do not overlook this division by conversations. Too often, phone calls are forgotten and
assuming that plumbing has no significant impact on in the general conditions this type of communication
the electrical work. There are items that may require will not be honored if challenged. Always put all of
electrical power such as, but not limited to, sewage your job-related concerns, questions, and statements in
ejector pumps, sump pumps, water pumps, boilers, writing to all the interested parties. Send copies to the
certain gas-fired units, water connections to emer- owners representative, inspectors, the architect, engi-
gency power generators, motor controls, fire pumps neers, the general contractor, subcontractors, and any
and related flow switches, and tamper switches and other persons who would be directly involved with
controllers. So, be sure to review this division as well your concern, question, or statement.
as the supplementary conditions for the mechanical
and electrical trades to learn who is responsible for fur- STEP 2: The Bid Drawings
nishing, installing, and connecting such items. and Estimate
Let us begin with a set of bid drawings issued along
Heating, Ventilating, and Air-conditioning Division. with the previous bid documents. The drawings include
In this division, there will be many items that will re- a title sheet, which will list the project name and ad-
quire coordination with the electrical contractor. There- dress, the owners name and address, the designer archi-
fore, it is absolutely necessary for the estimator to re- tect, engineers, the date, and a list of drawings included.
view each section of this division where there are items By having a complete set of drawings, the bidders on the
that require electrical power and perhaps control wiring. various sections will have all of the building informa-
These specifications will define who furnishes, installs, tion necessary to submit a sound proposal. Unfortu-
and connects the materials necessary for this division. nately, there will be times when you will only receive
Review in detail the sections on roof fans and blowers, the electrical floor plans and perhaps a site plan. This
prepackaged gas-fired rooftop heating and air-condi- creates a list of exclusions you will need to submit along
tioning units, automatic temperature control systems, with your proposal. But let us continue with the prem-
connections to heat-supplying light fixtures, duct- ise you have all of the bid drawings.
mounted fire detectors with probes, motorized louvers,
electric heat units, motor controls, and the like. Title Sheet
This sheet offers important information such as a list of
Electrical Division. You should read these sections in the drawings for each main section of the work, the
their entirety; along with all the other divisions and number of drawings, revisions with their dates, and the
sections, these form the written requirements for the contact information for the architects and engineers.
How to Estimate Electrical Construction Projects 5

The estimator must compare each drawing number, oversight by the affected trades. Landscaping contrac-
date, and revision to the title sheet list of drawings. tors generally investigate their planting areas as they
This will assure the estimator that the drawings bound relate to utilities that may be buried there. Keep this in
in the bid set are the appropriate bidding documents. If mind when preparing your estimate.
the estimator discovers any discrepancies in the bid Look for the water meter, which may be located in a
drawings, he or 5 he should immediately ask the archi- pit on the exterior of the building or in the building.
tect for clarification, in writing, with copies to the This water meter may require a continuous bonding
owner's representative and the engineer. If the proposal jumper around the meter to prevent loss of continuity of
is being made to a general contractor, the request for the metal water service conduit if the meter is removed.
clarification would go to that contractor. Remember, all The local inspecting agency will be able to answer any
communications by telephone must be followed up in questions regarding grounding andlor bonding that they
writing to avoid under- or overbidding. require. Remember that the National Electric Code
(NEC) provides the minimum requirements for electrical
Site Plan installations, but the local electrical inspecting agency
Now that we have verified that all of the drawing num- may enforce a higher level of requirements. Question
bers and dates bound in the bid documents are correct, the local electrical inspector. Locate the sleeves that the
we can proceed with a scan of all the drawings, begin- general contractor built into the walls below grade for
ning with the site plan. A typical site plan will show the electric service, telephone, data communications,
the building(s), roads, driveways, sidewalks, parking and site lighting. You will need to connect to these and
areas, utilities, landscaping, lighting, and various other list this work in the estimate. Review the site lighting
details. Note the scale on the site plan for future refer- fixtures and bases. Look for any details on the site light-
ence and highlight it with a marker. Consider repeating ing fixtures, bases, and their description schedule that
the scale in large numbers with a colored marker in an may be on this sheet. If there are no details here, they
open area on all the plans so you can't miss it. Take will be located on the electrical plans. This plan may
note of the compass heading in reference to the build- also show where temporary services are to be located,
ing for your information when placing photocells for such as electric, water, telephone, and staging and stor-
exterior lighting, if specified. age areas for the contractors.
The main road that provides access to the project
will be the most likely area where all services will be Foundation Plans
accessed. Regarding the electric, telephone, and data Not all bid sets will contain separate foundation plans.
services to the building, you will need to pay close The architect may decide to incorporate this informa-
attention to various elements such as the topography, tion on the architectural plans. If you encounter foun-
landscaping, other utilities, paving, and curbs. All dation plans, you should scan them for possible utility
these factors have a direct impact on the electrical pro- sleeves or windows below grade in the foundation
posal. If the conduits that supply these services need to walls. Here you will find the depth and sizes of the
be buried at a depth of 42" minimum, then the topogra- footings, and the width of the foundation walls and
phy will need to be examined closely for rises and grade beams. Take note of the elevation of the top of the
declines of the rough graded area. You may have to footings. This will determine whether you need to stay
excavate 60" of depth in some areas of the direction of above or below the footings with your conduits enter-
the conduits to maintain 42" minimum depth of these ing the building from the exterior. This plan might also
conduits, Locate any landscaping that may affect the include a list of test borings showing the earth compo-
direction and depth of these conduits, and report any sition at different levels made in various areas of the
depth and direction conflicts to the architect. I have site. This will help you andlor your subcontractor in
seen many auger bits chew up conduits because of the estimating your excavation costs for trenches, manholes,
6 How to Estimate Electrical Construction Projects

handholes, site lighting pole bases, etc. that may be Mechanical and Electrical Site Plans
required. Some engineers will prefer to add this plan rather than
try to incorporate all of their designs onto the archi-
Finish Schedule Sheet tects site plan. This plan will lay out such items as the
This sheet will list every floor, wall, and ceiling finish electrical and communications services, site lighting
within the building. This will guide you in selecting with their details, temporary services locations, cooling
the proper floor outlets, wall outlet boxes, ceiling outlet towers, condensers for air conditioning, motor-driven
boxes, recessed or flush-mounted ceiling fixture frames pumps, emergency power units, fuel tanks, etc. Coordi-
or rings. The architect may specify special colored de- nate this plan with other site plans in the bid package.
vices and plates to match wall finishes. You will not
know what colors may be special without reviewing the Plumbing Plans
finish schedule, so the finish schedule has a direct Here again, the total number of plans that are numbered
impact on the electrical estimate. This sheet may also P-1, P-2, P-3, etc. will be determined by the mechanical
incorporate the door finish schedule. This will need to engineer. Although you may think that reviewing the
be reviewed for any electrically operated overhead-type plumbing plans are not so important, you do need to
doors, entry doors, roll-up windows, etc. for their elec- review these plans just as you would review the other
tric requirements. plans. Where is the water meter if not shown some-
where else? The fire pump and associated equipment
Architectural Plans will be shown here, as well as any sprinkler flow and
The total number of plans that are numbered A-1, A-2, tamper switches. Sump pumps, condensate pumps, hot
A-3, A-4, etc. will be determined by the architect and water pumps, chilled water pumps, cooling towers, etc.,
the complexity of the project. These plans will be used and all of their associated electrical equipment will be
to construct the project. All of the information needed shown here as well. Some engineers will include a
by the general contractor will be incorporated therein. schedule of all the mechanical equipment, the name-
The electrical estimator should review all of these plate data, and the contractors responsibilities.
drawings to become familiar with all the different Other engineers will list all of these requirements in
rooms, halls, multistory stairways, exits, entrances, the specifications rather than on the plans. The plumb-
details of wall sections, and ceiling details. A reflected ing specifications may indicate that all control wiring is
ceiling plan will be included in these A-drawings.

to be furnished and installed by others. Seldom will the
This plan may show the ceiling lighting fixtures. The plumbing specifications require that the control wiring
electrical engineer will use the reflected ceiling plan to be furnished and installed by the plumbing contractor.
design the fixtures and circuiting. Note the details on Most times it would be the responsibility of the electri-
the suspension system of all the suspended ceilings. cal contractor.

Structural Plans Heating, Ventilating, and Air-conditioning

Again, the total number of plans that are numbered S-1, Plans
S-2, S-3, etc. will be determined by the structural engi- The total number of plans that are numbered HVAC-1,
neer in coordination with the architect. It is important WAC-2, WAC-3, etc. will be determined by the mechan-
to review all of these plans and the associated details ical engineer. The HVAC plans may be the most impor-
for slab thickness, foundation and footing design, struc- tant plans that the electrical contractor reviews, other
tural steel layout, bar joist placement, roof steel, and than the architectural and electrical plans. These plans
decking. Do not overlook these plans, as many ques- will show where all of the heating, ventilating, and air-
tions can be answered here. conditioning equipment are located. You should review
How to Estimate Electrical Construction Projects 7

the sheet-metal duct drawing to know the various sizes of Now that we have reviewed all of the bid plans, we will
the supply and, if any, the return ducts. This will also lay review the electrical plans and prepare to do a system-
out the rooftop multizone or single-zone HVAC units, atic estimate. Keep in mind that we have previously
roof fans, cooling tower, duct-mounted reheat units, ther- asked the various material suppliers and subcontractors
mostats, ATC zone valves, lighting unit boot attachments for their quotations on such items as interior and exte-
for air-handling fixtures, etc. The floor plans will locate rior light fixtures, electrical distribution panels, fire
the motorized dampers as required for the ventilation alarm equipment, communication equipment, precast
design, piping details, unit heaters, unit ventilators, sill- concrete bases, and excavation on this project. Many
line heat units, etc. Some engineers may include a sched- suppliers will meet with the electrical estimator and
ule of all equipment with the electrical requirements, review all of the equipment that will need pricing.
along with who is responsible for furnishing, installing, Some electrical supply houses, if asked, will supply the
and wiring it all. Other engineers will spell it all out in estimator with prices on the total amount of power and
their specifications. The plumbing and the HVAC de- communication cable, raceways, and devices. Look
sign engineering are generally performed by the same over each plan and become familiar with the layouts of
engineering company. In some instances, the plumbing, all the devices and equipment. We will begin an electri-
heating/ventilating/air conditioning, and electrical will cal material takeoff in Chapter 2 by turning to the Typ-
be designed by the same engineering company. ical Electrical Symbol List, which has three pages of
common electrical symbols. (Note: There are symbol
Electrical Plans lists on the other contract plans that the estimator can
The total number of plans that are numbered E-1, E-2, refer to when there is equipment furnished by other
E-3, etc. will be determined by the electrical engineer. trades that require electrical connections.)