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UNITPRICINGGUIDES
InThisArticle
UnitPriceEstimatingGuides
AdjustingLaborCosts
Uses&LimitsofEstimatingGuidesViewallESTIMATINGarticles
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Usingsquarefootcostguidestopriceacompletehousebasedonitssizeandquality
levelcangetyouintherightballpark.Theguidesareavailableasbooksor
constructionestimatingsoftware.Buttocreateareasonablyaccurateestimate,you
needtobreakdownthejobintosmallercomponentsofmaterialsandlaborforeach
trade.Mostcontractorshavedevelopedtheirownunitpricecostsbooksbasedontheir
companyshistoricaldatawhatitcostsandhowlongittakesforthemortheirsubsto
completeagiventask.Sinceyourenotinthebuildingbusiness,thenextbestthingis
topickupaunitpriceestimatingguideanduseittodoyourowndetailedestimate.

UNITPRICEESTIMATINGGUIDES
Severalcompaniespublishestimatingguidesforbuildersandremodelers.Thistypeofcost
bookorestimatingsoftware,suchas,CraftsmansNationalConstructionEstimator,breaks
downconstructionintoitssmallestunitsofworkandmaterialsandthenprovidespricesfor
materialandlaborbythesquarefoot,linearfoot,orwhateveristhemostappropriate
measurement.Youwillfindmaterialandlaborcostsbytheitem(suchasawindow),bythe
squarefoot(e.g,drywall)orbythelinearfoot(e.g.,moldings).Remodelerswillfindunitcostsfor
thingslikedemolition,shoring,andcleanup.
Viewasamplepagefromaunitpriceestimatingguide.Samplepageis
reprintedwithpermissionfrom2012NationalConstructionEstimator
CraftsmanBookCo.

Pricingalargejobatitssmallestunits,bythesinglestickofwoodor
brick,isverytimeconsuming,somostguidesalsogrouptogether
certainmaterialsandoperationsintocommonassemblies.For

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example,thesquarefootpriceofaceilingassemblymightincludethe
ceilingjoists,drywallinstallation,andtapingandfinishing.Alinearfoot
assemblyfora26exteriorwallmightincludethefinisheddrywallinterior,R19insulation,and
sheathingandsidingontheexterior.Justmeasurethelengthofthewall,multiplybythelinear
footcostandregionalmodifierand,voila,youhavethecostofbuilding
acompletewall.
Someguidesgofurtherandprovideruleofthumbguidestoquickly
estimateitemssuchasframingbythesquarefoot.Theyprovidesquarefootpricestoframean
entirehousebasedonsquarefootageandcharacteristicssuchas24vs.26walls,number
ofstories,trussesvs.rafters,andotherfactors.Youmightfindothercostingrulesofthumbfor
installingkitchencabinetsbythelinearfoot,roughplumbinga3fixturebath,orbuildinga
backyarddeck.
Whilebreakingdownajobintoitssmallestelements,whichcontractorscallestimatingbythe
stickcan,intheory,giveyouthegreatestaccuracy,itisthemosttimeconsuming.Tobeginthe
process,youneedtodoacompletematerialtakeoff,anduseacomprehensivechecklistto
makesureyouincludeeverystepinthebuildingprocess.Essentially,youhavetobuildthe
projectinyourmindandestimateeachstep.
Andsinceyouwillnotbeawareofeverylittlestepinvolvedinyourproject,inmostcases,you
willgetbetterresultsestimatingwithassembliesandrulesofthumbwhereapplicable.Foritems
notincludedinassemblies,youwillneedtousetheirindividualunitprices.Insomecases,like
kitchencabinets,youwillbeinterestedinthelaborcostsonly,sincethematerialcostsareso
widelyvariable.Ingeneral,youllgetbetternumbersifyougetmaterialquotesfroma
lumberyardandusethecostbooksforlaboronly.

ADJUSTINGLABORCOSTS
Inadditiontoregionalmultipliers,mostcostguidesalsoprovidefudgefactorstoadjustlabor
ratesforworkconditionsuchassteepsites,ladderwork,andbadweather.Forexample,one
guide(seebelow)recommendsadding15%to25%forworkonaladder,scaffold,or
crawlspaceandtodeduct10%to20%foranidenticaltaskthatisrepeatedovermanydays.
Thiscanhelpyouwiththesoftsideofestimating,whereexperienceandjudgementcomeinto
play.Asanyexperiencedestimatorwilltellyou,itspartscience,partart.

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LABORADJUSTMENTFACTORS
Add10%to15%whenworkingtemperaturesarebelow40
degreesorabove95degrees.
Add15%to25%forworkonaladderorascaffold,ina
crawlspace,inacongestedareaorremotefromthe
materialstoragepoint.

AvoidingCostOverruns
OwnerBuilderLinks

Deduct10%whentheworkisinalargeopenareawith
excellentaccessandgoodlight.
Includeallproductivelabornormally
Add1%foreach10feetthatmaterialsmustbeliftedabove
groundlevel.
Add5%to50%fortradesmenwithbelowaverageskills.
lentonsite.Deduct5%to25%forhighlymotivated,highly
skilledtradesmen.
Deduct10%to20%whenanidenticaltaskisrepeated
manytimesforseveraldaysatthesamesite.
Add30%to50%onsmalljobswherefittingandmatching
ofmaterialsisrequired,adjacentsurfaceshavetobe
protectedandthejobsiteisoccupiedduringconstruction.
Add25%to50%forworkdonefollowingamajorflood,fire,
earthquake,hurricaneortornadowhileskilledtradesmen
arenotreadilyavailable.Materialcostsmayalsobehigher
afteramajordisaster.
Add10%to35%fordemandingspecs,rigidinspections,
unreliablesuppliers,adifficultowneroraninexperienced
architect.
Reprintedwithpermissionfrom2012NationalConstruction
EstimatorCraftsmanBookCompany.

USESANDLIMITATIONSOFESTIMATINGGUIDES
Itsimportanttorememberthatestimatingguidesarebasedonaveragecostsandyourjobmay
notbeaverageforanynumberofreasons.Wheneverpossible,yourealwaysbetteroffgetting
twoorthreeactualbidsfromcontractorsorsubcontractors.Somecontractorsuseunitpricing
guidesintheirestimatingprocess,butfewrelyonthemcompletelytogenerateabid.Someuse
theguidestohelppriceoutatasktheyveneverdonebeforeortopriceasubcontractorjobthat
theyareunabletogetabidonforwhateverreason.
Forsingletradejobssuchasroofing,siding,drywall,etc.,unitpricingbooksshouldbe
reasonablyaccurate.Formorecomplexjobs,pricingbooksaremoredifficulttouseandhavea
largermarginoferror.Foronething,youneedtomakesureyouincludeeverystepinthejob,a
difficulttaskifyouarenewtoconstruction.(Seeestimatingchecklist.)Alsolarger,more
complexjobshavealotmorevariablesthataffectcosts.Makesureyouusealltheappropriate
adjustmentfactorsforlocation,jobconditions,andmaterialquality.

Ingeneral,remodelingismoredifficulttoestimatethannew
construction.Forrenovations,itsbesttouseanestimatingguide
designedspecificallyforremodeling,suchasHomeTechsRemodeling
andRenovationCostEstimatororCraftmansNationalRepair&
RemodelingEstimatoror
Inadditiontoestimatinganentirejob,youmayfindthistypeofcost
bookveryusefulinunderstanding(andnegotiating)thecostofchange
orders,andinquicklycomparingthecostsofdifferentmaterialsyou
areconsidering.Forexample,youcanquicklycomparethesquarefootcostsofsheetvinyl
flooringvs.thinsetceramictilevs.hardwoodstripflooring(e.g.,$1.20forvinyl,$7.55fortile,
and$11forhardwood).Fortunately,theseareusuallybrokendownbymaterialsandlabor,so
youcanpluginyourownmaterialcosts,whichmaybequitedifferentfromtheonescited.
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