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3 Advanced Takeoff Methods for Winning More Contracts

How to Turn Your MEP Takeoff into a Successful Tender

Your goal as an MEP contractor located in the UK is to generate value for your business by winning construction jobs as a result of successful bids. But bidding is a time consuming process in which you have to take into consideration a multitude of factors. You have to be careful to not underbid and reduce your margins to the point that you’re not generating any profit, or overbid and risk losing the job.

Before you can submit a bid however, you must invest a lot of time into creating a takeoff, which is usually a very labour-intensive process if performed manually. Therefore, each minute you can save on the takeoff is a minute you can use to bid for new job opportunities that benefit your business.

In this article, we’ll outline the ins and outs of creating takeoffs and a few strategies you can start using today to increase your efficiency and maximise your valuable takeoff output. Scroll right down to view the 3 strategies.

What is a construction takeoff?

There are a few names used to refer to construction takeoff: quantity takeoff, material takeoff (MTO), estimating takeoff, material counts, quantity surveying and others. Although there are some slight differences between these, they all refer to the same operation.

Takeoff is the process of counting and measuring items from sets of drawings and specifications with the purpose of extracting and laying out the building materials required. These material quantities will be used to create a bill of materials (BOM) featuring part numbers, material costs and labour costs needed to execute and complete the construction job.

The takeoff is the initial stage in the MEP systems cost estimating process. The role of the MEP contractor performing this task is essential as they have to be able to visualise the project and quickly and accurately determine its probable construction costs in the early stage of resource planning.

How to do takeoff for MEP systems

There are two ways of doing takeoff: manually and digitally. Let’s explore both of these:

Manual takeoff

Manual takeoff is the traditional way of creating a BOM (bill of materials) using printed blueprints and construction project drawings then manually highlighting and recording quantities and measurements on separate takeoff forms or in word processing or database software. MEP estimators doing manual takeoff are highly skilled professionals because they must have the ability to read and interpret blueprints, carry out complicated mathematical calculations and have a work conduct that prevents them from overlooking details that might ruin the final output.

Even though this way of working has been around for many years and many MEP contractors are still practising it, there are some major downsides to it.

First of all, in order to be able to work with the blueprints, these have to be printed out which is usually costly.

Second, there is a lot of room for errors in this process as the quantities have to be manually entered into a building estimating system. Not only does the MEP contractor need to pay close attention to not omit any items on the project drawings or count them twice, but they also have to be very careful when submitting the data obtained into their building estimating software of choice.

Third, manual takeoff is also more difficult if you have to accommodate changes such as an updated set of drawings. The estimator must then be told what changes have been made or must find them comparing the current version with the previous set of drawings.

Digital takeoff

Takeoff software applications are increasingly being used by estimators because of their capacity to speed up work and reduce errors. Some software applications even emulate traditional paper based methods to allow estimators to get used to the new working environment. The main advantage of digital takeoff tools is that they allow the user to electronically measure, count, and mark up PDF files while simultaneously filling in the takeoff sheet.

There is virtually no room for error as data is synced automatically between the systems. Also, calculations are typically an integrated feature of most takeoff software, which reduces the time the estimator has to spend on them and diminishes the error margin close to 0.

Last but not least, the stage in which MEP contractors performing manual takeoff spend most of their time is obtaining accurate pricing from manufacturers and suppliers for the products they want to include in their takeoff sheet. If working on a project that requires new building supplies which are not well known by the estimator, they have to go searching for them at the source. This usually means lengthy interactions with the supply providers and once obtained, the data has to be filled in manually in the system.

Even if the whole process has been successfully completed without mistakes, the possibility exists that the price data will change, which is usually not accounted for and can be overlooked, leading to extra project costs. With digital construction estimating software, one can be sure that the pricing data is available dynamically within the application. Each item features accurate part numbers and pricing information that is updated in real time based on manufacturer input. In the UK, the most widespread item library is LUCKINS, comprising over 500,000 HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing material items.

3 takeoff tips for persevering MEP contractors

Estimating programs for contractors have a suite of features that can make the life of an MEP estimator easier. Below, we'll go through some of the takeoff functionality in Estimation MEP, Trimble MEP's cloud based integrated takeoff and estimation software for the UK.

UK labour factoring

Labour costs tend to be a big part of the total spending in construction projects. An average crew rate comprised of several parameters such as number of available workers for the project, experience level, pay rate, productivity, union / non-union considerations, local wage amendments, payroll taxes, insurance, must be used to calculate the labour costs of a project.

Many UK based estimators use Estimation MEP to calculate labour costs and time and create labour estimates because of its ease of use and calculation possibilities it offers. For instance, you can apply a factor variable to reflect the efficiency of the labourers or subcontractors. In this way, you avoid costly errors by taking into account difficult install situations that can happen on site by factoring the labour hours.

Moreover, because you’re using digital takeoff software, your labour costs data will be stored so you can access it at a later time and inform your decisions for your next project. This will allow you to produce increasingly accurate estimates on future MEP projects.

Manufacturer-specific MEP data from LUCKINS

It can be a great struggle if you have to manually search for price information on the items you need to use in your bill of materials. Creating and maintaining a spreadsheet of prices for yourself is equally difficult because you need to update it regularly to keep track of price and stock changes from suppliers. In addition, there’s no guarantee that you can use the list that you’ve built up for the next project as it might require different materials.

The easiest way is to rely on an existing library of managed items that is complete with item information and list prices. Estimation MEP integrates with LUCKINS, UK’s largest library of HVAC, electrical and plumbing material content featuring more than 500,000+ items. Because the takeoff software is integrated with the LUCKINS MEP library, every estimate you produce will contain accurately priced items on which you can base your procurement lists and quotes.


Procurement can be defined as the process of purchasing building materials based on the bill of quantities and contracting labourers and subcontractors for the completion of the project. Procurement is highly tied to supply chain management and includes all stages of purchasing from first quote request to receipt and approval of payment invoices.

When working on small MEP projects, one of your main concerns when it comes to procurement is how you can obtain discounts for building supplies in order to drive down your cost estimate and secure the job. Estimation MEP consolidates the costs across multiple takeoff sheets and creates a cross project bill of materials. By requesting bulk orders from a central procurement list you will be able to secure better discounts from your supply chain providers.

Glossary of important terms related to construction takeoff

bill of materials (BOM) = list of building materials needed to complete a construction project (final product) and used to inform the procurement process

rules of measurement = a standard set of measurement rules issued by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) used to regulate the quantification of building works for the purpose of preparing cost estimates takeoffs

production order = a document that indicates the placement of an order to purchase a specific quantity of building supplies that may feature technical details, quantities, discounts, prices, payment terms and shipment dates

allowance = a figure used as a placeholder to represent a cost that cannot exactly be determined yet

as-sold estimate = the estimate which has been agreed on by all parties including items, price and all changes made before the contract has been signed

basis of estimate (BOE) = a document that outlines the prerequisites on which the cost, labour, assumptions and calculations of the estimate will be based

markup = the amount of money added to the total costs of the supplies or services with the purpose of generating profit

overheads (operating expense) = is the total value of all indirect costs required to run a business including office rent, sales, marketing, bookkeeping, etc.

preliminaries (prelims) = costs mentioned in the estimate that are not specific to an element or system, but rather administrative in nature, such as management and staff, safety and environmental protection, etc.

contingencies = costs held in reserve for unforeseen developments that may occur during the development of the construction project

escalation = the increase in construction costs (labour, supplies, etc.) during a period of time as part of a changing economic environment

labour unit = the amount of time it takes to install a system or item as part of a construction project

quantity surveyor (QS) = qualified professionals providing guidance and consultancy about construction costs throughout the entire lifecycle of the project, which differentiates them from from estimators who are typically only involved in the preparations stages of a project

If you're looking to elevate your takeoff methods and increase your efficiency, have a look at Trimble’s construction estimating software for small contractors: Estimation MEP. You can test the software for a period of 14 days without any costs or obligations. Visit this link to view how Estimation MEP can help you grow your business.

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