What You Need to Know about Electrical Estimating Software (& How to Choose the Right One)
April 27, 2022 13 min read
Table of Contents
1. What is Electrical Estimating Software?
Electrical estimating software is software that helps electrical contractors accurately estimate the labor, materials, and difficulty of each job. The software is also used to assemble and deliver bids for proposed electrical work. Using databases of electrical materials, estimating software helps electrical contractors create accurate quotes more quickly than by adding up materials and labor manually.
Why are more contractors using electrical estimating software?
Electrical estimating software continues to grow in importance for electrical contractors for three main reasons.
Accuracy: If you’re an electrical contractor who does manual takeoff, you risk making costly errors. Using estimating software can minimize the risk of bidding mistakes and reduce the time you allot for corrections and revisions so that you can submit your bids with confidence.
Time Savings: Estimating software allows you to use databases of electrical materials to build assemblies and more easily and quickly create electrical bids so that you can spend more time working on jobs than on earning the work.
Bid Management: Electrical estimating software doesn’t outgrow its usefulness as soon as you submit your bid. You can use your estimates to create material lists, allocate labor, manage change orders, and more.
Why do I Need Electrical Estimating Software?
Software can help you to produce bids that are more consistent and accurate more quickly. And while more business does not automatically convert to increased profits, estimating software can help you to price your services so that you always build in your profit as well as helping to manage and execute the job more efficiently.
The best electrical estimating software saves time and money by giving your business tools to create accurate estimates and manage your bidding process and jobs effectively.
This post will define and describe the essential features of electrical estimating software and explain how these features can help electrical contractors to grow and improve their businesses. We will also show the key differences in bidding on electrical materials and labor.
2. Common Features in Electrical Estimating Software
To produce consistent, accurate bids estimating software should have the following features:
a. Energy Specific Formulas that enable you to calculate key electrical equations quickly and easily. Your software should allow you to calculate the following: voltage drops, electrical load, fault currents, and wireway counts. There’s a fair amount of electrician’s math to create any estimate, and your software should include the formulas that you need to bid with confidence that your totals are safe and to code.
- Voltage Drop is the amount of voltage loss that occurs through all or part of a circuit due to impedance or electrical resistance.
- Electrical Load is any electrical component or portion of a circuit that consumes active electrical power, the power that is consumed by a circuit, or the current passing through the line or component. Electrical load can be resistive, inductive, capacitive or a combination of these.
- Fault Currents are abnormal electric currents. For example, a short circuit is a fault current where a live wire touches a neutral or ground wire. Fault can occur as the result of insulation failures, an incorrect connection, or conducting path failures.
- Wireways are troughs with hinged or removable covers for housing and protecting electrical wires and cable.
b. National Electrical Code tables. The National Electrical Code (NEC) is an adoptable standard for the safe installation of electrical equipment and wiring. It establishes the basis for electrical safety in industrial, commercial, and residential buildings. NEC tables present conduit, conductor, and cable properties, such as how many wires fit into a conduit. It’s important to have access to current NEC tables in your software so that ensure that your calculations are precise.
c. Electrical item databases to match prices across thousands of distributors. Accurate electrical materials prices are the foundation of any electrical bid. If you don’t have access to updated, accurate national and local materials supplier pricing through your estimating software, you risk missing the mark on materials costs which can negatively impact your profit.
d. Assemblies. An electrical assembly is an electrical item comprised of multiple electrical components. For example, a receptacle assembly would include conduit, box, fittings, straps, ring, receptacle, plate, etc. Estimators use assemblies to speed up the estimating process because it is faster to calculate groups of materials than adding up the individual electrical parts during takeoff.
e. Electrical pricing services allow you to submit your complete list of all electrical materials for your job and receive the prices from national and local suppliers immediately. Because the prices are updated regularly you can access instant pricing lists, which makes your bids more accurate. In addition, pricing services give you the ability to shop smarter by comparing prices from local and national suppliers.
Electrical pricing services can also be a check; if you don’t know the average price for materials you use all the time, it’s impossible to ensure you’re getting the best pricing from your local supplier.
f. For electrical estimators who use digital takeoff to estimate their jobs, it’s important to ensure that the software they’re using includes symbol recognition. That means software tools to highlight and count symbols, measure distances, and create takeoff reports. With symbol recognition you can complete your takeoff faster and more accurately.
3. Estimating Materials
Whether you do your takeoff manually or digitally, the first step in any electrical bid is the creation of a materials list, which is a calculation of the quantity of each electrical component you’ll need to complete the job and the quantity of the materials.
Once you have a materials list, you can organize your materials in sequence to reflect when your materials will be purchased, released, and installed. With the materials list in hand, you’ll send the information to your suppliers along with your request for a price list. Those prices form the basis of your total materials cost in your estimate.
Takeoff (Manual and Electronic)
Takeoff is essential in estimating. Takeoff is the process of calculating the amount of each material that will be used to complete a job. It’s also called quantity takeoff and material takeoff. When you are estimating a job it’s necessary to complete an accurate takeoff. If you undercount, you could lose money on the job, and if you overcount, you might find that you have bid yourself out of the job.
Many estimators use manual takeoff to calculate their material quantities using printed plans, highlighters, scale rulers, paper, and calculators to add up the electrical components that will be needed to wire the project.
Electronic plan takeoff is a takeoff completed using estimating software and digital blueprints. Load digital blueprints into takeoff software and measure the plans using software tools to measure the length of runs and count elbows, terminations, connectors, and other electrical items. Digital takeoff is generally faster than manual takeoff, and more accurate. It’s also easier to search digital blueprints for a particular floor or configuration than to page through a pile of paper documents.
Electrical estimating software allows you to choose among millions of electrical components to create a list of electrical materials for completing the job. For example, every bid will have light fixtures, receptacles, conduit runs, panels, and gear. To build a winning bid, you’ll want a large database of electrical items so you can bid on many different types of projects.
Using electrical estimating software can make it easier to isolate a single category of electrical materials so that you can use the item database efficiently and make more accurate counts. Because lighting items are generally quoted independently from the other electrical materials, it’s important that your software can separate out the lighting component of your bid.
Electrical estimating software includes thousands of pre-built assemblies, but many estimators also build their own assemblies. Electrical estimating software should be flexible enough to handle customization so you can add assemblies to the database.
The ability to build custom assemblies can save electrical estimators a lot of time. Your electrical estimating software should come with thousands of common assemblies, along with the flexibility to easily make custom assemblies.
4. Estimating Labor
Labor hours often make up the largest portion of your estimate, so it’s critical that you create your labor hours estimate with as much information as possible. Electrical estimating software should allow you to manage all the components of the labor cost for the estimate.
A general rule is that only a portion of labor hours are productive installation time. The other portion of labor hours includes all the tasks that are necessary to support installation such as: job layout, materials handling and cleanup, non-productive time, supervision, and tool handling and safety.
Labor estimates also must have a provision for labor burden as a part of your total overhead. Labor burden is the calculation of all the costs that you pay to your employees including insurance, vacation, and the salaries of employees who don’t work on site as electricians, like your bookkeeper.
When you are quoting labor rates, you will need to have a good understanding of the amount of time it will take to install the materials. Estimators who have a lot of field experience may be able to make accurate estimates about the amount of time for a certain installation, but it’s best to bid based on the guidance of the National Electrical Code. Using NEC tables is an accurate guidepost for calculating the time you’ll need to complete certain tasks.
Union / Non-Union
Your electrical estimating software should have provisions for you to bid using union or non-union labor rates.
5. What’s the Best Electrical Estimating Software?
That depends on your needs....
What time and cost investments will you need to make to integrate your new electrical estimating software into your electrical contracting business?
In this post, we have covered the most important features for electrical estimating software. However, you may also want to ask whether the electrical estimating software you are test driving can integrate with your contracting business. Does it manage your bid list or help you to create bid proposals? How well does the software handle exports to your accounting and project management software?
Does the estimating software work within your computer environment? What are the costs for additional estimating licenses if you add more estimators to your business?
Investment in Time for Training
Does the software require costly training? How quickly can you get up and running with your electrical estimating software?
Using electrical estimating software is a way to boost your electrical contracting business. Doing electrical estimating by hand is time consuming and raises the risk that you might make a costly mistake. If your competitors are using electrical estimating software, then they have the advantage of delivering consistent, accurate bids more quickly, while being able to preserve their profits.
Industry figures show that electrical contractors are already seeing significant declines in their gross profit. Because it provides more consistent and accurate bids, electrical estimating software can prevent you from making mistakes that hurt your profit.
More electrical contractors are investing in electrical estimating software because the technology is faster, more consistent, and more accurate. If you are looking for help choosing the best value electrical estimating software for your company, we can help. Get in touch to start winning more profitable bids in half the time.