Estimating the costs of construction projects can be difficult. Even small errors in estimating can lead to major problems down the line.
Construction estimating software can make the estimating process easier and more accurate. But picking the right construction estimating software can make or break a company.
In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about estimating software. This includes what it is, how it works, key features to look for, and tips for choosing the right one.
Then, we’ll review the 8 best construction estimating software options on the market.
What Is Construction Estimating?
Estimating is one of the most difficult steps of the construction process.
Construction estimating is when you calculate probable costs of a future project. It usually involves lengthy spreadsheets and datasets made from 2D drawings.
Today, however, computer-aided drafting (CAD) tools use 3D models to create estimates.
Estimating requires your team to make judgements about important details of a project.
These team decisions will cover key areas, such as
- Quantity takeoffs
- Subcontractor quotes
- Data accuracy
- Local weather conditions
- Building materials
The best construction estimating software helps mitigate errors. It helps your company work faster and grow your business.
Choosing the right construction estimating software is an important decision. It can project the ultimate fiscal success of companies both large and small.
What Is Construction Estimating Software and What Does It Do?
Construction estimating software is a tool that helps you assess the cost of a project. This helps you define the project’s bid price.
These estimating tools assist in running quantity takeoffs. They also help you define a clear scope of work.
Here’s some of the things you can do with construction estimating software:
Manage Working Documents
Construction teams must consider all plans of a potential build. This includes working drawings, project manuals, and contract documents.
Working drawings have complex project details like location, dimensions, design, and vision. Likewise, your project manual has information about materials, labor, bidding, and so on.
Estimating software can help you manage these documents. Having all this information in one easily accessible place will save you a lot of time and headache.
Software can also help manage legal agreements. And it can assist you in specifying who will supply and install which items.
Create Preliminary Estimates
During the design phase, a contractor needs to create a preliminary estimate. This is often done using incomplete information.
Estimating software allows for the creation of detailed estimates. The software uses “broad assemblies” for takeoff of entire buildings. It can do these tasks in a matter of hours, even with limited drawings.
Early on, a project may be in the conceptual stages. During these early stages, you have only a limited set of descriptions of the desired scope of work.
This is where historical data becomes invaluable, as construction estimating software can
- Create conceptual estimates
- Determine the viability of realistic budgets
- Use relationships between the cost and physical parameters of a building
With this information, you can then begin contractual negotiations with the project owner.
Create Parametric Estimates
For a parametric estimate, construction estimating software uses logarithmic equations.
This type of estimate incorporates data like
- Perimeter length
- Gross square footage
- Number of floors
- Percentage of common space
The software can use this data to determine all necessary cost requirements.
Create Model Estimates
Construction estimating software can also use answers to equations to prepare an estimate. It uses built-in logic to create a model estimate.
Here’s what the software will account for when creating model estimates:
- Wage expectations and overtime
- Work hazards and day versus night jobs
- Location and project size
- Start to completion dates and task durations
- Project schedules compared to labor crew efficiency rates
- Current market conditions
Create Square Foot Estimates
Construction estimating software can create square foot estimates to determine a rough budget.
This process uses historical data with the proposed square footing of a project. The software will then adjust the values using length, height, and other factors.
RSMeans publishes annual guides on costs of square footage and prices for assemblies. Many construction estimating software tools use data from RSMeans.
Automate Construction Business Data and Workload
Construction estimating software can help you benchmark and compare crucial costs. It’ll associate these costs with every detail of a project.
Such software can:
- Use historical cost index (HCI) data from past projects
- Use current cost index (CCI) data with present price information
- Help account for the condition and availability of the local skilled labor market
This software also makes your company data more accessible. It allows you to capture, track, and manage a build from start to finish.
What Are the Benefits of Using Construction Estimating Software?
Competition can be fierce within the construction industry. Chances are, you won’t be the only one bidding on a project.
Construction and design teams may change from project to project. So, estimating software is now crucial in maintaining a consistent workflow.
Construction spending in the United States topped $376.6 billion during the first three months of 2022. This is a 12% rise from the same period in 2021.
Clearly, there is a lot at stake when it comes to properly budgeting for builds of all kinds.
The risk of taking on a new project is a big decision for every construction business. You must analyze, quantify, and price every necessary item and service. This can be time-consuming and tedious.
How do construction companies streamline this process today? By using the latest construction estimating software.
Let’s look at the top benefits of using estimating software.
Speed Up the Estimating Process
Producing bids faster and with more accuracy is crucial to staying competitive.
Modern estimating software helps understand and visualize true ratios of financial success. These win-versus-loss metrics allow you to literally see potential and realized profit.
Here’s how construction estimating software can streamline bid creation:
- Use automated quantities and calculations
- Create fully customizable proposal forms
- Use your past projects (or use projects in nearby cities) to create estimates
- Adjust for inflation, city codes, and labor costs
- Reduce job costs with strategic price control mechanisms
- Recommend alternatives for subcontracting and material sourcing options
- Allow teams to use a single, unified digital workspace
- Reduce human error while improving collaboration across project teams
Increase Profitability and Add Value for Customers
Construction estimating software can optimize your profitability.
It can do this by increasing team productivity and boosting your bottom line. Plus, it offers value for your clients, too, by providing them with clear, detailed proposals, and project budgets.
Remember, though, that seeing a return on investment from estimating software takes time.
New work processes will have to evolve. And project teams will adapt their work styles to fit these new workflows.
Key Features to Look for in Estimating Software
The best construction estimating software available today offers a variety of features. These features cater to many small and medium-sized companies.
Great construction estimating software accounts for
- Cost of materials and warranties
- Price validity and quote accuracy
- Delivery and payment terms
- Large equipment such as cranes, lifts, and dozers
- Smaller tools and temporary equipment
Strong construction estimating software can also calculate the full scope of subcontractor workloads. Additionally, it can analyze their quotes for a new project.
These subcontractors (and specialty contractors) work in areas such as:
- Drywall, painting, and wall finishes
- Concrete, excavation, and masonry
- Windows and roofing
- Installation of steel and precast
- Flooring and interior partitions
What Are the Most Crucial Features to Look For?
There are many estimating solutions available. Knowing what features to look for as you compare them can be tricky.
Here are the key features the best construction estimating software will include:
- Labor and equipment cost tracking
- Material, historical, and subcontractor estimating
- Digital takeoff capabilities
- Document management
- Estimate-to-quote functionality
- Calendar, scheduling, and project management
- CRM and account management
These tools move the estimating process beyond excel spreadsheets.
The latest construction estimating software often also has added features, such as
- Audit trails, internal messaging, and task management
- Annotations, groupings, markups, and advanced data filtering
- Comparison and assessment reports
- Estimate summaries and branded proposals
- Change comparisons in different versions of model estimates
How to Choose the Right Construction Estimating Software for Your Business
Detailed estimates are costly both in time and money.
So, before you invest in estimating software, you must first make sure it’s worth the time and effort.
Here’s what to consider when choosing construction estimating software:
There are many components that go into creating an estimate for a construction project. These include labor costs, materials, and all other items needed for project completion.
Your software should account for all these components. That includes both the direct and indirect costs associated with them.
Examples of direct costs include materials and equipment. While indirect costs would include things like your employee benefits and transportation.
As construction professionals, you and your team often move between several locations. For convenience and efficiency, you’ll likely want estimating tools that can move with you.
Look for cloud-based software that allows you to access your data on any device. Cloud integrations will also let you connect your software with other tools. For example, your customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
À La Carte Features
Many software providers will now offer their tools “buffet style”. This allows you to configure your software to the needs of the business.
And, more importantly, only pay for the tools you actually need. Prices are often quoted from the vendor via private consultation.
Once you start relying on construction estimating software, technical problems can cause chaos.
You can minimize the chance of problems, though, by choosing the right provider. For example, look for software that’s built on active and current technology. You should also see regular software updates and strong security measures.
The 8 Best Construction Estimating Software Solutions on the Market Today
The first step to choosing the right estimating software for your construction company is to learn about your options.
After you research the top software on the market, you can compare different platforms. Then, you can decide which is the most suitable for your business.
Don’t worry, we can help you kickstart your research. Here’s an overview of the 8 best construction estimating software solutions available:
ProEst is powerful and widely used construction estimating software. It’s cloud-based and good for construction companies of all sizes.
ProEst is great for companies that need to manage many customer accounts at the same time.
- A wide range of report templates
- A large database of formulaic strategies for pre-built assemblies
- Submittal and RFI processes
- Detailed vendor management and cost tools
- The ability for users to create customized takeoffs
- Integrations with popular construction management applications such as iSqft, Jonas, Procore, and Viewpoint
Key takeaways on ProEst include:
- Annual subscription that includes all features
- Support for unlimited users with unlimited email and phone help
- Free virtual onboarding for new users
- A free version for non-profit organizations
- Costs $5,000 per year
ProEst is a great choice for subcontractors and general contractors alike.
Stack is one of the most popular construction estimating programs on the market.
- Labor cost pricing using a historical database of completed projects
- 24/7 email, phone and help desk chat support, plus FAQ forums
- Live in-person online training and webinar options
Key takeaways on Stack include:
- Ability to focus in on industry-specific requirements for bids
- Easily managing an entire project from takeoff to proposal submission
- Cloud-based browser functionality plus Mac, Windows, and Linux distributions
- $2,500 yearly subscription for unlimited projects with one full user
- Free to try
Stack offers solutions for general contractors, trade subcontractors, suppliers, and more.
3. Clear Estimates
Clear Estimates started out as a remodeling company. Today, the company is well-regarded by smaller construction and general contracting companies.
Clear Estimates offers:
- Bid proposal templates with localized prices for commonly used parts and materials
- Ease-of-use combined with competitive pricing
Key takeaways on Clear Estimates include:
- Ability to create estimates and proposals within minutes
- Integration with popular accounting tools like Airtable, Quickbooks, and Buildertrend
- $60 per month
- 30-day free trial
Clear Estimates is best suited for residential construction companies.
Joist is a leading estimating software for many home services specialties, including construction.
- Mobile estimating with digital signatures
- Estimating templates and custom contracts
- Cost markup, deposit request, and payment schedule tools
- Invoice creation and sharing
- Ability to accept credit card payments
Key takeaways on Joist include:
- Can make and share estimates on mobile
- Ability to sync with Quickbooks
- Several budget-friendly pricing tiers
- Can try for free
Joist is ideal for general construction companies of all sizes. It’s also great for subcontracting specialties like carpentry, landscaping, remodeling, and many more.
5. Sage Estimating
Sage Estimating is one of the most widely used construction estimating software tools.
Sage Estimating offers:
- Integrated building information modeling (BIM) for 2D and 3D plans
- Project history and benchmarking abilities
- A variety of takeoff options and reporting features
- Trade-specific, pre-populated RSMeans cost databases with built-in sort codes
Key takeaways on Sage Estimating include:
- Can integrate with Sage’s purchasing, accounting, and project management modules.
- Only offers on-premises installation for Windows environments
- $100 a month to start
Safe Estimating is applicable for construction companies of all sizes.
6. Contractor Foreman
Contractor Foreman packs many features into an affordable and easy-to-use estimating software package. It is best for light commercial and residential projects.
Contractor Foreman offers:
- Timecard tracking
- A client portal
- Lead capture forms
- Invoicing and online payments
- Quickbooks integration
Key takeaways on Contractor Foreman include:
- One of the most budget-conscious estimating tools available
- Available via web browser, iOS, and Android
- Includes 2 hours of free training
- 30-day free trial
- $50 a month for up to three users
Contractor Foreman is best for small and medium-sized general contracting companies.
Smartbid is an excellent software choice for companies working with subcontractors.
Smartbid ensures subcontractors have the licenses they need to work on the job. It allows them to submit job completion verification and helps ensure compliance..
- An online plan room which includes company projects, bid invites, work files, emails, and reports
- A bid solicitation tool to track which subcontractor is viewing your bids
- A “BidTabs” option which lets users compare the latest bid submissions side-by-side
- Integration with ProCore, AutoDesk BIM 360, and Dropbox
- Full API access and use of ConsensusDocs® 721
Key takeaways on Smartbid include:
- Integrates with many popular third-party construction management software options
- Lacks options for takeoff and bidding
- The total cost of ownership can increase as it requires custom setup and training
- No free trial options
- Starts at $600 per year
Smartbid is best for general contracting companies who often use subcontractors.
8. ConEst (IntelliBid)
ConEst’s IntelliBid is the industry leader in electrical estimating construction projects. Intellibid allows multi-crew shops and local contractors to do everything they need.
- Automatic price comparisons of local part suppliers
- A “Job Spec” feature which allows for specification-driven takeoff
- Audit trail and comments
- Direct item entry and job phase breakdowns
- An “Auto Labor” option to make corrections on installation heights, runs and quantities
- Integration with SureCount, ConEst’s custom takeoff software
Key takeaways on IntelliBid include:
- An industry-smart database of electrical materials and prebuilt assembly kits
- Supplier-specific price updates via NetPricer® and EPIC®
- Three editions available: IntelliBid Standard; Intellibid PLUS; or IntelliBid PRO
- Runs on Windows
IntelliBid is perfect for electrical, low voltage, and datacom construction project estimating.
Getting Started with Estimating Software: Next Steps
Construction estimating software can be very advantageous for business owners.
If you’re ready to start saving time and growing your business with this innovative tool, here’s what you can do next:
- Read about top estimating software options. Learning about different estimating software helps you decide if it’s right for you. And, if it is, which one best suits your company. Whether you dive into our list above or do your own search, research is the first step.
- Sign up for a free plan. Once you’ve narrowed down your top software options, try them out. Create some practice estimates to help you get to know the different features. This will help you determine whether a solution will benefit your business.
- Look into paid plans. After you’ve experimented with different solutions, start evaluating their paid plans. Depending on your needs, your company may do just fine with a lower-tier plan. Or, you may need more advanced capabilities.