The role of an estimator at a commercial flooring contractor is about much more than just measuring and estimating the flooring quantities needed on a project. The size of the company you work for and the number of roles each employee handles will determine ultimately what your estimator’s responsibilities are. When a company is deciding to potentially quote a project, based on a bid solicitation, the job of your estimator starts immediately.

Pre-bid evaluations of the bidding materials, such as the project manual, project specifications, project drawings and project addenda/bulletins, are a relatively quick way to gather information for your sales team to determine whether a project will be quoted or not. Have a checklist of what to review. This basically is a lead sheet or a quick summary. Once your company has decided to bid a project an estimator is responsible for gathering, reviewing, understanding the scope of work and communicating to your company all of the following:

  • Project manual: Construction schedules, contractual terms and conditions, insurance requirements, alternates, submittal information, change order information, billing information, close-out and warranty information. These are just a handful of items that need to be found, researched and communicated to the team pricing out the project.
  • Project specifications: Division 9 specifications are not the only specifications that pertain to commercial flooring. Other divisions such as division 1 and division 3 can affect our scope and responsibilities. Therefore, all specifications must be reviewed and communicated.
  • Project drawings: More often than not the architectural drawings/finish drawings are not the only plans with the flooring information to be quoted. Many times, plumbing drawings, reflected ceiling drawings or demolition drawings may have notes that affect our estimate or scope, so all drawings should be reviewed.
  • Review Miscellaneous Info: All addenda, bulletins, and requests for information logs must be reviewed during the estimating process as well.
  • Specified finishes: Product, installation and maintenance information should be reviewed. When unfamiliar with products, be prepared to call and discuss these products with vendors and manufacturers as to pass on the newly acquired information to whoever is preparing the quote. Question when we find the wrong type of product specified in the wrong type of area.

After 22 years in the industry—15 of which have been spent estimating—it still amazes me how many requests for information I have after just reviewing the above, and I have not even started the actual estimate. Many architects/designers have fallen into what I term as the copy/paste syndrome and do not even review the manuals and specifications that they have provided to bidders. The only way to cover your company’s back is to question these canned specifications via a request for information during the bidding process. Questioning manuals, contract obligations and specifications should not be done at the post-bid meeting or contract award as it is usually too late and your company then has to decide if they want to lay in the bed they have made.

At this point, an estimator can now start the actual estimate, in which we quantify and qualify material quantities for the bid package/proposal. Many flooring estimators use computer estimating programs such as Callidus, RFMS Measure or On-Center Software. Other estimators will print out or purchase drawings and complete the estimate by hand. I will admit I do an estimate by hand once a month to keep me sharp. There are also some estimates that have to be field measured and calculated by hand as no drawings are available. The means of how we all come up with our estimates may vary, yet we all are striving for the same goal: the most accurate and comprehensive estimate that we can provide for our sales team to price out the project.

Most think completing an estimate is as easy as the paint-by-number books from our childhood—look at a finish plan/room finish schedule and start estimating products by what is listed in each room. Be cautious! There is still work that must be done prior to coloring in and calculating your rooms. Make sure to do the following:

  • Check the scale of the print: Too often I have come across drawings that were shrunk and the scale is no longer accurate. Double check measurements that are listed on the drawings in both directions on a plan because it is possible that the drawing is only shrunk in one direction. Always check any measurement you can, as using the “all doors are 36-inches wide” rule is not an accurate scale in many situations.
  • Check print match lines: When architects take an overall composite plan and break it up onto many pages with match lines, some rooms may be duplicated on two pages so don’t estimate them twice. Sometimes sections are cut out. A good rule of thumb would be to always compare the blown-up plans to the composite plans.
  • Read notes: Make sure you read all of the notes not only on each page you are estimating but on all pages. Small details, such as a different wall base for accent walls, may be listed there but not on the actual finish drawing or finish schedule. References to blown up details may be listed etc.

If a set of prints has both a room finish plan and a room finish schedule, always double check that they both list the same materials in the same area. This is the most common request I make for information to the bidding general contractor, architect, or end user. (Example: Room 7 lists CPT-1 on the finish plan but lists LVT-3 on the room finish schedule. Which is correct? )

After reviewing and double checking our work, we finally have our preliminary set of requests for information so let the quantifying part of an estimate begin. I can’t teach everyone how to do an actual estimate in this article, however I will emphasize double checking your work. The information you have gathered and are preparing is the first and the most important step of a project. Also, remember when doing your estimate not to miss the little details, such as transition pieces from one flooring to another, called out floor prep/repair, specific dimensions called out on insets or wall heights, etc. 

Once your estimate is complete, any other requests for information you have should be written up and all submitted at one time. As bulletins and addendums are released, changes must be accounted for prior to the final bid date.

Each contractor has a different format in which their estimator presents the estimate to the sales team for pricing. Our job as estimators is to make sure that information is accurate, concise, well-organized and that the bid preparer has more information than they would ever care for. Upon project award, estimators may know more about a project than anyone else. So, if awarded, be prepared to repeat or re-review the information you had previously prepared. You will need to re-estimate and account for any design changes that come along during the project  as well. 

My dad used to tell me that, “measure twice and cut once applies to all aspects of life.” I can attest as a commercial flooring estimator that this is the case from start to end of a project. Changes will always be thrown at you, so make sure you double check your work as the rest of the team depends on you.

Evaluating a Project

The information your sales team may require to decide whether or not to pursue a project will vary, but below is a good start for their evaluation:

  • What is the construction schedule and when are the dates the flooring is scheduled? 
  • Will we have the appropriate manpower available at the appropriate time based on our other project awards?
  • Is the job union? Prevailing wage? Does the project require certified payroll?
  • Are there obvious trade overlapping conflicts listed on the construction schedule that could affect the flooring schedule/productivity? 
  • Is the flooring installation scheduled for days, nights or weekends?
  • Is the project new construction or a renovation?
  • Are the materials to be supplied by the contractor or is this a labor only project?
  • What are the products specified?
  • Is the project a HUD project?
  • Is the project a LEED project?
  • Does the project require special insurance? 
  • Is there a pre-qualification process required just to bid the project?
  • Is there required on-site safety training?
  • Is there required manufacturer training?
  • What is the overall approximate square foot/square yard measurement for the job?