Construction estimators use construction drawings, project specifications, and information obtained from site visits to estimate the cost of a job. The estimate that they contain all the material and hand of work associated with the construction and project management, as well as overhead costs, benefits and other charges.
The key to learning how to construct estimates is to develop an increasingly broad understanding of the construction process. This allows the estimator to develop an in-depth analysis of the project to produce the most accurate estimation possible.
- Enroll in an accredited course. Engineering, Construction Management or Architecture can provide you with a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of the construction industry. You will learn about the different materials that are used and how they are installed. In addition, you will get an idea of how the buildings are joined, as well as how the different activities of a building relate to each other. These courses also include calculus classes and the use of estimation software.
- Look for a specialized course of estimation. Many community technology institutes and technical schools offer certification programs or individual courses that teach construction estimation. These courses can help you learn the basics of the building process, and also teach you to look critically at the process.
- Acquire experience in the field through internships or on-the-job training. Many elements can affect an estimate and these elements may be different in each job. Spending time at the construction site is one of the best ways to become familiar with the various factors that can affect a project. Many large contractors hire students who specialize in construction, both for internships and for jobs to opt into the company. These students usually begin work on the site as assistant to the project director and superintendent. Here you can get a true understanding of what it really takes to build a building or another project.
- Learn to read plans. As an estimator, most of the information you need from a project comes from your plans. In general, this ability can be learned on your own with a little patience and practice. If you find it too difficult, take courses at the local technology institute or the contractors’ association. Develop good plans review habits now to help you when you are going to work on estimating a job. This includes taking note of all the information on the map, such as symbols and numbered notes. It is also important to look for discrepancies between the different sections of the plans, and to clarify these points before presenting an estimate.
- Improve your understanding of mechanical and electrical systems. These two elements usually constitute the major part of an estimated cost of construction and are also considered as the most complicated. The more you know about these elements, the more likely you are to prepare an accurate estimate. Consider taking a basic electricity course or HVAC systems. Read books on these topics, especially those aimed at commercial systems. When looking for internships, think about taking a position with a mechanical or electrical subcontractor. You will gain invaluable knowledge that will be very beneficial to your career as an estimator and that you may be well ahead of other candidates when you start looking for a job.
- Familiarize yourself with the Master Format system developed by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). This system is used throughout the construction industry as a way to organize construction activities, project specifications and other components. As an estimator, you will notice that most of your estimates are organized according to this system. Most of the estimation software is also organized according to the Master Format. There are 50 divisions in the system and each is divided into dozens of individual sections.