Discover the 7-Step Roadmap to Become a Skilled Commercial Construction Estimator and to Succeed in the Field Fast



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Becoming a commercial construction estimator is a lucrative career choice due to several factors. First, according to ZipRecruiter, as of May 2023, the average annual pay for a commercial construction estimator in the U.S. is around $91,462. This works out to be approximately  $43.97 an hour, $1,758/week, or $7,621/month. California is one of the best locations for commercial estimators with salaries ranging between $52.63/hour to $54.74/hour. 

The construction industry also continues to experience growth and demand for skilled professionals. As the need for new commercial structures and renovations increases, so does the demand for estimators who can accurately assess project costs. This creates ample opportunities for career advancement and job security.

So if you’re planning to start a career as a skilled commercial construction estimator, keep reading to learn more about what it takes to be one. 

Step 1: Understand the Basics

What is a Commercial Construction Estimator?

A commercial cost estimator is responsible for accurately estimating the costs involved in commercial construction projects, considering factors like materials, labor, equipment, and overhead expenses. 

While similar to residential cost estimation, commercial projects tend to be larger in scale, involve more complex systems, and require a deeper understanding of commercial building codes and regulations. 

Shifting from residential to commercial estimation can present challenges such as:

  • Adapting to the different project scope
  • Understanding specialized commercial construction processes, and 
  • Navigating the intricacies of commercial contracts and bidding procedures.

What are the Roles and Responsibilities of a Commercial Construction Estimator?

Below are some of the roles you can expect to fulfill as a large-scale construction cost estimator: 

  1. Prepare detailed estimates and purchase orders specifically tailored to commercial construction projects, encompassing all required products and materials.
  2. Gain a comprehensive understanding of the project's scope of work and prioritize the timely completion of accurate estimates for commercial cost assessments.
  3. Effectively manage bid pricing received from various vendors, meticulously analyzing costs and providing in-depth cost analysis reports for commercial projects.
  4. Establish and foster strong relationships with subcontractors and vendors, ensuring a reliable network of partners.
  5. Maintain consistent communication with trade partners and team members.
  6. Conduct thorough research and stay up-to-date with industry trends, regulations, and market conditions that may impact the estimate.
  7. Collaborate with project managers and other stakeholders to refine cost estimates, address any concerns, and ensure accurate budgeting.
  8. Identify and implement cost-saving measures and value engineering opportunities for commercial projects, aiming to optimize budget allocation without compromising quality.
  9. Keep meticulous records of cost estimates, purchase orders, vendor agreements, and other pertinent documentation related to commercial construction projects, ensuring compliance with organizational and regulatory requirements.

Step 2: Develop a Solid Foundation

Get Proper Education

Some employers work with estimators who only have a high school diploma and work experience. But most employers prefer to hire estimators with a college degree. If you’re planning to get into commercial cost estimating, the disciplines you focus on in college should promote strong numeracy skills such as:

  1. Civil engineering
  2. Mathematics
  3. Construction management
  4. Construction science
  5. Applied science 

Train to Become an Estimator

Some employers train their staff before enabling them to work independently, which could take months or years. If you’re still starting out, work as an intern or an apprentice to an experienced cost estimator.

This will provide you with: 

  • Hands-on learning opportunities where you can observe and participate in real-world cost estimation processes vs just theoretical ones. 
  • Mentorship and guidance to learn industry best practices and gain feedback.
  • Encounter real-world challenges that will test your adaptability, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.
  • Network opportunities with subcontractors, vendors, and other industry professionals which could open doors for job opportunities and collaborations.

Get Certifications 

Here are some of the relevant certifications you can participate in: 

Source: Indeed

Step 3: Master Blueprint Reading

As a commercial construction estimator, you must learn effective blueprint reading to interpret and understand project design, dimensions, specifications, materials, quantities, and construction methods. These are factors crucial for estimating costs and creating accurate bids.

Here are some of the things you need to learn: 

Key elements and symbols in construction blueprints.

  1. The different views in blueprints such as plan view drawing, elevation view drawing, and section view drawing.
  2. Different blueprint lines and what they mean, such as object lines and invisible lines. 
  3. Types of drawings in a set of blueprints, such as G sheets or general sheets, and A sheets or achitectural plans. 

Aspiring estimators can improve their blueprint reading skills through dedicated training programs, courses, or workshops focused on construction blueprint reading. Examples include “Blueprint Reading & Estimating Fundamentals Bundle” by VDCI or “Blueprint Reading for Cost Estimating” by Emerald Group.

Step 4: Understand the Overall Bid Preparation Process

The process of bid preparation in commercial construction typically involves the following steps:

  1. Review Bid Documents

Thoroughly review the bid documents, including project plans, specifications, and contract requirements. Understand the scope of work, project timelines, and any specific instructions or qualifications.

  1. Conduct Cost Estimation

a. Quantify the Work

Perform a detailed quantity takeoff of the materials, labor, equipment, and other resources required for the project. Accurately measure and estimate the quantities based on the project specifications.

b. Solicit Subcontractor and Supplier Quotes

Reach out to subcontractors and suppliers to obtain quotes for their respective scopes of work or materials. Evaluate the quotes received and select the most competitive and reliable options.

c. Estimate Labor Costs

Determine the labor requirements based on the project scope, and calculate the associated costs, including wages, benefits, and productivity factors.

d. Evaluate Equipment and Overhead Costs

Consider the equipment and tools needed for the project, including rental or ownership costs, maintenance, and fuel. Assess overhead expenses, such as project management, insurance, permits, and administrative costs.

  1. Develop a Cost Proposal

Compile all the cost components, including materials, labor, equipment, subcontractor quotes, and overhead costs, to create a comprehensive cost proposal. Ensure the bid price covers all expenses and provides a reasonable profit margin.

Read this guide to learn how to submit competitive construction proposals and win more bids.

  1. Review and Finalize the Bid

Thoroughly review the bid proposal for accuracy and completeness. Double-check calculations and ensure compliance with all bid requirements. Submit the finalized bid before the specified deadline.

Step 5: Conduct AccurateTakeoffs

Takeoffs is also called quantity takeoffs, blueprint takeoffs, takeoff construction, construction takeoffs, and material takeoffs. It’s the counting and measuring of items from drawings to quantify the materials required for the project. This is the first step to cost estimation and determines the following:

How to Perform Material Takeoffs

Follow the following steps to learn more about how to perform takeoffs.

  1. List Materials Required for the Project

Review the blueprints and specifications and make a comprehensive list of all the items required for the project. 

  1. Set the Scale

Ensure accuracy by identifying the longest known distance and determining the scale. Verify the measurement and scale within the drawing by measuring the distance.

  1. Define the Quantity of Each Material 

Systematically work through the drawings and takeoff each item as they are added to the list. When adding materials, specify the quantity and unit of measurement as each can impact the cost.

  1. Estimate the Cost Per Material

Apply the estimated cost to each type of material listed. Determine material costs through:

  • Obtaining quotes from material suppliers.
  • Referring to a database of the costs of commonly used materials.
  • Consulting construction cost data from local vendors.
  • Utilizing a database like RS Means.

Once the itemized breakdown of costs is complete, the next step is to determine the total material cost for the project. 

Be aware that the takeoff process is one of the most time-consuming and laborious tasks of a commercial cost estimator. However, tools like AI estimating software, Togal.AI, can help you automate this tedious process and complete it in just under a minute with up to 98%. 

This is thanks to it’s AI algorithms and deep-learning technology  that enables you to automate as much as 80% of the takeoff process. 

See Togal.AI in action in the video below.

Read this guide to learn more about the material takeoff process. But if you want to focus more on how to streamline the process, read this guide on takeoff construction.

Step 6: Learn How to Estimate Construction Costs

As a commercial construction estimator, accurately estimate project costs by employing the following strategies:

  1. Thoroughly review project plans and specifications to identify all necessary components and understand the scope of work.
  2. Conduct detailed and accurate quantity takeoffs to determine the required amounts of materials and labor.
  3. Utilize historical cost data and industry benchmarks to provide a basis for estimating unit costs.
  4. Consider factors such as location, market conditions, and project complexity that may impact costs.
  5. Collaborate with subcontractors and suppliers to obtain accurate pricing information for specialized items or services.
  6. Apply appropriate markup percentages to account for overhead, profit, and contingencies.

Factors to Consider When Cost Estimating

To avoid cost overruns and provide a cost estimate that is both competitive and profitable, consider the following factors.

Read this guide to learn more about how to estimate construction costs.

Step 7: Network and Build Relationships

As a new commercial construction estimator, networking and building relationships is crucial to keep informed on job opportunities and industry trends. Building a strong network also provides access to experienced estimators and industry experts who offer guidance and valuable insights. It may even open doors to potential partnerships. 

Sample networking and learning platform includes American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE).

American Society of Professional Estimators
Source: ASPE

Here are some of the strategies you can implement to effectively network: 

  1. Attend industry conferences, trade shows, and seminars where you can interact with key stakeholders, participate in workshops, and engage in discussions on industry-related topics.
  2. Join professional organizations and associations specific to the construction industry, such as the Associated General Contractors (AGC), American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE) or local construction associations, to network with like-minded professionals.
  3. Engage in online forums such as Reddit (r/estimator), social media groups, and professional networking platforms to connect with industry peers, share insights, and participate in discussions.

By actively participating in networking activities, commercial construction estimators can expand professional network, build trust and credibility within the industry, and create valuable connections that can lead to new business opportunities and collaborations.

Stand Out As a Commercial Construction Estimator

To stand out and ensure success as a new commercial construction estimator, prioritize building a strong foundation of knowledge and skills in estimating, networking, and industry best practices. 

This entails understanding the basics of commercial construction estimation, mastering blueprint reading, and developing expertise in the bid preparation process. It is also important to obtain relevant certifications and continually upgrade your education through training programs and workshops to enhance your professional credibility.

In today's digital age, technology can also greatly support new and upcoming commercial estimators like you to streamline your workflow. Togal.AI, an AI estimating software, can help complete takeoffs in just under a minute with 98% accuracy - helping you avoid costly mistakes as a new commercial cost estimator in the field. 

Don't miss the opportunity to leverage Togal.AI for a streamlined takeoff and cost estimation process. Try Togal, book a custom demo, or get Togal.AI today.