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What challenges do electrical contractors face when estimating large projects?

by Brad Halcrow
October 12, 2015
estimation electrical contractors

Estimating is a crucial component of an electrical contractor’s operations. A good estimate enables a contractor to stay competitive within the industry, while at the same time it helps ensure that the company is able to maintain profitable margins.

Estimates for small service jobs can be simple to draw up, but, naturally, the endeavour becomes more complex as a contractor takes on bigger projects.

Large- or multi-stage projects come with the following factors that can affect an electrical contractor's labour efficiency when making estimates:

The location and accessibility of the project site

The location of the project site (rural, urban, or suburban) introduces specific issues that have an effect on productivity.

An urban project site, for example, will involve increased costs for transportation and material storage if only remote parking spaces are available. Workers will spend more time getting to and from their work, or may need additional transport options to transfer equipment.

Whether the project area includes occupied and operational spaces (with people going about their own jobs) also needs to be assessed. This can lead to inefficiencies if much of the work can only be done after business hours, or if workers have to spend time cleaning up the site for the people who will be occupying it after them

Also, a large project means more tradesmen working simultaneously on a job site - each with his own tools, lifts, and materials taking up space in the area.

The shape and size of the building

Electrical contractors spend significant amounts of time waiting for lifts or climbing up and down steps during the day, as well as during breaks (there are similar difficulties when hoisting tools and materials up tall buildings using cranes). Likewise, if a project site is expansive instead of towering, it can be challenging for contractors' teams to move around the site, so transport and storage provisions are also needed.

Humidity and temperature on the site

Labour factors are affected when a project site is in a humid or cold area; contractors should account for wind velocity, humidity, temperature, and precipitation. Laboratory studies reveal that workers' efficiencies drop outside of certain temperature ranges.

The work schedule

Successful estimators must be able to anticipate changes in work schedules and labour pools. Productivity is lost when workers go on overtime, for instance, due to worker fatigue. Electrical estimators should coordinate with project managers to understand target dates and study the schedule so that ideal efficiency can be achieved - especially since electrical contractors typically only begin work once all other tradesmen have completed theirs.

With all of these challenges present in every project, electrical estimators have to be constantly on their toes - and they can only do so when they have the proper resources available.

One valuable provision that they must have access to is the appropriate estimating software. This advance in technology allows contractors to accomplish the following:

  • Compare components and charge rates. The software compiles supplier price lists and labour rates at the user's fingertips.

  • Handle large, multi-phase projects. Each stage can be costed either separately or in a group. During the finalisation stage, any alterations made can be easily duplicated.

  • Prepare a professional-looking quote. Design templates make it easy to create impressive proposals which can then be emailed for convenience.

  • Access updated supplier pricing. Users can import any supplier materials list or catalogue into the system for day-to-day pricing.

  • Take shortcuts. Contractors don't have to create estimates from scratch every time, as software can make templates or reuse existing ones for similar jobs or estimates, saving time and effort.

Gathering all the information needed for estimating electrical work is challenging in itself. Combining an estimator's skills with the efficiency of specialised software helps contractors refine processes, improve productivity, remain competitive, and stay profitable.

Lover of strong coffee, craft beer and retro motorcycles. Sharing stories as Journey Partnership Manager for simPRO Software.

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  1. Thank you for the post. I didn’t consider looking at the shape of a building when coming up with an estimate. Electrical contractors have a tough job when dealing with a unique layout or building design. Would it be beneficial to bring in another contractor to consult on the estimate portion if you are new at it?

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    An external perspective is often a good idea. Particularly if you are new to it.

  3. One of the things that I can think of, which you did mention, is the size of the building. For smaller homes, it’s not that much of a challenge and can be wired up quite easily. Now for larger office building, you might have to wait a bit. Like you said, it can be difficult for them to move around the site so you should be accommodating to their transportation needs.

  4. Wow Nice idea.. thanks for sharing


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