Estimating – Are Things Getting Harder or Easier? 1

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015
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Having been in the industry for many years, there is one question I still ask myself over and over again. Is our profession getting harder or easier to do? What with computers, software, emails, video conferencing etc etc, you would certainly hope so. But, is it harder or easier these days?

A few years ago I taught for a couple of years at a Tafe. I delivered two night school classes to around 15 Students that were on their second year building courses. One was ‘Quantity Surveying and Estimating’, the other was ‘History of Buildings’. Two subject I thought would be of interest to my students to help further their careers.

The ‘Quantity Surveying and Estimating course’ was the most popular although I was rather disappointed when I asked them to measure a small building so they could price it. Most had not been given any instructions on how to measure the different trades. Some started with the roof whilst other measured carpentry first. Others asked what I wanted measured first.

If we don’t have a set of rules to work by, how on earth can we expect to become proficient at doing the task. Most hadn’t heard about the ‘Standard Method of Measurement’ document and some didn’t fully understand what Preliminaries were.

When I talked about centre lines and how to work them out, they were, to put it bluntly, ‘baffled’. So began the indoctrination of why we measure in a certain way and how we set things out so they can be easily understood. Whilst it’s not strictly the case in some projects I suggested they start from the bottom up (you know, as you would if you were physically building the project )

Excavation first followed by concrete formwork and reinforcement and then the brickwork etc etc. “Do we have to do it that way”, one student asked, to which I replied, “you can do it any way you like as long as you don’t miss anything”.

The purpose of having a sequential building trade list helps to promote a better understanding of how the building goes together and also acts as a check list of things that have to be measured. Imagine if on one job you measured roof trusses first and then concrete, followed by painting. Then on the next job you measured carpet first and then roof tiling. It just doesn’t seem to flow. The idea is that each trade measured in sequence acts as a prompt to the next trade. For example if you had measured Excavation, Concrete, Formwork and Reo and then the external timber Stud Partitions. When you do the final check measure later, you notice that you haven’t picked up the masonry anchors for fixing the bottom of the timber studs to the concrete. Because concrete was the last trade you checked, it reminded you when you looked at ‘External Timber Partitions’ that you hadn’t allowed for the masonry anchors. I’m not saying that you wouldn’t have found this item later but the visual impact of seeing the concrete slab in your head together with the timber studs being fixed to it, prompted you to remember. Also, the perimeter of the slab and the perimeter of the stud partitions would in some cases be very similar, so if suddenly the lengths were vastly different, your memory would likely prompt you again to check these dimensions.

If students aren’t being taught the basic, how can they expect to spot mistakes when they are made. I remember saying to one of my trainee estimators one time, (as I had given him a job to price) that rate is wrong, ‘as a scanned down the page’. “How can you tell that” he replied. “Well it shouldn’t cost that much per square metre, that’s a cubic metre rate”. In other words you need to instinctively recognise when a measurement or rate just doesn’t look right. Yes you can be wrong, but when this happens it’s always best to check.

So back to the question of, ‘is our profession getting harder or easier to do’. I think given the correct training it should be easier, but we still need to make sure our estimators can price from first principle or we will be fully reliant on subcontractors prices. And just in case you use the argument that the subcontractor should know what he is doing, try selling that to your Manager when the subcontractor tells you he made a mistake in his price just after you have won the project!

Getting back to ‘History of Buildings’, which was not a popular subject in the beginning. “Why do we need to learn about the ‘History of Buildings'” a couple of my students asked, “we don’t build that way anymore”! Ok, so how were the ‘Pyramids’ built, or for that matter, some of the worlds great Cathedrals. What don’t you understand about, some of these structures were great Architectural and Engineering feats, built hundreds and in the case of the Pyramids thousands of years ago and we are still trying to learn about how they did it and hopefully applying some of the same principals to new and future projects. “Yes”, I replied, “it’s a matter of learning from the past not just ignoring it”.

So needless to say we did learn quite a lot about the ‘History of Buildings’ and the techniques that were used.


By: Trevor Moseley
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  1. harry oriander

    almost word for word you are saying what i too have been advocating for many many years having been involved in estimating and quantity surveying for 51 years …and all the things you talk about particularly the ground up system = the flow of measuring and in accordance with the smm is for us standard practice and recently while working in an estimating department i was surprise to find out 2 out of 5 had not heard of the smm…..spooky ehh …so on one hand the process is easier via computors the internet and cubit etc …but you still need to be able to interpret all that comes in …quotes..content,scope and value….very well written …best wishes harry oriander