What is Quantity Takeoff in Construction?

By Jim Stephen | BIM

What Is a Quantity Takeoff?

Quantity takeoff is used when data is compiled to produce reliable pricing and construction cost estimating processes. The manager of complex construction projects needs to organize all the information about the physical materials used on a project to create an estimate and manage the team. The most accurate quantity takeoff system will provide you with a realistic estimate, which is needed to efficiently manage the project from concept to completion.

Quantity takeoffs involve many complicated processes that require a sophisticated understanding of data management, Excel, estimating software like Autodesk Takeoff, and other time-consuming procedures.

The Importance of Quantity Takeoffs

In the construction industry, cost estimates are invaluable. Quantity takeoff services enable builders to get a detailed material list to enhance and strengthen any project proposal. This can be done in a manner that is highly customized.


Types of Quantity Takeoffs

Other naming conventions might call the quantity takeoff a cost-estimating takeoff, material takeoff, material quantities, material surveying, construction takeoff process, or similar terminology. All these names refer to the process of generating an estimate based on materials used for the project. Example materials include drywall, stone, steel, and concrete.

Advanced computer software programs enable large enterprises to draft more complicated projects. This capacity also drives the need for greater accuracy when producing material estimates. This fundamental problem has continued to be an issue within the building industry.

The introduction of computers and database analytics is a new feature within the construction field. The first generation of CAD modeling programs started in the late 1980s. The rapid development of these systems introduced greater sophistication and complexity. In a relatively short time, digital takeoffs were being integrated with the computerized models of buildings.


Quantity Takeoff Vs. Material Takeoff

Material takeoffs refer to a conventional process that is relatively simple. This is performed using the blueprint, construction drawing, or other physical plans to generate a cost estimate for the needed materials. The estimate includes information about the details of the needed materials; this requires significant human expertise. It is also time-consuming, and the risk of mistakes can be rather high.

Quantity takeoffs involve many complicated processes that require a sophisticated understanding of data management, Excel, estimating software, and other time-consuming procedures. This is true for both manual and digital takeoffs. This is a high priority in these projects, and any attempts to cut corners will likely backfire in the long run. General contractors, the quantity surveyor, and subcontractors must avoid trying to shortchange efforts to get an accurate estimate.


Who Needs to do Quantity Takeoffs?

These projects often deal with building structures that will be used for either residential or commercial purposes. Quantity takeoffs are done by every front-end team member for any significant building project. This is usually a professional team of engineers and draftsmen. For example, it requires organization and cooperation between construction management and any cloud-based crews.

Anyone dealing with calculating the cost of materials or generating a price estimate must choose a method for quantity takeoffs at some point. This includes urban planners and smart city designers, tunneling and subway architects, residential home builders, and renovators. These processes are also used by marine architects, landscapers, and landscape architects. Additionally, they apply to road engineers, general contractors, and construction managers.


What Is Included in a Quantity Takeoff?

Performing a quantity or manual takeoff requires sharp observation skills, patience, and the application of practical experience. Surveying is a skill that enables accurate project cost proposals to be generated based on real information about the quantity of materials and pricing estimates. Material data must be estimated with the highest degree of accuracy to perform the best construction project within the allotted budget restrictions. Some companies will retain highly trained specialists to ensure optimization.

A variety of items are included in any good quantity takeoff, so here’s a handy list for quick reference.

Total Unit Count

The unit count must be accurate to enable the project to launch. This number functions as an estimate of building costs. Examples include pipe fittings, light fixtures, and other interior items. The gross total is achieved by dividing the total unit count by the unit price.


The total length measurements of steel, pipes, and lumber must be tallied. These building materials are almost never priced in units, so the length serves as the best method for estimating cost.

Surface Area Measurements

The total surface area is another way to produce material cost estimates. Surfaces made of materials like stone and roofing bidding materials cannot be itemized and priced in units. Instead, the surface area of linear-length drywall is multiplied by the width to give a total value.

Three-Dimensional Measurements

Materials on a three-dimensional surface can be measured using cubic volume. This applies to earthworks where concrete and insulation materials can be measured in cubic volumes for takeoff.


This method can be used in coordination with other methods. The weight calculation helps with the accounting for steel, backfill, and other materials.


What Isn’t Included in a Quantity Takeoff?

Quantity takeoffs are defined by the specific materials on the project list. These requirements are compiled and transposed into an estimate that will enable managers to calculate all the expenses involved in completing the project. The quantity takeoff only refers to the specific materials listed for the project. It will exclude items like labor, permits, insurance, overhead, and other incidental expenses.


How to Do a Quantity Takeoff

Quantity takeoffs measure the number of materials used in a specific project for building construction. An estimation is achieved during the preconstruction phase by segmenting the project into smaller units. Each unit is measured according to the most viable metric and bidding process available. These materials estimates are part of the overall process building. The quantity takeoff methods available have been transformed by the application of technology in projects of various sizes.


The complexity of the material estimation process is an important consideration when conducting quantity takeoffs. The pricing structure must have a realistic basis to avoid expensive remedies and delays. Accuracy is best achieved by allocating resources correctly. This requires a serious priority structure that puts the accuracy of the material cost estimate at the very top of the list.

Competing priorities are unlikely to provide such a high return on the investment of the time needed to do it right the first time. Controls, accurate data, and troubleshooting are all critical during the input process. The impact is especially felt in the large construction sector. Larger companies require advanced computational solutions to drive efficiency and accuracy in producing cost estimates using available inputs. The input phase is also a function of the project plans in terms of scale.


Eliminating waste while maintaining optimal productivity is a driver of activity. The accuracy of the material estimate is necessary for both to be present. However, the efficiencies gained by using CAD and BIM programs should not be mistaken as a replacement for human labor. Manual quantity takeoff methods are mediated by professionals with the discernment to make judgments based on the kind of actual experience that cannot be automated.

The estimator might use a template to create the most accurate numbers to use during the initial phases of the construction process. Earthwork and HVAC project estimate templates can be easily adjusted by a human operator with many years of experience in this area. The result is a more efficient workflow that will enable project managers to confidently purchase materials and supplies according to the specifications of the project estimate.


What to Look for In a Quantity Takeoff

Obtaining cost-effective results requires a high degree of attention to detailed building information modeling data. This is the necessary trade-off to take full advantage of these software applications. Using digital takeoff methods instead of manual methods improves speed and reduces errors. However, this low error rate depends mostly on the training and skill of the takeoff technician.

Large subdivisions that deal with compounded earthworks and utilities may present additional challenges. Road surface considerations must be weighed against costs. There are likely to be many additional surfaces that can drive up the cost compared to a relatively simple layout. Any integrated structures that are above ground level are likely to add to the costs. The material pricing must reflect these physical realities.


How to Ensure Quantity Takeoffs Are Done Right

There is a tendency to deal with material takeoffs as a qualifier or a final-issue item; this is a mistake. Material cost estimates are critical to the project planning process and should never be treated as a tail-end item. Every effort must be made to create a realistic and reasonably priced proposal. Back up the numbers with real financial information to bolster the proposal’s credibility.

Consider working with experienced professionals who understand how to collect the most useful information grounded in best practices for material takeoffs and labor cost estimates. The result will show up on your balance sheet, so get started learning about all the benefits of quantity takeoff software for project management and BIM.

INDUSTRIES: Construction

Published on October 17, 2022 in BIM.

About the Author

Jim Stephen is the Construction Industry, Account Executive at Microsol Resources. He supports construction professionals across the U.S. He focuses on solutions that improve workflow, enhance margins, and reduce risks through software adoption.