Construction project estimators, whether that’s you or an estimator on your team, use home construction takeoffs to set up the tasks that make up complete, accurate project estimates.

The construction takeoff, also known as a quantity takeoff, is typically made up of the material needed to build your project and the labor costs necessary to install that material. Logically, the more square footage a project contains, the more physical materials and labor needed.

Don’t forget—a complete estimate also adds other costs to the list of tasks generated by construction takeoffs. Additional costs are added to cover things like equipment rental and other overhead. The estimate is then used to write a bid that is sent to the homeowner for approval.

As you can see, you need an accurate estimate to have a project that meets homeowner expectations while delivering the profit that your business deserves.

In the past, quantity takeoffs were a time-consuming task because they were done with ruler, pencil and paper. Builders could spend hours or days measuring, quantifying and pricing, especially if they were working larger projects.

OK, let’s say you have the time or personnel to do manual takeoffs. Well, manual takeoffs also present opportunity for error. Light fixtures, for example, could be mistakenly counted twice, or measurements can just be wrong, and wrong measurements lead to wrong counts of raw materials.

Many builders mistakenly think they are saving time writing estimates on a pad of paper, a scrap of cardboard or entering them into a confusing spreadsheet. But just because something is familiar, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to work.

For example, using pencil and paper means you need to spend time in the office filing things away for future reference. You can’t run a business if you are always searching for estimates, bids and customer approvals, and transferring data from these paper files to your company’s project management and accounting software creates more opportunities for mistakes.  

Even if the estimate nails the material count, standardized pricing databases, often frozen in time and not customized to a region or location, cause inaccuracies with the total material cost.  You can’t have accurate costs if your prices are three months out of date.

While custom builders like you used to do takeoffs by hand, often with a scale ruler and pen and paper, today’s competitive builders are using digital takeoff software to speed up the process and provide more accurate results than what was achieved with manual takeoffs. 

Below, we’ll look at what it’s like to do a material takeoff using digital takeoff software, like Buildxact. But let’s first review some basics:

How is a material takeoff done?

A takeoff is completed during the estimating process to calculate the cost to complete a project. For smaller construction businesses that don’t have a dedicated estimator, the takeoff and estimating is typically completed by the owner or builder. 

To start, the builder reviews the drawings to determine how much material and labor needs to be provided to complete the work. In most cases, it starts with a material takeoff, which is a detailed list of all the materials and equipment that will be needed to do the work. 

A takeoff requires measuring the area needed to build walls, roofs, floors and other structures. In the past, builders did manual takeoffs, using rulers, pencils and paper.

Once the material takeoff is complete, the builder uses the quantities and list of materials to determine the amount of materials and labor it will take to complete the work. Simply put, the more materials needed to build the home, the more hours of labor is needed.

Based on the estimated number of hours and the different trades that are required, an estimate of labor costs is created for the project. From there, the builder may add administrative and other costs, plus a markup, to come up with a price for their customer that generates a fair profit for the builder.

How is a takeoff changing in today’s construction industry?

In the past, builders printed out the drawings and took measurements by hand, using a ruler or electronic scale, to determine the amount of materials needed. Particular attention had to be paid to printing the drawings on the right size paper to maintain the scale of the drawings, or estimates could be incorrect.

Materials were listed on a notepad or in a spreadsheet and a highlighter was used to check off areas that had been taken off or counted. Needless to say, since the takeoffs were done by hand there was a lot of potential for error and wasted time.  

In the past, fixtures may have been counted twice, or some areas of the project not measured at all. Often builders would do a takeoff multiple times to ensure that the information was accurate.  

Due to the increasing complexity of projects and to speed up the bidding process, many builders try to take and shortcut and calculate projects based on a whole house square foot rate. Because of the variety of variables in a custom home project, such as fixtures and finishes, this method often leads to inaccurate estimates that can cost the business to lose money on a job.

The builder then finds themselves in a difficult situation. Do they take a loss on the project, or do they submit change orders to the homeowner to try and make up for the errors in the material takeoff?

Very often the inexperienced builder will take a loss on the project, thinking they can make up the difference in future work. But this can set up a builder into an ever-increasing cycle of stress and worry over how to achieve an accurate takeoff.

Who’s to say that the next takeoff will be more accurate than the last project? Who’s to say you will not just find yourself losing money on the next project due to the same process of using manual takeoffs. There needs to be a better way to get the job done.

Takeoff software is the solution for any construction project

Today’s builders use construction estimating software and/or takeoff software to help them create accurate proposals for projects. Software has changed the takeoff game. Small projects can be estimated in minutes instead of hours, and even large projects don’t take long. 

The process for using takeoff software starts by uploading PDF versions of the project drawings to the software. Once the digital drawings are in the system, you can use the measuring tools to quickly determine the amount of materials needed for the project. Measuring tools automatically calculate the area or length of material needed in inches, feet, or yards. Software also helps you to quickly count items like doors and windows. Areas and items are marked to show they’ve been counted. 

Once the measuring tool has calculated the amount of materials that will be needed, the software pulls the costs from its cost database. The database is customized for each builder and the prices can be quickly entered into the system and updated as needed. The software then performs the calculation to determine the cost of the materials and provides a line-item breakdown of the whole project. Critical math errors eliminated!

Next, you can review the data provided by the software, verifying amounts and adding material waste, markup, or other additional costs that haven’t been quantified yet. Those costs are then used to develop a cost estimate and a professional quote for the customer. 

Benefits of using takeoff software

Construction takeoff software, like Buildxact, provides many benefits for builders, cost estimators and project managers. 


Digital takeoffs improve the accuracy of project estimates by clearly marking areas that have been counted or measured. This ensures that there is no double counting or missed items during the takeoff. 


Instead of taking hours to print drawings and measure them by hand, takeoff software makes measuring easy. With the point-and-click of a computer mouse, it quickly determines the area or length of material needed based on the scale shown on the drawings.  

Standardized costs 

By linking material items directly to their costs within the software, cost calculations can be performed quickly, and the data is consistent. Everyone on your team will have the same database of costs for every project, so everyone’s working from the same data. 

More revenue, more profits

Using subscription-based takeoff software saves on overhead because it’s a low monthly cost. You can bid more work because it takes less time to bid each project. This added productivity leads to more work, more revenue—can because the takeoffs are more accurate— more profits.

Seamless data transfer 

When your takeoff software is integrated with your construction estimating software and project management system, the data can be transferred quickly and easily from takeoff to estimate, then to a bid. Integrating data leads to less errors and saves your team time. 

Want to know more about the construction takeoff process? 

When integrated with construction estimating or quoting software, takeoff software seamlessly integrates and improves the accuracy of your estimates. You can spend less time doing takeoffs and more time bidding projects and winning more work

See how you can do takeoffs 80% faster with Buildxact. 

Start a 14-day free trial or book a demo today.