5 minute read

Construction project estimators, whether that’s you or an estimator on your team, use material takeoffs as ingredients for their project estimates. Once you know how much material a project requires, you can then determine the amount of labor needed to install that material and add other costs to get the project estimate.  

While they used to be done by hand, often with a scale ruler and a set of pencils, today’s builders are using takeoff software to speed up the process and provide more accurate results. 

In the past, taking off a project by hand was a time-consuming task. Builders could spend hours or days measuring, quantifying, and pricing the work. Also, manual takeoffs provided an opportunity for errors to occur. Fixtures could be counted twice, or measurements weren’t accurate. Some contractors used standardized pricing databases that weren’t customized to their region or location, which caused inaccuracies.  

Most estimates were written on a pad of paper, a scrap of cardboard or entered into a spreadsheet. Transferring data from these sources to the company’s project management and accounting software was done manually, creating more opportunities for data entry mistakes.  

Luckily today, takeoff software has solved many of these issues. 

In this article we’ll look at what a material takeoff is, how it’s done, and the benefits of using takeoff software, like Buildxact. 

What is a takeoff? 

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

Once the material takeoff is complete, the builder will use the quantities and list of materials to determine the amount of labor it will take to complete the work. 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. 

How is a takeoff done? 

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 that would be 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.  

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 calculate projects based on a whole house square foot rate. Because of the variety of variables in a project, such as fixtures and finishes, this method often leads to inaccurate estimates. 

Takeoff Software

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 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. 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. 

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

Less expensive 

Using takeoff software saves on overhead expenses. You can bid more work because it takes less time to bid each project. This added productivity leads to more work, which can lead to 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 a proposal, and on to job costing if the project gets the go-ahead. Integrating data leads to less errors and saves your team time. 

Ready to learn more? 

When integrated with construction estimating or quoting softwaretakeoff 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.