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Takeoff in Construction: How To Complete a Takeoff in 6 Steps

Takeoff in Construction: How To Complete a Takeoff in 6 Steps

Anyone involved in the estimating process of a construction project has likely heard the term “takeoff” more than a few times. Takeoff in construction is the process and accompanying documentation that estimates the number of materials necessary for completing a project.

Takeoff is short for quantity or material takeoff, both of which are industry terms that mean the same thing. An estimator will complete the takeoff as the very first part of any estimation project and they must complete it before anyone can order materials.

Whether a contractor is new to takeoff or looking to refresh their memory, we’ll give you all the information you need to understand and complete a takeoff for an upcoming project. What are Takeoffs Used For?


Construction takeoffs are an essential part of any construction project because they determine the cost of all the materials. Calculating the materials early on is the first step to measuring the profitability of a job. Even though other costs, such as labor, have yet to be calculated, understanding material costs is necessary at this stage because these costs are used in the bidding, estimating and buying processes.

Here’s a breakdown of how takeoffs are utilized in each step:

  • Bidding process: An essential part of the bid document is estimating how much it costs to complete the job. This includes a detailed report of the different materials the team needs, the number of each material and the associated costs — all of which are in a takeoff.
  • Estimating process: A construction estimate document breaks down all the associated job costs as project owners and contractors prepare the budget. An estimate would not be complete without a breakdown of all materials as documented in the takeoff.
  • Buying process: One of the first steps in a construction takeoff is reading a blueprint to determine the kind and amount of materials you need to finish the job. Once this step is complete, the contractor can submit an order for materials without risk of under or overordering.

What are the Elements of a Construction Takeoff?

Quantity takeoffs have three purposes — determine materials, estimate quantities and calculate costs. Each element of the takeoff builds on the other to create an accurate estimate.

Let’s consider an example. If you’re building a house, you need to know what materials to buy, how much of each and how much it’s going to cost. Your first step would be to list out each material you need. For a home, you’ll need lumber, concrete, drywall, flooring and the list of must-haves goes on.

The next element is the amount of each material needed. You’ll figure this out by using the blueprint and some math. Let’s say you’re calculating the amount of tile you’ll need for one of the rooms in the house. After scaling and measuring the room, you find that the project requires 1,200 square feet of tile flooring.

The last element is the costs. By taking the number of units and multiplying it by the supplier’s cost per unit, you can find the total of each material. To continue using the example of tile, we’ll assume that your supplier charges 6 dollars per square of tile. You can multiply 1,200 by six to find the total cost of 7,200 dollars.

In a takeoff spreadsheet, these calculations would look like this:

Disclaimer: The above example is a simplified version of a takeoff that only includes materials. Some takeoff spreadsheets may also calculate the labor and equipment costs depending on the software you use.

Who is in Charge of the Construction Takeoff?

Estimators, contractors and subcontractors can complete a takeoff. However, a complex commercial project is best in the hands of a trained estimator. An estimator’s job is right in the name — it revolves around calculating an accurate estimate of the total cost of the project.

Since the end result of a takeoff highly impacts an estimate, all estimators are well-trained in the takeoff process. While the task seems fairly straightforward, takeoffs are complex spreadsheets that require an advanced understanding of blueprints, construction materials and best practices.

While takeoffs are technically an estimate, they have to be extremely accurate. Future project calculations are dependent on the numbers and quantities found on the takeoff. And since the takeoff calculations determine the number of materials, that’s what buying specialists use to order everything. So if a takeoff is incorrect, the project could waste money by over-ordering or wasting time by underordering.

How to Complete a Takeoff in Construction

With a basic understanding of a takeoff, let’s take a closer look at how to complete one for a construction job.

1. Determine Your Method

There are two ways to complete a takeoff. Doing it manually includes reviewing blueprints, interpreting floor plan symbols, counting materials, inputting it into a spreadsheet and doing your own calculations.

If that sounds time-consuming, there are dozens of software programs that can partially automate the steps for you. With a takeoff and estimating program, many of the equations are input for the user, leaving most of the calculations to the program.

This doesn’t mean that all digital takeoffs are accurate all of the time. An estimator is still responsible for conducting a thorough review and making adjustments as necessary.

Pro tip: If you choose to purchase takeoff software, do your research to find one that has the power to take on your project’s needs. You wouldn’t want software made for residential construction when working on commercial construction.

2. Review Blueprints and Project Plans

By the time a takeoff starts, you should already have the blueprints and plans on hand. If you’re doing the takeoff manually, physical copies are best so you can see the plans in detail all in one place. If you’re using the software method, you can simply upload a scanned version of the plans into the software.

Even before starting the materials count, you should meticulously review the blueprints to make sure you have a clear understanding of the project. You wouldn’t want to get halfway into a project and then realize you’re missing key information.

Pro Tip: Take the time to review project plans and blueprints to get an overview of the project and its unique needs. If there is missing information or a problem with the project plan, bring it to the attention of the project owner or architect.

3. Count the Required Materials

Looking at the blueprint, you can now determine all the materials you need for the project. If you’re taking the software approach, the software counts the materials automatically, leaving you to review and make corrections if necessary. The manual approach, on the other hand, is more hands-on.

You should list out all the materials in as much detail as possible. For example, you wouldn’t just write “lumber” or “flooring” down. Instead, a takeoff includes everything in exactness. So instead of “flooring” you would have one section for tile, another for hardwood and another for carpet. If the project requires two of the same material, like two types of carpet, you will create separate sections for each.

Pro Tip: Make sure you count the minute details when listing out the materials. If you’re doing a takeoff for a kitchen, it should include every cabinet handle, drawer pull, backsplash tile and any other small feature.

4. Scale and Measure Out the Project


Designers make all blueprints to scale, so it’s the estimator’s job to scale out and measure everything correctly for an exact material count. For example, you’d need to scale and determine the surface area of all the walls to figure out how much drywall the project requires. This goes for all surfaces, including floors, roofing, countertops, etc.

For measurements on a physical copy, scale rulers and precise measurements are your best tool. When taking the digital route, the software can automatically generate the measurements, but it’s important to conduct a double check to review for accuracy.

Pro tip: Accurately scaling and measuring the project is one of the most important steps in a takeoff. If done incorrectly, it could cost the project time and money.

5. Determine Quantity

With the list of materials and all the measurements ready, you can calculate the quantities you need for each material. For example, flooring is typically measured and sold by the square foot, so you can simply write in the number of square feet you need. However, drywall comes in a standard four-by-eight-foot sheet, so you’d have to calculate the number of sheets you need according to the surface area of each wall.

For smaller fixtures, like faucets, handles and lights, you would just type in the exact number you need based on the count.

Pro tip: There are four units of measurement used in a takeoff. Surface area, length, volume and count. Make sure you accurately measure and quantify each material to the right measurement. For instance, you would measure concrete in volume and flooring by surface area.

6. Set the Costs

Now that you know what materials and how much you need, you can set the estimated cost of each by unit and then the total cost. This calculation is fairly straightforward as long as you know the cost per unit of the materials. All you’ll do is plug in the cost per unit and multiply it by the number of units you need to find the total cost.

(Cost Per Unit)(Number of Units Needed) = Total Cost

Pro tip: If you can get a quote from a supplier for the cost per unit of materials, it will keep your estimate more accurate. Additionally, some suppliers give discounts when purchasing in bulk, which you may need to consider in the per unit cost.

With total costs calculated, you can wrap up and submit your takeoff and move on to the next steps of your project!

As a takeoff in construction wraps up and the project starts, you will find that having the right equipment for your project is just as important as having the right materials. If your project involves heavy equipment, renting is a budget-friendly and timesaving solution that provides you with some of the newest equipment on the market.

If you’re looking to rent your equipment, BigRentz is here to help. From aerial lifts to excavators, BigRentz has everything you need to take on your next project with confidence.


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