Published March 29th, 2016 by Rachel Burger in Construction Management
Electrical estimating is unforgiving, compared to other construction estimating activities. Unless the project is very simple, quick and dirty approximations using square-foot unit measures may give wildly inaccurate results. Bids for conduits, wiring, and sub-assemblies will be too high and lose you the job, or too low and lose you money – bad news for a generalist contractor and disastrous for an electrical specialist.
Accuracy in electrical estimating is therefore paramount. So is rapidity. If your bid success rate is 10 percent, for instance, you’ll need to bid 10 projects in order to win one of them. However, each of your 10 bids has to be spot on and supplied in time to your potential customer. You may also be dealing with a plethora of products and labor rates, meaning you need up-to-date pricing information at your fingertips and a foolproof way of recording and calculating quantities to determine the total cost.
Software for electrical estimating can help meet these challenges. Our pick of six electrical estimating software covers a wide range of budgets and features. However, the software that suits your competitor may not be the one that suits you, and vice versa. A little time spent thinking about what you want out of electrical estimating software can give you a valuable head start as you hone in on the app that is right for you.
TurboBid is an affordable estimating software program for a range of different construction work. Like our other picks in this list, TurboBid comes with an impressive track record and positive feedback from users and experts. The software offers both electrical and plumbing estimating functionality. It is well-adapted to new residential construction, multi-family building projects, remodeling, and lighter commercial and industrial work. It contains tens of thousands of articles and pre-defined assemblies, with prices for both materials and labor. The software creates professional bid packages for specific projects and also flat-rate price books for service work.
TurboBid prides itself on its flexibility. The vendor’s advice to contractors who want to be successful is that they should use an estimating system that allows them to generate estimates and invoices for all types of work. It also emphasizes the importance of user-friendliness, with an interface to facilitate learning how to use the software, live online training from its customer support service, live chat help, and online video tutorials.
Likely to appeal to the smaller to mid-sized MEP or specialist electrical contractor, prices for TurboBid currently start from $1,295 for a one-time software license for one user, or a $99 monthly subscription.
Takeoffs from project plans and blueprints are an essential part of most estimates. Viewpoint For Estimating lets users leverage digital takeoff technology to move from slow paper-based to fast all-electronic estimating. Precision and profit margins can both be improved for contractors working on electrical estimating, HVAC, mechanical, or plumbing projects. The takeoff module lets you integrate CAD files and use digitizer boards and stylus pens directly. In particular, Viewpoint For Estimating offers shape recognition to flag symbols and shapes in plans, and then automate quantity counts.
Viewpoint also integrates with Microsoft Excel and offers “What If” planning capability to quickly see the impact of changes in items and prices on total costs and profitability. Enterprises likely to see the appeal of Viewpoint For Estimating are specialist MEP firms and other construction firms that are already leveraging technology elsewhere.
Pricing for this relatively advanced and specialized estimating software is available on request, a common approach for vendors aiming at the midrange and upper levels of the electrical estimating software market.
3. Vision InfoSoft
Besides offering features to help dramatically cut the time needed to make estimates, Vision InfoSoft also targets cost reductions and profitability improvement. The application includes a large materials database with EPIC material pricing for comparison of more than 2 million electrical items and more than 100 manufacturer catalogs. Value engineering is part of the Vision InfoSoft capabilities, allowing easy modification of material and labor costs, together with customization of wiring methods, wire and conduit types, and fittings.
Customization in Vision also extends to the creation of new assemblies “on the fly” and multiple labor unit definition per item for easy bid customization. Customized takeoff modules facilitate takeoffs of branch circuits, lighting, wiring devices, and more, including direct takeoffs from digital plans. The software is available in Classic, Plus, and Pro versions, with Classic at entry-level and Pro as the flagship version offering the most flexibility and bid editing capabilities. These versions cover the needs of specialist electrical contracting companies working on small, medium or large jobs.
While specializing in the electrical estimating market, McCormick Systems offers a range of software solutions designed to meet different kinds of estimating needs. All the versions include a database with more than 55,000 electrical items and more than 25,000 pre-built assemblies. Pricing can be updated using a number of major pricing sources and labor units can be bid according to national averages and all NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association) levels. The software covers a range of electrical contracting activities that include low voltage, transmission and distribution, HVAC, surveillance, and fire alarm installations.
The entry-level WIN 1000 is the vendor’s suggestion for a small or new contractor. WIN 3000, for a small to medium contractor, offers multiple levels of pricing and labor, multiple window takeoff, and an advanced audit trail for tracking your estimating activities. WIN 4000 adds project management tools and supplier comparison pricing for small to large contractors, while WIN 6000 extends ease of use to cover jobs from small residential to heavy industrial, and also transmission and distribution.
Pricing available on request.
With Accubid Classic, vendor Trimble is aiming for the higher ground. Accubid is an electrical estimating software solution that facilitates the overall construction management workflow, from estimating to purchasing, change order management, project management, and invoicing. Seamless data transfer from one task to another is the aim, reducing or eliminating data re-entry. Digitizer integration, auto-scaling, and CAD file integration with dynamic takeoff capability give Accubid BIM (building information modeling) integration possibilities. Easy creation of custom assemblies “on the fly” also makes estimating fast and flexible. Accubid then integrates with other construction management software, such as Sage Timberline Office, Excel, and QuickBooks. Built-in project management features include document control and contract management.
Suited to contractors estimating for medium to large commercial, industrial or multi-unit residential projects, Accubid comes with a database containing more than 33,000 items and 9,500 assemblies. Every item also has associated labor units, labor factors, labor tracking codes, and cost codes. The product also has an impressive string of NECA product awards.
Pricing available on request.
While being a popular system in its own right, ConEst Intellibid also shows up in a number of experts’ and consultants’ lists of favorite electrical estimating software. Most, or even all, types of electrical project estimating can be undertaken, including wiring for residential, commercial, and industrial, low and high voltage installations, data cabling and telecom, CCTV, fire alarms, security installations, and solar power configurations.
There are four versions of the product: a large database of more than 125,000 items, 50,000 prebuilt assemblies, and 500,000 pre-built assembly options is standard with all versions. Intellibid Lite is already a complete estimating package, to which Intellibid Plus adds Smart System technology for faster estimating. For instance, Smart Substitution, a feature within Smart System, manages material changes within seconds and verifies building code compliance at the same time.
Intellibid Pro and Intellibid Design Build add yet more features. Intellibid also analyzes weather and job site conditions to calculate labor requirements as a function of installation difficulty. Intellibid links to another module, SureCount (available separately) for faster electrical, low voltage, and data cabling takeoffs. Medium to large contractors and electrical installation specialists are likely to appreciate the “smarts” and performance of Intellibid software, from the Lite version upwards.
Pricing is available upon request.
Additional Options for Electrical Estimating Software
Our list of six could have been a top ten, instead. Even if electrical estimating is a specialist subject, the choice of software solutions is wide. Here are four more that add more choice in terms of budget, user profiles, and multiple user access:
- 1st Choice Electrical Estimating. This solution offers custom assembly creation, quoting tools, and options for multi-conductor feeder and HVAC. At $299.95 for a user license, it is targeted at contractors working on residential and commercial jobs, although there is a companion product, Residential Estimator ($99.95), for single-family home jobs.
- ACES Pro. Software written by electrical estimators for electrical contractors, ACES Pro is subscription-based and available from $49.99 a month. As a user, you pay for ACES Pro only as needed, as the subscription plan can be paused at any time, without penalties for skipping months.
- Jaffe Power! Estimator. For small to mid-size electrical contractors, Power! Estimator emphasizes convenience and ease of use, as well as functionality. For instance, built-in prices can be changed individually, or globally by the same percentage. Prices can also be changed on the fly and updated directly from a computerized pricing service, such as TRA-SER. Power! Estimator is priced at $999.
- Red Rhino. A web-based solution, Red Rhino offers 24/7 user access and the possibility to connect anywhere an Internet connection is available. The electrical estimating system also includes functionality to manage change orders, purchase orders, project management, and billing. Contractors estimating small and big residential projects, commercial, and light industrial projects may be interested in this solution, priced at $75 per month, with an initial $149 setup fee.
While your dream electrical estimation software may be in the list above, remember that all these applications still depend on the quality of information being entered into them. Contractors working on larger projects may be at an advantage, as building plans may be more detailed and more thoroughly checked at the design stage. By contrast, residential estimators may have to deal with scanty house blueprints, which call for some detective (or design) work before using estimating software, even if there are fewer electrical articles to work with in total.
Functionality changes between vendors and versions. There is a certain truth in the notion that “you get what you pay for.” That said, as a smaller contractor, you may simply not need the highly developed, integrated-workflow estimating software that makes bigger players’ mouths water. There is however one aspect that concerns everyone: the user interface of the electrical estimating software. Screenshots and product descriptions can only give you a hint of what is it really like to use a given product. Look for a trial version (preferably free and with full functionality, for a limited period) that you can take for a test drive, before you make a choice.