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7 Tips to Make Your Earthworks Project Estimates More Accurate

| 18.02.2022

Developing an estimate for an earthworks project can sometimes be a balancing act. Bid too high, and you could lose the business to another firm. Bid too low, and you could lose money on the project.

Traditionally, bids were based on the overseeing engineer’s final design and the best data available on current ground conditions—which could be from a decades-old survey. While accurate earthwork estimates take more time and effort to generate, they’re well worth it. 

Perfecting that balancing act means winning more clients, maximizing your revenue, and helping projects run more smoothly. Plus, the more you know about the prospective job site, the more of an edge you have over your competitors during the bidding process. 

From preconstruction topos to estimation software, here are seven tips for increasing the accuracy of your estimates.

1. Create a bid template

Have you ever submitted a bid to a client, only to realize afterward that you forgot something? Templates may sound overly restrictive, especially if you’re consistently bidding on different types of projects. But they’re essential for ensuring that you consistently include the correct information. 

Select a time to develop your bid when you’re not in a time crunch, then sit down and list every essential piece of data your submissions should include. Create ample space in your template so all required items are included in every bid. If some fields don’t apply for a particular bid, you can always mark them as not applicable. 

2. Start with the proper scope

Creating the project scope is critical. Make sure all your stakeholders are clear about where the scope of the project begins and ends. What work will you be responsible for? What precisely does your estimate include? More clarity now means fewer disputes down the line.

3. Perform accurate takeoffs

Takeoffs lay the groundwork for your estimates. If they’re incomplete or inaccurate, your calculations will also be off base. An accurate takeoff will help you determine the precise quantities required for variables like materials, equipment, and labor…all of which are imperative for a precise estimate.

Traditional survey methods like grid spacing are time-consuming and expensive, especially for a project you haven’t even won yet. Contractors spend the time and money anyway, though, because the downside of an inaccurate bid is steep.

Luckily, there’s an alternative. Commercial drones have become a go-to option for worksite surveying, including the preconstruction topo/bidding process. 

Drones allow you to obtain accurate measurements in hours instead of days, even on a large worksite. You’ll know exactly how much dirt needs to move, whether you can balance the site, and what the terrain will look like the day you break ground. 

4. Calculate your costs

Now that you have an accurate grasp of the current state of a site, you can compare it against the design and calculate your costs to complete the project. These costs will include items such as labor, material, and equipment

Remember to factor in your expected rate of work—and to base that estimate on realistic work schedules.

5. Dig into the details

A few minutes of in-depth review can make a big difference. Look over your numbers, check your math, and make sure it all adds up. Also, review your subcontractors’ proposals and ensure that you’re comparing more than just the final numbers. Are they all aligned, or are some subcontractors charging less than others because they’re omitting required deliverables? The last thing you want to do is submit a bid based on a subcontractor estimate that’s too low.

6. Leverage technology

Digital tools are now considered foundational in the construction industry, and using them can pay off significantly. For example, using estimation software explicitly designed for construction projects helps ensure you don’t miss anything. (The templates shared in Tip #1 are generally included in most construction estimation software.)

Additionally, drone surveying technology offers numerous benefits over traditional survey methods: it’s faster, more cost-effective, and produces easier-to-read results. Each drone survey yields millions of data points in the form of a 3D map you can use as a visual reference point throughout the project.

7. Review profitability

Your bidding process may not be perfect yet, and that’s okay. Review past projects to see which ones were most profitable so you can learn from past mistakes and repeat the actions that led to success. Record accurate job costs for materials, labor, and equipment. Compare your actual costs to your estimates to answer the following questions:

  • Did you estimate accurate costs for labor and materials?
  • Did you include all job costs in your estimate, including equipment, supplies, and subcontractor fees?
  • Did you calculate your profit and overhead mark-up correctly?

Each project should help make your next bid even better.

Why accurate bids matter

Which type of project would you rather win: a profitable, successful project that makes your clients happy? Or an unprofitable project that’s filled with client complaints and costs you never considered?

Accurate estimates can:

  • Help you win more bids
  • Protect your bottom line
  • Prevent rework
  • Increase client satisfaction
  • Improve your reputation
  • Ensure that projects run smoothly
  • Earn you a seat at the project planning table

Ready to take the next step toward making your bids as accurate as possible? Let’s talk. 

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