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by Eileen O'Loughlin,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: October 21, 2016


Earthwork takeoff and costing is dramatically different than vertical construction estimates. As such, earthwork and site work estimators require a very different set of cost estimate tools.

The primary challenge in earthwork is the takeoff process, rather than the actual estimate process. During takeoff, companies need more sophisticated three-dimensional tools for calculating cuts and fills, profiling trenches and planning concrete or asphalt work. With a top-rated earthwork takeoff system, excavation contractors can dramatically reduce their tracing time, calculate more accurate measures and win more bids.

These tools are also effective for new business owners just learning how to estimate excavation. We recommend shoppers in this category exercise extreme scrutiny if a site offers an earthwork software free download or other free earthwork calculation software. 

We put this guide together to help you better understand the market for earthwork estimating software.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is Earthwork Estimating Software?
Common Features of Earthwork Estimating Software
Earthwork Estimating Software Pricing
Earthwork Estimating Software Deployment

What is Earthwork Estimating Software?

Earthwork estimating software is specialized construction software typically used for large excavations in construction projects. Unlike other general estimating software applications, earthwork estimating software is specially designed with a number of features to assist with the earthwork planning process. For example, many earthwork estimating platforms offer computer-assisted design and GPS modules so users can draw up 3D blueprints of the project for every step along the way.

With earthwork estimating software, users can perform takeoffs from a variety of different image files of the job site. With 3D modeling they can easily determine the scope of the project and how long it will take to complete.

Common Features of Earthwork Estimating & Excavation Software

To determine which costing solution will meet your unique company requirements, your earthwork estimator should evaluate and compare the following functions. Business software for small excavating, for example, could differ from solutions for creating a canal earthwork excavation estimate. Your buyer should take extra care in assessing offers described as an earth work program free download or earthworks software free download.

Cut & fill estimating program The primary requirement of any earthwork takeoff program is the ability to measure cuts and fills. The system must present existing and final elevation maps and calculate the amount of earth to be cut or filled in each section.
Strata layer breakdowns Most excavation takeoff software should be able to map the various strata and code them by color. It should calculate earthwork by taking inputs from the earth samples and engineers’ notes so that the type of strata is known for each part of the job site.
Grid views Sophisticated cut and fill software should allow the estimator to select any grid from grid staking reports and view the cut and fill measurements associated with that area.
Trench profiling The earth filling calculation program should allow the estimator to measure trench plans and profiles, as well as determine slope, widths and heights. This includes determining how much earth will need to be excavated and what materials will be required for trench utilities, including piping and footings.
3D, multi-color elevation maps In contrast to two-dimensional vertical cost estimate solutions, top earthwork estimating software must offer more sophisticated, three-dimensional and multi-color visualizations of existing and final elevations.
Trench profiling The system should allow the user to create a cost estimation for earthwork using measurements of trench plan and profile, slope, widths and heights. This includes determining how much earth will need to be excavated and what materials will be required for trench utilities, including piping and footings.
3D, multi-color elevation maps In contrast to two-dimensional vertical estimating solutions, an earthwork estimating system must offer more sophisticated, three-dimensional and multi-color visualizations of existing and final elevations.
Pad takeoff The sitework takeoff software should allow the user to perform takeoffs for flat pads, such as those used for building pads. The system should allow the estimator to specify the area that is, or should be flat.
Retaining wall takeoff The earth work calculating software should support takeoff of vertical elements, such as cliffs and retaining walls. These should be visualized and measured during takeoff, as well as include a material library.
Material library The cuts and fills software vendor should offer a material library that is specific to earthwork. This may just consist of a library of subgrade materials, but more likely will also need to include an asphalt estimating tool and materials required for concrete work, walls and other hardscape or roadwork.

Earthwork Estimating Software Pricing

Earthwork estimating software is typically priced one of two ways: perpetual licensing and monthly subscription.

With a perpetual license, you pay a large fee up front and own the software outright. However, you may still have to pay annual fees for support, maintenance and updates. With subscription pricing on the other hand, you will generally pay a monthly fee that is often assessed based on the size of your business or the volume of construction work your business is doing.

Be sure to consider what the long term cost of the software will be. Each method of pricing has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Earthwork Estimating Software Deployment

Earthwork estimating software is deployed one of two ways: on-premise and cloud-based.

Cloud-based. Cloud-based software is hosted on the software vendor’s servers and is accessible through any web browser on a computer or a smart device. For contractors on the go who are juggling multiple projects, the mobility and convenience of cloud-based software can be very appealing.

On-premise. On-premise software is installed on the company’s computers or servers and accessed locally. Some contractors might prefer on-premise software due to the familiarity they have with it or because of other reasons such as security or sometimes lower price.

When it comes to pricing, in general, cloud-based services are priced as subscriptions and on-premise software is priced as a perpetual license. Keep in mind that on-premise software can sometimes require specific hardware setups to work properly.

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