Electrical contractors have unique needs when it comes to estimating jobs. The same goes for their peers doing low voltage or teledata work, solar panel installation, security systems or closed-circuit video.
A general estimating system, such as those covered in our top construction estimating and takeoff software comparison guide, will suffice for contractors developing high-level estimates across multiple divisions. However, once the estimator drills down into the specifics of electric work, they will need a much more specific system to ensure they've chosen the best electrical installation system for their needs.
Bid summary screenshot in McCormick estimating software
There are about a dozen top-rated vendors that exist to serve this market. Shoppers should closely scrutinize vendors offering free electrical estimator software.
Here's what we'll cover:
|Item database||Electrical bidding programs should include a vast database of items (~100,000) typically used by contractors. Generic systems will typically offer far fewer electricity-specific items (and many more not relevant items), requiring the estimator to create their own database.|
|Assemblies||Pre-built assemblies will save the low voltage estimator a lot of time. The electrical contracting software should offer tens of thousands of assemblies and these assemblies should be customizable so the user can define their own modified assemblies.|
|Degree of difficulty selectors||Industry-specific solutions will incorporate degree of difficulty selectors so that the estimator can charge different rates for work depending on how difficult they think the job will be. This electrical estimating guide should be able to be applied at either the job level or the task level.|
|Electrical-specific pricing service||There are more than 100,000 different items to price across numerous distributors in each region. Electrical estimators will find their item cost database to be far more accurate if is integrated to a specific pricing service such as EPIC, NetPricer or Tra-Ser.|
|Formulas||Electricity-related work requires a very different set of formulas than other divisions. An estimates technology tool should calculate runs, voltage drops, loads, fault currents and counts for conduit, boxes and wireways, among other functions.|
|NEC tables||Systems should build in National Electrical Code (NEC) tables that automatically reconfigure the job to meet requirements when a change is made. For example, a change in cables will require a change in conduits.|
|Symbol recognition||If the estimator plans to use a digital takeoff system with their electrical estimating tools, the system should offer symbol recognition. This feature automatically recognizes electric work plan symbols and matches the symbol to items in the database.|
|Lighting design||The best vendors offer apps with the ability to assess lighting requirements based on a room’s dimensions and paint colors. This advanced feature will be valued by design/build contractors.|
As those in the industry know, electrical installation planning and estimating is no simple task. Leading vendors offer additional applications when the basic offering isn't enough. Below we detail applications commonly deployed in conjunction with commercial or residential electrical estimating software. The best electrical estimating system will offer at least one of these. Shoppers should evaluate vendors side by side—be that Accubid vs ConEst, Accubid vs Vision or any other offerings.
|Time and materials billing||It makes sense for estimates and invoicing to tie together within the system. When contractors are charging on a time and materials basis, the estimate serves as the starting point for tracking these costs throughout the job. As a result, many systems will also offer time and materials billing capabilities.|
|Project Management||Companies need to manage detailed project schedules, track job costs against their original estimate and make sure that they properly respond to and track all job documents such as RFIs, submittals, transmittals and change orders. There is a logical point of integration between costing and project management solutions.|
|Bid Management||Bid management applications will allow the electrical contracting company to better organize, track and analyze their bid activity. Functions include historical bid tracking, a bid calendar and bid document management. This electrical estimating app differs from the bid management systems that general contractors or building owners use to solicit bids.|
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