5 Free Construction Estimating & Takeoff Products to Cut Turnaround Time and Win More Bids

Performing accurate cost estimating is critical to the success of your construction business. Estimate too high and you win fewer jobs, too low and your profits disappear. So, it’s important to get it right every time!

Estimating by hand is time-consuming, so at some point, you may consider using software to bid more jobs in less time. Although software can be a big investment, not every tool has to break the bank.

In this guide, we highlight five free estimating and takeoff products to try if you’re considering this type of solution for your construction business.

 PRO TIP:  “Free” doesn’t always mean “zero cost.” Free and open source products are free to download or use, but you’ll likely need an IT team to implement them and oversee maintenance and hosting. Some free software is a trimmed-down version of a paid application, locking you out of certain functionality until you become a paid customer. In either case, you may have to pay to make a free product work for your business.

1. Easy-Pro Builders Estimator

Example of a cost spreadsheet for Easy-Pro Builders Estimator
 

Easy-Pro Builders Estimator is a construction-focused spreadsheet tool that operates on the Apache OpenOffice spreadsheet Calc. It works on Linux and Windows OS, and is also compatible with Microsoft Excel and Mac OS 10.6 and newer.

Easy-Pro is suitable for small build firms, contractors and tradesmen who estimate jobs from hundreds to hundreds of thousand dollars in scope. It is used primarily in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia.

Some features include:

✔ Worksheets for 24 trades, including carpentry, concrete and roofing.

✔ Automated labor, material cost and tax calculations—just enter materials and quantities, and the formulas handle the rest.

✔ Macro buttons to speed navigation between worksheets.

✔ Project reports.

✔ Instruction manual.

What’s the total cost? Easy-Pro is completely free. A donation of .01 percent of the total job value is requested when you win a bid.


2: iScope

Setting room dimensions, openings and fixtures in iScope
 

iScope estimating software integrates with the Craftsman Book Company pricing database. This gives users access to current materials and labor costs when putting together an estimate. It is designed using macros and short codes (see iScope glossary to reference section codes) which saves time and cuts down on redundant data entry.

iScope was initially created by a public insurance adjuster for loss estimating. But, since estimating damage claims is similar to estimating for remodeling, this product is suitable for use by remodeling and light residential and commercial contractors.

Some features include:

✔ Photograph and image import.

✔ Built-in room lists with standard dimensions: Select rooms and adjust the dimensions. Then doors, windows and fixtures are marked up and materials are selected.

✔ Automated cost calculation and report generation (includes expected overhead and profit). Options to adjust prices by a percentage or dollar amount.

✔ Time-stamped footer.

✔ Cover letter template.

What’s the total cost? iScope is free to download and use. It also includes a 30-day free trial to the Craftsman Book Company cost database. You must pay the cost database fee after that, but can continue using iScope for free without it.

A paid version of iScope is also offered, but it’s unclear how it differs from the free download. So, try the free version. If you love it, contact the company for details on the paid version.


3: Estimate

Estimating screen showing materials, price and dimensions in Estimate
 

Estimate is a web-based, open source construction estimating application. A centralized, regional database provides storage, maintenance and data recovery.

Built using J2EE, the application runs inside Apache Tomcat server and is compatible with MySQL Database server. It works across various operating systems (requires Java Platform 7 or above and Adobe PDF Reader 7 or above). Firefox is the recommended browser, but is also compatible with IE, Opera, Chrome and Safari.

Estimate works well for established midsize construction companies with a dedicated IT staff, as installing and customizing it requires moderate to advanced IT/programming knowledge. It’s also suitable for general construction work, including electrical, plumbing, concrete, landscape and others.

Estimate has five core modules:

Costing Master: The database of materials, assemblies, costs and other items.

Projects: Contains functional tools for managing projects, estimates and schedules.

Utilities: Includes administrative functionality such as document management, calculators and unit converters.

Reports: Generates detailed reports in PDF format.

Administration: Has features needed for system configuration and to control user access.

What’s the total cost? Estimate is free to use, but donations are requested. As mentioned, IT/programming knowledge is necessary. IT consultants and developers charge from $75 to well over $100 per hour. You may also need web hosting—costs range from $150 per year for a shared account to $500 or more per month for a dedicated server.


4: PlanViewer

Drawing view in On Center’s PlanViewer

Drawing view in On Center’s PlanViewer

PlanViewer is the free version of On-Screen Takeoff from On Center Software. With this application, estimators can view drawings and perform simple takeoff.

To use, estimators import the drawing file. From there, they can perform simple takeoff and mark it up using annotation tools. The catch is, work cannot be saved—that requires upgrading to the paid version.

Even with this limitation, PlanViewer is a good choice for contractors who want to speed simple takeoff and see first-hand how this type of software can help grow their business.

Some features include:

✔ View PDF, JPEG and AutoCad files and raster images.

✔ Highlight and add text to images.

✔ Perform linear and area measurements.

✔ Count objects.

What’s the total cost? PlanViewer is completely free. Enabling its advanced features requires upgrading to a paid license.


5: Vu360

Plan view and markup list for Vu360
 

Vu360 is a document viewer and annotation program from the Blue Book Network. This application supports construction takeoff and document markup and has a built-in web-browser. Compatible with Windows OS (XP, Vista or Windows 7).

Integration with BPM Select (building product search engine) gives users access to a directory of over 15000 manufacturers and CSI classifications. Users also have unlimited access to a setup guide and online tutorials.

Vu360 supports small and midsize construction firms and is suitable for architects, engineers and contractors in most trades, including roofing.

Some features include:

✔ Text, highlight and “sticky note” annotations.

✔ Area, volume, length and perimeter measurements.

✔ Pan, zoom, rotate and set other view options.

✔ Drawing calibration.

✔ Export to Excel or XML.

What’s the total cost? Vu360 is free. But, users are strongly encouraged to join the Blue Book Network. Revenue generated from memberships and advertising is what pays for the development and support of Vu360.


When Is Paid Software the Better Choice?

Free estimating software is a great stepping stone for many small construction firms—especially those using software for the first time. But as job volume increases, paid software often becomes the better choice.

Why? Higher job volume and company growth means more people, processes and training are necessary to estimate and complete projects. Paid software offers more “out-of-the-box” functionality than free software, as well as training, support and integration with other critical applications, such as accounting and construction management software.

Fortunately, there are affordable estimating and takeoff products that also offer free trials. With a free trial, you can try before you buy and avoid purchasing a product your team won’t like.

Here are five highly rated paid products that include free trials:

Clear Estimates logo 30 day free trial View profile Read reviews
247PRO logo 30 day free trial View profile Read reviews
Estimator360 construction software logo 30 day free trial View profile Read reviews
priotsoft contractor office logo admin 15 day free trial View profile Read reviews
planswift logo admin 14 day free trial View profile Read reviews


Also, check out our FrontRunner’s Quadrant for construction estimating tools. We’ve evaluated over 300 products and charted them according to the value and capability they offer SMBs. Each estimating software on the quadrant is a top performer in the market, although some may focus more heavily on certain capabilities than others.

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