Construction Takeoff Essentials and Tips for Small Firms

By: Andrew Conrad on March 14, 2023
On this page:

When you’re starting a new construction project, you want to make sure that you have all of your materials and resources accounted for and procured before breaking ground. Otherwise, you risk getting halfway through the project only to realize you’ve run out of materials. 

This process is called takeoff, and as a construction professional at a small, growing firm, you’ve likely been through at least a few. But you might not be doing construction takeoff as efficiently and effectively as possible. That’s where construction takeoff software comes in. 

According to our survey of more than 300 construction professionals (methodology below), only 63% reported using takeoff software, despite the valuable advantages it offers.*

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at construction takeoff, including tips from an experienced construction professional.

Takeoff tips from a construction pro

We talked to Ben Gagnon, head of preconstruction for San Diego-based builder SnapADU [1], to get his takeoff tips. As a former project manager for most of his nearly decade-long career in construction, Ben understands how important it is to get everything in order before breaking ground on a new project.

“How many sinks are there in this project? Do we have all those things ordered? Quantities just need to be verified and assured that they're going to be delivered in the right quantity, and when they're going to be delivered,” he said. “I think (that’s) probably the most important aspect of the takeoff.”

Ben Gagnon

head of preconstruction for SnapADU [1]

Getting these numbers right the first time is even more important with rising material costs and ongoing supply chain issues [2]. Fortunately, an effective and thorough takeoff can reduce cost overruns, improve budgeting estimates, and help projects finish on time through better planning. 

What is a takeoff in construction?

A takeoff in construction is the process of studying the blueprints and project plans to gather information on all the different materials and quantity of those materials that will be needed to complete the project.

“A takeoff is part of the estimation process,” Gagnon said. “How many square feet is the flooring? How big is the roof? How much wall area are we going to have to do for siding or stucco?”

While the term “takeoff” might evoke images of an airplane taking off from the runway, takeoff isn’t actually related directly to a construction project starting or lifting off. In fact, the term “takeoff” seems to come from taking quantities off of the blueprint and entering them into a spreadsheet or construction estimating software.

“You have a big 2-foot by 3-foot plan that you roll out and you highlight your architectural scale. You highlight everything, you write down the quantities–10-foot by 12-foot, that's 120 square-feet,” Gagnon said. “You're taking quantities off of the plans and putting them into your estimating software.”

You may have heard of the terms quantity takeoff and material takeoff and wondered what they mean. Both terms are synonyms for construction takeoff. When you perform construction takeoff, you’re determining the quantity of materials required to complete the project. That’s why you’ll sometimes hear takeoff referred to as quantity takeoff or material takeoff.

Manual takeoff vs. takeoff with software

While it is possible to do takeoff the old fashioned way, taking measurements off of a blueprint and entering them into a spreadsheet (or if you’re really old school, writing them down in a notebook), there are numerous advantages to using dedicated software for this process.

That’s not to say that manual takeoff isn’t without benefits. Manual takeoff requires much less preparation upfront: all you need to get started is your blueprints and a spreadsheet. As a result, manual takeoff is also much less expensive in the short term. But that’s pretty much where the advantages end.

Using purpose-built takeoff software yields more accurate estimates due to reduced opportunities for human error, it can produce faster results once set up properly, and it offers additional quality-of-life features like templates, collaboration tools, project archives, and more.

What is takeoff software? (Source)

As a note of clarification, takeoff software and construction estimating software are not the same thing, although they typically work in tandem (takeoff software pulls quantities that can be entered into estimating software) and are often included together as features in construction software packages.

According to our survey*, the biggest benefits that construction professionals gained from using takeoff software include improved accuracy (57% of respondents), more accurate bids (46%), improved productivity and efficiency (44%), and reduced costs (44%).

A graphic showing the 4 biggest benefits of using construction takeoff software, according to construction professionals: improved accuracy (57%), more accurate bids (46%), improved efficiency (44%), reduced cost (44%)

Takeoff software is “hugely helpful, especially in custom residential construction,” Gagnon said. “I've used a couple of them. If you're doing a lot of volume and you're bidding on projects, they're invaluable.”

An added-value is the ability to save a project as a template and reuse it for similar projects in the future. If a residential developer is building 12 houses with similar layouts on the same lot, rather than pulling measurements from 12 blueprints one-by-one, takeoff software lets users create a template based on one house and alter that template to reflect changes for each of the other houses.

Want to see how takeoff software and estimating software work together? Check out this brief video:

Construction takeoffs and estimating made simple [3]

Now let’s take a closer look at some more of the features that make takeoff software so useful.

Takeoff software features

As opposed to something like construction management software, which does many different things through several different modules, from project management to accounting, construction takeoff software is fairly focused on its primary purpose: digitally reading blueprints to extract measurements and convert them into quantities.

Still, there are several additional features typically included with takeoff software that make the software even more useful.

  • Document management. This feature allows users to store and organize planning documents, like blueprints, in order to be scanned into the system.

  • Building information modeling integration. This feature allows users to integrate their takeoff software directly with their BIM software to automatically import measurements and estimates and visualize plans in 3D.

  • Estimating. This feature allows users to calculate all takeoff measurements and material costs to estimate a total budget for a project.

Ready for takeoff?

In this article, we looked at what construction takeoff entails, why it’s important, and how software can help make takeoff more accurate and more efficient.

As important as we feel it is to use dedicated software for this process, we understand that you might need some time to choose the right tool for your business. So in the meantime, we’d like to leave you with this free construction project estimating template to help with manual takeoff.

And if you would like a little help choosing the right takeoff software for your business, our experienced advisors are happy to help.

How to connect to an advisor at Software Advice (Source)

Survey methodology

* Software Advice's 2023 Employee Feedback Survey was conducted in January 2023 among 301 U.S. respondents to learn more about construction software and its benefits. Respondents were screened to be a construction professional with a role in their firm’s selection/purchase of construction software.