Material Takeoffs: What You Need to Know

construction being done on a wood frame

What is included in a material takeoff? A “material takeoff” is a common term in the construction industry. If this is your first time building or remodeling a home, this term may be unfamiliar. A material takeoff is a list of building materials needed to construct your home. The list can come from a variety of sources and have varying degrees of accuracy.

What is included in a material takeoff?

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A good material takeoff will list items like concrete, hardware, framing lumber, roofing, siding, insulation, drywall, trim, windows and doors. These lists can be used by you or the contractor to have materials quoted and delivered to the jobsite. The list is generated from your home plans through the use of computer estimation programs. However, the best drawn plans can have ambiguities.

Remember a material takeoff is never going to be 100% correct. It is simply a way of estimating (as close as possible) the materials you need. You will want to review the takeoffs with the contractors. If any discrepancies arise, contact your structural engineer or architect to verify the information listed on the plans.

Why have a material takeoff done?

As mentioned before, rarely are home plans 100% correct in details, specifications and sizing. These discrepancies are usually found when doing a takeoff or building. If they are discovered when you are building, it costs money to order new materials, and time waiting for them to arrive. Both are losing propositions. Receiving a takeoff allows you to accomplish several goals which include verifying the materials called out on your plans and keeping the contractors honest. Your framer may have been extremely busy and hastily compiled a lumber package to include with his bid. It may or may not be correct. If it is not correct, be prepared to spend additional funds on lumber when you are building.

What should homeowners look for in a material takeoff?

While building practices may be standard in your area, the way a contractor builds may vary. For example, framers have unique nuances when they are framing a home. He may want several dozen 2x6’s for blocking - while another framer may not. If you approach several contractors for bids, and receive two completely different material lists, be wary. There should be minor differences (based on a contractor’s preferences), but a large variance indicates errors.

Approach the contractors and ask them why their material takeoffs are so different – they may have missed something or quoted extra materials. Remember, the contractor’s goal is to complete the job as quickly as possible with little or no delays. They will probably pad their takeoff so they are not sitting around waiting for materials to arrive. This can result in “extra” materials left on the jobsite – which means you overpaid for materials.

Third party companies also exist to provide estimation services. You can find these companies by searching through local listings or the Internet. Building practices vary by locality, so look for a company in your area to do the takeoff. For example, you may find a national estimation company that will take a set of your plans and provide a list. However, the building practices in New England differ from those in Texas – in lumber species, construction techniques, etc. These companies do not provide services for free, so be prepared to spend money for their takeoffs.

Accountability is the greatest factor influencing material takeoff accuracy. You can take a set of plans to several local lumberyards and receive two completely different lists. How can two different companies look at the same plans and produce two different takeoffs? Accountability. A lumberyard may receive several dozen takeoff requests a month and be understaffed. Their job is to crank out quotes (on the low side if possible) to capture your business. If the list is not correct – and you need extra materials – they make more money.

Relying on contractors to provide an accurate takeoff may also be risky. Builders become extremely busy at certain times of the year, and may not have the time to dedicate to provide a highly accurate list. More than likely, they are glossing over the plans, and through their experience, generating a generic list. Some contractors may not even supply you with a material list! General contractors are notorious for adding profit into material allowances – so the last thing they want to do is provide a list you can take elsewhere.

When should a material takeoff be done?

It is advisable to have a material takeoff done before building or remodeling your home. Any structural issues with the plans will be discovered by a good estimator. Catching them now will save you time and money rather than finding them under construction. While it is easy to rely on a contractor for a material list, they have little accountability to making sure it is right. A lumberyard may offer free takeoffs, but are their motivations to provide accurate lists or sell you materials? Third party estimators may provide the best takeoffs, but their services are not free. The key to receiving an accurate list is to review the takeoffs with all parties involved: the contractor, architect and engineer. If you take their recommendations into account, you can ensure a takeoff and budget that will serve you throughout construction.

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