Illustration of model construction materials

In construction, a takeoff is the process that contractors use to figure out the exact quantity of materials needed for a specific project. Also known as a material takeoff or a quantity takeoff, a construction takeoff is an important step in producing an accurate estimate for a project’s cost. 

A takeoff can be done by hand or using software, but it’s critical to get an accurate count of materials before submitting a bid—or you could be stuck overpaying for materials and cutting into your profit.

Keep reading for more details about how to perform a construction takeoff, how takeoffs are different from estimates, and the best reasons to consider using takeoff software.

How to perform a takeoff

The ultimate goal of a material takeoff is to create a detailed list of the exact quantities of materials required for a project. The name takeoff comes from the process of counting by hand—a contractor would “take off” items one by one from a construction drawing and record them in a list.

Whether you perform a takeoff by hand or using software, the basic process is the same:

  1. Consult the construction documents. By referencing the blueprints and specifications, contractors can see which type of materials the owner has requested.
  2. Itemize the necessary materials. Contractors will make a list of all of the items required for the project—or the materials needed for their specific trade. 
  3. Count or calculate quantities. Finally, contractors will systematically work through the drawings and take off each item from the drawings as they add it to their list of quantities. 

Essentially, whoever performs a construction takeoff ensures that any item required to complete the building is listed and quantified. For example, an electrician would determine materials requirements for conduit, wiring, receptacles, switches, and more. 

Common blueprint symbols used to create a construction takeoff

While the process itself is straightforward, one complicated aspect is that contractors need to record various materials in different ways. For example:

  • By count: Individual items like standard wall studs, light fixtures, outlets, air handlers, windows, doors, and other similar items are simply counted.
  • By area: Flooring, drywall, sheathing, roofing, and similar items are calculated by square foot.
  • By volume: Concrete, sand, gravel, paint, and similar items are calculated by cubic foot or cubic yard.
  • By length: Lumber, conduit, wire, ductwork, and similar items are typically listed by linear foot or linear yard.

Each trade will have specific materials and items that are important to quantify while performing the takeoff. An accurate takeoff will help contractors and subcontractors create a better estimate and bid properly for projects. 

Related: What Is a Bill of Quantities?

Construction material takeoff vs. estimate

When people refer to takeoff, they’re usually talking specifically about coming up with a quantity of materials required for a project—that’s why this process is frequently called a “quantity takeoff” or a “material takeoff.” On the other hand, an estimate uses the quantities from the takeoff as well as current material prices to determine the total cost for the required materials. 

Some people use the word takeoff to mean the entire process of building an estimate, but generally you can think of this as two separate processes:

  • First, estimators perform a material takeoff to get an accurate list of the exact items and quantities needed for a project.
  • Second, estimators build an estimate by determining current materials pricing as well as calculating other costs, like labor, equipment, or travel. 

While these two processes are closely related, ultimately the most important goal of a takeoff is simply to ensure an accurate count of materials. 

That said, the takeoff process has become more closely tied to the estimating process due to the widespread use of takeoff software.  

Construction takeoff software

Software has streamlined many aspects of the construction industry, and takeoffs are no exception. Using digital takeoff software can help improve speed and accuracy. Essentially, this software enables contractors to load construction drawings and use tools to measure, count, and itemize the required materials.

Here are some of the more well-known tools for digital takeoffs:

There are countless other programs that will work as well. These software programs can take much of the guesswork and human error out of the estimation process.

Get materials now, keep your cash.

Enjoy 120-day payback terms with any material supplier.

Material takeoffs can make or break the bottom line

While the takeoff isn’t the most glorious part of a construction project, it’s easily one of the most important.

Contractors that base their estimates on inaccurate takeoffs will have a reputation for materials and timeline overruns. Those that take the time to create the best possible construction takeoff will find they finish on time, within budget, and with healthy profit margins. 

By streamlining your takeoff process with construction estimating software, accurate measurements and values, a checklist, and up-to-date plans, you’ll be able to create spot-on takeoffs for your projects.

Was this article helpful?
5 out of 6 people found this helpful
You voted . Change your answer.