Illustration of model construction materials


A construction material takeoff is one of the unsung heroes of the industry. While few people particularly want to do a takeoff, the fate of the project — and a contractor’s profitability — relies on the estimator’s accuracy and attention to detail. 

A spot-on material takeoff can make the difference between a profitable job that’s on budget and schedule, and a job that suffers from schedule delays and shrinking profits. Let’s take a look at what a construction material takeoff is, what to include, and how you can improve your takeoff process. 

What is a construction material takeoff?

An accurate construction takeoff is an integral part of developing a construction estimate

A construction material takeoff is a document that lists all of the materials on a project and their associated costs. Compiling a construction takeoff is one of the most important steps in a project. An estimator will prepare an estimate based on the material takeoff, so it’s incredibly crucial that it be as accurate as possible.

When an estimator receives a set of plans or drawings, they need to determine which materials are necessary to actually build the project and in what quantity. They do this by “taking off” the materials from the blueprint. By carefully measuring walls, floors, pipes, electrical conduits, and other items based on these plans, they can determine with great accuracy how much of each item they’ll need.

The process doesn’t stop there. The construction takeoff also helps to establish the cost of each of the materials. By multiplying the number of materials by a unit price, the estimator can establish the overall cost for items like lumber, flooring, ceiling tiles, drywall, and other materials vital to the completion of the project.

Learn more about materials and billing in What Is a Bill of Quantities in Construction?

When the estimator takes their time and accounts for all the materials needed, they can create an accurate estimate that helps protect the contractor’s bottom line. If they do a poor job, they’ll miss materials or make mathematical errors, resulting in too much material, too little, or none at all. An inaccurate takeoff can destroy a project’s timeline and profitability.

What is included in a material takeoff?

A material takeoff includes, well, materials. The goal of a material takeoff is to include all of the materials necessary to build a project according to the blueprints. It will include the quantities and costs of things like lumber, concrete, roofing, blocks, pipes, wire, as well as fixtures and flooring. 

Because it’s so important that a takeoff be accurate, it should include all of the important construction specifications

For instance, a takeoff will not simply say “pipe” with a quantity next to it. By using the plans, the estimator will break pipes down by diameter, material, and length. They’ll do the same for lumber, breaking each board down by dimension (2×4, 2×6, etc.), length, as well as the species and grades called for by the plans. 

The estimator will repeat this process for all of the materials outlined by the plans.

  • They’ll list light fixtures, outlets, air handlers, windows, doors, and other similar items by the unit.
  • They’ll measure and list items like flooring, drywall, sheathing, and roofing by area or square footage.
  • Bulk materials like concrete, sand, and gravel fall under volume or cubic yardage.
  • Lumber, conduit, wire, ductwork, and pipe are a unit of linear footage.
  • Each item will include extra units to account for wastage.

Once the estimator establishes the types of materials and the quantities of each, they’ll include the cost in the takeoff. By multiplying the unit of measurement used for each material with an accurate and up-to-date price, they’ll establish the cost for that particular material. Adding all of these costs will allow them to create an accurate construction takeoff for estimating purposes.

The material takeoff is only for materials, so it’s just one tool in the estimation process. It won’t include mobilization costs, labor, insurance, or other overhead costs attributed to the project. The estimator should take those values into account when submitting an estimate, but they won’t find them in the takeoff. 

Tips for creating accurate construction takeoffs

We’ve already established how important an accurate takeoff is to a successful project. Here are a few tips for creating better, more accurate construction takeoffs.

1. Measure twice, do takeoffs once.

The more detailed and accurate you can be in the process of creating a takeoff, the better the end result will be. Taking exact measurements and adding in a set percentage for wastage will create a consistent cost-scale that you can be confident in.

You should also be as precise as possible with your materials’ costs. Underestimating a material’s cost, if only by $.05 a unit, can add up to a costly mistake. Get the most up-to-date prices that you can for creating your takeoff.

2. Make sure you’re working from the latest drawings with the most up-to-date specs.

It might go without saying, but working off old plans while performing a takeoff can have a catastrophic effect on your estimate. 

Changes in the footprint, layout, or material specifications in the project can change drastically from revision to revision. Creating a takeoff based on outdated plans is a recipe for an inaccurate estimate.

3. Create a checklist.

The materials takeoff process can be long, taxing, and even convoluted. It’s easy to make a mistake that you’ll have to pay for later if you don’t have a roadmap to follow.

Creating a checklist will keep you on the right track. Be sure to include each material type and check each space as you go. How you label and organize your checklist will be up to you, but creating one will ensure you don’t miss a step.

4. Use construction estimating software.

One of the most significant issues that occurs during the takeoff process is the introduction of human error. A miscalculation in material type, quantity, or size can be difficult to pick up right away, making it very hard to right the ship once the mistake is evident. 

Construction estimating software can help alleviate some of those human errors. The software can take care of everything from quantities to cost calculations. By linking to a cost database, the software can create an accurate takeoff free from mistakes, missed materials, and miscalculations.

The transition to construction estimating software is even easier if the owner provides digital prints and plans. You can upload those plans into the software and allow it to do its work automatically while you simply make adjustments for wastage and pricing when necessary. 

Software for creating construction material takeoffs

Whether you’re a small, one-person show or a large company taking on large projects, you should consider integrating construction estimating software into your material takeoff and estimate process.

There are lots of software programs and apps available to help you with every stage of the construction process, including takeoffs. Some examples include:

  • PlanSwift: A Windows-based program that integrates with Excel
  • Knowify: A GPS-enabled, cloud-based program optimized for tablets to allow job-site integration
  • Clear Estimates: A cloud-based program aimed at small to mid-sized builders and home remodelers
  • Jonas Premier: A cloud-based program ideal for general contractors and project managers

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.

They can also keep track of important documents like change orders and approvals, track project budgets, and organize accounts payable and receivables.

The material takeoff can make or break your 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 using the latest plans, you’ll be able to create spot-on takeoffs for your projects.