PaintPRO Vol 3 No 4

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Related Readings:
Realistic Job Pricing
Pricing Information
“General" & "Special" Conditions
Billing Formulas for Cost Changes
Change Order Proposals
Tracking Job Progress
Documentation of Job Problems
Charting Work Loads
Submitting Proposals
Importance of Mil Thickness
Calculating Overhead
Pricing Structure
Structural Steel
Making a Take-off
Understanding Blueprints
Architectural Specifications
Other articles in this issue:
Choosing Quality Wallpaper
Metallic Paints
Surface Prep for Wallpaper Removal
Colored Plasters
Estimating a Paint Project
Contractor Profile: Hennig Mural Design
Paint Product News
Painting Tips
PaintPRO Archives
Estimating, etc



Contractor Business,
Project Estimating

Making a Take-off. The take-off is a process or procedure by which we arrive at quantities of the various work processes involved in a given job in order to arrive at a cost or price for that job.
By Len Hijuelos

Before getting into the subject matter for this article, I thought it might be appropriate to provide a little of my background and experience, to present my credentials, so to speak, for doing these articles. I’ve been involved in the painting industry for more than I care to think about. My father was a painting contractor, and two of my sons are in the business, making us a three generational company. I attended Tulane University and the University of Minnesota, as well as taking courses at the University of Missouri. I was on the staff of Continuing Education at the University of Missouri, and developed and taught a short course on estimating and management for about fifteen years. This course was presented all over the country, and additionally we tailored special courses for various military and industrial entities. I have been fortunate to have been able to travel extensively and to get to know many contractors and to get some insights into successful and not so successful operations. I’ve tried over the years to implement these insights into my own business and essentially, I will be trying to present some of this in these articles.

Estimating, etcThat being said, we’ll get into this issue’s article, “Making A Take-Off.” Let’s preface this by defining what a take-off is. The take-off is a process or procedure by which we arrive at quantities of the various work processes involved in a given job in order to arrive at a cost or price for that job. There are probably as many ways of doing this as there are contractors. What we are going to talk about in this article is my approach, and I will very quickly say that this approach is an adaptation of what I have seen used in many other operations.

The primary requisite of a good take-off is accuracy. If a take-off is flawed and does not accurately reflect quantities or work processes, it is useless. In the first article, I said that while estimating does not generally generate profits, it can certainly generate losses, accuracy is a major factor in that equation. If you miss many items, you have a loser before you ever start the job. Keep in mind that every square foot of paintable surface or other process generates a cost. That is so basic it seems superfluous to say it, but seems that it is sometimes very easy to lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with money, not just numbers.

Besides providing the basis for pricing a job, a well structured take-off can provide other benefits, it can be used for setting up a job, establishing man power needs, determining material requirements, dealing with change orders and extras and for cost control.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of a take-off, there is no easy way, it is a laborious and time consuming endeavor, there truly are very few short cuts. Probably the most widely used method, if you want to call it that, is pricing by square foot of floor space. Other than in dealing with tract housing or apartments, I’ve never been able to make much sense out of that. How, for example do you equate a hotel to a school or a hospital. Another way is by using factors of multiples, that is using a square foot of wall area as ONE, you multiply everything else by some factor and end up with one line item to price out. I’m sure there are a number of people who use one or the other or some variation, but I want to know as exactly and as precisely as I can, what is in the job before I price it. Basically I want to be able to price the job by the different substrates and finishes.

The safest and most accurate approach to making a take-off is by doing room by room or item by item measurement or count. Included with this article is a floor plan (Exhibit One) a Schedule of Finishes (Exhibit Two) and a take-off (Exhibit Three) based on the exhibit floor plan. From these exhibits, you can follow how I did the take-off.

Another good practice is to develop a systematic format, that is always do it the same way. Over the years, and through trial and error, I’ve developed my system, and consistently follow it regardless of size or type of job. The steps I go through are:

  1. Scan the plans to get familiar with the job.
  2. Review the specifications and make notes of sections that affect the painting.
  3. Go back to plans, start by taking off ceiling areas.
  4. Take off wall areas.
  5. Take off interior trim and millwork items.
  6. Take off exteriors.

This approach, obviously, means going through the plans several times, but by doing so, you minimize the possibility of missing something. The sample take-off (Exhibit Three) reflects this approach. Incidentally, my take-off’s are never this neat; they are done in pencil on four column columnar pads.

If you log on to the Painters Chat Room ( on the internet, you may be as surprised as I by some of the questions that are asked, I’ve noticed frequent questions being asked about how to compute square feet of surface. Following are some basic formulae that contractors use daily:

  1. Ceilings: Length, (times) Width = Area
    Example: 12' Long, 14' Wide; 12' x 14' + 168 Sq. ft.
  2. Walls: Length, (plus) Width, “doubled” (times) Height
    Example: 12' Long, 14' Wide, 8' High; 12 = 14 x 2 = 52 x 8 = 416 Sq. Ft.
  3. Running Trim (Base, Mouldings, etc.): = linear feet of wall area.
    Example: 12' Long, 14' Wide; 14 + 12 x 2 = 52 Lin. Ft.

In dealing with running trim, it is established practice in the industry that trim such as base or molding under 12" wide, are counted as one square foot per linear foot; in the above example if trim was 18" wide , the equation would then be 52 x 1.5 = 78 square feet.

One thing you might notice on the sample take-off (Exhibit Three) is that I have counted the doors as individual items rather than converting to square feet. This is a matter of personal preference, I find it easier to compute production that way, and also easier to count doors rather than square feet when checking job performance. The PDCA Estimating Guide has a good section on making such conversions.

To sum up, doing a good take-off is difficult, but the benefits certainly justify the effort and the cost. I spent about two hours doing the sample take-off, so if you were to transpose that to say a high rise hotel, this investment of time is clearly a benefit.


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