Material Takeoff Basics: Finding the Right Measurement

Remember the old adage?  Junk in, Junk out.  As true as it was decades ago, its still true today, even in the modern age of digital advancements and AI.  And perhaps even more so. 

Nobody wants junk.  And certainly nobody in your industry wants a junk estimate.   If you want to avoid the takeoff junk pile, one of the key factors is getting the right measurement.

In a takeoff, right measurements are what drive the accuracy of your product and labor quantities. And if your measurements are wrong, your material and labor estimates will be off, which, at the end of the day, translates into problems with dollars.  And NOBODY likes problems with dollars.  But as simple as we would like to think that it is,  when it comes to getting the “right measurement” in estimating, there is more involved than just pulling out your tape measure and finding the nearest 1/16” of an inch.  Whether you are gathering your measurements in the field, on a hard copy set of blueprints with a scale ruler or roller, or you are using a digital takeoff solution, there are at least 3 factors that will influence whether or not you have arrived at the correct measurement:

1. The Right Approach
2. Level of Precision
3. All and Only

  1. The Right Approach

A funny thing about the building industry: nearly everyone calculates the amount of floor adhesive the wrong way.   Ok, yeah, that was quite the statement, but hear my point for a moment.  Most everyone I talk to sends a quantity of tubes based on the number of sheets of floor decking that are needed for the floor.  But think about it – when the glue gun is out in the field pushing out that gluey stickiness from the end of the adhesive tube, what does it actually get squeezed out onto?  Nobody puts it on the decking.  Instead they are applying it to the floor Joists, blocking, and rim that the decking is going to cover.  Which means if there are more joists, blocking or rim than is typical (think 12” o.c. or lots of blocking requirements) then you are going to use more glue than normal.  Or if there is less of these components than typical (think 24” o.c.) then you are going to send too much.  The reality is – adhesive amounts should be driven off of the LF of joists, blocking, and rim.  The other way is just…um…wrong.

Now for most people, the whole floor adhesive thing ends up not being much of a problem cause it ends up being “close enough”, but it illustrates an important point as you consider other elements of your takeoff:  Regardless of how precise your measuring is, if you get your measurement from the wrong place, it may be “precise”, but it will still be “precisely wrong.”   And unlike floor adhesive, other parts of your takeoff may not be so forgiving.  Use the right approach for getting your measurements.

  1. Level of Precision

So, just how picky do you need to be in order to avoid a “junk” measurement for your estimate?  The nearest inch?  The nearest 1/16”?  Nearest foot?  The reality is – it just depends.  Factors to consider are:

  • Free Spanning?  If you are laying out and measuring floor joists or structural beams that will need to span across open spaces and land on specific bearing locations, then inches and even fractions of inches can make a huge difference. And this goes for being both too short AND too long.  On the one hand, a floor joist that is 3” too short is worthless since you cannot just “splice” it to make it longer.  On the other hand, a large structural beam that is 2’ too long ends up leaving a chunk of money in the scrap pile. 
  • Just Total LF?  Measurements that are just a gathering and summing of total LF may have more flexibility in the measurements, especially if you are simply just making sure you are always just a little on the long side.  A few inches of difference in 200 LF of wall measurement is not really going to matter much.
  • Lots of Waste? Although waste is a totally separate discussion, the main takeaway in this context is, if there is a significant amount of waste being applied to a particular product, then again, this leans towards not needing to be too concerned about high levels of precision in measuring.

When it comes to precision, be aware of WHAT you are measuring and understand the process of how the measurement is used.  Adjust your precision accordingly.  In practical terms, when you measure your beams, be precise.  When gathering LF of wall – don’t fuss over the inches – just get it in the right ball park.

  1. All and Only

A final consideration as you gather your measurements relates to getting ALL the measurements that apply, but at the same time, ONLY the measurements that apply.  The tricky thing about this is that it can often be region dependent, business dependent or even project dependent.

There are numerous places this might show up in your project, but one that illustrates this well would be wall sheathing.  At face value, it might seem obvious where wall sheathing is needed: just measure all of the exterior wall surfaces, right? But the correct measurement for sheathing can change for various reasons.  For example, some regions of the country will cover the wall between the house and the garage with sheathing, while others will not.  The presence of interior shear wall panels or double-sided shear wall panels can both introduce locations of additional material that might be overlooked.  And if a project is using trusses for the roof system, at times some of the gable end trusses will come with sheathing already on them, but not always. 

Understanding your project and the local area practices will help you better to know that you are including ALL of what you need, but at the same time, ONLY what you need. In summary, take your estimates above the “junk heap” by acquiring the “right measurement”:  Use the right approach, be precise where it counts, and get all and only what you need.

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