Construction estimating is an important step in every construction project. In order to accurately gauge the cost of a construction project, general contractors or builders must create detailed cost estimates, schedules, and construction plans. Luckily, there are many fantastic software solutions designed for these exact purposes. This guide will cover the software products that contractors can use to make quick and accurate cost estimates for their construction projects. It begins with a look at the construction estimating and bidding process and then dives into the technology construction professionals can use to improve it. If you know the details about construction estimating, and only want to review the top products, here’s a list of our top recommended estimating software:
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Understanding Construction Estimating for GC’s & Builders
Construction estimating is part of the bid process, during which contractors and builders submit proposals, or bids, to project owners, offering to provide services or supplies for a construction project. These bids summarize the costs that the contractor expects to pay for the development of the structure or infrastructure. Typically, for large construction projects, companies and governments accept bids from many different contractors and then decide which contractor will perform the project.
The process begins with the owner, or project sponsor, creating bid documents, which are collectively referred to as a bid package. This bid package summarizes key details about the project in order to give contractors all of the information they need to make accurate estimates and produce a proposed schedule and budget for the project. The documents generally include project blueprints, location / schedule constraints, insurance requirements, and other information.
For privately owned projects, this bid package may be shared with any number of contractors, few or many, depending on the owner and his or her prior relationships with contractors / builders. For public projects, which are sponsored by local or federal government agencies, the bidding process has specific requirements. Public projects must be publicly advertised in advance and bid documents must be made available so that any qualified contractor may submit a bid before the bid date. Once a contractor or supplier downloads the bid documents, they can begin the takeoff and estimating process and begin creating their bid.
What Is Construction Estimating?
Construction estimating, also called construction cost estimating or simply estimating, is the process of identifying the approximate, yet detailed, costs associated with a construction project. For small projects, an experienced contractor can come up with a quick estimate in his or her head. For large projects that require detailed bids, the process requires much more due diligence to achieve an accurate cost estimate.
To create these estimates, the contractors and their subcontractors must determine the quantities and cost of all of the materials, equipment, and labor, for their work, which usually begins with generating a takeoff list using information found in the bid package. Takeoff (also construction take off or take-off) refers to the quantities and amount of labor required to complete a construction project. Gathering this information uses a process in which estimators use project blueprints to determine the amounts and types of each material and the labor necessary for each section of the project they are responsible for. (Quantities of each material are “taken off” of the blueprints). The takeoff list is then used to create the cost estimate and the project bid.
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Understanding Construction Estimating Software
To save time and money, contractors, builders, and anyone who frequently makes cost estimates for projects or bids on construction contracts can use technology to manage the estimating and bidding process. This portion of the guide will provide an overview of this software and how it can be used in the bidding, estimating, and takeoff processes.
What Is Construction Estimating Software?
Construction estimating software is cloud or desktop technology designed to streamline and improve the process of creating cost, material, and labor estimates for construction projects. Construction estimating software is available in many varieties, ranging from simple spreadsheet templates to online collaborative software with many features that optimize much more than the estimating process. Contractors should also consider that some software is also designed with specific subcontractor trades in mind, including capabilities that are specific to electricians or HVAC contractors, for example. Other products may be designed for general contractors or with no specific trade in mind.
Construction Estimating vs. Takeoff vs. Bidding Software
As we covered above, the bidding, estimating, and takeoff processes are all very closely related and intertwined. Recall: contractors and subcontractors use project blueprints and bid documents to perform takeoff and then use that information to create construction cost estimates. These estimates are then used to create project bids, or work proposals.
Many products that are branded as “Estimating Software” focus specifically on estimating, but it’s also common for software products to span takeoff, estimating, bidding, or any combination of the three, all within one platform. Most often, however, these products are separate tools, offered by different companies. Buyers can easily be confused because some companies advertise “Estimating Software” and some “Bidding Software” — with product descriptions that appear to address the same needs when the tools are often different.
To add clarity to what software developers usually mean when they use these terms, we’ll define the most common phrases estimating software providers use to brand themselves, and what set of features these terms usually imply. Typically, software providers will brand themselves in the following terms:
- Bidding software: typically focuses on the creation of project bids / proposals, subcontractor and project scheduling, client management, and bid analysis / reporting
- Takeoff software: actually specializes in pulling information off of digital blueprints and spec-sheets, and uses this information to ultimately generate the cost estimates
- Estimating tools: help estimators (usually contractors and subcontractors) create the line-by-line cost and quantity estimates for materials and supplies. Typically, these tools include cost summary templates, preconfigured formulas and calculations, and regional part / material cost databases. Sometimes estimating software can refer to products that cover all aspects of bidding, takeoff, and estimating.
- Bid management software: this sounds very similar to bidding software; however, it actually refers to a set of tools for contractors to manage their subcontractor bids. Sometimes these tools will let contractors generate their bid proposals (which is the purpose of bidding software), but that is not the focus of these tools.
Which type of tool fits your business needs depends on how you manage the bid process and whether certain elements of the process need specific improvement.
Online vs. Desktop Estimating Software
Estimating software companies can give customers access to their technology in one of two ways—either by (1) installing the software on computers or servers that the buyer owns, or (2) providing access to the tool online, via web browsers and mobile devices. The installed products are often referred to as on-premise. These tools are either downloaded on each computer that will use the product or installed on company servers that distribute the program to employees. Many companies these days, however, are starting to offer software that is accessible online with web browsers. These products may sometimes be called cloud or web-based.
There are many benefits to choosing an online estimating software, particularly for convenience of access. Software that is served to users online can be accessed on any device with an internet connection. Some advanced products will even allow offline access via local applications, which sync data when an internet connection is available. Unless your business has a reason to choose an on-premise estimating solution, we prefer tools that are accessible online because of the convenience they provide. Rather than needing to be at your office or on a device with a connection to your company servers, you can connect via any device with a web connection.
Online products are also more easily updated than on-premise products. In fact, online products are automatically updated for every user whenever the estimating software developer updates their product. One inconvenience of using an on-premise estimating tool is that it will usually have to be manually updated either by re-downloading or by a technical representative of the company who produced it. In most cases, it also means an additional annual fee to continue receiving updates from the provider.
Even though online estimating software provides many conveniences, users should consider both and pay more attention to the specific features that the products provide than the way they are deployed. If your business has specific security needs, an on-premise product could be right for you.
Features & Functionality
The power of an estimating software lies in the features that improve the estimating, takeoff, and bidding processes for users. Not all users need a software loaded with features, but rather just want a product that helps tackle a few specific challenges. Knowing which features will have the biggest impact for your business, and which you don’t need, can help narrow the options and likely save money on the product. This section reviews the most important features that contractors should consider when choosing between estimating software companies. Different software companies will package and design these features differently, so buyers should ask company representatives about the details when certain features are critical.
Digital Takeoff Features
Above, we detailed the different steps of the bidding process: takeoff, estimating, and bidding. Here, we cover some of the features that software can offer to improve the takeoff process for contractors and subcontractors. Often, digital takeoff capabilities are sold in separate software packages from the estimating tools because they are advanced capabilities that not everybody needs. As such, these features can also add a significant amount of cost to the software. These features all focus on improving the efficiency involved with digital takeoff:
- Counts, lengths, areas, volumes – The core technology of takeoff tools is to use digital copies of project blueprints to pull material, quantity, and part requirements in a list. If the tool offers takeoff at all, this capability will surely be included.
- Collaborative takeoff – This feature is a major benefit of cloud-based takeoff products. Cloud based tools and any that have collaborative features should allow users to share notes and even takeoff from the same set of plans simultaneously.
- RFI creation – If a contractor has questions about the plans or identifies an error an RFI is used. To generate an accurate estimate, these issues need to be resolved. Some tools allow users to generate a request for information (RFI) in the platform without breaking their workflow.
- Assemblies – If a contractor frequently builds the same assembly of parts in different projects, the ability to store these assemblies within the takeoff tool can be a huge time-saver. Without saved assemblies, users must repetitively takeoff every appearance assembly from prints part by part. Some products allow users to store assemblies for use in any plan they review in the software.
Construction Estimating Features
Once takeoff has been performed, the next step is to use that data to create cost estimates for materials, supplies, and labor for the project. The following list briefly covers the features that help contractors and subcontractors more efficiently create project estimates:
- Pre-built estimate templates – This feature is one of the staples of an estimating software. Virtually every estimating tool will have some template with which to display cost estimates. More powerful tools will come with multiple templates.
- Supplier pricing database – Some software companies provide an up-to-date database of materials and supply pricing from local distributors, which can be combined with quantity estimates to easily, or even automatically calculate costs. This feature is a huge time-saver, and is usually worth the money because of the time-savings it provides. ElectricSmarts NetPricer is an industry standard supplier pricing database that many popular estimating software companies connect with, including ConEst, ProEst, and Vision InfoSoft.
- Takeoff software integration – If your business uses takeoff software, then it’s ideal, if not critical, that your estimating solution connects directly or can easily pull data from it. If not, your employees may be stuck inputting the data manually that your takeoff solution helped to automatically generate. Often, you can buy a takeoff package from the same provider, and takeoff data can flow directly into estimates with no user effort.
- Assembly / item details – Many estimating tools will let users store specific information about common assemblies or components of the project. The information can include cost and quantity of materials as well as the associated labor costs and time. For example, a residential interior wall uses a predictable quantity of nails, wood, drywall, and other components based on the area of the wall. Having this information stored as an assembly means that each nail won’t need to be accounted for every time this assembly is referenced. Often the software will come with a number of pre-built assemblies, but this information is usually customizable for users to match their own needs.
- Multi-item update – Often, prices, materials, and suppliers can change, requiring updates across many locations within the estimate. Luckily, some estimating tools will let you quickly apply the same update to several places in the estimate documents simultaneously.
- Formulas – Most products will include a predefined list of calculations for things like area, volume, and curved distances. Many will also let the user update or add their own formulas.
Once an estimate is complete, it’s time to create the bid, or the proposal, which will at least include the cost estimates and projected schedule for completion. Putting together and submitting a bid is a different process from estimating, and thus, software companies have added features to help manage the intricacies of bidding. Here is a list of some of the most common features software makers provide to optimize the bid management process.
- Proposal generator – Typically a bidding or bid management tool will help the contractor by providing templates or automatically generating proposals based of the data and information that is input to the program. This can save a lot of time and help contractors design slick proposals without much effort.
- Subcontractor portal – A subcontractor portal provides an easy way for a contractor to share bid documents and key project information with their subcontractors and accept their bids.
- Bid comparison – When subcontractors use the subcontractor portal to submit their bids, the contractor can review their bids within the platform and compare them more effectively using various comparison tools to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each bid.
- Project calendar / scheduling – Bidding tools will usually make project scheduling much easier by providing a single location for contractors and subcontractors to schedule the individual steps that will make up the project. Scheduling with many subcontractors can be messy, if not a nightmare, so a scheduling tool and calendar can make a huge difference in scheduling efficiency.
- Contact management – Contractors who submit many bids to different owners and work with many suppliers may find a contact management system integrated within their bidding software quite handy. The contact management tools within some bidding suites are advanced enough to serve as a CRM (customer relationship management) system for a small to mid-sized contractor.
- What-if analysis – After submitting a bid, contractors are often hit with requests to change costs, materials, or other details of their bid. Bidding software often provides tools to easily update bids and track historical changes.
Aside from specific takeoff, estimating, bidding, and unique trade-specific features, wise buyers should search for tools that play nicely with their existing technologies. Many companies integrate nicely with Microsoft Excel. But if your company is tied to a project management, field service, or construction accounting software, it’s worth asking the software provider if they have integrations with any estimating or bidding tools. Some tools will also go above-and-beyond in their reporting and analysis tools. Companies who provide this type of analytic review of your estimating and bid data can add a tremendous amount of insight and help to create meaningful changes in the way you manage your business. So the reporting and analysis features of your top estimating and bidding options are worth a careful review.
Cost estimating, takeoff, and bidding are necessary in most of the specialty trades of subcontractors, such as electrical work, plumbing, and HVAC. Many software providers make solutions that are specific to the different specialties of subcontractors. These software solutions may include trade-specific cost databases and other useful features unique to each area. The following list shows what to look for in specialized estimating, takeoff, and bidding solutions if you are a contractor in one of the these areas:
Estimating Software for Electrical Contractors
Electricians must use estimating tools to gather lengths for conduits, wiring, and cables, as well as the number of switches and receptacles in order to determine the costs and to estimate labor. But electricians should also look for tools that include formulas for electricians, which calculate voltage drops, electrical loads, fault currents, and counts for conduit, boxes, and wiring. Electrical estimating tools might also include certain tools that monitor project plans to make sure they’re meeting national requirements.
We recommend the following estimating software for electrical contractors:
Heating, ventilation, and air condition (HVAC) contractors use this software to generate lists of materials for HVAC assembly and calculate costs. HVAC contractors should seek products that provide formulas that assist in calculating the heating and cooling needs of each room in the project plans.
Estimating for plumbing installation, requires contractors to know takeoff counts for fixtures and fittings, as well as the linear measurements of CPVC, drainage, and supply piping. Estimating software for plumbers should include pricing databases for plumbing parts and predefined plumbing assemblies.
Landscaping contractors must measure square footage, volumes, and linear dimensions and volume / area dimensions for sod, mulch, gravel, and other products. Three-dimension takeoff formulas or features should help contractors who frequently work on landscaping projects.
Construction Estimating Software Cost
Construction estimating software is typically a very affordable piece of technology, especially compared to enterprise software solutions. These tools save significant time compared to manual methods of calculating and totalling costs of construction. Often, the pricing model will vary between software providers, but the cost is usually dependent on three key things:
- Number of users – most companies typically charge a specified cost and multiply it by the number of users that will be sharing access to the product.
- Features included – Typically many of the features that each company offers with their products are optional. The more features included in the deployment, the higher the cost of the tool. Not all companies have multiple versions of their product, however, so this won’t always be a factor in the final cost of the software.
- Online vs. desktop deployment – On-premise products are those that are installed locally on the users desktop, or on a server owned by the business buying the software. In this case, the company is usually going to be buying a deployment of the software and paying just once for lifetime ownership. Usually, this means that the up-front cost to buy the software is much higher than with that of online products, which don’t require installation.
Not all software companies price their products the same, so ask before diving into a contract how the software is priced. However, these factors will usually provide a good proxy for the costs associated with using the tool.
How Much Does Construction Estimating Software Cost?
Construction estimating software can cost between $30 and $250 per month per estimator, depending on the software provider and the included features. Some free tools and templates do exist, but the majority of tools that provide major value come at a cost. While the monthly cost can be a few hundred dollars or less for online tools, desktop tools that require a one-time installation are much more expensive up front. This is because after installation, you own the product for life. Typically, these products start at around $600 and go up to over $5,000. However, if you would like to receive software updates from the developer, it will require additional fees.
Free Estimating Software
When it comes to finding free construction estimating software, there are two options to consider: 1) using open-source software, or 2) using the free version of a paid option.
Open-source software is a type of software in which the original developer makes the source code available for anyone to use and adapt to fit their needs. The benefits of using open-source software are that it’s free and highly flexible. The big downside to open-source software is that you will need to hire a software developer to help you implement it and provide ongoing support. For large organizations that need a highly customizable solution, this could be a good option, but most construction firms will be better off working with a vendor that provides a full-service estimating software solution. Two open-source options to consider are 2-plan Team and Wanhive.
Outside of open-source solutions, there are other free estimating options on the market in the form of free trials or free versions of otherwise paid solutions. A great option is STACK, which offers a free version of its takeoff and estimating software. To sign up for a free trial with STACK, visit their site.
Finding the Best Estimating Software for Builders & General Contractors
Construction estimating software and companies differentiate themselves on a number of factors, including their company reputation, their product’s ease of use / access, the feature set, pricing, and more. Here we’ll cover the details of each factor that buyers should consider when comparing construction estimating software.
Company Reputation and Customer Service
Most buyers must interact with their estimating software provider’s representatives at least one time over the course of their relationship—whether at purchase, for product training, or troubleshooting issues. Sometimes, even with the best companies, things require users to interact with the company many times, maybe for extensive product training or difficult product issues. In these times, you’ll be very happy you chose a company with solid customer service, which can make a hassle feel like a non-issue.
Accessibility / Deployment
When considering an estimating solution, it’s worth thinking about the installation / setup process, as well as how you’ll access the tool every time you use it. Some products require an onsite installation with a company rep, while others require nothing more than a simple online sign up. We prefer products with easy setup, but it is also a one-time hassle, so unless getting set up very quickly is important for your business, this shouldn’t carry too much weight in the decision. Ongoing product accessibility, on the other hand, is something that users should weight very heavily. We prefer products that are accessible online, or at least available for any platform—Mac or Windows. Online estimating software products have the benefit of being accessible from any device, and they usually offer stronger collaboration capabilities as well.
Product Design / User Experience
Since you’ll use the estimating tool often, if not every day, it’s important to make sure that the interface suits you. Luckily, most companies offer free trials or, at least, product demos, to prospective users. Make sure you’re comfortable with the workflow that the software uses and that the controls aren’t too outdated. Even if you’re “old-fashioned”, an outdated interface isn’t a very good sign for an estimating software company.
When a company is in the market for a new estimating solution, it’s likely that they have a few specific needs, and maybe even some particular product features in mind. First and foremost, make sure that these needs are met by the estimating software you choose. An all too common horror story is one of software buyers who choose a product only to find out it doesn’t work how they thought, or that it’s missing a key feature that causes problems for their workflow. Confirm that the tool meets your estimating needs before you lock into a contract with a new software provider.
Pricing is a sticking point for many construction professionals when they compare software. Usually, if the software does as advertised, it will save the business money by making the estimating process more accurate and efficient, even if it seems expensive. Still, software should be priced right for the business, and part of making that a reality is choosing a product that fits. Avoid “enterprise” products if your business is small, and don’t buy more licenses than necessary. Additional licenses can always be added later. We do consider the “bang for the buck” while reviewing products. Paying up for a full-featured product is worth it if the features fit your needs, but no one should overpay for a weak product.
Estimating Software for Mac & iPad Users
As discussed above, we prefer products that are cloud-based and accessible online via a web browser. At a minimum, we prefer software companies that offer their products on any platform—Mac or Windows. Unfortunately, some of the popular estimating software companies only offer a Windows version. That said, Mac and iPad users should look for software that is either cloud-based or offered in a Mac version. The following estimating products are available online or are Mac-compatible:
- ProEst (cloud-based)
- STACK (cloud-based)
- Clear Estimates (cloud-based)
- simPro (cloud-based)
- ConEst (cloud-based)
- Buildertrend (cloud-based)
The Best Construction Estimating Software
In our research, we consider the above criteria and make sure to only recommend products that are top of their class in each of these categories. Read on to see how the best estimating, takeoff, and bidding software compare in terms of functionality, pricing, customer service, and more.
STACK (Best for Estimating & Takeoff)
STACK is a product that offers both estimating and takeoff capabilities, and it is among the most popular takeoff products on the market. STACK offers a pre-built materials database, pre-built assembly libraries, cost codes, and other features to help estimators. Due to STACK offering advanced takeoff features in addition to complete estimating and bid proposal features, we rate STACK the best product for those who need both estimating and takeoff. To learn more, read the full STACK Review.
ProEst Estimating Software (Best Overall)
Founded in 1976, ProEst is one of the longest-standing companies offering construction estimating software. They’ve worked with over 8,000 different construction companies and have used that experience to craft a truly awesome product. The product is designed to be used by both subcontractors and contractors. The highly intuitive user interface is one of the smoothest to use of any product on this list. While ProEst takes advantage of spreadsheets and tables, it is by no means “excel-based” as many estimating products tend to be. Even better, the software is fully cloud-based, so it works with any laptop, tablet, or desktop computer you use, as long as you have an internet connection.
ProEst spans a full range of capabilities that help contractors throughout the bidding process. More specifically, their technology includes customer relationship management tools, cost estimating features, digital takeoff capabilities, and report / proposal templates helping contractors easily manage the bid process for many different projects and customers. ProEst also integrates with a number of different construction management tools, including project management tools, construction accounting, and more. The list of companies that they seamlessly integrate with includes Procore, Foundation Software, ComputerEase, Acumatica, Dexter + Chaney, iSqft, Premier, Viewpoint, QuickBooks, JobPower, and Jonas to name a few. ProEst has great reviews from its customers and rightfully earns a perfect A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. ProEst has one of the strongest reputations with its customers of any estimating software company we reviewed. ProEst’s pricing is variable for each user based on the projects awarded using ProEst’s system, so you only pay for what you need, and the price of the tool scales with your business. All customers get unlimited users, storage, estimates, and support. ProEst bills annually. Because ProEst is rated so strongly on every metric we reviewed, we rate them as the Best Overall Construction Estimating Software, and highly recommend them for contractors and subcontractors of any trade.
Clear Estimates (Best for Small Contractors)
Clear Estimates is an affordable, yet powerful, web-based estimating and proposal generation tool designed for residential contractors and remodelers. It was designed by experienced home remodelers, so it has a smooth user experience and workflow. It has one of the cleanest interfaces of any estimating tool, and it is accessible from any device with an internet connection.
While other estimating products span much of the project management process, Clear Estimates focuses primarily on creating and managing project estimates and proposals. And while the product is focused specifically on estimates and proposals, its feature set is complete. It also integrates with Buildertrend, a leading project management tool, and Quickbooks, the most widely used accounting software, so companies can add additional software as they need it or add Clear Estimates to a workflow that they already use.
Clear Estimates offers three versions of their product–Standard, Pro, and Franchise. All versions of the product include unlimited estimates, access to a 10,000+ line item cost database, 60+ preloaded templates, and the ability to create payable invoices. Users can store unlimited customers and prospects in the built-in customer database. Customers get unlimited support, ongoing material- and price-database updates, and never have to sign a long term contract.
The Standard version of Clear Estimates comes with everything mentioned above, and costs only $59 per month, which is a great value. If buyers purchase an annual license, they save 20% over the monthly cost of the product, paying a net $47 per month. Fortunately, Clear Estimates also offers a free 30-day trial of their product, so anyone can test out the tools before they commit any money.
Clear Estimates Pro costs $99 per month and includes everything that the Standard version offers with access to key integrations with Buildertrend and almost any CRM using Zapier. This plan also allows the ability to add new users at a rate of $9 per month. As with the Standard version, buyers save 20% when purchasing annually.
Clear Estimates Franchise is for the power users. It costs $249 per month, and it includes custom branding, custom feature development, and employee training. We recommend that companies and contractors start with the Pro or Standard version and purchase a Franchise license if they need it. Again, the 20% discount is available when purchased annually.
Clear Estimates is among the best estimating products on the market. It starts at a very reasonable cost, includes unlimited estimates, access to updated pricing data, and can be accessed readily on the jobsite from any device. For this reason, we recommend Clear Estimates and rank it the Best Estimating Software for Small Contractors.
Sage Estimating (Best for Large Enterprises)
Sage Estimating, formerly a part of the Sage Timberline suite, is an estimating tool designed for construction contractors and businesses of all sizes. Its core function is to help its users build accurate bids and project estimates using data from their takeoff and BIM files, but it does much more than that.
Even the most limited version of Sage Estimating can do basic takeoff, sync with a price database, and generate detailed estimates and customized reports. The more advanced versions of the tool include the RSMeans cost database, build estimates from 3D BIM models, and generate Bill of Material reports.
Sage Estimating integrates with a number of tools, which could make it a great solution for companies who are already using a compatible product. For instance, eTakeoff and PlanSwift are two of the most popular products in digital takeoff and both integrate with Sage Estimating. It also integrates with 3D modeling software by Autodesk to massively improve the takeoff process. By mapping the 3D models to the 2D project plans easily using Sage, estimators can create detailed estimates incredibly quickly.
The look and feel of the software is very similar to that of Microsoft Excel. The interface is a bit less intuitive than some other products on this list, but that is in part because the software is so flexible and full of features. One of the reasons Sage has that Microsoft Excel feel is because it only runs on Windows operating systems. It must be installed on a primary company server and accessed through company workstations that have the client software installed.
Because of this infrastructure requirement, we believe that Sage Estimating is best suited for larger companies, though it can also be suitable for small companies with a large budget, complex requirements, or plans to grow.
Because Sage Estimating is so modular and can be mixed and matched to meet each company’s needs, pricing isn’t one-size fits all. The total price will depend on the number of modules and features a company purchases, how many users or workstations need to access the tool, and whether or not training and support are needed.
Sage Estimating has been on the market for a long time (originally marketed as Sage Timberline Estimating), is flush with features, and is highly customizable. We recommend Sage as the Best Estimating Software for Large Enterprises.
Sigma Estimates (Best for Windows)
Sigma Estimates is a powerful estimating tool built for subcontractors or general contractors who estimate construction projects using Microsoft Excel. The interface has the look and feel of Excel and should be easy to use for anyone with experience in Excel. Its long list of features and integrations make it a good fit for most general contractors, subcontractors, architects, and engineers.
Sigma Estimates is a Windows-based product, so it requires installation on a Windows operating system. The software also plays nicely with other Windows products and integrates with several other Windows-based construction tools.
Sigma doesn’t include built-in takeoff capabilities, but it integrates seamlessly with PlanSwift using real-time Live Link technology. PlanSwift is one of the most popular takeoff products on the market, and the tight integration means users don’t have to transfer files between platforms, and all data is shared between the two programs.
The software also integrates with Autodesk’s Revit and BIM 360, so users can begin estimating straight from the 3D models they’ve built in Autodesk without having to download and transfer files between programs. It also includes access to the RSMeans database to help contractors and estimators keep on top of constantly changing prices of labor and materials. Sigma even has an Open API, so developers can build their own integrations and connect their existing apps and workflows into Sigma Estimates.
Sigma has three different editions of their product designed for the different types of users—Personal, Professional, and Enterprise. The Personal edition comes with the base estimating features and formulas built in. The Professional plan improves on the baseline product by including additional customization and reporting capabilities. The Enterprise version of the software includes everything that Sigma offers, including a greater level of estimate automation and the ability to integrate with Autodesk products.
Sigma is quite affordable for the fully featured takeoff software it is, and they offer discounts to users who sign extended contracts at sign up. For example, users who sign up and pay for an 18-month license save 20% compared to users who pay monthly. The Personal edition starts around $50 per user per month, and the Enterprise version costs about $150 per user per month, depending on the term length.
Contractors, architects, and other estimators can get a free two-week trial of Sigma Estimates for free by signing up for the trial on Sigma’s website. Additionally, many universities have existing relationships with Sigma that gives them access to Sigma for free.
With such a strong product and an affordable price, we highly recommend Sigma Estimates as one of the top construction estimating software on the market. We rate it as the Best Estimating Software for Windows.
simPRO Estimating Software (Runner-up)
simPRO offers a diverse set of features for trade service, maintenance and project contractors of any size. Whether for small residential contracting or large scale commercial development, simPRO’s online technology can scale to fit your organization. The Australia-based company was founded in 2002, and has a good reputation with its customers. A search of simPRO’s reviews reveals mostly satisfied customers and top ratings from users of all business sizes and trades. simPRO’s product is sold on a per-office license basis, with the base version of their product starting at $69 AUD (~$48 USD) per month. However, to have the estimating features of simPRO included in your package, the minimum cost is $129 AUD per month, but it includes all of simPRO’s features. simPRO also offers a full-featured and fully customizable version of their software for $249 AUD per month. Adding field user licenses runs an additional $29 – $39 AUD each, and there are also additional setup costs for training and “initial investment”, which will vary for each company.
simPRO is an online tool that boasts a modern interface and a wide range of construction management features, including project management, field service management, accounting, scheduling and more. They design tailored solutions for plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and other specialties. Their collection of estimating features are also top-notch. Their estimating suite comes with a custom quote designer, which automatically fills in data from your database and allows for quick editing of quotes.
SimPRO also allows contractors to keep a detailed database of their costs, which stores cost, sale price, and markup, allowing for extremely detailed estimating for each project. The platform includes supplier cost databases and allows the import of any material and supplier cost database that contractors work with. Another great feature is the ability to save common assemblies, which can easily be reused in future projects. simPRO unfortunately does not include takeoff features, but it does include integration for Groundplan takeoff software. simPRO offers free scheduled demos of their technology and offers a number of helpful videos for anyone looking to learn more about their construction estimating solutions. simPro’s estimating technology is very strong, and they were a close contender for Best Overall on this list. We rated them as a runner-up in our list of the best construction estimating software.
ConEst Estimating Software (Best Overall for Electrical Contractors)
ConEst is far-and-away the most popular estimating software company who makes tools designed specifically for electrical contractors. Founded in 1989, they are also one of the most experienced estimating software companies in the market. The company is a 10 out of 10 when it comes to customer service and sports a solid reputation with their customers, which is why the Better Business Bureau gives them an A+ rating.
ConEst’s product offering spans the entire range of electrical contractor needs, including electrical takeoff, estimating, bidding, and even project management. The company offers a number of different products: SureCount for takeoff, IntelliBid and DesignBuild for estimating and bidding, and ConEst Electrical Formulas to extend their estimating capabilities of IntelliBid.
ConEst’s takeoff solution, SureCount has many capabilities, including auto-counting of symbols and drawing comparisons. Any takeoffs done within SureCount are also automatically passed to IntelliBid, so users never have to re-enter data.
IntelliBid includes many features to improve the estimating and bidding processes, including a massive database of over 500,000 parts and pre-built assemblies, calculators / formulas, and easy estimate export. Design Build, an extension for IntelliBid helps electrical contractors by adding electrical formulas to calculate lighting requirements, load limits, and voltage drops. What’s more, they also offer templates for bid proposals and document management tools for managing multiple bids. This video is a bit dated, but highlights the range of features within IntelliBid:
ConEst’s pricing depends on the number of users of the software. They also charge startup costs for installation and training. They don’t offer a free trial but prospective buyers can schedule product demos with ConEst representatives. Billing is on an annual basis.
ConEst’s software engineers are constantly making improvements to the software, which shows in their slick interface, and depth of features. While ConEst does offer an online version of its product, the company also offers an installed version of the software for customers on Windows machines. Customers have a choice of a client-server or desktop-only installation of the product. However, ConEst recommends a database server be installed for centralized storage of data. This, of course, should depend on the number of users needing to share information and how the organization manages its data pipeline.
ConEst is a strong product with some excellent tools for electrical contractors, which is why we rated it as the Best Construction Estimating Software for Electrical Contractors.
Buildertrend Estimating Software (Most Popular Estimating & Bidding Software)
Buildertrend was founded in 2007, but is already one of the most popular construction management platforms on the market with over 700K users. Their software is designed for homebuilders, remodelers, commercial developers, and specialty contractors of any size. One of the reasons for Buildertrend’s enormous popularity is their outstanding customer service. The Better Business Bureau rates them an A+, and reviews from around the web show a high level of customer satisfaction with their software.
Buildertrend’s product starts at $99 per month with additional charges depending on the type and number of jobs started on a monthly or annual basis. So the price is proportional to the amount of business you run through the software, which keeps the cost of the product reasonable no matter how large or small the business is.
Their impressive suite of products covers bidding, estimating, project management, field service, and more. While this review focuses only on their estimating and bidding components, buyers should take note of the extensive collection of features that Buildertrend offers because they may also be a good fit for other construction management needs. In fact, we recommend that if you choose Buildertrend as your estimating option, that you also take advantage of the project management, accounting, and field service tools as well, since it all comes as one awesome package.
Buildertrend is a cloud-based solution, so it is accessible from any device with a web browser. Their online interface is very clean and easy to use. It has a modern design with intuitive controls, and we rank it among the best of the estimating software we reviewed.
Buildertrend’s collection of bidding and estimating features is very compelling. Within the platform users can build estimates, generate professional proposals, and request and send digital signatures. Buildertrend also regularly releases new updates and features to their platform.
The one downside we find with Buildertrend as an estimating solution is that their platform does not include takeoff technology. However, Buildertrend does integrate with the popular takeoff solutions Clear Estimates, eTakeoff, and Square Takeoff. So users can seamlessly share data between one of these popular takeoff / estimating tools and Buildertrend.
Buildertrend also makes it easy to try their product with no commitment. They offer free product demos that you can schedule with a live representative, and they also have a 30-day money back guarantee for new customers testing out the product. Furthermore, their license is month-to-month, so users can cancel anytime if the software isn’t working out. Buildertrend’s product is compelling, and it shows because they are The Most Popular Construction Estimating and Bidding Software.
SmartBid Software (Best Bid Management Software for General Contractors)
SmartBid is one of the most popular online contractor bid management tools on the market. They were founded in 2006 and acquired by ConstructConnect in 2018. Their focus is helping general contractors maintain their subcontractor database and manage subcontractor bid submissions for upcoming projects. Reviews and testimonials around the web emphasize SmartBid’s ease of use. The company gets an A- with the Better Business Bureau, which isn’t perfect, but still suggests a strong dedication to customer service.
SmartBid does not cover the takeoff or estimating process, but rather is a robust bid management tools designed specifically for general contractors. Some of their many features include the abilities to send bid requests to subcontractors, maintain a database of subcontractors, share project documents, compare subcontractor bids, and track subcontractor compliance. Their platform includes a portal through which subcontractors can login to view important documents and share information with the general contractor. The price of the tool depends specifically on the number of users and not the number of subcontractors who are granted access. SmartBid charges annually for licenses of their tool. They integrate with STACK for takeoff and estimating. For companies who already use a different takeoff or estimating tool but want to take advantage of SmartBid’s bid management features, they have a team of engineers who can help integrate your estimating and takeoff dataflow into SmartBid. SmartBid also integrates with other popular tools used by general contractors, including Procore for project management, AutoDesk BIM 360, Dropbox and Citrix ShareFile for online file storage, and Smart Insight for finding contractors and suppliers, to name a few. If you’re interested in using SmartBid, we recommend checking out their complete list of integration partners. SmartBid is certainly a worthwhile investment for contractors in need of subcontractor and bid management. We rated them as the Best Construction Bid Management Software for General Contractors.