Estimate the Advantages

Remodelers can take advantage of simple spreadsheet programs to drastically reduce the amount of time spent writing estimates and cut back on mistakes to increase profits.

October 18, 2000

Estimates, the most frustrating and time-consuming task for some remodelers, are unfortunately a critical part of the remodeling process. Writing estimates by hand and manually calculating all cost factors can take businesspeople up to eight hours -- if they're practiced. Several companies offer expensive, complicated estimating software packages, but these can take a long time to learn before they can become useful. For a simpler introduction into computerized estimating, look to standardized spreadsheet applications such as Microsoft Excel, Quattro Pro or Lotus.

Jay Christofferson, professor in construction management at Brigham Young University, has more than 12 years of hands-on experience in the housing industry. He says the building industry is about 10 years behind other industries in computer technology and usage. "But we're seeing them become more sophisticated," he says. "They need help keeping up with both their bookwork and current demand. Once a contractor realizes he can spend less time on bookwork and more time producing by using the computer, then he's willing to try."

The estimating needs of the average remodeler are so individualized that "canned" estimating programs are often not the best tool, Christofferson says. "If you know how to use a spreadsheet, you can set it up to do exactly what you need it to do. You can tailor it to your business system instead of changing your system to meet its requirements."

Christofferson also asserts that many remodelers aren't aware of just how much a standard spreadsheet can do. Most users use spreadsheets simply to perform calculations, but spreadsheet programs can also look up information and link related information together for increased speed and accuracy. "Now people who were spending six to eight hours on an estimate can do it in two hours," says Christofferson. Accuracy increases as well because spreadsheets can prevent missed or forgotten items as well as mathematical errors.

Christofferson offers the following advice for remodelers interested in computerized estimating:

  • Take the time to learn the program. By taking the time to read a book and experiment with a program to learn its capabilities, a remodeler can save much more time in the long run.
  • Don't be afraid. You won't hurt the computer or the software by exploring it. Often, once remodelers get started and comfortable with a program, they find it's much easier to use than originally expected.
  • Use networking for ideas. By talking with other remodelers in local organizations or at national conventions, you can see how others use the same software to solve problems.

    Contact Jay Christofferson at jay_christofferson@byu.edu.

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