Electrical Business

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Materials, labour and associated risks – Estimating 101, October 2022

In electrical construction, labour and labour factoring are generally the greatest risks.

November 1, 2022  By Dan Beresford and John F. Wiesel

November 1, 2022 – Accurate bids begin with accurate estimating practices. One of the most crucial strategies is to identify your risks, which are proportional to the material and labour required. Accurate estimating, then, is built upon an understanding of what is involved in the material take-off and how it directly affects labour.

When material costs outweigh the labour costs, the risk is diminished proportionally as a ratio between the two. For example, when the cost of materials is 80% and the labour is less than 20% of the total project cost, there is much less risk.

In electrical construction, labour and labour factoring are generally the greatest risks.

First, an accurate material take-off is required. The base labour unit output will be accurate when the material is accounted for properly, since the labour units are applied to the material content.


When bidding a job where 80% of the labour is in conduit and wiring, understanding the factors that affect that labour is crucial to submitting an accurate bid and making a profit at the end.

The labour in an estimate must account for things like: unloading equipment and materials; moving materials to the jobsite; unpacking, assembling, installing, and clean-up; non-productive labour; and supervision.

An estimator must also account for other associated risks, which may include:

• Quality of the personnel; crew size
• Quality of design
• Quantity of materials (e.g. one item versus 500)
• Building/ceiling heights; confined spaces
• Location of site and its condition
• Jobsite scheduling; shift-work, overtime hours
• Weather conditions
• Site or client-specific requirements (e.g. safety, training, QA/QC)

A lot of these factors do not show up on prints or in the specs, but the estimator must investigate them to see whether they affect the project. This is the difference between an experienced estimator and a take-off person: a good estimator will weigh the risks involving material, labour and jobsite conditions to obtain an accurate estimate that will make for a profitable outcome.

John F. Wiesel is the president of Suderman Estimating Systems Inc., and has been estimating and teaching estimating since the early 1980s. Dan Beresford served as an electrician in the Canadian Navy, then worked in various roles in the electrical sector before joining Suderman.

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