Were The 1970’s The Peak For Construction?

There have been many advances in technology that make our lives easier, and we are able to so many everyday tasks faster than ever before. (I won’t go into a long list here; I know you can think of plenty on your own.)

So, why has the construction industry been slow in its productivity gains? For example, in the 1974 National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Manual of Labor Units, it would take .25 hours to install a 4” Square Box. However, according to the 2011-2012 NECA manual, it would take .3 hours to install the same item under the same conditions.

I would have thought that the labor times would have gone down, instead of up!

  • I mean… now we have cordless drills! No more plugging and unplugging and cords to get caught up on ladders. I bet it’s the dead battery slowing us down! I guess they are not as helpful as I thought they were.
  • What about laser levels, so you don’t have to measure the height of each box? You can set the level up in a room or along the wall and not have to worry about measuring all of the boxes. Nope, apparently that did not help productivity. Maybe the people that installed them before were just more efficient than the workers of today. (All that polyester they wore really brought out the efficiency in a guy!)
  • The grounding system splicing is also something that takes a little longer now than it did in 1974. With the new products on the market that make the connections, I guess this doesn’t speed up the installation. Apparently, it only makes the grounding system better.

Don’t you think that in thirty-seven years, that something might have come along to make the installation speed up instead of slow down? Is it time to rethink how we build?

All joking aside, why do you think the labor units are rising?



Pretend I’m Five Years Old… Now Explain An Estimator’s Job

I was asked to explain my job as if I were was talking to a five year old the other day. This question caught me off guard and caused me to think about what the actual roll of an estimator is in a project.

This question would be easy, if we built things like the craft labor. “I build buildings.” is what I would say, and depending on the craft I would get more specific with the kinds of materials I would use. If I was a project manager, I would say, “I tell people when to build the different parts of a building and make sure it is finished by the time the owner wants it finished.” If I was an architect, I would say, “I draw pictures of buildings so people can build them.”

I am not any of those professions though. I am an estimator. So I say, “An estimator counts, measures and colors the pictures of buildings for a living. I do that so I can tell people how much the building they want will cost to build and how long it will take to build it.”

I think that summarizes what I do so a five year old can understand it. What do you think? How would you describe your job to a five year old?

little girl

A Day In The Life Of An Estimator

It was suggested to me that I do a “day in the life” for estimators in pictures. So here we go.

7 AM – I get in to the office first, start a pot of coffee, and then read the paper and check my emails while it brews.



8AM – By now others have started showing up, so it’s time to brew another pot. I guess we need a lot of coffee to get us going on Monday mornings at Tempest.



9AM – Final check of an estimate before it heads out the door.



10AM – Calling our client to make sure he received the job, and find out if he has preliminary questions.

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11AM – Writing the report on job number two. You can see my ever present coffee mug.



12 PM – My office buddy comes to tell me that it is lunch time! This is my grey hound, Buttercup,* just one of four office dogs that come to work most days. (Two grey hounds, a Havanese, and a Bichon.)

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*My kids named her Buttercup after the Princess Bride, and I think my wife just went along with the name in order to hear me hollering “Buttercup!” out the back door every time I want the dog to come inside.


1 PM Quoting a job for a potential client. My desk is never this clean.



2 PM Discussing details of a job with a 2nd potential client.

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3 PM Off the phone finally, but it looks like I missed a call.




4PM Looking over a past job to answer questions for a client.

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5PM Chatting with one of the estimators before we all get ready to go home for the day. I would say he is shy for not wanting to be in the picture, but everybody seems to be feeling “camera shy” today. Except Buttercup!

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Check Out Our Blog Review

As you may know, Oh, by the way… is in a best construction blog contest run by Mark Buckshon of Construction Marketing Ideas. The contest is based on peer review, Buckshon’s review and popular vote. Well, Buckshon’s review just came out – and he had great things to say!

Oh By The Way – six years of estimating ideas and insights

Tempest Company‘s Oh, By the Way blog, started six years ago by Don Short, has provided invaluable tips and ideas for anyone concerned with the most important challenge in bidding fixed price jobs — getting the original estimate right.

Contractors (and subtrades) make or break their businesses based on the estimates: If they make errors or misinterpret scopes of work, they lose, either by failing to win the work they could have performed or (far more seriously), taking a bath on projects where they had underestimated costs. Good estimates also catch out flaws in the plans and documents — perhaps leaving room for change-order profits or (I think more ethically), giving the estimator the opportunity to communicate and clarify the potential problems with the design team or owner before bidding the work.

It’s a crazy, challenging part of the construction ecosystem — and I think Oh, by the way really communicates the estimator’s challenges and spirit. (Review Continued)

Oh, by the way… As I mentioned, part of the contest is based on popular vote, so we would be thrilled if you would vote for us! You can vote here.

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Six Years of Sharing Stories

As we conclude our 6th anniversary week of looking back, I would like to point out another purpose for this blog and why after six years we are still going strong. Bringing people together. We estimators tend to be a little… introverted. (And this is a broad generalization; it does not apply to all estimators!) So this blog has given people a chance to share their stories and air their feelings on subjects.

Now from a “blog analysis” stand point, we don’t get a lot of comments. But some people just don’t want to share their stories here. I get many more emails and calls where my readers call me up and “comment”, which I very much enjoy. I appreciate your calls and stories and getting to know you better, keep it up!

So I will leave you with one of our most commented on blogs from the early years. Enjoy, and comments are always welcome!

Estimating Speed Kills!

By Don Short

I am a bit old fashioned when it comes to estimating.  I think it needs to be done right.  In order to do an estimate right you have to have the correct foundation – just like a building or piece of equipment needs the right foundation.

The foundation of a good estimate is the quantity takeoff.  If the quantities are not correct then nothing else will be correct.  This means the material prices, labor hours, equipment requirements, indirect costs, and profit will be based on incorrect information.  This impact will last all the way through the end of the project.

To have an estimator speed through the quantity takeoff process defeats two main reasons for using estimators in the first place.  The estimator needs to focus on what is represented on the plans and in the specifications.  The estimators are the only persons that have to look at the plans to determine how the project will be constructed.

Article (and Comments) Continued

The Humorous Side Of Construction

This week marks the 6th Anniversary of our blog. For six years, we have set out to inform, educate and even provide humor for our readers. Here is a look back at poking fun of construction terms. (Oh, by the way… When this was first published in April 2012, it was a two-parter. I have condensed it to one for your convenience.)

Construction Terms

Every industry has some very unique vocabulary. From acronyms to words that mean one thing to the industry and another thing to the general public.  The construction industry is no different.

We have transformers that are not robots, lintels that do not make a good soup.

Also there are:

Lamb’s tongue that is not part of an animal

A bat that does not fly or hit balls.

Ha-ha walls that will not make you laugh.

Depression that have nothing to do with sadness.

Grilles that do not cook.

Erections that can last for months.

Decking – Actually belongs inside a building, not out back.

Extra Heavy – Don’t need to work out to lift this pipe.

Fresh Air – Doesn’t involve physically going outside.

Grade – Not what caused you to be grounded, but literally the ground.

Glazing – No ham needed.

Joints – Don’t have to worry about being arrested for making one of these.

Lavatory – is a sink, not a room.

Risers – Many different meanings even within the trades.

Registers – That never have any money.

Sweating – No B.O., just the smell of the flux heating up.

Vacuum – Carpet cleaning is not needed.

Wye – Why not?

With a little more thought, a whole book of terms could be written.  If I missed any good ones, I would love to hear them.



A Detailed Estimate Leads To A Successful Project

Did you know that this week marks our sixth year of blogging!? To celebrate, here is another look at a popular blog from 2009!

Contractor Project Success Is In The Details

Success for a construction company is dependent upon having an estimate that can be met by the field forces. To achieve this success requires identifying the details. It is having the right scope. This applies to the traditional design, bid, build process along with the design build process. To prepare reliable estimates on any of these types of projects, details must be used in the estimate.

There are two types of detailed estimates prepared by contractors. The first is a “bid-level” estimate for estimating and/or bidding purposes on a project.

  • This estimate contains the detail required to bid the project. It may be the board feet of lumber by size and application; the size, gauges, and overall length of metal studs, or the number and type of bolt-ups required on a piping system. The detail is enough to price out the materials, get quotations for the equipment and apply the labor hours. These bid level estimates can actually be used to procure most, but not all materials on the project. For the general construction trades it would be in the 65% to 70% range. For mechanical and electrical this would be 90%+ from the bid estimate detail.

The other detailed estimate is a “buy-out” estimate performed for purchasing the materials on the project.

  • The buy-out estimate requires substantially more time to perform than a bid-level estimate. Because of the additional time required for a buy-out estimate, this level of detail is typically not done when preparing estimates for bidding purposes. The buy out estimate will contain the lengths required for metal studs, not just the size, gauge and total footages. All of the specifics will be identified. The extra materials required for installation, such as nails and other fasteners, will be specifically identified.

The bid estimate is highly prevalent today with successful contractors. It is followed up by these same firms with a comprehensive buy out estimate when they are the successful bidder.

 In any market, and especially in down markets, success is due to the details. The successful contractors will reliably identify costs in the bid estimate. They continue to control costs with the purchasing of the materials specific for the project. Once the project is underway successful contractors continue to manage the costs with job cost control procedures and knowledgeable project management staff.

The Importance of the Project’s Scope

Scope is very important when it comes to estimating. I feel like I spend a lot of time determining what the scope of a project is. When you first receive a project to estimate, it is good to determine what the exact scope of work is that you will be responsible for. You can do this by reviewing the specifications, talking with the contractor involved, and reviewing the drawings.

Sometimes the scope can be hard to find on the drawings and in the specifications. You have to review all of the drawings not just the trade specific drawings. Let’s take electrical for example. There can be built-in cabinet lights that are shown on the architectural drawings and equipment that is shown on the mechanical drawings. These items could require more work that might be shown on the electrical drawings or they could be left off the electrical drawings altogether.

When reviewing the specifications, it is always good to see if there is a responsibility matrix. This will detail which items the contractor is to supply and install. You will want to make sure that the matrix is in line with any of the notes on the drawings. There could be major scope gaps or overlaps, and Murphy’s Law says it will be the one time you did not do the comparison!

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Vote For Us!

Oh, by the way… we have been nominated for the Best Construction Blog! This competition is put on by Mark Buckshon of Construction Marketing Ideas. Every year he compiles a list of the top construction industry blogs and pits us against each other. In addition to Mark’s review, there is a popular vote.

That is where you come in! Since many of you are loyal readers, we would love to have your vote! Just click the button below to vote!

like buttonOh by the way… In the infamous words of John Van Buren, “Vote early… and vote often.” Okay, technically voting early doesn’t do anything, and you can only vote once per email address. So I will just say, vote before March 31st and tell your friends to vote too!