It’s been said that estimating is more of an “art” than a “science,” and I tend to agree. The “science” side of estimating is the quantity takeoff—counting the number of doors on the plan, measuring the linear footage of baseboard or the area of hardwood floor, or calculating the volume of concrete in the footings. The “art” side takes more thought and requires the person putting the estimate together to consider all the factors that will affect productivity, which will ultimately affect the cost of the work. I can quickly teach anyone how to do a quantity takeoff—I’ve even had my 12-year-old daughter help me with counting doors or light fixtures, and she has done a great job. The “art” part, though, takes more time to learn and usually comes only with experience. The goal of this article is to shorten the learning curve on the “art” side by highlighting some of the things you need to consider when you’re putting a price together.

Let’s say you have two clients, both of whom want you to build a 12-foot-by-40-foot addition on the back of an existing house, with an extension of the basement below the addition. The first house sits in the middle of a flat, 2-acre piece of property, with at least 50 feet of clear space on each side, 100 feet behind the house, and easy access...

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