As moderator of the estimating forum at jlconline.com, I'm often asked if cost books are a reliable way to get cost figures to use for estimating. There are many cost books available, updated yearly, by RS Means, Craftsman, BNI, Saylor's, HomeTech, and others. They obviously serve some purpose, or they wouldn't be published year after year. The question is, what's the right way to use them?

The introductions of these books often contain a little blurb along the lines of "We contact dealers, manufacturers, distributors, and contractors around the country to compile national average costs for the items listed." Because the costs are national averages, there's usually a table in the back of the book that provides multipliers...

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