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Rates and percentages. The next step is to select the Labor tab from the Lists section of the Main Menu to set labor rates. The program already has several Labor Items, such as "lead carpenter," "carpenter," and "laborer," but you can change or delete these labels and add new ones of your own. (An Equipment tab allows you do the same for excavating equipment, staging rentals, and so on.) You can assign a wage rate to each labor category, which the program uses to calculate base labor costs. Another tabbed window accepts percentages for labor burden, as well as for overhead and profit. These amounts will be added to base costs to calculate the total price of the estimate. Quantity takeoff. The Estimate menu allows you to choose from a list of existing estimates to work on or change. If you want to start a new estimate, accepting the estimate number assigned by the program or supplying a number of your own automatically moves you to the Estimate Header tab, which is where you enter general estimate information. The name, address, and phone number of your client, as well as the date and any notes about the job entered here will all appear at the beginning of the estimate and on any printouts. Most of your work will take place in the three-part screen behind the Estimate Entry tab, which is laid out in a way that makes pointing and clicking quick and efficient. LiteningQuick enables you to enter takeoff quantities following the natural order of construction. To build an estimate, you "drill down" through the hierarchy of Class Codes to find Cost Codes - the individual items, such as footing steel, framing lumber, and framing labor, that make up your takeoff. Double-clicking on an item in the Add A Cost Line screen opens a box into which you can enter quantities for the five cost codes categories: materials, labor, equipment, subs, and miscellaneous (Figure 2). Individual items, or Cost Codes, are added to the estimate on the Add A Cost Line screen. Quantities affect any one or more of the five categories associated with the item: materials, labor, equipment, subs, and miscellaneous. If a class or cost code isn't listed, you can click on the Add A Class Code or Add A Cost Code buttons to add them "on the fly." There is one caveat: LiteningQuick does not come with a complete database. You will have to enter most cost items from scratch. Of course, after you have completed a couple of estimates, most of the common construction items you use will be stored in the database, and the estimating process will be much faster. Export to QuickBooks. While estimating, you can select Review Estimate at any time to view and edit every item in the bid. Once everything is just the way you want it, the Estimate Reports tab opens a booklet of nested tabs that offer the choice of sending reports to the screen or printer, or to a file. You can print an estimate that shows all item detail or that summarizes totals by class only; similarly, you can include or exclude overhead and profit figures. Finally, you can send the estimate to QuickBooks (Figure 3). Before exporting a LiteningQuick estimate to QuickBooks, make sure the categories in both programs match. Once an estimate is transferred, the data can be used for job-cost accounting. Before doing so, however, you need to go to the QuickBooks set-up menu to match the accounts in QuickBooks to the categories in LiteningQuick. Once the categories are in synch, the transfer works smoothly, and the estimate data can be used in QuickBooks to do job-cost accounting. On-screen help. LiteningQuick does what you expect it to do without requiring much effort on the part of the user. And if you run into something confusing, there is usually an explanation in the handy pink help bar. (Presumably, pink makes the bar easier to see. But I'm color-blind, and I had no trouble finding and using it.) If you need more detailed help, you can activate the Help Wizard, a large window that pops up over your work screen. The down side is that the Help Wizard soon becomes a nuisance because it pops up even when you don't need help. Fortunately, you can turn the Wizard off again once you are familiar with the software. LiteningQuick is an inexpensive off-the-shelf program that's simple to learn and use. Better yet, it links to QuickBooks, another inexpensive off-the-shelf program that's simple to learn and use. That makes it a hit in my book. Craig Savage, a longtime computer user, owns Savage Construction in Carpinteria, Calif. He publishes the Macintosh Construction Forum and Window on Construction newsletters.