Takeoff or estimate. What’s the difference? Many people believe their the same, but actually they are two completely different animals. In the construction industry, a material takeoff and a construction cost estimate are two distinct but closely related processes. Here’s an explanation of each and what they typically include:

  1. Material Takeoff: A material takeoff, also known as a quantity takeoff or a material survey, is a detailed list that quantifies all the materials required for a construction project. It involves identifying and measuring the quantities of various materials needed for a specific scope of work. A material takeoff serves as a comprehensive inventory of materials, allowing contractors to understand the scope of the project and accurately procure the necessary materials.


A material takeoff should include the following components:

  • List of materials: It should itemize all the materials required, such as lumber, concrete, steel, roofing materials, plumbing fixtures, electrical components, etc.
  • Quantities: Each material should have its corresponding quantity, measured in appropriate units (e.g., linear feet, square feet, cubic yards, etc.).
  • Specifications: Any relevant specifications, such as material grades, sizes, finishes, or specific product models, should be included.
  • Waste factors: It’s common to account for waste or overage during construction, so an allowance for waste factors should be included in the material takeoff.


The material takeoff forms the basis for accurate material ordering, cost estimation, and project planning. By having a precise understanding of the required materials, contractors can avoid shortages, reduce waste, and ensure efficient project execution.

  1. Construction Cost Estimate: A construction cost estimate, also referred to as a bid or a quotation, is an assessment of the overall cost associated with a construction project. It involves estimating the expenses related to labor, materials, equipment, subcontractors, overheads, and profit margin. The construction cost estimate provides clients with an anticipated cost for the project, allowing them to make informed decisions about the feasibility and budgeting.


A construction cost estimate should include the following elements:

  • Material costs: This includes the costs of all the materials identified in the material takeoff, including their unit prices and quantities.
  • Labor costs: The estimate should account for the labor required to complete the project, including wages, benefits, and any additional costs related to labor.
  • Equipment costs: If any specialized equipment or machinery is necessary for the project, the estimate should include the costs associated with their rental, operation, and maintenance.
  • Subcontractor costs: If subcontractors are involved, their fees and any associated costs should be factored into the estimate.
  • Overheads: The estimate should incorporate general overhead costs, such as insurance, permits, office expenses, and utilities.
  • Profit margin: A reasonable profit margin should be included to account for the company’s profitability and risk.


Additionally, it’s important to document any assumptions or exclusions made in the construction cost estimate. This helps in managing client expectations and avoiding potential misunderstandings.

By engaging a takeoff service to assist with the workload, you can offload the time-consuming task of conducting a material takeoff. Professional takeoff services utilize specialized software and expertise to accurately quantify materials based on project plans and specifications. This allows your team to focus on other critical aspects of project management while ensuring that the takeoff is completed efficiently and accurately.

In summary, a material takeoff involves quantifying the required materials for a construction project, while a construction cost estimate assesses the overall expenses associated with the project. The takeoff should include a detailed list of materials with quantities and specifications, while the estimate should encompass material costs, labor, equipment, subcontractors, overheads, and profit margin. Hiring a takeoff service can help streamline your workload by providing precise material quantities, allowing your team to focus on other essential project tasks.

Tom is a construction estimator with over 35 years of experience in the industry from field work to general contracting.

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