LeBlanc Building Company is a premier commercial/residential specialty framing contractor based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Established in 1983, they serve the Phoenix metropolitan area. Our projects include “anything with wood” according to Mark Des Groseilliers, their chief estimator. Projects run all the way from simple garages to 100,000 square foot hotels with a typical project being around 10,000 square feet. They get projects from past relationships, The Blue Book and from the efforts of their sales representatives. Most projects are competitive bid. We recently spoke with Mark about using eTakeoff.
Like many in the business, Mark started out as a framer, eventually running his own company for six years. He has both residential and commercial GC licenses but has been focused on estimating for the past twelve years. Mark is one of two full time estimators at LeBlanc with two additional employees estimating during heavy demand.
Up until this year, they were estimating from paper plans using a measuring wheel. Then last spring, Mark started a discussion topic on the Linked-In Professional Estimators Group asking for recommendations for estimating takeoff software. The topic generated almost 150 posts. Through one post, Mark connected with Chad Langhans of Caddy Shack Productions. One of Chad’s Excel/eTakeoff-based estimating solutions is for framing. It combines an Excel spreadsheet with eTakeoff Extensions and Quantity Worksheet templates. After reviewing all the recommendations, Mark decided to go with Chad’s solution. “Nothing comes close” he posted.
By using Chad’s solution, Mark was able to get up and going right away, using the Premier version of eTakeoff. Even though he’s only used eTakeoff for four or five months, he already qualifies as a “power user”. He said eTakeoff has definitely increased their productivity but what impresses him most is the accuracy. Because quantities are automatically transferred from measurements to the quantity worksheet and then to Excel, there’s no chance of transposition or calculator errors. Mark said they get 70% of their plans from planrooms and 30% from CDs. They scan the occasional paper plan sets.
Mark has three different monitors: 27”, 24” and 19”. He uses the largest monitor for the eTakeoff Main Window where he does takeoff. He floats the Control Panel on the 24” monitor along with the Quantity Worksheet and/or an Extra Drawing Window. In the Control Panel he displays the Layer List and the Quantity List. Chad’s extensions can be quite complex so Mark needs lots of room for the Quantity List. He used to keep Chad’s user manual displayed on the small monitor, but he says that over time he needs it less and less.
When estimating, Mark searches drawings for work to be performed. He selects the appropriate Quantity Worksheet item from the Assignment Toolbar and starts to measure. The worksheet item sets the Trace and Extension for the measurement automatically. After completing the measurement, he enters the Extension information in the Control Panel. (The screen shot left shows a ‘Wood Wall’ extension that allows quantifying of any wood wall configuration with one measuring tool.)
When takeoff is complete, Mark makes a copy of Chad’s Excel template for the current project. Cells in the spreadsheet are linked to Quantity Worksheet items using Bid Codes. So he doesn’t have to manually move quantities from the worksheet to Excel. He just selects the eTakeoff project in Excel and all data is transferred automatically.
When measuring, he makes frequent use of Disconnected Points and Arc Creation. He uses lots of shortcut keys. He uses Annotations to highlight and to check off completed items in schedules. He uses the Measurement List to audit his work. He sorts the list by the assignment count (the number or worksheet items each measurement is assigned to). Possible errors appear at the start of the list (unassigned) and at the bottom (more than one assignment).
During our interview, we discussed a number of eTakeoff features he’s not using currently but might be useful. Mark is just reaching the point where his project list is getting unwieldy. We showed him how to use the Project List to hide completed projects. We also showed him how to use the Quantity Worksheet in Audit Mode. In this mode, you can move the focus from item to item and the drawing window displays only the measurements assigned to that item and its sub-items. We pointed out the new Dimension Annotation. Mark said that would be great to get the size of windows and other openings.
Another possibility is to use Issue Management instead of or in addition to creating annotations for issues. With just annotations, you have to review each drawing to spot the annotations. With issues, you can bring up a list of issues then drill down to the drawings, measurements and annotations associated with the issue.
We explained two ways Mark might use Drawing Comparison. The obvious one is to overlay revised drawings and transfer measurements from the old drawing to the new. The less obvious use is for multi-story buildings. In structures like hotels, parts of multiple floors may have the same layout. Once the takeoff is completed for one floor, another floor can be overlaid and measurements can be copied.
You wouldn’t think that Pattern Search would be useful in framing takeoff. But Chad is working on a framing hardware solution. On many drawings, symbols or letter codes are used to mark hardware. Pattern Search could be used to find these marks.
Mark didn’t have any enhancement requests except to improve performance when working with complex Extensions and Quantity Worksheet structures. Chad has lots of ideas. One of these is the ability to add web links to Extensions and Quantity Worksheet items. Chad would set up links to his user manual. When the user requests help, the corresponding web page would be displayed.
You can find out more about Chad’s estimating solutions for lumber, concrete and more at Caddy Shack Productions. Even if you don’t estimate those trades, his solutions demonstrate just how much eTakeoff can do.