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Microsoft Excel for construction: Plug-ins add estimating power


In Part 3 of this series, we discuss what is possible using Microsoft Excel plug-ins. (In Parts 1 and 2, we considered the pros and cons of using Excel for construction estimating.)

Taking Excel off the shelf and writing formulas that will add, divide, and multiply is the way many a builder started using the program for construction estimating. There may come a time, though, when a builder will have reached the upper limits of time available to maintain his own construction estimating template and database using Excel.

At that point there are a number of pre-programmed templates available that allow the user to get up and running quickly with more functionality then they may have been able to program themselves.

Tom Osfar, owner of Nottinghome Builders in Dayton, Minn., came to buy an Excel-based estimating solution from UDA Technologies because of the extended level of detail it offered within an Excel-familiar interface. After using his own in-house-designed templates for a number of years he started using UDA’s product in the mid-90s.

"I had tried some other software," he says naming a few packages, "but it was really pretty difficult." Osfar says the programs seemed to confine him to one narrow view related to the item he was working on, only to provide too much detail when he returned to the broad view.

On the other hand, UDA's software was easy to work with, Osfar said. "I was able to basically zoom in or out to the level that I wanted. I also liked the power. I liked the fact that I could change anything and do things like take the sheet I was working with and cut out or add anything that I wanted to."

Plugging in the right Excel plug-in

There are a few types of Microsoft Excel plug-ins suitable for construction estimating.

Some come with pre-installed templates for creating the cost estimates that are handed to potential clients. The templates in Bob's Basic System, for example, let contractors enter quantities for materials and labor into pre-set fields; all calculations are automatic, the vendor notes. ConstructionSoft's Estimator PRO fits into this category.

Other plug-ins provide Excel construction estimating templates that are geared to specific requirements. C.A. Services' Excel Construction Estimating Template, for example, features templates that calculate areas needed for estimates for concrete, painting, roofing and plumbing projects, among others. Comprotex Software's CDB Estimates falls into this category, too.

Certain products provide more than templates. CPR Software, for example, includes databases with costs pertinent to painters, floor installers, roofers and other contractors. In addition, the firm's RemodelCOST offers an on-screen takeoff calculator.

Finally, some solutions make it possible for contractors to export their Excel-based estimates into other construction software programs. Estimator PRO, for example, integrates with QuickBooks Pro.

Some Excel plug-ins for construction estimating

All in all, when comparing various packages trying them out is important in order to get the feel of how the various templates work.

"Everybody estimates a little differently so people should try out a few of the offerings," says’s Christofferson. He thinks trying out the actual product, not just a demo version, is the best way to go. He also advises using an actual set of plans with the product to get the best feel for how well a pre-designed Microsoft Excel template will work for them.

About the Author: Duane Craig learned journalism courtesy of the US Department of Defense and subsequently edited a weekly newspaper. He has owned and operated a landscaping company, built custom homes as a managing superintendent and managed a multi-million dollar apartment renovation project. He describes building as a fascinating activity and these days he especially likes writing about it. You can read construction news, views and commentary at Duane's blog, Construction Informer.

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