How builders can profit from good software and management processes.

Inaccurate material takeoffs cost builders a lot of money. New software makes it easier to get the details right, but builders can’t translate that information into savings unless they collaborate with their teams to fully vet their project plans.

A few years ago, Continuum Advisory Group analyzed hundreds of plans and takeoffs from high-volume builders. “A lot of builders don’t know exactly how much of what materials goes into their homes,” says Clark Ellis, cofounder of the homebuilding consultant firm. “Virtually all were losing money from inaccurate takeoffs and waste factors.” The resulting delivery errors and field variances kept those builders from understanding their true costs. According to Ellis, it’s not unusual for these errors to add $2,000 or more per home.

The first step is good software

The first step to more-accurate takeoffs is to take advantage of innovative software tools. Building Information Modeling (BIM) software draws project information from a detailed underlying database. It uses that data to create a hyper accurate bill of materials (BOM) and automatically update the BOM when plans are revised.

These databases almost always include BIM files supplied by manufacturers that describe their products in great detail. “We have more than 400 such files,” says Blake Humpal, channel marketing manager at JELD-WEN. “By ensuring everyone has access to the most-accurate and up-to-date project information, we decrease the time and cost overruns caused by the unknown and unexpected.”

Courtesy of JELD-WEN.
Taking advantage of quality software programs allows builders to attain accurate building plans and project information.

How builders facilitated software into their businesses

Cost and time issues have led some builders to take an interim step. However, builders who have made the transition to BIM say it was worth the time and expense. Portage, Michigan–based Allen Edwin Homes, which will complete about 950 units this year, chose two programs: Vertex BD for design and Simpson’s BIM Pipeline for material management.

It also took Allen Edwin Homes two years to set up their software, model the plans, and get everything running smoothly, which required an additional employee on the project. The total cost was nearly $1 million, but the company recouped that in about two years thanks to reduced staffing needs, fewer variances, and more-precise materials estimates. “We have now earned back double what we paid for the BIM system,” says Matt Robbins, estimating manager at Allen Edwin.

Precise takeoffs have also led to lower subcontractor bids. “For example, with roofing, we can dial in the exact amount of starter and valley shingles,” Robbins says. “This makes it easier to negotiate.”

Builders have also looked into other types of software besides BIM that can streamline their plan sets. In Columbia, South Carolina, Essex Homes had their builders’ plan sets grow to a whopping 45 pages. For a company that builds 900 homes a year with a wide range of housing types and design options, the accurate takeoffs were a challenge to say the least. Essex used an options management software called LotSpec to get those plans down to an average of 10 pages. “This eliminated field mistakes caused by unwieldy documents,” says Patrick Bukszar, director of construction services. “Callbacks have been greatly reduced, and we have not had any issues with our LotSpec plans.”

However, identifying waste isn’t enough. You have to get the team together to address it.

Collaboration is key

Jacksonville, Florida, structural engineer Mike Kozlowski says that in his work with national builders he identified $1,000 in average potential material savings per house. Although that’s not as high as Ellis estimates, the savings can add up if you’re building multiple homes.

Kozlowski is a big advocate of BIM, and he finds that builders who don’t seek input from all parties make implementation harder, leaving savings on the table. “Implementing a model-based workflow without a collaborative team culture is challenging to say the least.” Seeking ideas from coworkers not only brings new methods to the table, but it ensures that everyone can feel like they can contribute to a project without worries of being judged or too outspoken.

It’s an indication that while software is important, collaboration is also key to success.

For assistance with your projects, including material takeoffs, visit JELD-WEN’s professional portal.

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