Qualifications for a Construction Estimator

Updated February 21, 2017

Construction estimators are responsible for calculating the expected price of a project. They may work for general contractors, design firms, or municipal organisations, and some may even act as private consultants for these types of businesses. The job outlook for this field is very strong. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2008 to 2009, employment for estimators is expected to grow by 19 per cent between 2006 and 2016. This is a higher growth rate than the average for other occupations. A construction estimator will need a number of skills and qualities to produce accurate estimates, and will have to rely on training and experience to succeed in this field.

Basic Construction Knowledge

To prepare an estimate, an individual must have a basic understanding of how a building is constructed. While the ability to read building plans is a good start, some experience and knowledge of the building process is critical. While blueprints and accompanying documents show materials and methods, an estimator must also understand the order in which work is completed, the amount of time each task will take, and many other bits of information that could affect the job and its price. Often, estimators must price a job based on very ambiguous drawings, combined with a site visit. The estimator will need to know what is needed to fulfil the job, and should be able to explore the site and spot potential issues or work that needs to be completed. One way to gain this type of knowledge is through other types of work in the field, such as construction administration or by working for an owner or subcontractor.

Computer Skills

Most construction estimates are prepared using computer programs. While some smaller jobs are priced using spreadsheets or work-processing programs, many larger companies rely on speciality construction applications, such as Timberline or Prolog. These construction management software programs combine estimating, invoicing, and project management tasks into one database, and an individual interested in estimating should be prepared to learn these programs thoroughly. In addition, many companies are using drawing programs, document viewers, and AutoCAD to send and share building plans. Knowing how to use these type of programs will make finding and keeping an estimating job much easier.

Knowledge of Construction Administration and Bidding

There are many more elements involved in a construction process beyond the materials and labour used to construct a building. The construction management process is integral to the project, and these costs must be included in an estimate. An estimator should understand how bidding works, and how the cost of estimating and bidding a job should be reflected in the price. Most estimates start with a section of general conditions, which cover the estimator's salary, office overhead, and the cost of reprographics. This section should also include the project manager, project engineers, superintendent, and any other management expenses that will be incurred on the project. General conditions should also include things like permits, jobsite trailers, temporary rest rooms, and other items that will be needed to support the job, but may not be reflected on building plans.

Work Conditions

A construction estimator must be comfortable working in a variety of conditions, and interacting with people from different backgrounds. While much estimating work is done in an office, an estimator can also expect to take regular trips to jobsites. Here, they may face dangerous, dirty, and unusual conditions, and will often have to climb ladders, access tight areas, or inspect a building's interior using only a flashlight. The estimator should be prepared to support and explain their work to owners and other project team members. He or she must also be able to coordinate with tradesmen and subcontractors. Above all, an estimator must be able to handle extremely tight deadlines and high levels of pressure. Most bids have very strict due dates, and the estimator will often find himself compiling numbers right up until the last minute.


Estimators come from a variety of educational backgrounds. Many have worked their way up through the industry, starting as plumbers or carpenters and learning the trades over the years. Others started as project managers or administrators and switched to estimating. Companies are increasingly looking for estimators with degrees in construction, engineering, or architecture, all of which help prepare an individual meet the demands of this work. Many colleges also offer associates degrees in construction and estimating, which may help one land a job in this field.

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About the Author

Emily Beach works in the commercial construction industry in Maryland. She received her LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008 and is in the process of working towards an Architectural Hardware Consultant certification from the Door and Hardware Institute. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and management from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.