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Material take-offs

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I have a new client who wants me to do complete material take-offs for residential projects, and I mean complete, right down to rolls of tape, pounds of gyproc screws and so on. I am looking into using either VW's worksheets or purchasing estimating software. The estimating software actually uses the plans in PDF or TIFF formats and is very easy to use. It is also a bit expensive.

So, I'm wondering, who of you out there actually uses VW's to do detailed take-offs? It looks to me like it would be a ton of work creating the worksheets and organizing the layers and classes. There also seems to be a lot of potential for errors. The data then needs to be output in the format of a typical and well organized material list (which is automated in estimating software).

I'd like to hear the pro's and con's.

VW's 2009 Designer with Renderworks

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My process of choice for the last 15+ years has been VW worksheets for the area, lengths, quantities, et al.. Exported to Filemaker which handles all the estimating & take-offs via various construction material modules per the CSI > MEANS Cost database.

This system worked exceptionally well for thousands of assessments involving most of the largest Insurance Underwriters in the aftermath of numerous hurricanes.

We were able to generate the damage estimates... adjustment documentation... and contractual plans for reconstruction.

We tried VW as a stand alone worksheet based estimator .. and it really sucked .. but linked to the power of Filemaker's Relational Database ... it rocks.

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Islandmon, I am still looking into VW's worksheets as a stand alone estimator and I've run into a snag. I have created foundation footings and walls, no problems so far, but when I created the floor slab from a rectangle using the floor tool, the cu yds calculates correctly but there is no description in the worksheet. I've discovered that I need to add a description record to the floor item but can't for the life of me figure out how to do it.

I'd like to use standard VW's tools instead of workarounds to build my drawings in order that they work seamlessly with worksheets. Any thoughts?

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All cons from where I'm sitting:

Why on earth are you contemplating doing this?

Will your client hold you responsible for any discrepancies? Will your fee or your insurance cover you?

This could be a legal minefield, the saying involving a bargepole comes to mind.

Are there no quantity surveyors available?

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I have some very good reasons for considering providing this service.

Firstly, this client has the potential of providing a lot of work.

Secondly, our business arrangement will address my concerns about liability. We clearly understand each others position.

Thirdly, it gives me the opportunity to "get a handle" on VW's worksheets which I have been wanting to do for some time.

Fourthly, it's a real learning opportunity whether I decide to use worksheets or purchase estimating software.

Now, all I need is someone who can offer suggestions on getting items into a worksheet.

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Detailed estimates are doable within VW if you formulate a system to measure standard bid items. The system will require the classification of materials and perhaps the creation of custom pio's with measured fields.

I have done public works projects and always used VW worksheets for estimating quantities. The advantage of doing the estimate within VW is that with any change to the plans, the worksheet can be updated with the push of a button.

I also review plans from Consultants and most of the time, estimates, which are done outside the CAD program, are not accurately updated with each revision and would require a complete manual measurement. This is often reflected in the number of change orders needed to make-up for missed quantities.

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First, have you looked at the following thread on the Community Board, from a couple years ago?


There is also:


from last year.

Both extend the knowledge of the power of Vectoworks database worksheets.

Counting this ?other stuff? is dependent on either modeling it directly, or establishing formulas that extrapolate the items from another known quantity (e.g. number of J-Bolts = length of wall/16?. This extrapolates the count of bolts at 16? O.C. spacing from the length of a given/specified wall type.).

I don?t think PlanSwift is really an advantage considering all it really does is the same extrapolation based on measured quantities (walls, areas) on a drawing and then using formulas specific to sub components to extract quantities.

ANY thing that can be drawn/modeled/labeled/named/tagged can be queried and displayed via the database worksheets.

IF you have a good example, please post or e-mail it to me so I can help, or we could use the Modern Home Prototype project to create new worksheets based on what you want to count.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks to this forum I've come a long way in understanding worksheets and it's much appreciated.

I've made an interesting discovery regarding walls in worksheets. A 10'x 9'high 2x4 interior wall with gypsum on both sides (3 components) using the database function "=WALLAREA_GROSS" will return an area of 270 sq. ft. which is 3 times what it should be. Obviously the worksheet is including the gypsum board along with the stud wall in it's calculations. Is this a bug?

Please don't advise me to use the Wall Framer Tool, it's buggy and I don't like the worksheets it generates.

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I tried to do this in VW and found it way too buggy. The program is greatly customizable but to such an extent, that it is actually a fault. They got away from VW being a friendly residential program (wood framer was a great idea) to now makin gthe program more useable for everything....commercial, machine design, spotlight, etc..I think they are trying to market to too many groups.

These faults have finally driven me to look at other oprions , like Chief Architect.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 7 months later...

Islandmon, you mentioned that you use Filemaker. I can produce excellent material takeoffs with VW's worksheets but they aren't very "exportable" in and of themselves being physically large if you know what I mean. My client is understandably looking for takeoffs neatly organized on letter sized documents.

How exactly do you use Filemaker? Does it import data from VW's worksheets without to much fuss or do you need a degree in computer science?

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Peter, Not sure if this will help, but I have begun placing worksheets onto design layers, and then onto sheet layers using viewports. By doing this, one can scale the size of the viewport and get more control of the sizes of the worksheets. Adds some steps, but easier than trying to re-size columns to make worksheets fit to a sheet layer. (Tip courtesy of Jonathan Pickup)

I would also like to see some ways people are using filemaker, I can see some good possibilities with VW/filemaker combination

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Tobias, thanks for the tip. I had been trying to import/open the text files, which is the format VW's worksheets are exported as, into Excel which is problematic. Instead I tried import/opening them in Access which works great, however, it is still another step which got me thinking about your idea. Any changes to a set of plans would require doing the whole export/import thing again. The solution is coming up with a border which sets the boundries for, lets say, a legal size sheet (any printer that can print letter size can print legal size). Configured in landscape orientation gives me the width I need. A new worksheet would have to fit within the border negating the need to adjust columns, text size and so on when exporting to PDF for printing or emailing to a client. I'll let you know how it works out.

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