Digital Take-Off

One of the biggest advantages of working with a design-build company such as Chandler Design-Build is that we have a track record of building our own designs and we have a data base of the cost breakdown on the houses we've built in the last eight years. So when clients ask us what something is going to cost we have comparable data somewhere in our system that can give us a good idea of what it's going to be. The issue is generally just the effort of measuring up and inputting the data and assumptions on ever-changing 1/8" scale pencil drawings we are working with in the preliminary stage of the process.

In the past that meant poring over the drawings with a scale and making guesses as best we could. While there is still a lot of "educated wild ass guessing" involved, we have recently added a tool to our system that improves both speed and accuracy.

It's called "Digital Take-Off" and it's one part of a design and construction management system from Digital Canal Corp. In many ways it's similar but superior to an older piece of software called "PlanSwift" that other builders may be familiar with.

The screen shot above shows what the interface looks like. I've just imported a digital photograph I've taken of a plan Beth is working on. It's drawn on a piece of thin trace (you can see the drawing below it on the table bleeding through) with no dimensions or indications of finishes or construction; it's got loads of offsets and 45 degree angles. To bring it into the computer I just lay it on the table and shoot a photo of it and drop the image into the client's folder in our computer.

The next thing I do is take a distance that I know on the plan, in this case the width of the living room and, to "set the scale," I drag my mouse across the distance I know. It asks me to type in the known distance, 22 ft. here, and the scale is set for the entire drawing.

I've set the tabs on my software to correspond to the questions my estimating worksheet asks me; Heated SF down, up, ext wall perimeter, interior wall cumulative length, number of windows and such. Pulling to the "Heated space down" tab, I drag my mouse around the perimeter of the building.

Once I have the shape I want I click the plus sign and I get an accounting of the area, (too big, we're trying to keep it under 3,000 sf) perimeter and other information that I can either cut and paste into my estimating software or export to Digital Canal's estimating package, Bid Builder, which is part of their software suite.

As I click through the tabs they prompt me to remember to measure, count, and export all the different elements I'll need to prepare a preliminary estimate for the house.

When counting items such as windows or fixtures it leaves a mark so you will know if you've left anything out or counted anything twice. Right clicking allows you to undo the last few points you've selected. It has a roof pitch converter so when you want to figure out how many roof shingles to order you can enter the pitch of the roof and it will tell you (you still need to add for ridges and valleys) Once the house is under construction the software will help with lumber and flooring take-offs and even figure rafter lengths and counts for you.

I bought Digital Take-Off at a special price the last day of the international builders show and they immediately assigned me a sales rep who has since sold me on "special deals" for their CAD software, Solid Builder, and the estimating component, Bid Builder. I'm not sure what the regular price on any of these items is since they are always doing specials. If this is something that would help with your building projects call Monty Alexander at 800-449-5033 ext 139, tell him I sent you. I have their CAD software which I got to replace Chief Architect and have started experimenting with it and will post about that here soon. He also made me an offer I couldn't refuse (thanks Monty) on Bid Builder so I'll be diving into that sometime soon as well.


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