Understanding Construction Estimating Software

Let’s start with a rhetorical question. Why are you in the metal construction business?

Estimating software can help your metal roofing and construction business

By Ray Smith

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One would hope you say, “To earn money in a growing market segment, and to lead a healthy, long life, spend time with family/friends, etc.” Let’s ask another rhetorical question: Do you use the best tools in your work, meaning the ones that give you the best functionality and quality outcomes, according to your business needs, to do your job well, safely? Again, one would assume the answer is “Yes, of course!”

And yet, when it comes to thinking about investing in estimating software, somehow this thinking goes out the door. In today’s digital world, we seem to expect quality software tools to come cheaply, if not free, and we expect them to work magically at the push of a button on a tablet, without putting in any effort to learn how to use them to their full extent.

This limiting belief means that many metal contractors miss out on market opportunities and higher margins they could achieve if they were using professional estimating software. Metal roofing and cladding is a detailed, complex business. Anyone in metal roofing and cladding will be bamboozled by the vast range of metal roofing systems, and accessory bits and pieces required to ensure a quality finish. This complexity flows all the way through the projects and workflow, regardless of whether you do a re-roofing job or a brand-new construction. Here are four areas in which a professional-grade estimating software will help you:

1. Let the software help you create an accurate bid

Creating an estimate of the quantities simply doesn’t cut it for a metal roof job. Roof sheets and trim cannot be ‘stretched’ if you’re short. Oversupply is expensive and consumes the margin on a job. Therefore, accuracy and precise cutting lists are paramount. Strong CAD-based estimating software, which bases calculations on accurate 3-D roof and wall models, provides that accuracy through automatic material optimization, before anything arrives on-site.

2. Order the correct materials (of any kind!) with as little effort as possible

Make sure that the estimating software you choose can accommodate any material, any accessories, and knows how to automatically combine them for you. An optimized order process should not require you to enter or re-enter any data between different software systems. After initial set-up of a materials and labor database with your materials, professional estimating software will require you to enter data only once, at the start of a project. The rest should happen automatically, with integrations into your other business systems like accounting, CRM, Microsoft Word, Excel and roll-forming controllers.

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3. Install the roof/cladding in the most efficient way

Strong estimating software goes beyond providing you with the mere material take-off report or supplier order forms. It can output data details for metal fabrication and installation, with cutting details and precise measurements for the field team, and with precision and quality of the cuts and notches. The software can help you split large projects into staged installation phases, with material orders and delivery schedules to the job site.

4. Reduce your waste (of time and materials)

Imagine a metal job done where you have minimized the time needed on the roof, produced a high-quality outcome with clean, square edges, and consistent angles and hems, and left the site with minimal waste. It can be done, consistently and over time, if you have the right software to help you (and staff trained to use it). Reproducible efficiency through the entire workflow should be the output of estimating software you should aim for. The outcome for your business should be higher profit margins on each job, meaning increased profits over time.

Choose the Right Software

What estimating software is right for you depends on what you want to achieve with your business. I recommend talking to the owners/operators of the software company to see how much they understand the business you are in and what they can offer you for the short- and long-term achievement of your business objectives.

My best advice is to choose software that will help you grow beyond where you are now. It should base its functionality development on what the market actually needs, no matter whether you are a small re-roofing company or a large commercial contractor. Software should not limit you now, or in the future, through insufficient functionality in this wonderfully complex metal construction world.

Ray Smith is the owner of Jupiter, Fla.-based AppliCad USA Inc., a software developer for the construction sector, and specifically the roofing and wall cladding segment, for nearly 28 years. For more information, visit

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