Understanding A Contractor Estimate

For a lot of folks, reading a contractor estimate is like trying to read a foreign language. Some of the words and phrasing look familiar, but they just can't put it all together and totally comprehend it. This is often due to the fact that contractors tend to use industry terms that most homeowners haven't seen before. In this article, I'll try to translate some of these terms to make it easier to understand.  

Feet and Yards-These are common measurement terms used by construction professionals everyday and sometimes when writing an estimate, we tend to forget that the person reading the contractor estimate may have never heard these terms used in this manner. Feet are generally used 2 ways: square feet and linear feet. Linear feet is the most basic of the measurements. If you neededa piece of baseboard to run the length of a wall, hold your tapemeasure on one end and stretch it the length of the wall; thatmeasurement is the amount of linear feet of baseboard you need. Square feet is the most common of construction measurements and it's easy to calculate. Multiply the length of a room by the width and you have the square footage of that room. Common items such as flooring, painting, drywall, and much more are estimated by the square foot. Yardage is generally calculated in square or cubic yards. To find square yardage, just divide square feet by 9. This is most often used for estimating carpet or sheet vinyl. Cubic yards are a 3-D measurement. It is basically square yards multiplied by thickness. For example if you have an area of ground that measured 75 square yards and you dig out thatarea to 2 feet deep: 75 x 2 = 150 cubic yards. Cubic yardage is used for measuring such things as concrete, water, and dirt.

Remove and Reset-Commonly abbreviated R/R on estimates, this is simply removing an item such as an appliance or light fixture in order to perform some sort of job, like painting or drywall repair, and the putting the item back in place after the work is complete. This is often seen in insurance contractor estimates and should not be confused with replacement, which is removing the old item and installing a new one.

To Match Existing-This term is commonly used in remodeling or repair work and, as the name implies, it involves performing a repair or creating something new that matches what's already there. For instance if you have water damage to a wall from a water leak, you might receive an estimate to repair the drywall and paint "to match existing". You should understand from this, that only the repaired area will be painted; not the entire wall.

Per: Plans and Specs-This is a term you will only see if you have had a set of plans drawn or specifications written for your project. If you are doing a room addition or large remodeling project, you would have probably done this. Per: plans and/or specs is simply an acknowledgment, by the contractor, that they have received them and bid the project accordingly. If you are using plans or specs, make sure your contractor estimate and contract include this wording.  

Exclusions-This one may seem pretty obvious, but it may be, sometimes by design, hardto spot. An estimate may read "Per: plans and specs, all labor and materials" only to have hardware and painting excluded in another section. Many contractors will exclude certain portions of the work for a variety of legitimate reasons and that's OK as long as they're up front about it. This is another reason why it's critical that you read the entire estimate or contract before signing. If you're not clear about something, ask for a clarification or consult an attorney.

Hopefully, these explanations will give you a better understanding of the language used by construction professionals and aid you in making informed decisions. For more help with your home improvement needs, browse our other how to articles.  

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