Why We Do Our Own Design Estimates

Estimating GraphicTo design projects to meet costs, you have to know costs. We believe all our designers—whether an architect, civil engineer, or mechanical engineer—must understand the cost of what they are proposing to an Owner.

In our industry, many designers prefer not to do their own cost estimates because, quite frankly, it is tedious. However, if they don’t take this time, they are likely dreaming up great ideas that will be considerably over the Owner’s budget. This can leave the Owner with sticker shock after receiving the estimate for the finished design, either from a third-party estimator or during the bidding process. Then they have to go back to the drawing board to pare back the design to fit within the budget. This not only frustrates all parties, but it can set back the entire project schedule or force the Owner to forgo aspects of the design they liked.

Over the 40 years I have been in the industry, I have seen a trend in architectural and engineering firms becoming less involved in cost estimating. They rely on Construction Managers or cost estimators to provide the cost of what they designed. Our firm philosophically believes this is wrong. We prefer to work hand in hand with the members of the construction team to verify costs along the way, preventing any surprises for the Owner.

We work to ensure each member of our team understands cost implications so they can help Owners make the best value decisions throughout the design process—not afterwards. Each designer on our staff has a good understanding of their area of expertise, what the state of the market is, and the current climate of the contractor and subcontractor world.

You don’t become good at estimating overnight. It has to be part of your design culture. Even junior staff must support the team in this area, helping with quantity takeoffs and other aspects of cost estimates, to develop their own skills. It’s no different than learning how to run a heating/cooling load or how to detail a wall section. It’s part of their growth and development, and it’s an important part of our firm’s design process.

Learn more about the 4 methods we use to maintain budget control in K-12 projects