A Comparison of Construction Cost Estimating Software Tools 2015

A Comparison of Construction Cost Estimating Tools

    1. Spreadsheets – Microsoft Excel®
    2. Electronic Cost Books and Calculators – RSMeans CostWorks RSMeans Online
    3. Cost Estimating/Project Management Software – 4Clicks Project Estimator
    4. Cloud Cost Estimating – Ceasel

Accurate, timely, and transparent cost estimating is critical to the success of any renovation, repair, sustainability, or new construction project. While most construction cost estimators continue to rely primarily upon hardcopy documents and electronic spreadsheets, such as Microsoft Excel, many are beginning to leverage electronic cost books and associated calculator software tools. Both of these approaches have merit and are well suited for certain types of users.

Growing numbers of cost estimators, however, need to work with multiple projects and multiple estimates simultaneously, securely share information on active projects, gain access to localized cost information, and easily locate and reuse historical data. These Owners, Contractors, and AEs are moving to advanced cost estimating and management systems. They are discovering that significantly higher productivity can be gained – as much as 50 percent or more. Furthermore, the collaborative aspects of these sophisticated software systems are aligned with integrated project delivery methods and construction sector movement toward Building Information Modeling (BIM). Cloud computing, a further advancement enabling even higher levels of collaboration and simplified deployment, are also now becoming available.

This paper addresses each of these primary approaches to construction cost estimating and discusses their application. For clarity, products are referenced within each category as follows:

      • Spreadsheets – Microsoft Excel
      • Electronic Cost Books and Calculators – RSMeans CostWorks
      • Cost Estimating and Project Management Software – e4Clicks Project Estimator
      • Cloud Cost Estimating – Ceasel

The image below portrays a graphical representation of the increase in accuracy, collaboration, productivity, and project completeness for various cost estimating methods.


Construction estimating involves the estimating of material, labor, equipment, overhead, and contingencies. Spreadsheets, most commonly Microsoft Excel, are used by more estimators for this purpose than any other tool. Spreadsheets have significantly improved cost estimation capabilities and accuracy since the 1980s. Relatively easy to master, spreadsheets provide a means to create and report a construction cost estimate. Cost construction models can also be built within spreadsheets. Productivity improvements result from the ability of Excel to easily handle more of the mundane calculations required.

One problem with spreadsheets, however, is their inherent vulnerability to errors due to data entry, a problem that only increases along with the complexity of an estimate. As the formulae within the spreadsheets become more numerous and complex, errors became exponentially more frequent and costly. [2]

Spreadsheets also do not account for dynamic cost information and associated uncertainties or historical information – all of which have proven to be important variables for many construction projects.

Lastly, and in part due to the issues noted above, collaboration using spreadsheets is problematic, as are transparency and accurate monitoring and reporting. Having multiple people working on the same spreadsheet is not efficient or even workable for larger projects. Thus estimates tend to be created and stored in different locations, making information difficult to accurately retrieve and changes extremely costly to execute. As a result, old data errors are perpetuated, copied over and over again.

Electronic Cost Books and Calculators

As it became apparent that more localized and historical data would be critical to improving the accuracy of construction cost estimates and cost models, organizations instituted a formal process for collecting and storing this information. Individual Owners, Contractors, AEs, and other third parties began to collect this information. RSMeans Cost Data has become North America’s standard for commercial construction cost data including materials, equipment, and labor line items, productivity factors, and assembly and square foot cost information. Localized cost indexes, referred to as the City Cost Index (CCI), are also available.

Based upon the size and type of construction project, estimators soon found that they could improve their productivity and accuracy even further by using standardized reference cost information in combination with spreadsheets. Such reference cost information included RSMeans Cost Data or other reference cost sources, along with cost data architectures such as Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat and UniFormat. However, manually entering in tens, hundreds, or even thousands of cost line items from hardcopy cost books remained tedious and prone to data input errors and errors of omission.

Integration of electronic cost book information directly with a cost calculator was the next logical step. An example of this approach is RSMeans CostWorks product. CostWorks can best be described as an electronic version of RSMeans Cost Books where line items can easily be copied and pasted into spreadsheets. CostWorks also incorporates some limited cost calculation tools moving it even closer to the needs of construction cost estimators. Many inherent data input errors associated with spreadsheets appeared to be mitigated. Other issues remained largely unsolved including: collaboration, data reuse, document management, integration and maintenance of alternative cost data sources, reporting, and the integration of robust construction delivery workflows. To provide easier Internet access to RSMeans Cost Books, RSMeans Online is now being offered in addition to the CostWorks CD-ROM. RSMeans Online enables simplified deployment and a somewhat updated user interface.

Collaborative Cost Estimating Software Solutions

Spreadsheets have proven valuable for single, static estimates of a certain project size, as well as for a media to gather and transfer data sets. Similarly, the integration of electronic cost books with spreadsheets and electronic cost calculators (such as CostWorks/RSMeans Online) are equally valuable for individuals performing a small number of relatively straight forward construction, repair, or renovation estimates (three to five per year).

However, both spreadsheets and electronic cost calculators do not meet the need for collaboration, transparency, document management, and maximized productivity. They also do not provide a capacity to adhere to and report upon specific construction delivery methods and/or contracts such as Job Order Contracting (JOC), Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), Simplified Acquisition of Base Engineering Requirements (SABER), and Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ). Collaborative cost estimating and project management solutions also support today’s need for Adaptive Project Delivery (APD)ä. APD enables Owners, Contactors, and AEs to modify and constantly improve upon construction project delivery processes to meet their individual and changing requirements.

Integrated cost estimating, project management, contract management, and document management software systems have become very popular over the past decade and are exemplified by e4Clicks Project Estimator.  e4Clicks Project Estimator incorporates this type of cohesive management in a single application.

e4Clicks Project Estimator allows users to create estimates and manage multiple types of projects and contract methods: JOC, SABER, IPD, Single Award Task Order Contracting (SATOC), Multiple Award Task Order Contract (MATOC), Multiple Award Construction Contract (MACC), Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ), Performance Oriented Construction Activities (POCA), and Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA). Users can select from enhanced RSMeans electronic cost data, including an exclusive 400,000 line item database with full descriptions and modifiers as well as graphics, diagrams, and specifications, and/or custom/internal cost information or other standard/custom unit price cost books.

Visual estimating and quantity take-off (QTO) are also core components of this type of advanced software. eTakeoffä, included within e4Clicks Project Estimator, stands head and shoulders above other visual estimating solutions, enabling estimators to quickly and precisely visualize requirements and trace electronic drawings to determine quantities for line items within estimates. Drawings can be shared in various formats include Adobe Systems Portable Document Format (PDF). The eTakeoff/4Clicks integration enables users to quickly transfer to e4Clicks Project Estimator.

Visual estimating allows the user to:

      • Estimate and pre-bid processes without paper plans.
      • Create measurements by tracing upon electronic drawings.
      • View plans with powerful zooming and scrolling capabilities.
      • Display measurements in an infinite variety of colors and patterns to identify the type of construction and the materials used.
      • Total measurements from multiple plan sheets.

Cloud Cost Estimating

Cloud computing enables the next level of collaboration and real-time work with virtually unlimited processing power and storage. Cloud computing applications, such as 4Clicks’ Ceasel, connect people, information, and processes – anytime, anywhere.

Ceasel allows the user to do more with fewer resources, while also improving cost estimating and project delivery outcomes.  This is made possible by Ceasel’s ability to enable higher levels of service, economies of scale through shared but secure resources, rapid and flexible deployment, standardization, and the ability for cost estimators, project managers, and procurement professionals to connect and share previously incompatible information.

With Ceasel, the user logs in through a web browser and can immediately build estimates with the best representation of RSMeans Cost Data available, custom data, or a combination of both. Cloud computing technology stores data permanently, keeping a detailed history of changes so work is never lost. Unlike spreadsheets, Ceasel and similar products provide the flexibility for teams to work simultaneously with large databases from any location around the world.

From a deployment perspective, cost estimating software solutions and true cloud cost estimating solutions address the creation of custom parameters, multiple “knowledge bases,” and easily support client-server network or stand-alone system environments.

These powerful tools yield superior productivity, accuracy, transparency, collaboration, and information reuse. They are best suited for anyone using RSMeans Cost Data and/or custom cost data for renovation, repair, and sustainability projects, as well as estimators managing tens to hundreds of projects per year. The chart below shows the capabilities deployed by each estimating tool.

Evolution Graphic V2


Over the past forty years, there have been many initiatives to improve cost estimating to facilitate the delivery of construction projects on time and on budget. Owners, Contractors, and AEs now have multiple methods to select from based upon their needs.


Spreadsheets were a major improvement in the 1980s, followed by formal processes for collecting and harnessing historical information to more accurately project and control costs. Over the past decade, a powerful new capability has been added, collaborative cost estimating and project management software. Within the past two to three years, cloud computing offers yet another advancement in terms of ease of deployment, scalability, and real-time collaboration.

Over the past forty years, there have been many initiatives to improve cost estimating to facilitate the delivery of construction projects on time and on budget. Owners, Contractors, and AEs now have multiple methods to select from based upon their needs.

Spreadsheets were a major improvement in the 1980s, followed by formal processes for collecting and harnessing historical information to more accurately project and control costs. Over the past decade, a powerful new capability has been added, collaborative cost estimating and project management software. Within the past two to three years, cloud computing offers yet another advancement in terms of ease of deployment, scalability, and real-time collaboration.




[1] Christofferson, Jay. “Estimating with Microsoft Excel”, Brigham Young University. Nickols, Robert Duane. “Construction Estimating Using Excel” Lexington Technical Institute, University of Kentucky.

2 Caulkins, Jonathan P., et al. “Do Spreadsheet Errors Lead to Bad Decisions” Carnegie Mellon University.

Improving Cost Estimating and Project Delivery in the Public Sector – Today.

It’s all about the data, processes, metrics, and supporting technologies.

Cost Data:  What value is your construction cost data to you?  Are you able to easily and rapidly copy/paste, update, share, and reuse your cost estimates?

The answer for most cost estimators, contractors, and owner is “No”.  The result is poor productivity, rampant waste, excessive numbers of change orders, and even legal disputes.   Leveraging a standard cost database, such as RSMeans, is critical from multiple perspective.  First is the common format and data architecture, meaning Masterformat2012.  Now, image RSMeans with line items spelled out consistently in plain English, as well as individual line item modifiers which expand available RSMeans cost line items from approximatley 70,000 to well over 400,000.  Also imagine all this within a true cost estimating tool that included Contract, Project, and Document management… all withing a collaborative environment.

Technology:  First, and foremost, while we all use spreadsheets daily, they are NOT for collaborative cost estimating and sharing information with Owners, Contractors, AEs, etc.   I challenge who exclusively uses spreadsheets for doing a significant amount of R.S. Means line item estimating anytime.  Appropriate cost estimating tools can and do make the process more efficient and less costly to all parties.   Visual estimating/QTO, line item cost estimating, powerful search tools, integrated contract/project/document management and the ability to host RSMeans and custom cost data… all are available within a single software program, such as e4Clicks Project Estimator.

Time for you to provide more detailed cost estimates more productively?

4Clicks Training – Best RSMeans Line Item Estimating Solution Available

4Clicks provides advanced solutions for the construction industry with powerful tools to connect people, information and processes – anytime, anywhere.

We are a team of dedicated, passionate driven individuals who come to work every day with the privilege of working for you!  Many of my team members have walked in your shoes working in the industry as cost estimators, project managers, and engineers.  We’ve been in fallout in September, we’ve searched for the perfect line item, we’ve been a single estimator with 60 projects to estimate or part of a team that worked together to process millions of dollars of delivery orders. Now we watch, we listen and we take your suggestions and feedback to develop real world solutions that meet your changing needs. It’s what sets us apart and makes the difference in how we deliver our products, training, and services that you can only experience with 4Clicks Solutions.  Thanks for hearing a little bit about our story, but the truth is, we are more excited to hear about yours!

Improve your Job Order Contracting Program – JOC, SABER, IDIQ …

We can significantly reduce the time it takes you to complete RSMeans line item estimates, improve accuracy, and provide you with a single program allowing your entire team to collaboratively manage multiple contracts.

We can help your team estimate not only faster, but more accurately.

  • Create Estimates in Minutes vs. Hours and Hours vs. Days:  Easily reuse and Share Estimates with our Estimate Clipboard (copy, paste, and update estimates and line items within a collaborative platform).
  • Exclusive 400,000+ RSMeans Line Item Database: Full Descriptions, Modifiers, References, and Images
  • Manage Multiple Contracts and Projects in One Application: JOC, SABER, IDIQ, MATOC, Etc.
  • Export to DOD Forms:  AF66, AF3000, AF3052, AF3064-3065, Army 4025, DOD Form 1354, FORSCOM Form 59-R, and more
  • Support for Multiple Price Guides: Integrate Any Pricing Book/Database (GSA, IDIQ’s, VA), Even Custom Data
  • Project Specifications: Automatically Link Estimates to Specifications
  • Document Management:  Stop Reinventing the Wheel with Every Estimate.  Store all of your Active and Inactive Estimates within a Single Program.  Use your Previous Estimate as a Template for your Next.
  • Approved for Government Network Installation:  Army and Air Force
  • Visual Cost Estimating:  Electronic Quantity Takeoff (QTO), Trace and Measure Digital Drawings
  • Truly Extraordinary Training Classes: Led by Former DOD Estimators and Project Managers with Decades of Experience Estimating with RSMeans.
  • Reuse an Old Estimate: Copy and Paste Old Estimates to a Project, Update the Estimate to the Newest RSMeans Data, and Remove Quantities, Notes and Calculations, All in Seconds

4Clicks Solutions, LLC is a certified veteran-owned small business that develops and markets the leading DOD construction cost estimating and project management software product.  e4Clicks Project Estimator is used by over 85% of United States Air Force Bases, a rapidly growing number of Army, USACE Districts, and other Facility Owners.  We also support thousands of Contractors, Subcontractors, AEs, and Consultants.

We have great packages starting at $895.00 for e4Clicks Basic Project Estimator with the RSMeans Building Construction Cost Database, while many of our clients upgrade to e4Clicks Professional Project Estimator, eTakeoff Professional, and the 2014 RSMeans Facilities for $2,430.00.

Job Order Contracting Process Diagram
Job Order Contracting Process Diagram

Proactive Facility Maintenance and Budgeting – RSMeans Facilities Maintenance and Repair

The FMR  (RSMeans Facilities, Maintenance, and Repair Cost Book) is primarily for owners and facility managers who must be proactive in planning their budgets for building maintenance.  More than 1,600 maintenance and repair assemblies covering many facility components, along with costs for general maintenance such as lawn mowing, shrub and tree care, general cleaning, and window washing.  Over 500 preventive maintenance assemblies, listing tasks and frequencies and the number of labor hours to perform each item. Costs are broken down, making it easy to compare using in-house staff to hiring an outside company to perform the tasks.

Three distinct sections of information are included:

  • Maintenance and Repair
  • Preventative Maintenance
  • General Maintenance

The RSMeans Facilities Maintenance and Repair Cost Data is now available electronically within e4Clicks Project Estimator.   Create, estimate, procure, and implement maintenance and repair project within a collaborative environment.  Our goal is to provide you with enough information to plan your maintenance work and budget for the life of the building.  www.4Clicks.com


Proactive Facility Maintenance and Budgeting – RSMeans Facility Maintenance and Repair

RSMeans FMR Cost Data is primarily for owners and facility managers who must be proactive in planning their budgets for building maintenance. More than 1,600 maintenance and repair assemblies covering many facility components, along with costs for general maintenance such as lawn mowing, shrub and tree care, general cleaning, and window washing. Over 500 preventive maintenance assemblies, listing tasks and frequencies and the number of labor hours to perform each item. Costs are broken down, making it easy to compare using in-house staff to hiring an outside company to perform the tasks.

Three distinct sections of information are included:
Maintenance and Repair
Preventative Maintenance
General Maintenance

RSMeans FMR cost data is available within our e4Clicks Project Estimator technology for line item cost estimating and project creation, procurement, and execution. Our goal is to provide Owners and Facility Managers with enough information to plan your maintenance work and budget for the life of the building. http://www.4Clicks.,com

Efficient, Accurate RSMeans Line Item Construction Cost Estimating

With a new year, comes a new round of 4Clicks training courses, and I have some new options this year.  I want to share a quick overview of our upcoming classes.  Our goal is to give you the tools and training necessary to navigate and make full use of e4Clicks.  I hope you will enjoy the tweaks our team has made to better serve you.  Keep an eye on our website for additional new classes as they become available.

 NEW THIS YEAR: ESTIMATING CLASSES!  4Clicks is developing and offering multiple line item cost estimating classes.  You know how to use e4Clicks.  Now master the art of estimating.  These classes will challenge the young intern or even the seasoned estimator and will include areas such as:

  • Architectural
  • Electrical
  • Civil
  • Mechanical

If you’ve enjoyed our other courses, you will benefit greatly from these estimating trainings in a traditional classroom environment designed to provide you with hands-on, real-life exercises.  The first of these courses is Introduction to Architectural Estimating and will take place in February.   Sign up today at www.4Clicks.com/training.

I am excited to offer a virtual e4Clicks Getting Started training course.  This is a 6 (six) hour online training course perfect for anyone who doesn’t have time to make it to one of our 2-Day Introductory regional training classes but could use some help getting started.  Designed to get you up and going with e4Clicks Project Estimator or RSMeans JOCWorks, this course will give you the confidence to start knocking out some estimates.

See below for our February trainings.  Visit our website for a complete list of training offerings at www.4Clicks.com/training.   We offer the perfect mix of virtual, regional, and onsite locations for our classes.  Join us for one of our upcoming trainings;  look forward to seeing you!

19 February:  4Clicks Introduction to RSMeans Estimating – Online Course

20 February:  e4Clicks Getting Started – Online Course

24 – 25 February:  e4Clicks Introductory – San Antonio, TX

26 – 27 February:  4Clicks Introduction to Architectural Estimating – San Antonio, TX

ABOUT 4CLICKS:  We are the premier provider of cost estimating and efficient project delivery management software and services.  Our tools are By Estimators for Estimators.  We help Owners, Contractors, Subcontractors, and AE’s increase productivity through the use of collaborative, transparent, accurate, and proven processes as well as robust cost information.

2013 Global Construction Survey

In 2013, KPMG interviewed executives from 165 engineering and construction companies around the world, serving a range of markets including energy, power, industrial, healthcare/pharmaceutical, manufacturing, mining, education and government.

Key findings:

1. “66 percent feel that national governments’  infrastructure plans are the single biggest driver of market growth”

2. Slow recovery / growth continuing with “stable or higher margins”

3. “budget deficits and public funding is the biggest barrier to growth”

4. Growth areas: “power and energy top the list by a significant distance, other target sectors include water, rail, mining, and roads and bridges”

5. Standardization is critical to improving “project and risk management”.  “Whenever new people start on a project, they bring with them different processes. To spread good practices,  contractors can increase their use of… ” cost estimating and …. “project management software and step up training…. consolidate project delivery, and tighten
all leakages as much as possible.”

6. “Become a strategic partner to clients’ businesses By working more closely with clients from all sectors….”

via http://www.4Clicks.com – Premier cost estimating and efficient project delivery software solutions for JOC, SABER, IDIQ, MATOC, SATOC, MACC, POCA, BOA, BOS … featuring an exclusively enhanced 400,000 line item RSMeans Cost Database, visual estimating/automatic quantity take off ( QTO),  and collaborative contract/project/document management, all in one application.   Our technology is currently serving over 85% of United States Air Force bases and rapidly growing numbers of other DOD and non-DOD (United States Army Corps of Engineers,  Army, GSA, Homeland Security, VA..) federal departments/agencies, as well as state/county/local governments, colleges/universities, healthcare,  and airports/transportation.  RSMeans Strategic Partner.



Job Order Contract – Job Order Contracting – JOC

Job Order Contracting – JOC (also known as SABER in the Air Force)  is an efficient way of getting the numerous, commonly encountered renovation, repair , remodeling and smaller construction projects done faster and collaboratively under a single contract.

JOC is collaborative process, a form of Integrated Project Delivery – IPD,  embracing partnering and teamwork between Owners,Contractors and AEs.  JOC provides a robust, prove process methodology to execute a wide variety of indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity – IDIQ , fixed price, multiple simultaneous orders for renovation, rehabilitation, repair, and sustainability work for large facilities and infrastructures – DOD, non-DOD Federal Departments and Agencies, State/County/Local Government, Education, Healthcare, Transportation/Airports…

Job Order Contracting provides increased productivity, accurate reporting mechanisms and transparency.

via http://www.4Clicks.com – Premier software for efficient project delivery – JOC, SABER, IDIQ, SATOC, MATOC, MACC, POCA, BOA …


Advantages of using a JOC program (source-JOC Wiki)

The major advantages of job order contracting include:

  1. Fast and timely delivery of projects.
  2. Low overhead cost of construction procurement and delivery.
  3. Development of a partner relationship based on work performance.
  4. Virtual elimination of contract disputes.
  5. Fewer change orders.
  6. Standard pricing and specification utilizing a published unit price book (UPB), i.e. RSMeans Cost Data, resulting in efficient and effective estimating, design, and fixed price construction.

Top-performing JOC contractors achieve a high percentage rate for completion of projects on time and on budget. Also, the JOC process provides for a single contract to be used for the delivery of multiple or repeated work orders without having to re-bid the same work as required in other commonly used delivery systems. It allows for back and forth communication and development efforts throughout a project. This differs greatly from the one way, antagonistic methods such are design-bid-build.  JOC provides the greatest advantage in situations involving recurring work when delivery times, type of work and quantity of work are indefinite. While JOC is not used for major new construction, it is best for minor new construction, adjustments, renovation, repair and maintenance of facilities.

Other advantages include:

  • Partnering and performance incentives result in high-quality construction and service and enhanced quality control. Quality JOC contractors have reduced and even eliminated punch lists.
  • Simplified design documents and acquisition processes negate the need for complicated and repetitive contract documents and reduce contract administrative costs.
  • The speed of JOC contracting ranges from 10 days to 21 days from request to construction start, since JOC projects don’t demand soliciting and acquiring a contract along with detailed plans and specifications.
  • Facility owners do not have to provide a complete design, but rather rely on the JOC contractor to produce any essential drawings for the design.
  • Employment of smaller subcontractors in the area to perform the work, allowing for the majority of the project funds to be spent locally.
  • Minimal risk for the owner in the event of problems with the contractor because the owner can stop using the contract at any time. If a performance-based system is also used, the JOC contractor can be terminated for lack of performance.
  • A win–win attitude or motivation for both the contractor and the facility owner produced by and through the long-term relationship.

Construction Industry Event Calendar Embrace Efficiency: How to Save Time and Cut Costs with Job Order Contracting

When frequent project requests drain resources, delay progress and consume costs… standard delivery methods aren’t enough to get by.

Facility repair and renovation projects often arrive suddenly and with tight completion timelines, spurring the need for quick and professional construction services to accommodate end user requirements.

Job Order Contracting (JOC) is an efficient construction project delivery method that helps facility managers accomplish more with fewer resources— and reduce costs in the process.

JOC helps facility owners gain quick and professional contractor performance, without compromising pricing predictability. It works especially well for facility owners who have a high volume or backlog of smaller projects (under $1M each), as often found in educational, medical, municipal and federal facilities.

JOC involves indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) services, which is basically an ongoing construction services contract for projects yet to be determined by the owner. The method allows for mutually beneficial long-term relationships between facility owners and JOC contractors for construction services. As a result, a unique partnering approach to JOC contract management should be considered. This presentation will address partnering actions owners can take to promote the successful use of JOC at their facilities.


via http://www.4clicks.com – premier software for efficient, adaptive construction project delivery – JOC, SABER, IDIQ, IPD, SATOC, MATOC, MACC, POCA, BOA.