7 Tips for an accurate fire alarm system estimate

Estimating best practices
7 Tips for an accurate fire alarm system estimate

Are you in the business of estimating for fire alarm systems?

If so, you’ve probably found that the estimating process can not only be very time consuming, but fraught with pitfalls. Accuracy is very important, especially if you want to win bids and enjoy profitable contracts.

Here are some tips we’ve learned for creating more accurate fire alarm system estimates:

1. Assess the size and scope of the project

The size and scope of the project is the first thing to assess. Is it a similar size and type to projects you’ve done before? Will your crew be able to perform the necessary tasks? It’s more difficult to estimate projects when you don’t have experience with anything similar, although not impossible. You do need to be extra careful about checking your estimate if you’re bidding on something that is new territory for your company.

For example, the type of building you are estimating for makes a difference. The occupancy, layout, size and usage determine the complexity of the fire alarm system. Fire codes for building types impact on the requirements for the project too. Being familiar with the rules can help you with your estimates as you should be able to recognise if there is anything missing.

2. Check that the specs are in order

It’s a common issue to be missing important parts of the specifications. Sometimes entire pages are missing or you might not have any addendums that should have been included. Double-check that you definitely have everything you require to give an accurate estimate.

On top of that, look for any anomalies in the specifications. For example, if you are retrofitting a fire alarm system, you want to be on the lookout for any pre-existing structural issues. Fitting out the building should ensure that it is within fire codes, so if something doesn’t seem to be right, it’s important to consult with the architect, engineer or whoever is in charge of the project. Perhaps you can even make a suggestion that will work even better than the initial specifications state.

On the other hand, there may be existing devices that will be compatible with what you have to install. You may be able to advise the client on this and help to save them some money - that always helps to put you in their good books!

Fire alarm system estimate

3. Consider your method for counting take-offs

Counting take-offs is usually the next task in preparing the estimate. It’s also a job that can be prone to error, depending on your methodology for doing it. Many companies are still using manual methods where they get out a highlighter pen and mark off the drawings, entering numbers into a spreadsheet.

The danger of entirely manual counting methods is that we’re only human! What happens when you’re part way through counting a section and your phone rings? What happens when a colleague pops in with a quick question while you’re updating the spreadsheet?

Another pitfall of paper-based systems is that they’re not easily updated or shared. Physical copies have to pass among team members, then there’s always the danger that something is lost.

Digital estimating software is a great way to help mitigate some of the risks outlined here when you count your take-offs. Software such as Countfire helps you to not only count with accuracy, but to easily check that you didn’t miss anything too. Another advantage is speed - you don’t have to individually count each item so you leave more time for putting together the rest of your estimate.

4. Consider estimating pitfalls

Counting take-offs accurately is one thing, but there are several other aspects that go into an estimate, especially if you want to be very accurate. It’s often these other parts where people make mistakes.

For example, labour estimates are a major estimating pitfall. A lot of the time, companies estimate short, cutting themselves out of the revenue they should make on a project. When you consider labour costs on a fire alarm system job, think about any aspects to the project that might add up in terms of time. For example, if you have to get around a concrete block wall, drill into steel or get up and down ladders repeatedly, this will all add to labour time.

The type of system you’re putting in will also make a big difference to your labour costs. For example, an addressable fire alarm system that is capable of identifying each device’s individual point and location in the building tends to take more time to install than a conventional system.

If you need to make any assumptions because you haven’t been able to get clarifications from the client, make sure these are clearly outlined in your estimate too.

5. Consider the estimate format

Companies requesting estimates often have a preferred format or template for bidding. It is a mistake not to follow this. Typically, they prefer their own template because it is structured in a way that they like and allows them to easily compare bids, side by side. Look out for a checklist from the company and follow it if there is one.

That being said, if there isn’t a template provided, it’s still very important to consider the format of your bid. It should be laid out so that the company can easily follow it and it answers every required part of the bid. Consider having a standard template that you use as a company. This helps you to stay consistent and ensure you cover everything.

Besides the bare bones required for the estimate, you should consider whether there are any points of “added value” that you can include. This can help you to stand out above competing bids.

In terms of outlining your costings, make sure you provide a very clear breakdown. Clients don’t like to see any fees that are vague, and being transparent can be a deciding factor for them.

Fire alarm system estimate

6. Check your work

It’s always important to double-check estimates before they get sent to the client. If you’re not able to get a second set of eyes on the work, it can help to step away for a bit and look at it later. It’s easy to overlook things when you’ve stayed close to the work!

All figures should be double-checked and you should check that all costs have been accounted for, including labour, parts, subcontractors and any others. Fortunately, if you’re using digital estimating software, double-checking your take-off figures is made quite simple.

7. Follow up

Following up on the estimate is important because it helps you to keep honing your bids so that they include what clients are looking for. Ask for feedback if you didn’t win the tender - you won’t always get a response, but anything useful you do get can be applied next time.

Final thoughts

Estimating for fire alarm systems can be tricky, but if you follow a few basic steps like we’ve outlined here, you can improve your accuracy and success.

Remember to consider all costs in your estimate, including common pitfalls such as labour. Give yourself some extra time and accuracy by using reliable digital estimating software - this can make the difference for accurate, profitable estimates.