Estimating structured cabling can be a difficult part of the electrical estimating process and one that’s often written out by estimators or given to a specialist contractor. Even amongst specialist structured cabling suppliers, quotes and prices can differ wildly due to how difficult this discipline is to define. 

In this guide we’ll provide tips on using cloud-based software to make estimating structured cabling and data much easier. 

What is structured cabling?

It’s easy to think about cabling as a series of individual cables taking you from point A to point B. In reality, the structured part of cabling is almost more important than the individual cables themselves, as it provides an organised system of infrastructure for cable systems to join. Structured cabling can cover everything from WiFi networks to telephone systems and network switches. 

Benefits of using estimating software to measure structured cabling

The rise of cloud-computing has increased the accessibility of ready-to-use software like estimating and takeoff tools, giving estimators access securely and from wherever they’re working. By adopting cloud-based software and the right workflows to support it, estimating structured cabling data can become easier and more measurable. Here are some additional benefits:

Create more standardised cabling estimates

Our client KNI, a specialist supplier in structured cabling, telephone systems, network switches, wireless and IP integration services, are well versed in the perils of manual counting. As well as taking too long, measuring cabling in a manual way requires intense focus and concentration to ensure the estimate is error-free. Using software helps to automate the process and log each step of the journey, lowering the amount of “human brain power” needed to keep quotes consistent. It’s also difficult to make changes and revise drawings when working manually, as before long the drawing is covered in highlighter and is difficult to decipher. 

If all estimators turned to software to create estimates we’d likely see more standardised pricing, even for typically fluid areas like cabling and data, leading to increased trust and efficiency across the industry.

Pre-empt additional communications and cabling requirements 

As well as measuring cabling for quotes, takeoff software also helps to design jobs. In structured cabling, most estimators will take the number of communication rooms as gospel and simply provide a cost for each. When using estimating software it’s much easier to measure areas of rooms and lengths of cabling, meaning you can easily spot if more central comms units are required, before you get onsite and begin installing. 

Challenge competitor pricing

Lastly, due to the complex nature of estimating structured cabling it can be difficult for project owners to compare estimates from their contractors and know which quote is most accurate. While cheapest may appear best, who’s to say that the contractor hasn’t missed additional requirements that will later need to be added, incurring additional cost and sign-off. Similarly, some quotes may be too expensive including excessive cabling which just isn’t needed. 

When your structured cabling supplier uses an automated takeoff software they have drawings uploaded in one electronic file, and a breakdown of measurements for each cabling total. This can be presented and walked through together, helping to challenge other bids or explain why a certain amount of cabling or infrastructure is required.

How to estimate structured cabling using takeoff software

Here’s a guide into how you might use automated takeoff software like Countfire to produce your structured cabling estimate.

1. Create your project and upload drawings

The first step of using Countfire is to define your project and upload your drawings under each discipline. Each uploaded drawing goes into a stored folder, accessible any time you log into Countfire. This removes the need to print drawings, and gives you a simple way to track the number of drawings back later while reviewing for quality and accuracy. 

2. Use linear measurement

Countfire offers a simple tool to count symbols on drawings which is useful when looking at lighting fixtures or fire alarm systems. When it comes to estimating structured cabling, the tools for measuring linear runs, walls and room lengths are much more valuable as they provide the flexibility needed in structured cabling.

Measure linear runs

The linear measurement tool in Countfire is great for measuring busbar, cabling and conduit runs. You can draw straight lines or include bends and turns and each length can be itemised by individual measurement, or by total length for combined measurement.

measure linear runs using Countfire

Measure areas 

With Countfire it’s easy to measure the floor, wall or room lengths by measuring the total area. This can help determine how many communication points are needed for a specific space or if you want to use a per metre squared rate to calculate the cost of your room or building.

measure areas of rooms using Countfire

Add manual counts 

Lastly, Countfire’s manual counts feature lets you count items that aren’t detailed on your drawings so that you can design your project as you go. This is useful for designing cabling by measuring lengths which aren’t on the drawings.

When adding a manual count you can create a description for the item and create a new symbol on the drawing itself using a shape and colour.

add manual counts using Countfire

This is useful if you need to refer back to the drawing later on, or show your estimating manager where you’ve located specific points or additions. 

See this guide for more tips on how to do linear measurements in Countfire.

3. Calculate coverage ratio

One tool that’s useful for estimating whether your communications infrastructure will cover all rooms and areas is the ability to calculate coverage radius.

calculate coverage radius using Countfire

This lets you overlay coverage circles on your drawings to visualise any coverage gaps. This may be useful for checking the availability of wireless devices to certain areas or that there are enough communication rooms to house all of the servers and routers for that area. 

4. Quality check your process

Countfire provides four inbuilt stages of checking. This is primarily to check that all symbols within a drawing have been taken off. With structured cabling, where much of the work lies in linear measurement, this may not be as important to review.

However, having all of your drawings logged in an electronic file so that they’re ready to refer back to, and your manual counts added for any additional items needed, you do have a safe port of call for any questions around your quote. 

Final thoughts

Structured cabling and data has traditionally been a difficult to decipher estimating area. But with the right tools, it’s easier to produce more accurate estimates and build trust in the industry. Give Countfire a go today, starting with our free demo and trial