By Joe Stoddard. Many remodelers use CAD to create drawings and sales presentations but skip another important feature: the ability to automatically estimate materials. Chief Architect, SoftPlan, VectorWorks, ArchiCAD, Cadsoft Build!, TurboCAD, AutoCAD, Visio, and other CAD programs all can count and report items on a drawing. Used correctly, CAD-assisted estimating saves time, eliminates mistakes, and adds to professionalism.

Keep it simple. Your CAD system doesn't have to count every drywall screw to be a useful estimating tool. If all you do is generate an error-free, faxable window/door schedule, you'll have saved an hour or two on every estimate.

Share data. Most CAD systems generate materials lists as a plain-vanilla ASCII (text) file that can be opened in Word, Excel, or another estimating program. From there, you can modify quantities and prices and format the output to look like your standard contract and promotional materials.

Close the loop. Once a project is complete, tweak the electronic estimates to reflect the actual materials used to build the job. Over time, your CAD-generated estimates will be as trustworthy as your ledger pad and colored pencils.

--Joe Stoddard, a technology consultant to the construction industry, can be reached at