Boston Green Building, in Allston, Mass., uses a 160 line-item spreadsheet to estimate projects, reviewing the spreadsheet after project completion to fine-tune its process and periodically checking with trades for updated pricing, owner Brian Butler says.

Each section of the sheet is based on Construction Specifications Institute project divisions, starting with site work and foundation and ending with interior finishing. “Every construction division has its own tab,” Butler says. E.g., the insulation tab covers all types of insulation that could be used on a project, including rigid roof, ridge wall, spray foam, blown cellulose, fiberglass batts, recycled denim batts, etc. “When we are cost-coding this way,” Butler says, “we can get that much more granular on our over/under and look back at jobs for things that worked well and things that didn’t.”

Butler tailors the spreadsheet for each project type. Cape Cods, he says, have massive roofs with a much lower wall-insulating budget, while Victorian houses might have an insulation section 20 lines long due to turrets, overhangs, balconies, and cantilevers. “I can figure in square footages for all facets of the house, including roof area, basement, attic ceiling knee walls, etc.,” he says.

Open-Book Leads

Butler credits the estimator he hired two years ago with fleshing out each project division. The spreadsheet is a key aspect of the company’s pre-construction preparations and is especially helpful for the company’s energy-efficient focus. “We work every proposal out of this spreadsheet,” Butler says. It also helps clients stay within budget because the remodeler can easily eliminate segments of the design from the spreadsheet for updated numbers.

The spreadsheet is part of the company’s open-book method, with costs and markup fully disclosed to clients. It highlights the company’s professionalism and helps to weed out clients who don’t appreciate the detailed process. “Some people zone in on every single line item,” Butler says. “The amount of pre-construction time spent arguing line items — it qualifies the lead. Sometimes you have to walk away.”

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.