How to Estimate HVAC Jobs

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Do you need to learn how to estimate HVAC jobs? Are you an HVAC professional growing your business? Getting clients and staying profitable are two different skills.

To improve your bottom line, you must know how to estimate HVAC jobs. This process entails accurately budgeting your projects, so you don’t take a loss.

Let’s walk through the process you will want to follow before presenting your client with a number.

Understand the Scope of Work

Success begins with accurate HVAC project cost estimation. Ensure you understand the exact scope of the HVAC work required and that it is a good fit for your business.

Analyze the construction documents and follow up on any missing or unclear information. Bidding materials are sometimes inaccurate or incomplete.

Confirm any changes with the client in writing. Some clients don’t understand the complexity of HVAC work and need you to hold them accountable for requirements.

Don’t rush the research phase. The foundational step in mastering how to price HVAC jobs is understanding the project thoroughly. Miss an element, and you will underprice your work and take a loss.

Complex Commercial Projects

Knowing how to bid commercial HVAC jobs takes experience and planning. Accurate HVAC job costing involves pricing equipment, labor, and particular circumstances that require extra resources.

A mechanical engineer designs the HVAC system and includes detailed specifications in the construction documents. As an HVAC subcontractor, you will estimate the job from these plans.

Identify the scale from the mechanical engineering sheet and the scale factor from the architectural plans.

Note any problematic or awkward HVAC layouts, additional parts, or unusual equipment. You will have higher costs associated with these constraints, and you want to estimate accordingly.

Special Building Requirements

Knowing how to estimate HVAC jobs includes identifying any project challenges that will cost you extra.

Consider the building and its immediate environment. Will you need to accommodate unique requirements, such as maintaining historical appearance?

Is the building a high rise or in a location that will take extra time and effort to access?

Some projects involve existing buildings that are being retrofitted or upgraded. In these cases, the client may expect you to choose the new system.

When estimating system capacity, don’t stop at the square footage. Account for the insulation, windows, and other factors affecting temperature retention.

You want to avoid installing an underpowered or overpowered system. Also, make sure that the electrical system can handle the proposed HVAC plans.

You may need to propose that the client upgrade insulation, the electrical system, or other features before installing HVAC.

Create a Takeoff

The next step is to create a takeoff, a list of all equipment and parts needed. Have a set of plans that you can mark up.

Assess the mechanical ducts from the drawings. Determine their locations, total length, and the number of turns and angles.

Note if the plans specify more than one duct type and width and make a list of the different sizes and total lengths. The mechanical engineering sheet should contain the duct details.

List all the specified mechanical equipment and numbers needed.  This includes fans, air handlers, heating units, and air conditioning units.

The sheet should provide specifications next to each part or in the notes section. The details should include size or capacity, manufacturer, and model number.

List all additional mechanical equipment, including vent grills, thermostats, and equipment-mounting hardware. Note any unique specifications due to regulations.

Get a quote for the unit cost of all materials from your HVAC supply company and multiply by the number needed for each item. Track any equipment that requires a particular order.

Price Labor

HVAC labor costs vary by job, and you might not have all the skills in-house for each project. You may need to hire specialists or more people.

If so, add a buffer when estimating their time. Project time often runs over and can quickly get expensive. You don’t want to eat the cost.

Make sure you have accurate hourly rates for additional hires. Are they union or non-union, and are there any extra expenses?

When required, include other experts on your team, such as project managers.

When you’ve completed your estimate, package it in a format suitable for showing the client.

Use Tools and Resources to Understand How to Estimate HVAC Jobs

If you don’t already have one, consider adding an HVAC estimator to your team. This person will run point on estimating jobs.

Understanding how to estimate HVAC jobs isn’t easy, and even experienced professionals benefit from training on it.

Keep some HVAC estimating books on hand for convenient reference. Familiarize yourself and your team with the basics of successful construction bidding.

Hands-on practice is the best way to learn and to know which questions to ask. Many HVAC programs offer courses where you can learn HVAC estimating.

If you miss key project elements, you will underprice your work and take a loss. Protect your HVAC business by mastering the estimation process. 

So to recap: You need to add up the cost of the material, plus labor. Then you can just apply your markup percentage and you’re good to go!