Old-School Insulation Estimating

Try this old-school hack for estimating insulation jobs.

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Allied Insulation Sales Representative Ben Balch

Getting accurate estimates for insulation installation jobs in new construction homes sounds like a relatively simple undertaking, but for some contractors, getting precise material quantities for jobs can be a challenge. Do you use software to estimate materials, or do you have an estimator review the construction plans? Is it necessary to “walk the house” to get the materials estimates? What’s the best approach? Insulation Institute talked with three building industry professionals about providing accurate estimates for batt and blown in insulation jobs and why it matters to get it right the first time.

Widespread Problem Or Not?

Across the board, the building industry professionals we spoke with said providing accurate job estimate for fiberglass batt and blown-in insulation in new construction is a widespread issue that impacts contractors whether they’re using batts or blown-in insulation.

“There is an issue with both,” said Yudah Schwartz of SuperSeal Insulation. “Blown-in is less of a problem because the material is in the truck and it’s one-size-fits-all, so we just take a few extra bags to make sure,” Schwartz said. “With batts, there are usually three or four types of insulation or more delivered into a house, so the issue is different.” Not having material on hand and readily available is problematic. Sure, it’s inconvenient to have to return to a warehouse and re-stock a truck, but that’s not the most pressing concern. The larger issue is the lost money on the job for the contractor and the lost productivity to the builder.

“You don’t want to be the contractor that has to tell a builder that you underestimated the material needed for the job,” said Allied Insulation Sales Representative Ben Balch. That uncomfortable conversation will test even the best business relationships between a builder and an insulation contractor.

Why Getting It Right Matters

Some building industry pros say that builders typically change insulation contractors every two-to-three years to ensure cost competitiveness. In a business where product costs may be relatively comparable, quality service may be the thing that cinches the deal. But how good is your service as an insulation contractor if you can’t get your job estimates right? If you’re the contractor, you’ll take a hit on the job if you quote one estimate and the job requires more. Luckily, there’s a pretty simple fix for that, according to Balch, who represents the second-largest insulation contractor in the booming Dallas metroplex housing market.

“I’m old school with takeoffs. There are software programs that help in estimating insulation needed for the job, but I believe the low-tech approach works best.” he noted. “There are a couple of questions I need to know upfront, including who’s the framer? Have they done this house before? Where are the plans and has anything changed?”

“Underestimating happens unless the sales guy/estimator or the super actually goes out to walk the framed house before the install. If you’re just looking at a set of plans, you’re guessing about things like HVAC decking. You won’t know how much attic decking is used over the living space or whether its 15” on center or 23″. This will determine which batt material you bring to the job and affect the attic blow totals, which must be changed to accurately estimate the job for proper profit analysis,” Balch explained.

“I walk every house that I’m a part of to get it right the first time. The builder benefits by getting an accurate estimate the first time and no lost productivity.”

That’s Ben Balch’s method, but what have other contractors experienced?

RESNET Deputy Director Cardice Howard, a former insulation contractor weighted in. “There are software programs and I know many contractors that use them. The problem isn’t that the software is not accurately calculating the estimate. The problem is that the build jobs are often changed from the plans and the contractors aren’t informed,” Howard said. “The only way to combat this issue is to walk every insulation job physically, which some contractors do.”

Why the Framer Matters

In a bustling housing market quality framers are in high demand. Balch noted that framing contractors are not all alike and working with a new framer can be even more difficult because of the unknown factors. Novice crews are used to keep up with production schedules and can make costly and time-consuming mistakes that delay the insulation install. “You really have to get to know that crew to learn what to expect, but more importantly, you have to be physically in that house to walk every part of it so that you can get that estimate right the first time.”

The Simplest Solution Can Be Best

It’s a simple solution. Some may view walking the house as time-consuming, but it may also be the best solution to reducing costs and increasing productivity during this stage of the home-building process.

Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd is the Director of Communications for North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).