Is your cost estimator using SketchUp? They should be

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Private residence, Asheville. (Architect: Michael McDonough.)

Cost estimates provide critical data for clients, designers, and builders to determine the scope of a project. When looking for a reasonable cost estimator, you should look for one that knows the local market’s ins and outs to calculate precise labor, material, and equipment costs. Another aspect to consider when looking for a cost estimator — do they know SketchUp? They should, says Russ Thames, a (project) estimator at a high-end residential construction company. 

“SketchUp is beneficial in that it allows me to answer questions or see around corners that aren’t shown well on 2D plans — just by building it in 3D space.  I can show clients the depths Jade Mountain Builders goes to envision their project and provide realistic estimates. SketchUp has enriched the detail and scope I can provide clients. ” 

Russ uses SketchUp in conjunction with traditional cost estimating programs for accurate results. SketchUp is an essential asset for his company, Jade Mountain Builders, and its clients. 

“SketchUp has transformed the way I work! Our clients usually come to us anxious to know the cost of their house. If the estimate for their home comes back higher than anticipated, it’s much easier to correct the budget at an early stage than if they had paid to have their plans fully developed. Using 3D modeling software helps me create as comprehensive a budget as possible.”  

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Private residence, Asheville, NC. (Architect: Mark Rudolf, vellum architecture + design)

Learning the 3D trade

Russ first heard of SketchUp back when he was a carpenter. Many in his craft pre-build projects in 3D before they tackled them in real life, but he didn’t use SketchUp much until becoming a project estimator.  A go-getter who taught himself 3D modeling, Russ started learning the modeling software from YouTube experts like Mike Brightman, Matt Donley, and, of course, SketchUp’s tutorial host, Aaron Dietzen. The dots (or should we say 3D lines?) of learning SketchUp fully connected for him when he attended 3D Basecamp for the first time in 2018. Learning is a continual process, and Russ is always looking for new tricks in SketchUp to refine his cost estimating workflow. 

Side note: The best place for immersive SketchUp training is 3D Basecamp. It will be held (in person!) this year from September 26-30 in Vancouver, BC.

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Private residence, Asheville, NC. (Architect: Mark Rudolf, vellum architecture + design)

Why not stay in 2D?

At first glance, SketchUp seems an unlikely tool for cost estimating. However, Russ assures us it cuts the you-know-what out of budget assumptions. Plus, it’s a big time-saver. Suppose a measurement is not shown in the original material. In that case, you can pull the needed measurement out of a 3D model faster than if you had to figure out the calculations solely from a 2D drawing. 

“When clients come to Jade Mountain Builders, they have a basic plan. It’s usually a design that has gone through schematic design or design development. At that point, clients haven’t paid for more detailed drawings because they need to know the budget first. I use SketchUp to see in 3D what is not in the preliminary plans.”

The short of it

Here’s a quick rundown of a workflow for a typical cost estimating project for residential design. 

  1. Get those documents! You can ask the architect to export a SketchUp file from ArchiCad, but Russ prefers getting a 2D plan. That way, he can set up the groups and other model features the ‘right’ way.
  2. Build that model in 3D! Set up your scenes and isolate different materials you want to price out (for example, all the custom siding on a house). Here’s how to create high-resolution, seamless textures inside SketchUp.

Pro-tip: Do your model a solid and use Solid Inspector to find any stray marks or lines that may ruin your model. Other helpful extensions are Profile Builder and Medeek Wall.

  1. Calculate your material quantities using the powerful extension, Estimator, for SketchUp.
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A 3D SketchUp model of a private residence for which Russ provided cost estimates. (Architect: Michael McDonough.)

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Russ created this specific scene of the private residence to show the foundation and framing. The different materials can be isolated and priced out.  (Architect: Michael McDonough.) 

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Here is the same private residence showing the plan perspective in LayOut. (Architect: Michael McDonough.) 

“We do not try to convince people to build their house; we try to give people the most accurate estimate possible so they can make an informed decision as to whether they can afford to build it!” 

Technology is changing the way work gets done all the time. Add SketchUp to your estimating arsenal, or hire a professional who knows the ins and outs of 3D for a better cost projection. 

Don’t have SketchUp? Check out our free 30-day trial or subscribe to SketchUp

About Jade Mountain Builders

With our team of conscientious craftspeople, Jade Mountain Builders has earned a reputation for consistently producing ecologically sensitive works of art for people to call home. Our crew installs everything, from exterior trim and landscaping to interior custom built-ins and kitchen cabinets. Jade Mountain Builders’ capacity to build floor to ceiling in a home allows quicker completion than our competition. The best way to build a house is to have all of the craftsmen in-house!