Accurate estimating is key in today’s market where material prices are high and margins are tight. Even the slightest mistake could end up costing profit on a job. Many MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) contractors are still using pen and paper to estimate—which can take quite a bit of time and is more prone to errors. Construction software can help MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) estimators determine how much material to use.

True, the market conditions are requiring contractors to be more accurate in estimates, but here is another reason to consider putting the pen and paper aside and implementing new technology: MEP estimating software providers have been coming to market with more technology advances to make the process a little bit easier for the construction industry, and in some cases the technology is more affordable for the smaller construction shops.

For example, yesterday, TurboBid, www.turbobid.net, Plainfield, Ill., a provider of electrical estimating software for the construction industry, introduced the ability to estimate plumbing construction to its line of products.

TurboBid’s new plumbing estimating database includes tens of thousands of items and assemblies to allow users to complete plumbing construction estimates using current material pricing and labor units. Both of the plumbing and electrical estimating databases allow estimators to complete takeoffs using digital blueprints.

This follows a June statement from McCormick Systems, www.mccormicksys.com, Chandler, Ariz., that announced it is entering the plumbing and mechanical construction market. Since that time, the company also recently revamped its entry-level estimating software solution for specialty contractors.

This summer, Accubid Systems, a division of Trimble Navigation, www.trimble.com, Sunnyvale, Calif., also made many updates to its line of products. For example, with LiveCount Pro, MEP contractors can mark up digital image files to manage the quantification process during takeoffs. In addition, an auto-count feature with symbol recognition can automatically quantify like objects in the drawing.

In August, ConEst Software Systems, www.conest.com, Manchester, N.H., announced version 7 of its IntelliBid Estimating Software, which is completely rewritten for SQL Server on the Microsoft .NET platform, and introduces integration with DraftLogic Electrical,www.draftlogic.com, Spruce Grove, Alta., a computer-aided design program specifically built for the electrical industry.

For contractors—from electrical to general contractors—On-Screen Takeoff from On Center Software, www.oncenter.com, The Woodlands, Texas, continues to be a product that helps the industry count objects such as light fixtures, switches, and outlets on electronic plans. In an effort to help contractors take full advantage of the software and create more accurate takeoffs and bids, the company now offers a 24-hour customer service desk.

While the market for electrical estimating has been heating up and many of the technology providers have been unveiling new features for the software, MEP contractors can likely expect the same innovation going forward in 2012.

For example, N2 Inc., www.bestestimatepro.com, Fargo, N.D., a provider of estimating software for electrical contractors, has developed a new Android app for its Best Estimate Pro software, and plans to release additional functionality for that app by the end of the year.

Joel Nix, CEO, N2 Inc., says, “Most of the people we talk with are still using pencil and paper to estimate. We are trying to provide a product that can bridge that gap and be affordable … Estimating software in general saves time and money. If your time is worth something then you need to use it.”

The construction industry has seen quite a bit of news surrounding MEP estimating technology enhancements in recent months, and will likely see additional functionality in the months to come. For smaller companies, this could be a good time to get up and running with the software. Technology providers are offering great deals to get started, and the software will provide overall value in the long run.