Career Guides

Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Construction Estimator

As someone looking to start or advance your career as an estimator in the construction industry, you likely have questions about the role and how to pursue it. This comprehensive guide will provide you with key details on what it takes to become a construction estimator. In the 100 informative words that follow, you'll learn about the background, responsibilities, requirements, salary ranges, and tips for finding estimator jobs. With the right information in hand, you'll be equipped to chart your path forward as a professional estimator in the fast-paced construction field. Whether you're exploring the option or actively pursuing the career, this article will serve as your guidebook to becoming a construction estimator.

What Is a Construction Estimator?

A construction estimator analyzes plans and specifications to prepare cost estimates for construction projects. Their role is crucial in determining whether a project is financially feasible before moving forward.

Job Duties and Responsibilities

The primary duty of an estimator is to calculate the total cost of a construction project based on the materials, equipment, and labor required. This involves analyzing architectural drawings, visiting the site, and meeting with subcontractors to determine costs. Estimators then prepare a detailed cost summary, including the costs of site preparation, materials, equipment, labor, and overhead. They also factor in a reasonable profit margin for the contractor.

Skills and Qualifications

To become an estimator, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in construction management, architecture, or engineering. Relevant work experience, on-the-job training, and professional certifications in areas like cost estimating and project management are also common. Strong analytical, mathematical, and communication skills are essential. Estimators should be detail-oriented and able to visualize how an architectural plan will translate into an actual built structure. They need to stay up-to-date with construction methods, materials costs, building codes, and software like computer-aided design (CAD) and estimating programs.

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of cost estimators, including construction estimators, is projected to grow 11% through 2026. Population growth and the need to improve infrastructure will drive demand for residential and commercial building construction. Experienced estimators will have the best opportunities, especially those with professional certification. The median pay for construction estimators in the US is $63,000 per year.

Typical Job Duties and Responsibilities of a Construction Estimator

Preparing cost estimates

The primary role of a construction estimator is to prepare detailed cost estimates for construction projects to help their company bid on jobs. You will analyze blueprints, specifications, and other documents to determine the materials, labor, equipment, and time required to complete the work. Then, you calculate the total cost to build the project and create a project bid or cost estimate to submit to potential clients.

Conducting site visits

To gain a better understanding of the scope and requirements of a project, you may conduct site visits. Visiting the location of a proposed construction site allows you to identify any potential issues that may impact costs like access limitations, terrain challenges, or space constraints. You can then factor these observations into your estimates.

Soliciting bids from subcontractors

For large, complex projects, general contractors rely on subcontractors to complete specialized work like electrical, plumbing, or roofing. As an estimator, you will contact subcontractors to obtain bids for their portions of the project. You will evaluate the bids and select options to include in your overall cost estimate.

Staying up-to-date with costs

Construction costs are constantly changing, so estimators must stay on top of the latest prices for materials, equipment, and labor. You need to track costs from suppliers and subcontractors and update your company's cost databases regularly. Monitoring industry trends and costs is an ongoing responsibility to ensure your estimates remain as accurate as possible.

Providing value engineering

During the estimating process, you may identify ways to reduce costs while maintaining the overall quality and functionality of the design. You can propose alternate materials or construction methods to make projects more affordable. This value engineering is an important service you provide to both clients and your own company.

Skills and Qualifications Needed to Become an Estimator

To become a construction estimator, you will need a specific set of skills and qualifications.

Educational Requirements

While there are no strict educational requirements to become an estimator, most positions prefer candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in construction management, building science, or a related field. Coursework in estimating, accounting, building materials, and construction methods is helpful. Some employers may require certification as a Certified Professional Estimator (CPE).

Technical Skills

Estimators should be proficient in specialized construction estimating software, like On Center, MC2, or Timberline. Strong skills in spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation software are also important. Estimators need to understand construction drawings, specifications, building codes, and materials. They must be adept at calculating costs, quantities, and time requirements for materials, equipment, and labor.

Soft Skills

Excellent communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills are essential for estimators. They frequently interact with contractors, architects, engineers, and building owners. Estimators must pay close attention to detail and be able to handle multiple complex projects at once. Strong analytical and math skills are required to prepare detailed cost estimates and bids.


While not always required, previous experience in a construction-related role is preferred for most estimating positions. Experience as a cost accountant, project manager, or in materials purchasing provides a solid foundation for a career as an estimator. Some estimators start out working as assistants to gain on-the-job experience.

Becoming a construction estimator requires a specialized set of technical, educational, and soft skills combined with a background in the construction industry. With the increasing demand for construction services, experienced estimators who demonstrate these qualifications are well positioned for successful careers.

Educational Requirements for Construction Estimators

To become a construction estimator, you will need certain levels of education and training. While a high school diploma is the basic requirement, many employers prefer candidates with at least an associate's degree or certification in construction management, building science, or a related field.

Associate's Degree in Construction Management

An associate's degree program provides a solid educational foundation in construction processes and techniques. Coursework typically includes classes in building materials, cost estimating, project scheduling, construction safety, and building codes. With the addition of on-the-job training, an associate's degree can prepare you for an entry-level position as a construction estimator.

Bachelor's Degree in Construction Management

A bachelor's degree in construction management, building science, or a related field provides a more comprehensive education and can lead to more advanced job opportunities. Curriculum covers areas such as structural analysis, contract administration, finance, and risk management in addition to the topics studied at the associate's level. With a few years of experience, construction estimators with a bachelor's degree can attain senior-level positions.

Professional Certification (Optional)

While not always required, professional certification can demonstrate your competence and commitment to the field. Two of the most relevant certifications for construction estimators are the Certified Construction Estimator (CCE) designation and the Certified Cost Professional (CCP) designation. To earn these certifications, you must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Certification can lead to increased job prospects and higher pay.

In summary, the typical path to becoming a construction estimator involves earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in construction management or a related field of study. Relevant coursework, on-the-job experience, and professional certification provide the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare construction estimates, manage costs, and support the successful completion of construction projects. With the proper education and training, you can build a rewarding career as a construction estimator.

Licenses and Certifications for Estimators

Construction estimators typically require certain licenses and certifications to advance their careers. Although not always mandatory, these credentials demonstrate your competency and commitment to the profession.

Professional Estimator Certification

The most well-known certification for estimators is the Certified Professional Estimator (CPE) designation offered by the American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE). To become a CPE, you must meet experience requirements, pass an exam, and abide by the ASPE Code of Ethics. The CPE credential signifies your mastery of estimating standards and best practices.

Contractor’s License

Many states require general contractors to obtain a license to operate. As an estimator working for a general contractor, understanding the licensing process in your state is important. Licensure usually requires a combination of education, experience, and an exam. Licenses are issued at multiple levels corresponding to the size and type of construction projects. Obtaining the proper license allows you to prepare estimates for licensed contractors in your state.

LEED Accreditation

For estimators focused on sustainable building projects, becoming a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) is recommended. LEED APs have a strong understanding of green building standards and the LEED rating system. The LEED AP credential, offered by the U.S. Green Building Council, requires passing an exam. As demand grows for high-performance green buildings, LEED AP estimators will be well-positioned to estimate complex sustainable construction projects.

Software and Equipment Certification

Many estimators obtain certifications in the estimating software and equipment they use on the job. For example, certifications are offered for popular tools like Bluebeam Revu, On-Screen Takeoff, and Excel. Software certifications verify your proficiency in using these digital tools to compile estimates quickly and accurately. Staying up-to-date with the latest versions of estimating software and equipment is essential for career progression.

In summary, professional licenses, certifications, and continuing education are instrumental for advancing your career as a construction estimator. Pursuing the proper credentials will increase your knowledge, skills, and opportunities in this growing field.

Construction Estimator Salary and Job Outlook

As a construction estimator, your salary can vary depending on factors like experience, education, location, and job responsibilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for construction estimators in the U.S. is around $65,000 per year. Experienced estimators with a bachelor’s degree can make $85,000 or more.

Salary Ranges

Entry-level estimators with less than five years of experience typically earn between $45,000 to $65,000 annually. Mid-level estimators, with 5-10 years of experience, earn $60,000 to $85,000. Senior estimators, especially those with professional certifications, can make $75,000 to $110,000 or higher. Salaries are often higher in large cities and metropolitan areas where the cost of living is greater.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for construction estimators is positive. According to the BLS, employment of construction estimators is projected to grow 11% from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. As construction projects become more complex, the demand for estimators is expected to increase. However, growth may fluctuate with the overall economy and level of construction activity.

Competition for jobs is expected to be strong. Experienced estimators with a degree in construction management, architecture, or engineering, as well as certification, will have the best opportunities. Staying up-to-date with construction methods, materials, and software used for estimating and project management will also help you land jobs. Developing a niche specialty, e.g. residential or commercial estimating, can make you a strong candidate.

With the right experience and skills, construction estimators can find stable employment and rewarding long-term careers. The job provides an opportunity to work on a variety of interesting projects that shape our built environment. If you enjoy technical work, analyzing costs, and providing solutions to complex problems, a career as an estimator may be ideal for you.

Finding Estimator Jobs and Advancing Your Career

Job Postings

To find work as an estimator, search online job boards like Indeed, Monster or ZipRecruiter. Construction companies regularly post openings for estimators on these sites. You can also check the websites of general contractors, subcontractors, architects and engineering firms in your area to look for job listings. Some companies may promote from within by posting jobs internally first before advertising externally. Networking is also an effective way to find new opportunities, so connect with others in the construction industry and let them know you are on the job market.

Gain Experience

Entry-level estimator jobs typically require a bachelor’s degree in construction management, building science, or a related field. As you gain more experience, you can advance to a senior estimator position. Some employers may prefer candidates with professional certifications, such as the Certified Professional Estimator (CPE) credential. Continuously strengthening your skills through on-the-job training, courses and seminars will make you a strong candidate for career progression.

Move into Management

With several years of experience, estimators can pursue project management roles which typically offer higher pay and more responsibility. Project managers oversee all aspects of construction projects, including cost, schedule, safety, quality, and client relationships. Other career options include becoming a chief estimator who leads an estimating department or starting your own estimating consulting firm.

Advancing in your career as an estimator requires dedication to continuous learning and development. Stay up-to-date with the latest construction methods, materials, and software. Build strong relationships with contractors, architects, engineers and clients. And don’t be afraid to take on more responsibility to gain valuable experience. With time and persistence, you can achieve great success as an estimator.

Key Tips for Success as a Construction Estimator

To thrive as a construction estimator, focus on accuracy, efficiency, and continuous learning. Double check your estimates to minimize errors, as inaccuracies can lead to budget overruns, scheduling issues, and unhappy clients. Work methodically and logically to determine precise calculations in a timely manner. Stay up-to-date with the latest estimating software, construction methods, and pricing data to generate the most accurate appraisals and competitive bids.

Closely evaluate project specifications, plans, and contracts to determine exact material, equipment, and labor requirements. Visit job sites to measure and inspect elements when possible. Account for waste, local regulations, permits, and zoning requirements that could impact costs. Solicit recent price quotes from subcontractors and suppliers to determine current market rates for materials and services. Apply your knowledge of building codes, safety standards, and construction best practices to identify any gaps in the initial project scope that may warrant additional costs.

Maintain detailed records of estimates, quotes, and final project expenses to strengthen your estimating abilities over time. Note any discrepancies between your initial estimates and actual costs to determine how your process can improve. Learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to enhance future appraisals. Stay actively involved in construction associations and continuously expand your skills through coursework and certifications.

Effective communication is also essential. Explain your estimates and recommendations clearly to clients, architects, and contractors. Be prepared to provide a detailed breakdown of costs and your reasoning for certain assumptions. Address any questions or concerns to ensure all parties have a comprehensive understanding of the total projected budget before moving forward. With experience, strong attention to detail, and a dedication to constant progress, you can build a successful career as a construction estimator.

FAQs About Being an Estimator in Construction

As an estimator in the construction industry, you will likely encounter questions about the role and responsibilities. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers:

What does a construction estimator do? Construction estimators analyze specifications, blueprints, and other documentation to determine the materials, labor, and costs required for a construction project. They prepare itemized cost estimates for clients to utilize in determining potential profits and in submitting bids for new contracts.

What are the requirements to become an estimator? Most construction estimators have at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like construction management, business, or engineering. Some complete vocational programs in areas like construction technology. Relevant work experience, especially in construction, is typically required. Strong skills with software like computer-aided design (CAD) programs, spreadsheets, and project management software are essential.

How much do construction estimators make? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for construction estimators in the U.S. is over $63,000 per year. Actual salaries may be higher or lower depending on factors like experience, education, location, and the contractor. Bonuses and profit-sharing can increase total compensation.

Where can I find job opportunities as an estimator? Construction estimators are employed by general contractors, subcontractors, and construction management firms. Some work as independent consultants. Look for job openings on sites like Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor. Networking through local chapters of professional organizations like the American Society of Professional Estimators can also lead to new opportunities.

What are the main job responsibilities of an estimator? The core duties of a construction estimator include:

•Analyzing specifications, drawings, and other documentation to determine material, equipment and labor requirements for a project.

•Preparing detailed cost estimates, including the costs of materials, equipment, and labor based on the specific project requirements.

•Providing clients with preliminary budget estimates to determine the feasibility of projects.

•Assisting in the preparation of bids for new contracts, including determining costs and preparing final cost estimates for submission with bids.

•Revising estimates and cost budgets as needed to account for changes in project specifications, materials costs, and other factors.

•Providing guidance to clients on ways to reduce construction costs while maintaining quality.

•Staying up-to-date with costs of construction materials, labor rates, and building codes and regulations.

•Supervising assistant estimators and interns.

Does this help provide an overview of what is involved in a career as a construction estimator? Please let me know if you have any other questions.


In summary, becoming a construction estimator can be a rewarding career path for those interested in the building industry. With the right combination of education, skills, and experience, you'll be poised to find work with construction firms and contractors. Estimating is an essential role that keeps projects on time and on budget. If you enjoy attention to detail, have strong math abilities, and a knack for problem-solving, this could be an excellent profession for you to pursue. With hard work and dedication, you can establish yourself as a construction estimator and play a key part in building the infrastructure of the future. This concludes our comprehensive guide; we hope it provided valuable insights and direction as you consider embarking on this career journey.

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