What is Plumbing Estimating?

What is Plumbing Estimating?

Plumbing estimating is a crucial aspect of any construction project involving plumbing systems. Before you can successfully estimate plumbing costs, you must know what a plumbing system is and its functions. A contractor knows the importance of plumbing estimates and their associated challenges. Estimating plumbing costs can be challenging and time-consuming as there are many variables. But with the right tools, it can be manageable and more straightforward.

What is plumbing estimating?

Plumbing estimating is the process of calculating the projected costs and materials needed to complete a plumbing project. An accurate estimate accounts for all expenses, including materials (pipes, fittings, fixtures), labor hours, equipment rentals, and overhead such as insurance and administration fees.

It also enables the submission of well-calculated bids when quoting for client projects. The aim is to predict total project costs as precisely as possible to avoid financial losses from underbidding or missed opportunities from overbidding.

Accurate plumbing estimating helps create transparency between the plumber and the customer. It also ensures the job is properly budgeted for and priced fairly based on the scope of work. Estimating expertise is crucial for plumbers to run an efficient, profitable business.

Why are estimates so important?

The quality of your plumbing estimates could make or break your ability to win new business. Professional-looking estimates instill confidence in potential customers that you know the ins and outs of the plumbing trade. Remember that your estimates should not only look good on paper, but their attention to detail is equally crucial.

Your plumbing estimates need to be as accurate as possible to:
  • Avoid any disputes
  • Earn a good reputation
  • Win more jobs
Creating thoughtful and accurate estimates will give you a stellar reputation, and as your reputation grows, you are likely to win more plumbing jobs. Your closing ratio will improve as more prospects choose your estimates for their clarity and precision.

The Challenge of Plumbing Estimating

Creating accurate estimates has always been a challenge in the plumbing business. This is due to intricate systems, costly materials, and many other factors. Let us talk about the issues with plumbing estimates.

1. Inaccurate Job Costing: There has always been a constant struggle to deliver accurate estimates, which could lead to low profit margins in the plumbing business. You may not be fully accounting for all your costs, especially labor costs.

Plumbing contractors sometimes do not realize how much time their workers spend on tasks that are not directly paid for by customers. These tasks, like meetings, travel, and training, are called non-billable tasks.

2. Embracing Technological Advancements: 

Many plumbing contractors still like to go with old-school approaches like spreadsheets and crating bids with calculators. As technology advances, plumbing estimating contractors also face the challenge of staying ahead of the curve. 

It is where taking help from tools and software is essential to maintaining accuracy and efficiency. Adopting new technologies improves the process and ensures that your business remains competitive in the tech-driven world.

3. Managing Regulatory Complexity: 

Plumbing contractors in the USA often struggle with understanding and keeping up with many regulations. Local, state, and federal regulations add layers of complexity to cost estimation and project planning. Contractors must stay vigilant and continually update their knowledge of regulatory changes and to ensure compliance and prevent costly delays.

4. Balancing precision and efficiency is critical:

Clients today want both precision and speed, which can be tricky to balance. Plumbing estimators must find a way to provide accurate estimates quickly. Achieving the critical balance requires simplified processes, advanced technologies, and a deep understanding of project complexities.

5. Poor Estimate Tracking and Follow-up: Creating quotes for the project is the first step in plumbing estimating. But, following through with the initial projections can be a real challenge. The profitability of your projects depends on accurate estimating, and it is where contractors often fail to meet projections.

It is no longer sufficient to rely solely on basic programs like Excel spreadsheets, email, and Google documents. Plumbing estimating software helps to create accurate and quick estimates.

6. Time challenges: Plumbing contractors often face a tough time meeting project deadlines because they are under constant pressure to complete their estimates quickly when bidding on construction jobs. Rushing can lead to even more mistakes, and that can result in spending more money.

7. For instance: They might not have enough time to find the latest prices, equipment, and labor, and this might lead to outdated information. They may not review the projects properly when they are in a hurry, and this might also lead to incorrect estimates for necessary plumbing work.

Tight deadlines often make it really hard for plumbing contractors to get things right and also hurt the bottom line.

Types of Estimates

Construction estimators typically use four main types of estimates, even though they may have different names. Most estimators agree these four estimate types are important parts of the estimating process. The four estimate types are outlined below and described in more detail later in this chapter.

1. Order of Magnitude Estimates: These estimates define costs in relation to the usable units designed for a facility, such as cost per hospital bed. For example, if a hospital administrator is planning an expansion, knowing the cost per bed allows a rough estimate of the overall project cost based on the number of beds. The same approach can be used for other facilities, like estimating the cost per apartment for an apartment building or the cost per ton for an air conditioning system.

2. Square Foot and Cubic Foot Estimates: Typically, this type of estimate is often useful when you have good ideas about the proposed size and use of a planned building. This method can be completed within an hour or two.

3. Assemblies (or Systems) Estimates:

An assembly estimate is most useful as a budgetary tool during the planning stages of a project after certain parameters have been established, such as the size of the space and the owner's requirements. This type of estimate may take up to a day to complete.

4. Unit Price Estimates: You need working drawings and full specifications to complete a unit price estimate. This type of estimate is the most accurate but also the most time-consuming of the four types.

Also Read: Say Goodbye to Manual Plumbing Estimates: Simplify it with Estimation Software

How do you estimate a plumbing job the right way?

As the leading industry player, we understand that plumbing estimates face significant challenges during creation. That's why we will discuss the core steps in plumbing estimating to ensure that they can be executed well.

Do you want to know how you can simplify your plumbing business operations? Schedule a call with us, and we will walk you through the features to help you move the needle in your plumbing business.

1. Review the Bid Request: 

The very first step in plumbing estimating is to review the bid requests from general contractors. Find out if you can meet the client's or builder's requirements. Pay close attention to factors such as project location, project pacing, material supply, and payout terms.

Monitor the specifications that may impact the bottom line. This first step lays the groundwork for an accurate and feasible proposal, eliminating potential misunderstandings or costly adjustments later in the project.

2. Review the Drawings and Plans:

Apart from your plumbing bid request, you must thoroughly review all the project plans and drawings. It may involve examining multiple house plans. Carefully reviewing the plans ensures an accurate plumbing takeoff and helps identify any special challenges or requirements for each home design.

It is important to understand the unique details of each plan, including architectural elements, complexities of the plumbing system, and compliance with local building codes. It helps you accurately account for all the plumbing work needed in your bid.

3. Estimate Material Costs: 

After you have determined the quantities, you need to estimate the cost of materials. Consider factors such as material prices, supplier discounts, bulk purchase savings, and fluctuations in material costs. Keep detailed records of material expenses and regularly update your pricing database to ensure accurate estimates.

Carefully manage profit margins during this step, as material prices can vary widely based on factors like supply chain issues or demand changes. Ensure that you maintain reasonable margins even when material costs are volatile.

4. Determine Labor Costs: 

Labor costs play a key role in plumbing estimates. While estimating labor costs, determine the number of hours needed for installation based on the project scope and complexity—factor in the skill level required and any additional labor expenses like apprentices or subcontractors.

Carefully balance quality and efficiency when calculating labor hours. Consider the complexity of the job, the experience of your plumbers, and the potential for overtime or extra labor to meet tight schedules.

Ensure you account for all the necessary work while remaining competitive on labor pricing.

5. Price the Estimate for Profitability:

After you have estimated the labor and material costs, another important consideration is profitability.

When setting your final bid price, you need to consider factors like demand, competitor pricing, and the complexity of the project. Avoid the temptation to underprice your bid but remain competitive. Conduct a comprehensive review of your estimate to ensure it covers all expenses and builds in a reasonable profit margin.

Finding the right balance is critical to ensure you win the bid and the project also adds value to your bottom line.


Accurate estimates ensure efficient use of resources and prevent cost overruns. That's why plumbing estimation requires you to have a thorough understanding of the process, concepts, and the right use of tools and techniques. Continuous learning, taking help from technology, and networking can improve your plumbing estimation skills and project execution.

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