Construction Cost Book: What Is It and Why Do I Need One?

Construction cost books (“databases”) are crucial for those who need price points beyond their personal database. Why? Because your estimate is only as good as the cost data you use within it.

This ultimately means that cost books aren’t for everyone. If you work on highly similar projects with the same vendors, you may not need to invest in construction cost data. You’ve essentially developed your own custom cost database by keeping this information in a notebook, Excel sheet, or Access database. But when you come to a point where you need to rely on construction estimating books, there’s no comparable alternative to accurate cost data.

What Are Cost Books?

Cost books are databases of price points for construction estimates. This can include the cost of materials, equipment, and labor. If we pull back and focus on what cost data is, we should understand that the it’s the most basic element of a cost estimate and therefore data is the estimate line item or work item[1].

Because construction cost data changes all the time, cost books are sometimes sold on a yearly or quarterly basis. Other cost books are updated on an ongoing basis and available to cost estimators for a subscription fee.

How Are Construction Cost Books Used?

Cost books are used by engineers to determine the estimated cost of a construction project. These specialized experts utilize construction cost data to calculate prices based on the needs and scope of the project.

Construction estimating books are distinct from construction estimating software. While the two certainly go hand-in-hand, cost books generate data that are then plugged into the software. That means cost books are useful for programs as simplistic as Excel spreadsheets as well as more robust and collaborative software like PT&C’s CostPro.

Who Provides Construction Cost Books?

There are many legitimate resources for construction cost data that are widely available in various forms. Physical books, ebooks, CDs, and fully digital cloud-based options all exist.

  • Physical Books: RSmeans, BNi, and Craftsman
  • Digital books or CDs: RSmeans, BNi, Craftsman, Sierra West, and Saylor
  • Cloud-based: RSmeans and CostCenter’s Cost Book database

How to Identify a High-Quality Construction Estimating Book

Not all construction estimating books are created equally. Some simply adjust the costs based on inflation, ignore new technology, and include outdated line items like fluorescent lighting instead of LED.

To identify high-quality cost books, you have to make sure there’s high-quality construction cost data within them. Here are some key features to look for:

  • Constant data updates, particularly on the most-used items like concrete and steel.
  • Location-specific cost data, not just the average price across the country.
  • The ability to dig deeper into the data to find out where it came from and when it was updated.
  • High-relevance to the current market, taking into account realistic crew expectations and technological advancements.

Some cost books can be so inaccurate and overstuffed, many construction companies will find better in-house data based on personal experience. That’s the main reason why we recommend that construction companies keep a separate cost database pulled from past and ongoing projects.

Aren’t All Cost Books Essentially the Same?

If you’re accustomed to using only one cost book, then it probably seems like the ultimate resource. But just because something is a near-bottomless cost database doesn’t mean the data itself is reliable. Aim for quality data, not quantity.

Contractor frustrated with construction cost data

The team at PT&C consists of experienced cost estimators, which means we have a lot of experience dealing with inaccurate cost books. And speaking from that experience, we can say with total confidence that the following issues will happen repeatedly with a subpar cost database:

  • Lost contracts
  • Lengthy project delays
  • Less repeat business
  • Useless cost plans that need to be redone
  • Delays to future projects, disrupting goals

The list goes on. And what’s most frustrating is that it can all be avoided with the most accurate data.

Where Can You Find the Best Construction Cost Data?

This is a question we asked ourselves at PT&C long before the company was formed. And we didn’t have an answer. That’s why we created CostBook.

But our cost estimators didn’t just create CostBook, they utilize it for their own cost estimates. From fast-food restaurants in Atlanta to high-rises in Chicago, the PT&C team puts their jobs and reputations on the line every day with their internally sourced construction cost book.

This creates two levels of advantage. First, the construction cost data is collected by real experts in the field. They make a point to be the first to know about the newest technology, even shadowing ongoing projects utilizing machinery that’s brand-new to the market.

Second, the CostBook cost database offers localized material prices, regional contingencies, and current labor estimates. Every line item is updated on an ongoing basis, including updating high-use items on a quarterly basis at a minimum.

Simply put, the difference between CostBook and other construction cost data resources is the pure amount of manpower, backed by folks in the field putting that same data to work across the country.

PT&C doesn’t do data mining or blind estimates based on inflation. CostBook is based on real-world, real-time data specific to location. Everything is searchable as well, not just listed on endless pages.

Cost Data Shouldn’t Be Dated Before The Ink Has Time To Dry

Accurate and easily accessible construction cost data can be a game-changer, yet it’s an area of construction that seems to be falling behind the rest of contech. The greatest asset and time saver for you is to be able to identify the features of a high-quality cost database — this includes the medium the cost data is presented, how often it’s updated, and how much you can rely on the numbers.

If our approach to CostBook has piqued your interest then please jump over to our product page to learn more. But specs on a sheet can only go so far, our team would be happy to set up a 1:1 demo with you to see our products in action.




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