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Building Materials Pricing

Getting your building materials pricing is the second step in doing your home construction Cost Estimate. (The first was getting your subcontractors' quotes.) At this point you have found some building materials suppliers who can supply your home building needs. Now it's time to get them to give you their quotes.

Note: If you arrived at this page directly from the Cost Estimate page, and haven't read about finding your subcontractors yet, click here for information on the subcontractors you'll need and how to find them.

Building materials suppliers will want to know the quantity and description of each item they are to price. They may also want to know approximately when they will be delivering the materials.

First you need to know how much stuff you’re going to need - quantities.

This counting process is called doing a takeoff. This term simply comes from the process of looking at your house blueprints and "taking off" the quantities of each item needed to build it. The results can be tabulated to give you a total Cost Estimate. We have developed Cost Estimate Forms to help you do this tabulation.

The Takeoff

Once you know what materials your subs are going to supply, you’ll be able to figure out what you must purchase . . . whatever is left! In order to be able to arrive at a Cost Estimate for your home, you’ll have to determine how many, what kind, and the price of each item.

You’ve already decided the "what kind" question when you did your plans and specifications. The suppliers and subs will tell you their prices.

That leaves the "how many" for you to determine.

Preparing this "how many" list is called “doing a cost takeoff.” Basically it’s a matter of understanding how things go together* and doing a little counting or simple math.

Brick VeneerEXAMPLE:
You know a brick and its mortar joint measure about 2.5" by 8" (you know this because you go out and measure one).

This is about .139 square feet (2.5" x 8" ÷ 144 square inches per square foot).

If you have a wall that is 8 feet tall and 40 feet long, you’ll need about 2300 brick (8 feet x 40 feet ÷ .139 square feet per brick).

If you also ask a mason or a brick supplier you'll discover that you need six 70 lb. bags of mortar mix and one cubic yard of sand for each thousand bricks.

A little simple arithmetic reveals that you’ll need 14 bags of mortar mix (2.3 thousand bricks x 6 bags of mortar mix) and 3 yards of sand (nobody is going to sell you 2.3 yards of sand).

This example is kinda bogus because, in reality, when you hire a mason, he'll provide his own mortar and sand. It'll be included in his quote. But if you're going to lay your own brick, you would be buying your own materials.

* Talking with your subs and suppliers and visiting some homes that are under construction will help you here!

Don’t let this "take off" process intimidate you. There’s good news! Most of this work will be done by others. Building materials suppliers and subcontractors will be more than happy to do your takeoffs and put together your home building costs - for the chance of supplying the work or materials.

To them it’s not complicated. They do it every day. Your main job will be to coordinate the accumulation of the various prices, and make sure the Cost Estimate is complete. If you want to know more about this process, there are a lot of good books devoted to the subject.

Please note however that many lumber yards now charge a modest fee (typically $50 - $100) to do a takeoff and building materials pricing. This is because it is a time consuming process, and they want to discourage people who are spreading dozens of plans all over town to make sure they get the absolute lowest price on every item.

They want a decent shot at getting the whole framing package. So do them and yourself a favor. Select three good quality stores you think you could work with and select one of them after getting their quotes back.

Calculator and CoffeeCHECKING THE FIGURES
You may want to get involved in the actual counting if something looks fishy with the quantity takeoffs someone has done for you. It’s always good to take a close look at everyone’s figures.

People do make mistakes!

You can do some rough estimates to check their figures. For example, you do some quick additions from the plans and find you have about 300 linear feet of walls. You know you’ll need a wall stud every 16 inches (1.3 feet).Dividing 1.3 into 300 you estimate about 230 studs (not counting extras for corners and at windows and doors).

You know something is wrong when you see the lumber yard is saying you’ll need 1,200 studs!

Go back to the supplier who did the takeoff and ask them to recheck their figures.

When you identify a supplier who carries materials you’re likely to need, you can proceed to get that supplier work up some building materials pricing (a quote). Ask to speak with someone who can quote builder prices.

Even though you may not be a full time, professional builder at this point, as the owner builder you are acting as the general contractor on this job, and are entitled to builder prices! You don’t have to deal with suppliers who do not agree on this point.

Some companies give special prices to builders, while other firms charge everyone the same price.

Always try to get the suppliers to quote unit prices instead of “lump sum” or “lot” prices. This will make your comparisons easier. Rarely will one supplier’s lot price cover exactly the same materials as another’s.

Some prices - on the framing “package”, for example - may only be good if the supplier gets the whole order. Also, you should consider service as well as price.

The terms on which a supplier sells you materials is an important consideration. Many suppliers offer a cash discount if their invoice is paid in ten days (or by the 10th of the month). This discount may be 2% or even more.

These discounts can add up to big savings. Also find out about delivery charges and restocking charges. These “hidden” costs may make your low bidder turn out to be your high bidder! As with everything else in building your home, try to eliminate unpleasant surprises by getting all the information up front.

This is the length of time the supplier will guarantee his prices will not go up. It won’t do you much good to have a quote that’s only good for 30 days if you know you aren’t going to be starting your home for another six months.

60 to 90 days is a typical period for guaranteed prices. If you start your estimating process early, be sure to confirm prices again before placing your orders. It’s possible prices may even have come down!

As with labor costs, try to get two or three quotes on each item so you can compare. At this point you are not trying to bargain hunt. Instead, you are getting a close estimate of what the home should cost to build. Whatever you save by bargain hunting when you are ready to actually purchase the materials, will be to your advantage.


There is waste involved in many operations involving materials. Studs will be split, warped, or broken. Scraps will be left over when trim materials are cut and mitered. Of course you probably won’t need any extra furnaces or even doors! These can be counted fairly accurately in advance.

The amount of extra material that should be ordered to cover waste will vary from item to item. Be sure to ask about waste requirements when working with suppliers and subs in preparing your estimate. 10% is a good working figure for framing, trim, and masonry materials.

If something sounds fishy, get a second opinion. Here is where getting more than one quote is valuable. The quantity estimates should be pretty close.

Recording The Results

Now it's time to complete your Cost Estimate by recording all your subcontractor and building materials suppliers quotes in one place. Click here to see how the Cost Estimate Forms work.

For additional insight into Suppliers Quotes,
see Lesson Eleven of our online course
Successful Home Contracting.

Return to the Home Building Answers' Home Page
from Suppliers Quotes

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