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Adjust Accordingly: Using


database labor
Published:May2016
ByStephenCarr

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heotherday,Isawanonlinediscussionabout
usingthelaborunitsthatcomewithcomputer
estimatingsystems.Thequestionwaswhether
youshouldusethelaborunitsasis.Thesimple
answerismaybe.Thecomplexanswerisalso
maybe.

Thebottomlineisthattheapplicationoflaborunitscanbeverycomplex.Letsstartwithwheretheycome
from.TheNationalElectricalContractorsAssociation(NECA)firstpublishedtheManualofLaborUnits(MLU)
in1923.Ataskforceofmembercontractorsfromavarietyofmarketsandcontractorsizesrevisesitevery
otheryear.Youshoulddefinitelyreadtheinstructionsinthefrontofthemanualandeachsectionbeforeusing
thelaborunits.

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Therearethreecolumnsoflaborunits:normal,difficultandverydifficult.Itisimportanttounderstandthatthe
normalcolumnisonlytobeusedforsimpleconstruction,includingitemssuchasnewconstructionwithnew
materials,threestoriesandfewer,insideyournormalgeographicalareaofwork,withinstandardhours,etc.A
completelistofconditionsandalaborfactorscoresheetareinthemanual.Anydeviationfromnormal
conditionsisareasontoadjustyourlaborunits.Mostoften,youwilladjustthemupward.

Its complex
Heresareallifeexample.Iwasestimatinga1millionsquarefoothangerforMcDonnellDouglas.Thescope
includedtheinstallationof14,400feetof4footrigidconduitabovethetruss.Theconduitwastobeinstalled
infourparallelruns.Sincethetrussheightvariedfrom5080feetabovethefloor,zoomboomswouldbe
requiredtofacilitatetheinstallation.However,diggingintothedocuments,wediscoveredthegeneral
contractorwouldsuspendaworkplatformfromthebridgecranerails.Theplatformwouldchangepositions
everytwoweeks,eventuallycoveringtheentirebuilding.Thismeantwecouldmakeourinstallationsusingan
8footladder.
Asyoucanimagine,comingupwithalaborunitforthisinstallationwascomplicated.Rightupfront,wehave
oneofthefewreasonstofactorlabordown:parallelconduits.Fourparallelconduitscouldhavealabor
deductionofaround20percent.Next,sinceweareworkingontheplatform,wedonotneedtofactorupfor
theheight.However,weneedtoconsiderhowmuchtimeittakestoaccesstheplatform.Inthiscase,there
wasonlyoneconstructionelevator,sowehadtoanticipatedelays.Inaddition,sincethebuildingwassobig,
ittookalongtimetogetfromouryardtotheworklocationsinthebuilding.Comingupwiththelaborfactor
fortimespentgettingmenandmaterialsuptotheplatformandthenbackdownwasdifficult,becausethis
kindofsituationwasnotinanylabormanualIhadeverseen.Wehadtomakeajudgmentbasedon
experienceandalittleguesswork.
Letsgetbacktotheoriginalquestionaboutthelaborunitsthatcomewithestimatingsystems.Thesesystems
oftencomewithseveralcolumnsoflaborunits.ThreeofthemareusuallysimilartothecolumnsintheMLU.
AfourthcolumncompetitiveisoftenincludedandislessthantheMLUnormalcolumn.Becarefulusing
thiscolumnbecauseitismeantforcontractorsworkinginareasandonprojectswheretheygetsuperior
productionfromtheircrews.Ifyouareatsuchacompany,thesecompetitiveunitscanbeusedbasedonyour
companysexperience.

Release the hounds


Duringmyfirst10yearsasanestimator,Iwasfortunatetohaveworkedatseveralcompaniesthatpracticed
trackingthelaborusedonaprojectbycategories,suchasfixtures,roughinandfinish.Irecommendkeeping
thenumberofbasiccategoriestoaroundadozen,withafewmoreforspecialsystemsonaproject.
Thisaccomplishestwothings.First,itisaprojectmanagementtoolthatallowsyoutoseeifyouareusingup
theestimatedlaborforacategorytooquickly,soyouhaveachancetoinvestigateandmakecorrections

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beforeitistoolate.Second,whentheprojectisdone,youcananalyzethedifferencesbetweentheestimated
laborandtheactuallabor.Havingthiskindofhistoricaldataisagreattoolforfutureestimates.
Sotheanswertotheoriginalquestionisyes,youcanusethelaborunitsthatcomewithanestimatingsystem
ifaprojectfallsunderthenormalconditionsthattheMLUdescribes.Iftheprojectisnotnormal,youmust
adjustyourlaborunitsaccordingly.
Estimating, Databases, Labor, LaborUnits

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