For every great product that’s been made, from the tiny cameras in smartphones to the Golden Gate Bridge, the close scrutiny of a cost estimator helped make sure it could be built. Cost estimators estimate the time, money, materials, and labor needed to manufacture a product, construct a building, or provide a service. Because of the detailed knowledge they gain through continual data collection and analysis, cost estimators usually specialize in a particular product or industry. Construction cost estimators calculate total costs of building major projects such as a shopping center, or sports arena, or the cost of one element, such as a building foundation. Besides accounting for raw materials and labor costs, estimators factor in bad weather, shipping delays, and other variables that affect a project’s costs and timeline. Manufacturing estimators calculate the costs of producing or redesigning products, such as a dishwasher, or new software. Though estimators mostly work in offices, they may need to visit construction sites and factory floors to gather information. They typically work for engineering or construction firms, and frequently collaborate with teams of engineers and architects as well as with clients and contractors. A bachelor’s degree is generally required, although highly experienced construction workers may qualify without a degree. Strong math and analytical skills, and detail orientation are essential.

Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to estimate the time, money, materials, and labor required to manufacture a product, construct a building, or provide a service. They generally specialize in a particular product or industry.

What Do Cost Estimators Do?


Cost estimators typically do the following:

  • Identify factors affecting costs, such as production time, materials, and labor
  • Read blueprints and technical documents in order to prepare estimates
  • Collaborate with engineers, architects, clients, and contractors
  • Calculate, analyze, and adjust estimates
  • Recommend ways to reduce costs
  • Work with sales teams to prepare estimates and bids for clients
  • Maintain records of estimated and actual costs

Accurately estimating the costs of construction and manufacturing projects is vital to the survival of businesses. Cost estimators provide managers with the information they need in order to submit competitive contract bids or price products appropriately.

Estimators analyze production processes to determine how much time, money, and labor a project needs. Their estimates account for many factors, including allowances for wasted material, bad weather, shipping delays, and other variables that can increase costs and lower profits.

In building construction, cost estimators use software to simulate the construction process and evaluate the costs of design choices. They often consult databases and their own records to compare the costs of similar projects.

The following are examples of types of cost estimators:

Construction cost estimators prepare estimates for buildings, roads, and other construction projects. They may calculate the total cost of building a bridge or commercial shopping center, or they may calculate the cost of just one component, such as the foundation. They identify costs of elements such as raw materials and labor, and they may set a timeline for how long they expect the project to take. Although many work directly for construction firms, some work for contractors and engineering firms.

Manufacturing cost estimators calculate the costs of developing, producing, or redesigning a company’s goods or services. For example, a cost estimator working for a home appliance manufacturer may determine a new dishwasher’s production costs, allowing managers to make production decisions.

Other workers, such as operations research analysts and construction managers, may also estimate costs in the course of their usual duties.