Material Takeoff (MTO) in Construction: A Quick How-to Guide


Whether you call it a material takeoff, quantity takeoff, construction takeoff or simply takeoff, the reference remains the same. Material takeoff is part of a detailed and effective construction cost estimate. The more accurately you can forecast your construction project cost, the better.

Let’s explore what is material takeoff and why it’s so important in construction project management. We’ll discuss what’s measured in material takeoff, what’s involved in material takeoff and how construction project management software can help.

What Is Material Takeoff (MTO) In Construction?

Material takeoff is a process that provides a full list of materials required to complete a construction project. The other part of material takeoff includes a detailed listing of how much those needed materials will cost when executing your construction project.

By determining and adding the cost of the many materials required to build your construction project, you’re able to get a fairly accurate amount for the total expenditure for the financial side of your project.

While a material takeoff is part of a construction estimate, it’s not the entire estimate. A complete construction estimate includes things beyond materials such as travel costs, tax, labor costs and other costs that appear over the project lifecycle. Even the total material cost is usually adjusted before the final material takeoff is finished. That’s because whoever is preparing the material takeoff needs to account for fluctuations in the material prices between the time the material takeoff is produced and the time the actual materials are purchased.

To conduct a thorough material takeoff, you need to organize the necessary materials for your project and construction project management software can help. ProjectManager is a powerful software with features such as Gantt charts that list your materials and costs when you’re planning a construction project. Not only can you create accurate estimates on our Gantt chart, but you can schedule and manage the entire project. Once you have a plan, set the baseline to measure project variance so you can stick to your budget. Start today for free.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager’s robust Gantt chart helps you estimate costs and manage construction projects. Learn more

Why Is Material Takeoff Important?

Material takeoff is important when trying to forecast the financial commitment of the construction project. It’s one of the ways you begin to develop a realistic construction project budget. That’s only one way that contractors use material takeoff.

Another way to use material takeoff is when submitting a bid. When you submit a bid for a job, it’s critical to know the costs of the materials you’ll need. Without an accurate estimate of your material costs, you could underbid or overbid for the job. If you get it, you’re going to lose money or won’t make as much profit as you should.

While creating an accurate construction estimate or bid is important, there’s also the simple fact that you need to know how many materials to buy for the project. If you don’t, it’s likely that you’ll underbuy, leading to extra costs and schedule delays, neither of which is advisable. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could overbuy which cuts into your profits.

What Is Measured In a Material Takeoff?

It’s not enough to say you need a certain amount of wood or steel when assembling your material takeoff as the measurements for material takeoff are much more specific. How else can you derive an accurate measurement of the materials and in so doing their costs? The following are the various units of measurement to take into account when you’re doing a material takeoff. These standards vary depending on the type of material you’re measuring.


This refers to the number of individual items that you require. For example, there might be a dozen windows in your construction build that are made up of frames and other materials, all of which must be counted to get an accurate material takeoff.


Here you’re looking at the length of the materials. For example, you can measure the total length you need for ducting to build the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system or the drainage. When you know the total length required, you can divide that figure by the length of each individual item to find out how many pieces you need.


You might have to determine the weight of your materials as well. Although they might be sold by weight, you’ll also need to factor in the shipping costs for the materials. Though, not every material takeoff gives you the weight of materials for the project as the weight for specific materials is often unnecessary for smaller projects as getting those materials to the job site won’t have a large financial impact.

Related: Free Purchase Order Template for Excel


In order to get the measurement of the surface area of your material, you multiply the width by the length. This type of measurement is especially helpful when you’re trying to get the material takeoff for things such as paint, plaster and flooring. It also helps calculate the count you need more quickly. For example, you can figure out how many bricks you’ll need to erect a brick wall.


When you’re dealing with something fluid such as concrete or amorphous such as sand, you need to calculate the volume in order to get an accurate material takeoff. In these cases, you’d multiply the length by the width by the depth to calculate the cubic feet that you need to complete the job.

How to Complete a Material Takeoff in 3 Steps

Now that we have a better understanding of what a material takeoff is and why they’re so important when preparing for a construction project, the next step is to create a detailed list of the exact quantity of the materials you’ll need to execute your project. This can be done by hand, which is where the term takeoff originated, or by using software. Either way, the structure is as follows.

1. Analyze Construction Documents

Start with your drawing and other relevant construction documentation. These blueprints and other documents outline the project broadly while simultaneously detailing the specifications. Contractors need to use these papers to see what materials will be required for the job as per the owner’s requirements.

2. Identify Materials and Itemize Them

From the documents you’ve consulted in the first step, you’ll now make a thorough list of the items that the project requires. This list will be extensive; you don’t want to neglect anything that will add to the cost of the project, at least in terms of materials, to complete an accurate material takeoff.

3. Measure Material Quantities

Once you’re satisfied that your list is complete and you’ve collected the various materials required to complete your project, you have to take the final step in the material takeoff: calculating the quantities. Systematically work your way through that list from your drawings and take them off as you add them to the list of quantities.

Whoever is tasked with executing the material takeoff is responsible for ensuring that every material item or product needed for the project is listed and quantified. That could be the HVAC subcontractor for the HVAC system, the electrician for the electrical systems and so forth. The general contractor will then have a full listing of all the components necessary for the build.

ProjectManager Can Help with MTO

Written material takeoffs may suffice for smaller projects, but the larger and more complex the construction project, the more critical becomes the use of construction project management software. ProjectManager is construction management software that helps you organize and estimate the cost of your construction materials. You can use the tool to manage your projects in real time to make sure you don’t overspend while focusing on staying on budget.

Itemize Materials on the List View

When you need to collect all the project materials, don’t reach for a pencil. Use our robust project list view. It’s one of the multiple project views, all of which share and display the same real-time data, which is updated automatically to keep everyone on the same page. You can add resource costs and track the planned costs against the actual costs to keep on track when you’re executing the project.

ProjectManager's list view
Add Material Takeoff to Project Plans

Once you have your material takeoff completed, you can switch the project view to one of our other project views. We already mentioned our robust Gantt charts, which can link dependencies, filter for the critical path and more. But you can also use the sheet view, which is just like the Gantt chart, only without the timeline, which gives you more columns to view. Now you can onboard your crew, make assignments and track their progress.

ProjectManager's sheet view

The real fun starts after the material takeoff and the construction breaks ground. Now you have the tools to monitor your resources, including monitoring and balancing your crew’s workload to keep them working at capacity. Plus, get a high-level view of progress and performance with our real-time dashboard and dive deeper into the data with customizable reports. We connect you to your crew and their work to ensure more efficient management of your construction project.

ProjectManager is award-winning software that connects teams in the office and at the job site, which fosters collaboration and boosts productivity. We also help you plan, monitor and report on every aspect of your construction project to help you stay on schedule and keep to your budget. Get the best estimating software and more. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

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