Taking off quantities in quantity surveying

What is taking off quantities?

What is taking off in quantity surveying? Quite simply taking-off quantities is at the heart of what quantity surveyors do. Taking-off involves the measurement and description of all the items required for a construction project traditionally recorded on dimension paper or take off sheet. Today, take off sheet has been largely replaced by computer software packages even so, basic taking off skills are still required if you wish to know how to produce a construction take off. Duncan Cartlidge Online is a series of quantity take off tutorials covering a wide range of trades including civil engineering work.


From the take off sheets items are incorporated into a bill of quantities, work package or schedule of rates which is in turn sent to interested contractors and subcontractors to price as part of a competitive tender process.


In the recent past there has been a decline in the importance placed on taking-off by universities and other trainers although this lack of importance is not mirrored in the construction industry.


At the end of the day someone in the construction process has to take-off and quantify the items of labour, materials and plant in order that a price can be calculated. Taking-off is still today a highly prized and sort after skill. Taking-off quantities can be carried out using either drawn information or increasing digital data.

Bill of quantities (BQ) – means a list of items giving detailed identifying descriptions and firm quantities of the work comprised in a contract. (RICS).

It is important when taking-off quantities that a common set of protocols is followed. The rules for taking off quantities are contained in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) New Rules of Measurement 2 (NRM2): Detailed measurement for building works, published in 2012. These are the latest in a set of measurement rules that go back to 1922. NRM2 contains 41 work sections, each with their own set of specialised measurement rules that the taker-off should follow when preparing quantities.

RICS New rules of measurement: Detailed measurement for building works, has been written to provide a standard set of measurement rules for the procurement of building works that are understandable by all those involved in a construction project, including the employer; thereby aiding communication between the project/design team and the employer.


NRM2 provides rules of measurement for quantity take offs and the preparation of bill of quantities and schedules of works The rules address all aspects of bill of quantities production, including setting out the information required from the employer and other construction consultants to enable a bill of quantities to be prepared, as well as dealing with the quantification of non-measurable work items, contractor designed works and risks.


Guidance is also provided on the content, structure and format of the bill of quantities. The RICS new rules of measurement suite of documents is based on UK practice but the requirements for a coordinated set of rules and underlying philosophy behind each section have worldwide application Increasingly taking off, which used to be a labour-intensive operation, is performed using specialised software packages, of which there are a number available.


Software packages will enable a taker-off to enter dimensions and descriptions, the software will then collate and produce a bill of quantities. Even though technology has taken much of the repetition out of the measurement process, to use taking-off software it if still necessary to have sound taking-off and measurement skills.

For many years traditional measurement or dim paper has been used for take offs but increasingly where taking off is not carried using software spreadsheets are used, although spreadsheets will not produce the finished bill of quantities.

Taking-off skills are not only used in the preparation of bills of quantities or work packages, but also through the entire life cycle of a construction project.

For example;

  • To prepare estimates and cost plans,

  • To evaluate various design alternatives,

  • To estimate tender costs,

  • In the measurement of variations or change orders,

  • In calculating payments on account (stage payments) and

  • In preparing and agreeing the final accounts.


Taking off is not only used in the preparation of bills of quantities for building projects but also for large scale civil engineering works such as HS2. Civil engineering taking off uses its’ own set of rules known as the Institution of Civil Engineers Standard Method of Measurement 4 (CESMM4) and although the rules differ from NRM2 the process of taking off quantities remains the same.


Taking off quantities video tutorials

Duncan Cartlidge Online gives 24/7 access to a series of clear video tutorials from the author of the best-selling pocketbooks. Each video goes through the taking off process stage by stage referring to the latest technologies and techniques, using both tradition and spreadsheet examples together with detailed interpretation of NRM2. 


Extensive experience both in practice and in education allows Duncan Cartlidge to address the common problems encountered when taking off quantities. Each video contains a set of self-assessment questions to gauge progress and a question and answer facility will be available to subscribers.

Measurement / take-off content currently includes videos covering;

  • Introduction to quantities take off

  • NRM2 explained

  • Bill of quantities documentation

  • Groundworks take off

  • In-situ concrete

  • Masonry

  • First fix / flat roofs

  • Pitched roofs take off

  • Second fix

  • Internal finishes

  • Mechanical installations

  • Electrical installations

  • New take-off sections added regularly

Other measurement video tutorials include;

  • Take-offs using CESMM4

  • International Construction Property Measurement (ICMS)

  • International Property Measurement Standards (IPMS)


In addition to taking-off quantities sections are planned for:

  • Estimating

  • Project management

Manual taking-off

This is the oldest method of taking off. This form of taking off involves the surveyor taking plans and detailing every material and quantity specified.

Digital taking-off

Software is a much more efficient method to performing take-offs. Digital take-offs can be superior to manual methods for larger projects because they are faster and more accurate. 


The qualifier is the take-off technician being properly trained and proficient with the software application as well as highly attentive to applying the take-off information into cost-based results.

Who needs quantity take-offs ?

Everyone involved in the front end of a building project will need to know how to do quantity take offs. It's a critical step in the bidding process to be able to produce an accurate contract.

Whatever it is you are building you will require the calculation of materials and price estimates. A list of examples would be 

  • Urban master planning and smart city designers

  • Rail and metro transportation engineers

  • Tunneling and subway architects

  • Residential home builders and renovators

  • Civil, mechanical and structural engineers

  • Offshore and marine architects

  • Landscapers and landscape architects

  • Highway and road engineers

  • General contractors and construction managers

  • Energy and utility contractors

  • Architects and all building designers

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