The quantity surveying profession has been on-going for many years: The earliest quantity surveying practice on record is a Reading firm, (Henry Cooper and Sons), which was operating in 1785 (Seeley & Winfield, 1999). Predominantly, quantity surveyors deal with the costs and contracts of a construction project.

There are around 75,000 professional quantity surveyors working in the UK alone (RICS, 2010). The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) was set up in 1881, and is an independent professional body which regulates property professionals and surveyors in the UK and worldwide. The RICS provide education and training standards to all members and protects consumers with strict codes of practice. The motto of the RICS is “Est modus in rebus” (which translates into English as: “There is measure in all things”). The RICS is represented in over 146 countries and has more than 159,000 members.

Bill of Quantities

The Bill of Quantities is a document which is used for the tendering process in a construction project, in which materials, parts, and labour are itemized. It also details the terms and conditions of the construction contract and itemises all the work for a sub-contractor to price.

The Bill of Quantities is prepared by a quantity surveyor. The preparation divides itself into two distinct stages, the first being the

The essay will look into the Taking Off process represented in a Bill of Quantities and also look into where the Taking Off process can be used. I will start by looking into what Taking Off actually is.measurement of dimensions, and the compilation of descriptions from the drawing and specification. This is known as ‘Taking Off’ which is the topic that I will discuss in this section of the essay.

The second stage is the preparation of the Bill; this involves calculations of volumes and areas (squaring the dimensions), followed by entering the descriptions and the dimension on an abstract (abstracting) and finally collect the items together and present them in a bill order (billing) (Lee & Trench & Willis, 2005).

Bill of Quants

 The Taking Off Process

The Taking Off list is a process of analysing technical drawings and specifications to identify elements. Lists should include every building element from the smallest to the largest component. The development of computerised measurement and billing systems have made the traditional method less common nowadays; however, it is still used in practice (Lee & Trench & Willis, 2005).

The Taking Off list is symbiotic with RICS New Rules of Measurement.  The RICS New Rules of Measurement “This document provides fundamental guidance on the quantification of building works for the purpose of preparing cost estimates and cost plans” ( The RICS New Rules of Measurement is a code book which details the specification and also method of how each item in the construction industry is to be measured. It covers absolutely all phases of a proposed building project. The presentation of the information is done in classification tables which provide information on the given item to be taken off. The use of the RICS New Rules of Measurement means that all construction projects are taken off in the same standard order and ensures consistency across the industry. Quantity surveying has become increasingly involved with project financing, thus taking off is a valuable process to understand when establishing project feasibility. From a good Taking Off list a quantity surveyor can quantify dimensions and later create a bill of quantities. (Seeley, 1999)

If the drawings are unclear, then a quantity surveyor will enter any queries on a query sheet for the architect. A typical query sheet has the quantity surveyor’s questions on one side and the architect’s answers on the other.   

willis qs2

Willis’s Elements of Quantity Surveying. By S. Lee,W. Trench & A. Willis.

Preparation of the Bill

This section will describe the second section of the Bill of Quantities which is the preparation of the bill. This is also sometimes known as ‘working up’. This is split into three sections.

1. Calculation of volumes, areas etc. (Squaring and dimensions) Squaring the dimensions and entering the resulting lengths, areas, and volumes in the third (or squaring) column of the dimension paper.

2.Entering the descriptions and squared dimensions on an abstract (Abstracting) Transferring the squared dimensions to the abstract, where they are written in a recognised order, ready for billing under the correct work heading.

3. Collecting items together and presenting in a recognised bill order (Billing) The items of work which make up the total building are listed in the appropriate work section heading which gives the description of the item and the recognised units of measurement, as per the layout in  RICS New Rules of Measurement. The bill also contains an empty rate and price column. The client gives the Bill of Quantities to the contractor, and the contractor then can adds his rate and price when tendering for the project. (Lee & Trench & Willis, 2005)

The most recognised purpose of the bill is that it can be sent to contractors who may want to tender for the construction contract, and enables them to base their price on the same information. Taking off is very important because it provides an accurate measurement of the construction work needed to be carried out.

Construction costs

The Taking Off process can be very useful in estimating the construction costs of a project because as mentioned previously the contractor bases the pricing of the work on the Bill of Quantities. The bill is created by the client’s quantity surveyor, who is traditionally referred to as a Professional Quantity Surveyor or Private Practice Quantity surveyor, and completed by the contractor’s quantity surveyor. Part of the bill is the taking off process which needs to be accurate, so the correct pricing can take place. The Bill of Quantities is used to assist the contractor when preparing an estimate for the tender. The priced bill then becomes part of the contract documents, providing the basis for the valuation of the work.

The Taking Off list is a very important part of the Bill of Quantities because it allows the quantity surveyor to use the bill for the valuation of the work completed, which allows him to work out the stage payments needed in a given contract. The contractor’s quantity surveyor can also work out the price for each stage payment of a project for each individual sub-contractor.    

Client’s perspective

The client’s main concern is to see the project completed on time, on budget, and to the required quality. However, the client also wants better information on the project and this can be provided by the taking off process. The financial information in the Bills of Quantity can be translated into other information such as cash flows, periodic project accounts, and cost variations. The information can then be easily communicated to the client to keep him informed of the progress and financial status of the project (Rashid & Mustapa & Wahid, 2006).

Consultants perspective

The consultant represents the client he has to ensure the client gets value for money. The consultant concentrates on making sure the client receive a high quality product, a building which is completed on time, and more importantly, within the estimated budget. The priced bill by the contractor provides useful information to a consultant because it identifies the total cost of the project and also the market conditions. Qualitative and quantitative (including financial) information presented in the taking off process and thus the Bill of Quantities provides the consultancy with useful tender evaluation and selection of contractor for a given project. The priced bill can be translated into a work programme, cost plan and project cash flow and budget. This can help to make more effective project supervision and cost controlling. The bill also provides effectively a shopping list of items required (Rashid & Mustapa & Wahid, 2006).

Contractor’s perspective

When tendering for a construction project the contractor is given the Bill of Quantities by the client. This includes the Taking Off list, which is associated with estimating as it takes place prior to the construction process. The estimating department of the contractor then calculates as accurately as possible the costs of the given construction project. The estimator uses current pricing information for different aspects of the proposed construction (Ashworth, 2002).

The Taking Off list is of most importance to the contractor when estimating costs, because it can be used to calculate the costs for preparation of the tender. The bill is based on the Taking Off list. Each company uses its own tables of standard work outputs for different types of construction operation work, which they enter into the un-priced bill. When this is completed the bill can be said to have been priced, and can be sent back to the client. The Taking Off list in the Bill of Quantities can be used by the contractor when preparing pricing for new projects as an estimate of the construction costs. This should be reviewed often when construction starts (Ashworth, 2002).

The Taking Off list is essential in working out the target costs. The estimated costs are adopted as a basis of the construction operations costs onsite. The target or budget costs try to relate to the actual tasks happening on site. In the bill the estimator uses an average output for the whole of a given item. These costs are then analysed separately, depending on the type or work and the difficultly. The target costs use the average estimator’s rate as basis but will vary this in relation to the actual achievement expected. Target costs are often slightly lower than the estimated cost because of a contractor’s incentive scheme and the unforeseen risk which is involved (Ashworth, 2002).

The final type of cost is the actual cost; previously the basis of working out the estimated costs and target cost was the Taking Off list and the bill in the Bill of Quantities. The actual cost use recorded data on site. Actual labour outputs from the site are compared with the budget outputs. When comparing the estimated costs and actual costs, this may show a huge difference; however, comparing the actual and target costs should show only a small amount of difference (Ashworth, 2002).


The main contractor can use the Taking Off process to assist with the separation of the Bill of Quantities into trade sections for different sub-contractors. The separated estimated priced sections will be sent off to several subcontractors for their own pricing, and then sent back to the main contractor for comparison. Not just the lowest price wins the work; the main contractor will take into account items such as previous experience, reputation, flexibility, time, quality of work etc (Ashworth, 2002).


When obtaining quotations for materials to be used on site, the Taking Off process can be used. The bills are sent to suppliers and they send back a price for the materials. Common materials that the contractor may require can be purchased through a regular local supplier. The pricing of the material can be affected by a number of factors such as order size, delivery costs and exchange rates. The Bill of Quantities is split into ordered sections according to RICS New Rules of Measurement. This allows the material ordering to be easily identified and carried out (Ashworth, 2002).

Information sent to the supplier will include:

  1. Specification of the material (which is usually found in the preamble of the Bill of Quantities).
  2. Quantity of the material required (which is usually found in the bill section of the Bill of Quantities.)
  3. The address of the site.
  4. The delivery dates required by the contractor. This is very important to allow storage space on site, storage costs, extra space for deliveries and a foreman to be present when unloading the materials, if required.

(Ashworth, 2002)


The Taking Off Process can be very useful in a proposed development project when obtaining quotations for hire, lease, or purchase of plant and equipment. The choice between renting and purchasing plant is normally calculated financially to see if it is viable. This is based upon the expected use of the given plant. The Taking Off process has to be correct, and the correct information has to be sent.


The Taking Off process can also help with forecasting the labour costs. These costs are usually calculated using an all-in labour rate, includes the basic rate and guaranteed bonus plus items such as weather, sick pay, trade supervisions, and extra payments (for example skill or responsibility for risk).

The most common method of estimating the costs of the construction work is unit rates; this can be used to measure the Bill of Quantities by the contractor. Such items as labour, materials, subcontractors, and plant can all be measured this way.

Breakdown of Main Parties

Below is a breakdown of what the client (represented by a consultancy) and a contractor offer in the tendering process.

Provided by the consultants:

  • The work to be performed
  • The quality and standards or work required
  • The contractual conditions to be applied

Provided by the contractor:

  • The cost of the finished works
  • The construction programme

(Ashworth, 2002)

Operational Work and Project Management

Not only is the Taking Off process a valuable source of information in the tendering process but it can also be used throughout the operational work of a construction project. The accuracy and the way the Taking Off list is drawn up is very important in the management of the project. If the site team understand exactly what the Taking Off process says it can lead to more effective management of the project and the given trades. The list of work items and their quantities in the bill, gives the contractor a detailed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) of the project. This is extremely useful information because it helps in project planning and preparation of the work plan and programme. It can be used to organise activities in a logical sequence for different sub-contractors and can be used to estimate the activity duration. The estimated costs in the bill are also useful to monitor and control the project finances (Rashid & Mustapa & Wahid, 2006).

Project Cost Management, which is a balancing of demands, is an essential part of project management. Garrison (1998) believed that “information is vital to the success of financial management. In the absence of adequate, accurate, and reliable cost information, a project cost-management exercise would be ineffective”. This shows that the Taking Off process is very important. The Taking Off process can also help with the project development; however this all depends on the types and emphasis of the project, eg if the cost is the biggest emphasis of the project and the fund is limited it is appropriate to use the bill because it contains high levels of detail of project cost items. This can then be used for detailed project accounting and financial reporting (Rashid & Mustapa & Wahid, 2006).

(Ashworth, 2002)

(Ashworth, 2002)

The above diagram shows how the Taking Off process can be used to help with project related costs. An estimator estimates the cost of the work to be performed which is based on the bill in the Bill of Quantities. If the contractor is successful in winning the tender then the work can be put into practice. The project costs can be monitored by the site management team which can then be compared to the Taking Off process. Finally the comparison of the cost can be sent back as feedback, which can give information on the work and the time expended on all the operations. This can be recorded and used throughout the project (Rashid & Mustapa & Wahid, 2006).


The Taking Off process is part of the contract documents in a construction project. Thus when signing the contract document you are willing to accept that it is correct and you will be held (liable) to everything in it. There are many standard form contracts which can be followed such as the JCT (Joint Contracts Tribunal) 2005 which has a section for the Bill of Quantities and has its legal obligations all set out. (JCT, 2010)


As shown, the Taking Off process can be used in many administration stages of a proposed development/ construction project. Because the Bill of Quantities is a contract document it is also very useful for the legal side of a project. However, the bill is not necessarily useful in every type of procurement method. I have spoken about the Taking Off process in the traditional sense; however, modern methods of procurement, (for example fast tracking procurement, which involves design, documentation and construction) tend to run in parallel, thus requiring no Bill of Quantities. However the contractor still must prepare a proper cost document for the bidding.

Despite the emergence of new ‘genre’ of procurements in the global construction industry, the Taking Off process is still viable to be used as a key cost document. (Rashid & Mustapa & Wahid, 2006)


Seeley, I & Winfield, R 1999, Building Quantities Explained, Edition 5, Palgrave Macmillan, UK

Lee, Sandra & Trench William & Willis Andrew 2005, Willis’s elements of Quantity Surveying, Edition 10, Blackwell Publishing, UK

Ashworth, A 2002. Pre-contract studies, developing economics, Tendering and Estimating, 2nd Edition, Blackwell Publishing, UK


RICS 2013, RICS UK, available at <>


Rashid, R & Mustapa, M and Wahid, S. (2006). Bills of Quantities – Are They Still Useful and Relevant Today? International Conference on Construction Industry. 1 (1), 1-9.