RSMeans Frequently Asked Questions

RSMeans Frequently Asked Questions This section contains a collection of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) that have been compiled by our RSMeans Team. Please take a moment to look through these if you have any questions about RSMeans construction-related publications. If you don't find what you are looking for here, please contact RSMeans Customer Service for further assistance.

This section contains the following topics:

Selecting Books: Which One is Right for Me?

Which are the RSMeans union books?

The following RSMeans Cost Data books, both hardcopy and electronic, are based on union labor rates: Assemblies, Building Construction, Concrete & Masonry, Electrical, Electrical Change Order, Heavy Construction, Interior, Mechanical, Plumbing, Site Work & Landscape, Facilities Construction Cost, Facilities Maintenance & Repair, Repair & Remodeling, and Square Foot Cost Data.

Which are RSMeans open shop books?

The following are open shop books: Open Shop Building Construction Cost, Light Commercial, Residential, and the Contractor Pricing Guide residential series.  

What if the RSMeans cost data publication I need is only published as a union book?

We suggest that rather than multiplying the RSMeans Bare Labor costs by your quantity, instead multiply the Labor Hours by the quantity. By using hours, you can price the project in hours rather than dollars and then multiply the total hours by whatever labor rate you want to use. Note: When you use your own labor rate, do not use the City Cost Index labor correction.

What is the difference between the Mechanical and Plumbing Cost Data books?

The Mechanical Cost Data book primarily covers HVAC components and controls, while Plumbing Cost Data covers plumbing fixtures and fire protection. The Plumbing book does include some small boilers and items that frequently are installed by plumbers. There is a large overlap in pipe and fittings between the two books. However, the Mechanical book does not include cast iron soil pipe. Both books include stainless steel pipe and fittings.

What is the difference between the Building Construction Cost Data and the Facilities Construction Cost Data books?

Facilities Construction Cost Data contains 60% to 70% of the material contained 4 other books (Building Construction, Mechanical, Plumbing and Electrical Cost Data). It is basically the Building Construction Cost Data with a lot of additional mechanical, plumbing and electrical data added. It is RSMeans' most complete single database and as such is the one most frequently specified in JOC, DOC and SABRE contracts.  

Which book has the most unit price lines, assemblies lines, etc. in any particular division?

In the back of each RSMeans cost data book is the Book Selection Guide that indicates how many lines, assemblies, references, etc. by CSI division are in each book.

What is the difference between the Light Commercial and Square Foot Costs books? If they have the same square foot models, why is there a cost difference?

Square Foot Costs is based on Union labor while the Light Commercial Cost Data is based on Open Shop labor. (This is indicated in Column A of the inside the back cover in the table entitled Installing Contractor's Overhead and Profit.)

For residential contractors specializing in a specific trade, would it be better to order the Residential Cost Data or the book for the trade, such as Concrete and Masonry, Plumbing or Electrical?

The answer to this question depends on what the contractor is looking for and the intended use of the database. The Residential cost database is fast and easy to use and includes square foot prices for completed buildings. It is also based on residential labor rates. It does not, however, include all the information available for subcontracted trades. For all available RSMeans plumbing information, one would need Plumbing Cost Data, and likewise for Electrical, Mechanical, Concrete & Masonry, etc. Specific trade data found in any publication other than the prime database is condensed, partial information that has been extracted from the total available. Keep in mind that the prime books (Concrete & Masonry, Electrical, Electrical Change Order, Heavy Construction, Interior, Mechanical, Plumbing, Site Work & Landscape, Facilities Construction Cost, Facilities Maintenance & Repair, Repair & Remodeling, etc.) are based on Union labor rates. For residential Open Shop estimates, it would be necessary to work the estimate in labor hours as explained elsewhere in this list of questions.  

Why are the costs different in the RSMeans Building Cost Data and the Contractor's Pricing Guides?

The RSMeans Building Cost Data book is based on Union labor, while the Contractor's Pricing Guides are based on residential labor.

Does Means publish a Flat Rate Service Pricing book?

No, RSMeans does not publish a flat rate pricing book for service work.

 Book Form or CD?

What are the advantages of the printed books over the CD-formatted cost database (CostWorks electronic data)?

Printed hard copy books are portable and can be carried around job sites. With a book it is also easy to flip pages to get a feel of the layout and also find or review features such as the Reference section without having to progress through several drop-down menus, as is the case in CostWorks.  

What are the benefits of RSMeans CD-based cost data (CostWorks) compared to hard copy books?

With RSMeans cost data on CD-ROM, the project location can be entered so that all material and labor costs are automatically customized to the specific region (eliminating the need to manually multiply by the City Cost Indexes). A toggle is also available to instantly change from Union to Open Shop labor. Project lists can be quickly created with summed extensions for printing or exporting to a spreadsheet.

Cost Data on CD-ROM

How much of my printed RSMeans cost data book do I get when I order it on RS Means cost data CD-ROM?

You receive all the data and estimating information that’s included in the companion printed book when you order a CD-ROM, plus several interactive features. See above for more detail.

Using RSMeans Cost Data

Understanding Crews data

Where do I find out what a B-21 (etc.) crew is?

Crew information can be found in the back of all cost data books (the section with gray edges). Locate B-21 and you will see the composition of the crew, including equipment. Using a cost data CostWorks CD click on the seventh icon in from the left (the icon of two workers’ heads with hard hats) to see the make-up of the crew. If you are using online, there is an icon on the top right portion of the screen (designated "Crew"). Clicking this icon will enable the user to view all crews used in RSMeans line items. Note that the labor rates on this table are always national average.

What if I want a different sized crew?

The daily output for a larger crew will increase from the output shown, and for a smaller crew will decrease. However, the labor hours to perform the operation for each unit will remain the same. Doubling the crew will halve the elapsed clock time, but labor hours will stay the same. Note: Divide the total crew hours worked in a day by the Daily Output to arrive at labor hours.

 How is crew size determined?

RSMeans' engineers, based on their experience, set the crew size. However as explained in the FAQ "What if I want a different size crew?" crew size only affects lapsed time and not labor hours.

What is this abbreviation in the crew column?

Abbreviations of trade workers can be quickly located inside the back cover of RSMeans books. They are also located in the abbreviations table along with all the other abbreviations at the back of the book just before the index. In CostWorks CD, use either the abbreviations list (click the SY icon) or look up reference R01100-070, which is a copy of the inside back cover of the books.

Determining Productivity

How is daily output determined?  

Daily output or productivity is based on several factors: RSMeans’ engineer's experience, trade labor productivity publications, contractors’ input, and in some cases actual time and motion study observation.

How are labor hours determined?

Labor hours are calculated by dividing the crew labor hours worked in a day by the daily output. Note: Multiply labor hours by 60 to convert to hours and minutes.

Understanding Material Prices

Is the bare material price shown in RSMeans a list price?

It is RSMeans' intention that the bare material price is what the installing contractor pays for material delivered to the job site. The price is after the contractor's trade discount is taken. No sales taxes are included.

What does the bare material and labor cost represent?

The bare material price is the cost of the material to the installing contractor. The bare labor cost is the base rate including fringes that is paid to the person doing the actual installation.

How are material prices updated?

RSMeans’ engineering department contacts manufacturers, suppliers, trade price sheets, pricing services and contractors to update material prices each year.

How to Use the Data

What does the Equipment column represent?

The Equipment column is the cost of the equipment used by the crew prorated per labor hour of crew time worked.

What is the Total column?

The Total column is the simple mathematical sum of the bare material, labor and equipment columns.

What is included in the Total Incl. O&P column and how does RSMeans calculate it?

To arrive at the value of the Total Including Overhead & Profit column add 10% to the bare material and bare equipment cost. From the Installing Contractor's Overhead and Profit table (the inside back cover of books or Reference 01100-070 in CostWorks) determine the Column F percentage for the appropriate labor type and add this percentage to the labor. The total of these calculations is the Total Including Overhead and Profit. Note that the calculations are illustrated step by step in the How to Use The Unit Price pages and the How to Use the Assembly Cost Tables found in each publication just before the appropriate section and in the Means CostWorks References section.

What if my overhead or desired profit is different from the inside back cover?

Do not use the price listed in RSMeans Total Including Overhead and Profit column. Calculate your own Total using the method outlined in the “ What is included in the Total Incl. O&P column and how does Means calculate it?” question. Be sure to substitute your own values for the percentages listed in Means Column F.

Whose prices are represented? The GC or another contractor?

The prices listed are always the prices of the installing contractor. The installing contractor may be the GC, a contractor or even a sub or sub-subcontractor. Note: each time the costs are passed up the chain of responsibility, a percentage or markup (frequently 10%) is usually added.

What is the "unit?"

The "unit" is the industry recognized unit of measure for the item.

Does the bare labor cost include "fringes?"

The bare labor cost does include the employer-paid fringe benefits such as vacation pay, employer-paid health and welfare costs, pension costs, plus appropriate training and industry advancement funds costs.

How do I know if the labor prices are union or open shop?

Look inside the back cover of the book or at reference number R01100-070 (in most books and in the Reference section of Means CostWorks CD-ROM) and read in the upper left corner Column A: Labor rates are… . However, RSMeans CostWorks CD includes a "toggle switch" that changes the wage rates from union to open shop. online requires that the user make a wage rate selection from a drop-down menu.

Using the Location Factors

What city are the prices based on?

Technically the material prices are national average. Several prices for each material are obtained and mathematically averaged. Some data sets are based on a 30-city average for union labor rates, while others use open shop labor rates and still others use residential labor rates.

How do I correct the prices for my location?

For each CSI Division multiply the bare material cost by the MAT Index for that city. Likewise, multiply the bare labor cost by the INST index for the city. If the desired activity has an entry in the equipment column, multiply this cost by the equipment rental index. This is the first line under the titles for each of the cities listed. If you are using costs from the Total Including Overhead and Profit column in the front of the book, multiply these numbers under the Total column in the city cost index.

What is the difference between the CCI (City Cost Indexes) and the Location Factors?

The CCI is broken down by trade (Construction Specification Institute /CSI) division number. At the bottom of each city is the weighted average. This average is weighted by giving more value to the more expensive components of construction and less influence to those items that are usually the least expensive. The Location Factors are just these weighted averages. If you are concerned with the total building (all trades), then the weighted average is fine. However, if you are just concerned with a particular trade, use the City Cost Index value for that trade.

What is the most accurate way to revise costs for my location?

It is more accurate to use the indexes on the material and labor costs separately rather than using the Total index on the Total Including Overhead and Profit values. This is especially true for those lines where there is a large difference between the material and labor costs.

My city or town is not listed in the CCI. What do I do?

Use the factors for the nearest city that you can find. If a city or town is too small to have its own union hall, workers who wish to belong to the union will travel to the nearest larger city that does have a union hall.

In Canada how do we account for the exchange rate?

When using RSMeans data, the exchange rate is not a factor. The City Cost Index is all that is needed. The index is the ratio of the prices in any city to a stated price. For example, the ratio of the cost of a sack of concrete in Los Angeles to the average or the cost of that same size sack of concrete in dollars as sold in Toronto to Canadians (regardless of where it originated). It is purely a ratio of sales costs as nothing is being transported across the border.

Understanding Division 17

In Div. 17, the SF & CF cost section, how are costs determined?

The construction listed in Div. 17, SF & CF costs are reports from real projects that have been completed. The last white page in each book contains a questionnaire (RSMeans Project Cost Report) that contractors, architects, engineers, etc. can fill out on their projects and submit for discounts. RSMeans processes this data into the format of Div. 17.

In Div. 17,the SF & CF cost section, what does 1/4, Median and 3/4 mean?

Project data received from RSMeans is arranged by building type from the lowest to the highest cost. These costs tend to follow a "bell" distribution. The nodes 1/4, median and 3/4 mean that at the 1/4 point, 25% of that type of building costs less than the indicated price and 75% costs more. The median is the mid-point with half less than the cost and half more.

In Div. 17, the SF & CF cost section, what do I do if the building I need is missing the type work I need? Example: Apartments (4- to 7-story) does not have any HVAC?

The reason that Apartments (4- to 7-story) do not list HVAC is because RSMeans has not received enough data to break out a statistically valid value. To determine a reasonable value, we recommend that you substitute something similar. For example: possibly one of the other Apartments entries would have a reasonable value. Also Dormitories are similar to apartments. It is important to remember that the SF/CF section only gives an approximate value of a similar construction.

What are the weakness of Div. 17, the SF & CF cost section, and how does RSMeans address them?

Several issues are very important and worth remembering when considering the use of Div. 17 data. First, and most important, RSMeans does not know what the type of construction the received submittals cover, or what is included. Example: Is it a wood frame, concrete and steel, or masonry building? And does the plumbing include a sprinkler system? Second, was it built union or open shop? Third, where is the building being built? The submittals we received from our customer base are treated as national average prices even though the information may be coming from a part of the country that is experiencing a construction boom, or even a construction bust. Example: For a period of time the eastern part of the country was not experiencing a population growth, and some surplus schools were being converted into condominiums and elderly housing. The southwest Sunbelt states at a point in time had a population surge and had to build schools. Consequently the school prices, which we call national average, were reflecting southwest construction costs and styles. RSMeans recognized this problem and created the Square Foot Cost Data book based on the costs in our database and in which the user has a choice of construction types and can see exactly what is included and can change components if desired.

Understanding Assemblies

How are Assembly prices generated?

Assembly prices are comprised of unit prices from the RSMeans database. Some RSMeans cost data books include a system components table under the illustration, which shows a representation of what is included in the system and the quantity and unit of these components. This list of components is usually for the item on the first line of the following cost table. In the cost table as the sizes or types vary, the actual components sizes and quantities may also vary. One advantage of the CD version of RSMeans cost data is that when an assembly is highlighted, you can click on the jigsaw puzzle icon at the top of the screen and a pop-up screen will show exactly what components and quantities are included in that particular assembly. If you are using online, a pop-up window will appear when your cursor passes over the assembly number. Within that window there is a hot button "details" that when activated will display the assembly components.

Data Update Frequency

How often is the data updated, and does RSMeans send out updates?

The RSMeans database is entirely reviewed and updated annually. The data found in the cost publications, CostWorks CD and online is new each year. RSMeans does not "send out" updated pricing. However, there is a quarterly update to the city cost index available that is based on a variety of "key" materials.

Historical Cost Index

A structure was built 10 years ago for X dollars. What would it cost to build today?

RSMeans includes Historical Cost Indexes to calculate this. The Historical Index page can be located just before the City Cost Indexes in the printed cost data books and in the Reference section of any CostWorks CD data. Included on the page is an explanation of the equation that allows you to move any construction cost forward or backward in time. Note: When used in conjunction with the City Cost Indexes, it is possible to move any cost from one city and time to another city and time.

Understanding Reference Tables

What is the little rectangular box with an “R” number in it at the beginning of many sections?

The “R” number indicates that there is supplemental information available in the Reference section, located in the back of the printed cost data books. While some o of the information in the Reference section is general in nature, much of it provides additional data specific to some particular material or application. The R number is RSMeans’ way of suggesting a location of potentially very useful additional information.

Finding Information

If you don't know what division a particular item would be in, how can you find it?

RSMeans is especially proud if its comprehensive index. We suggest its use whenever the user does not know where to look. It is also sometimes helpful to look up alternate names or reverse wording (ex: slate roof vs. roofing, slate), or similar materials. Note, RSMeans tries to avoid using trade or manufacturers' names.

If I would like to know the source or other information about a particular line item, where can I find this information?

Source, manufacturer or similar information is not included specifically in RSMeans’ data, published or electronic. If for some reason this information is needed, it is necessary to call RSMeans and speak with the engineering department.

The government, college, municipality, etc. wants to use RSMeans times a coefficient. Where does RSMeans list its coefficients?

RSMeans does not publish a list of recommended coefficients, or numbers that individual contractors determine as a suitable multiplier to apply to RSMeans prices in order to feel confident that they can accomplish the work indicated and make an acceptable profit. Various conditions are usually specified in the proposed contract and should be carefully reviewed before calculating the coefficient. Bids from competing contractors are usually based on these coefficients.

For bid purposes, what is the methodology for determining coefficients?

Most commercially available unit price databases are produced annually. Some contracts allow for a separate coefficient each year, others allow an escalation index, and some maintain the coefficient but use an updated database.

What’s Included?

When shingling, are nails included? When soldering, is solder included? Etc.

When a line in RSMeans’ database has a cost in the Labor column, this means that the unit (whatever it is) is installed subject to any applicable notations or restricting headings. In order to "install" shingles, nails or some sort of fastener must be used. Soldered tubing requires solder, etc. RSMeans assumes thus that the joining/fastening items/materials are included. In actual analysis, the cost of solder per joint or nails per shingle, etc., is such a small percentage of whatever is being installed that essentially it is lost in rounding.

What is included when installing mechanical equipment?

In general, it can be assumed that the following are included when installing mechanical equipment: movement into the building, setting of equipment, connection to piping/duct/power, filling/flushing/cleaning/touch up, start-up/running adjustments, training an owner's rep, and warranty/call back/service. Of course not all of these would necessarily apply to every line item.

Ductwork is measured in linear feet of each size, but the unit in the database is pounds. How can we convert?

Reference number R15810-050, Ductwork, gives a very quick but crude table for estimating pounds of duct for aluminum, copper and steel. However, if you wish to be much more accurate for steel fabricated duct, Table R15810-100 Sheet Metal Calculator (Weight in lb./ft. of Length) should be consulted. This table is predicated on the old SMACNA semi-perimeter method of fabricating duct. While this method is no longer used for fabricating, it still seems to be the preferred method of estimating and the resulting accuracy is within acceptable limits.

What is the minimum charge, and how do I use it?

The minimum charge is just that. It is like a service call charge. Example; Someone wants carpet in an entryway. The area is 4 square yards. The cost of labor to install the carpet according to RSMeans is $3.36 per square yard or a total bare labor cost of $13.44. No trades person is going to go to some location and perform an installation for $13.44. There is usually a minimum amount that the worker needs just to cover his expenses to show up. To cover cases like this, RSMeans has listed the minimum labor/equipment charge. For small, isolated jobs multiply the labor cost by the quantity required. If the result is larger than the minimum cost, use it. If it is smaller than the minimum, use the minimum. In either case you would use the unit material cost multiplied by the quantity as there is no minimum material cost. Note, for small quantities and repair/service items or fittings, the material cost could be considerably more than the cost indicated in RSMeans. This is justified as a service truck stock charge or convenience charge. The data to support this is found in the R&R and Facilities Construction books.

Does RSMeans list factors for severe weather conditions?

RSMeans publications do not have any factors for severe weather conditions. The productivity in RSMeans is based on normal average working conditions, i.e., an eight-hour day, in daylight hours in moderate temperatures. Users of RSMeans data should incorporate factors as necessary for extreme conditions.

Job Order Contracting

What are the differences between JOC contracts and other traditional contracting methods?

A major difference is time. JOC methods reduce project schedules by as much as 60%. Bidders must have a complete understanding of the contract, use of a unit price database and the local construction market.

What has been the success of JOC contracting methods in specific markets?

The military has written JOC contracts since 1985 at an estimated 5 billion dollars worth of construction and renovation. Most JOC contracts are for repair and remodeling work with an upper limit of $250,000.00.

Product Satisfaction

If you purchase the wrong product from RSMeans are you "stuck" with it?

Purchasers of any RSMeans product (from RSMeans directly) have a 30-day, no hassle, money back guarantee. Contact RSMeans Customer Service for more information.




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