Helping you learn the fine art of plastering is one of the main goals of this column. Included in that is the skill of how to estimate projects. It's the profits from plastering that pay the bills and keep things going. With this in mind, last month we started talking about what I consider eight important factors that are involved in estimating jobs. We used the acronym "ESTIMATE" to outline the eight points. We talked about the first two, "extent" and "surface." This month, we continue with the remaining six:

#3: T = time: How long it takes to do a project is only part of the equation when it comes to figuring the time involved. Other things that must be factored in include the time spent going to look at the job, the time spent putting the estimate together, and then actually going to and from the actual project. You must figure your pricing with this time in mind. You may make $500 for a two-hour job (the time it took to do the actual job) but you may have 10 hours of time involved in landing that job. Which of course includes the time you spent looking at and bidding on jobs that didn't pan out for one reason or another. Something I've actually added to estimates is the "secure-and-stabilize" factor, which goes beyond the traditional time and materials. I use this as an area to charge for set up of the project, demolition and clean up, hauling away debris and putting furniture back if that's necessary-all the things that are above and beyond actually doing the repair.

The big difference between doing whole houses in new construction work where it may take two weeks to plaster an entire house is quite substantial time wise. With new construction, you may bid on 30 to 40 jobs a year. But with repairs, it's quite different. There is a lot of time spent looking at and bidding jobs. Some repairs literally take a few hours to do, so to fill a whole week with projects may require you to look at five to 10 jobs per week. This is why many contractors who run large crews refuse to do repair work. It's just too time consuming to get involved with from their perspective. It's much more time efficient to run a crew on a new project.

This can work to your advantage if you get involved with doing repair work. Some large companies look on repairs as the "scraps" but this can literally be your bread and butter if you work alone or run a two-person crew.

#4: I = increments: One huge advantage that I've personally experienced is that with plaster, you can do the entire repair at one time. This is not always the case with drywall finishing. The job often has to be done in several increments (going back two or more times to complete the job). This is an expense that cannot be ignored and that cuts into profits in a large way. And even though plaster can be done in one visit, the question has to be asked right from the start if this is possible.

Get it done fast

To give you an example: I recently was called in to do two bathroom ceilings in a house. I bid the job at $1,495 and figured doing it in two days. However, when I got there the first morning, the homeowner made it clear that I had to tear everything down each night so that showers could be taken. This is what I mean by increments. I had a choice: Work like mad and get the job done in one day so I didn't have to take everything down and re-tape the whole area, or be prepared to do just that.

I decided to pump it up and got it done in one day. I started at 8 a.m. and got done right at 5:30 p.m. Since I didn't have to go back again, I gave the homeowner a break by charging $1,295 instead of the original estimate. He was happy and so was I. This illustrates the point of finding out ahead of time how many trips it's going to take to get the job done, which will ultimately affect the bid that you give.

#5: M = materials: As a rule of thumb, my estimates are a mathematical division: a quarter to a third materials; three-quarters to two-thirds labor. That's just a rough rule, as you'll see when we break down future projects and examine them more closely. But this seems to work very well. The problem with repair, if you can call it a problem, is that such a small amount of material is used on so many jobs. I'm talking just a few dollars in materials to do a $500 repair. So a rule of thumb helps in this case. If a repair comes in at $500, then the estimate would, in some cases, be $125 for materials and $375 for labor-even if the materials are $10 total.

One side point on materials: I am a conservationist by heart. I hate to see wood, board or plaster go to waste. And you can't believe the amount of gypsum board scraps and broken bags of plaster are thrown out because of damage. A large crew can't take the chance of using a damaged or an open bag of basecoat that may be "hot" and set up an entire five bag batch that they're putting in a new house. But it's perfect for using in repair work. I carry empty 5-gallon buckets with lids and pour the damaged bags into them on a regular basis. Just smart business. You'll most likely get the materials free or at a greatly reduced rate, which adds to your profits overall.

#6: A = accessibility: This has to do with how easy it is to get to the job. Either in the house or in getting to the house. The farther out the project is from where you live or from your warehouse, the more that has to be charged. The same goes with where the repair is located in the house. Sometimes, it's easier to do a repair 20 feet up in an open cleared out room than it is on an 8-foot ceiling that is in a room packed with junk.

Not long ago, I was surprised to find that the room I thought would be cleared out was actually packed with more stuff than I originally had looked at the job. It took an hour to clear the room and I also had the shock of one of the piano legs falling out and the entire piano crashing to the ground, something I was not informed about. It about sent me out the picture window and that's not something I had figured into the job.

#7: T = talent: Some repairs cannot be figured by square footage alone. Some are more on the artistic line, with true skill and finesse needed to put things back together again flawlessly. This calls for a premium to be charged, and we'll examine some cases of where this was done.

#8: E = expectations: What does the homeowner expect? Some don't mind a little dust. Others will sue over it. Some just want the hole filled. Others don't want to see a trace of the repair. Finding out ahead of time what they expect can help you determine the price and if you even want to do the work or not.

By using these eight factors in upcoming columns, I hope to help you realize and benefit from the huge profit potential that this trade has to offer.

Radio days

Bosch Tool has sent its newest combination radio/CD player Power Box, complete with a remote. To win, e-mail me at Include the words "Bosch Radio," your name and address. Or send your entries to the Plaster Man in care of this magazine. A winner will be announced in an upcoming column. Also, congratulations to Steve Wettig, winner of the Plaster Man/Walls & Ceilings T-shirt this month.

One more item: From time to time, we will be running the column every other month, with the other months covering a "Plaster Man Q&A" where I will answer a question that has been sent to me. If you don't see the column, look for the Q&A piece. Until next time, "Plaster On"!

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