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How to calculate overhead rate in construction

Construction finances involve mastering various concepts. Especially in the intricate landscape of construction finances, the overhead cost is one of the crucial aspects. Whether a seasoned contractor or a newcomer in the field, comprehending how to calculate the overhead rate is necessary for successful project management and financial stability.

In this post, we'll discuss the construction overhead, exploring its definition, and importance, and how to calculate it effectively to bolster your construction business's profitability



TABLE OF CONTENT

What Is Construction Overhead?

Before delving into the nitty-gritty of overhead rate calculation, let's demystify what construction overhead entails. In essence, construction overhead refers to all indirect expenses incurred during project execution that cannot be directly attributed to specific jobs or tasks.

These expenses encompass a wide array of costs, including administrative salaries, utilities, insurance, equipment depreciation, and rent for office space and storage facilities. While direct costs like labor and materials are directly tied to production activities. Overhead costs are essential for the overall operation of the business but do not directly contribute to project completion.

Why Is Overhead Rate Calculation Important?

Accurate Cost Estimation: By factoring overhead expenses into project costs, you can ensure more precise budgeting and cost estimation, minimizing the risk of financial discrepancies during project execution.

Profit Margin Analysis: Understanding the overhead rate allows construction companies to determine the ideal profit margins for their projects. Ensuring profitability while remaining competitive in the market.

Strategic Decision-Making: Construction managers can make informed decisions regarding resource allocation, pricing strategies, and business expansion initiatives.

Types of Construction Costs and Expenses

Before delving into the intricacies of calculating the overhead rate, it's essential to understand the various types of costs and expenses associated with construction projects. These can be broadly categorized into two main categories:

Direct Costs:

Direct costs are expenses directly attributable to specific construction projects. Also known as job costs. They include:

Labor Costs: Wages, salaries, and benefits for on-site workers, subcontractors, and project managers.

Material Costs: Expenses related to purchasing construction materials such as lumber, concrete, steel, and fixtures.

Equipment Costs: Rental or purchase costs for machinery, tools, and equipment used in project execution.

Subcontractor Fees: Payments to external contractors hired to perform specialized tasks or trades.

Permit and Inspection Fees: Costs associated with obtaining necessary permits and complying with building codes and regulations.

Indirect Costs (Overhead):

Indirect costs, also known as overhead expenses, are incurred for the overall operation of the construction business and cannot be directly attributed to specific projects. These include:

  • Rent for office space and other facilities

  • Benefits and salaries of full-time employees

  • Insurance coverage for both people and equipment

  • General liability coverage

  • Transportation costs

  • Labor hours

  • Utilities like electricity, gas, and water

  • Government fees and licenses

  • Taxes on property, land, or other assets

  • Depreciation costs

  • Maintenance costs

  • Other job costs

How to Calculate Overhead Rate in Construction?

Now, let's delve into the step-by-step process of calculating the overhead rate in construction:

Step 1: Identify Overhead Expenses

Begin by compiling a comprehensive list of all indirect expenses incurred by your construction business. This includes items such as office rent, utilities, administrative salaries, insurance premiums, and equipment maintenance costs.  This entails compiling a comprehensive list of indirect costs, which may include but are not limited to:

Step 2: Calculate Total Overhead Expenses

Total the indirect costs identified in Step 1 over a specified period, typically a month or a year. This figure represents the total overhead expenses incurred by your construction business during the designated timeframe.

  • Rent for Office Space and Other Facilities

  • Benefits and Salaries of Full-Time Employees

  • Insurance Coverage

  • Transportation Costs

  • Labor Hours

  • Utilities

  • Government Fees and Licenses

  • Taxes

  • Depreciation Costs

  • Maintenance Costs

  • Other Job Costs

Step 3: Determine Direct Costs

Next, ascertain the total direct costs associated with your construction projects. Direct costs encompass expenses directly attributable to specific projects, such as labor, materials, subcontractor fees, and equipment rentals.

Step 4: Compute the Overhead Rate

Once you have the total overhead expenses and direct costs, calculating the overhead rate is straightforward. Use the following formula:



Step 5: Method for Allocating Overhead: Rate of Direct Costs & Proportion of Direct Job Costs

After computing the overhead rate, the next crucial step is to allocate overhead expenses to individual projects or jobs effectively. This process of overhead allocation enables construction businesses to report profit and loss on a more granular level, providing enhanced visibility into cost structures and project profitability.

Overhead Allocation Methods:

Rate of Direct Costs: This method involves allocating overhead expenses to projects based on a predetermined percentage of direct costs. By applying a fixed overhead rate to the total direct costs of each project, construction firms can distribute overhead expenses proportionally, reflecting the relative size and complexity of individual projects.

Proportion of Direct Job Costs: Alternatively, overhead expenses can be allocated based on the proportion of direct job costs incurred by each project. This method takes into account the specific direct costs. Associated with each project and allocates overhead accordingly, providing a more tailored approach to cost allocation.

Step 6: Interpret and Apply the Overhead Rate

Once you've computed the overhead rate, interpret the results to gain insights into your business's financial health. A higher overhead rate indicates that a larger portion of your revenue is allocated towards indirect expenses, while a lower rate suggests more efficient cost management.

Examples and Practical Tips

To illustrate the concept of overhead rate calculation, let's consider a hypothetical scenario

Example: ABC Construction Company incurs $50,000 in overhead expenses and $200,000 in direct costs over the course of a year.

Using the formula:

Overhead Rate= 50,000/200,000×100=25%

In this scenario, ABC Construction's overhead rate is 25%, implying that for every dollar spent on direct costs, an additional 25 cents is allocated towards covering overhead expenses.

Practical Tips:

  • Regular Expense Tracking: Implement robust bookkeeping and accounting practices to track overhead expenses meticulously, ensuring accuracy and transparency in financial reporting.

  • Efficiency Optimization: Continuously evaluate operational processes and identify opportunities to streamline workflows and reduce overhead costs without compromising quality or safety standards.

  • Benchmarking and Analysis: Compare your overhead rate to industry benchmarks to gauge your business's competitiveness. Besides that, need to identify areas for improvement.


Conclusion: Empowering Your Construction Business

In conclusion, mastering calculating the overhead rate is instrumental in optimizing a construction business's financial performance. By usually tracking overhead expenses, analyzing profit margins, and making informed strategic decisions. Businesses can position their construction firm for success and long-term sustainability in a competitive market landscape.


Irvine Bookkeeping for tailored construction bookkeeping services. Our certified QuickBooks and Sage experts bring precise, efficient financial management to your business. Partnering with us gives you access to skilled professionals who streamline your operations and enhance growth, allowing you to focus on core competencies like project management and client relations. Trust Irvine Bookkeeping for cost-effective, expert solutions.



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