For Home Owners

Reducing Construction Cost Pre-permit: Contractor Consultation, Structural Info-gathering, Value Engineering

Oct 16, 2019
Design Everest

You know the old saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned?” This couldn’t be more true when it comes to your remodel or new construction project. Undertaking a big job like this in your home can be one of the biggest and most rewarding (financially and personally) projects in your life. Because of the importance of this work, these projects are not cheap - nor should they be. This is your home we’re talking about, and you want the best design and value.

Creative projects like this can sometimes get out of hand with new ideas and extravagant materials.

It is important to set a budget going into the project, but it is equally important to assess the project at particular stages to make sure you're not making any frivolous mistakes that could add extra cost without adding equal value.

Before you go to the city for a building permit, be sure to take these extra steps to ensure you are not permitting an outrageous project with too many bells and whistles, or a poorly thought out project that could be designed more efficiently.

1. Picking the right consultants

The first step to any project is finding the right design team. For every project, you will need an architectural designer to provide the layout, and a structural engineer to provide the information on how to build it. In order to maximize efficiency, you will want these two consultants working together from the start. Make sure to hire professionals that have experience on projects similar to yours. That experience is invaluable when trying to balance value and cost.

Once you have an idea of what you are building, it is good to start looking at the contractor who will perform the work. They will work with your engineer and architect to keep the project buildable and manage cost, as well as help advise on whether the design that is in progress will fit in your predetermined budget. The contractor you choose will need to work closely with the engineer throughout the project, so getting them involved during the design phase is important.

For some projects, like new construction homes, you will also need to consider bringing on additional consultants. For example, civil engineers design the grading and drainage around the footprint of the home to ensure standard design criteria are met, and the house will not experience water damage. A geotechnical engineer is another good person to have on board if you are looking for value. They will test the soil and determine how stable it is, so the structural engineer can design the most cost efficient and safe foundation possible.

Bring your contractors into the loop early. Schedule a time to walk your site or home to discuss your project with your construction team. These professionals will be able to assess your project idea and discuss it in detail with you in order to determine potential cost savings. In order to do this, they will need to know where your definition of value lies. Your team should listen to you to get a feel of what areas of the project add value for you, and what areas can be designed more efficiently. The objective of these consultations is to reduce the unknowns, reduce construction and maintenance costs, and add value to the project.

If you are building a home from the ground up, the Design Everest civil engineering team will be able to help by thinking critically about utility connections, existing conditions and demolition, and earthwork and retaining walls. With all of this expertise combined, the consultation could lead to a revised site plan that you had not considered which eliminates costly retaining walls and reduces utility connection costs with shorter runs.

As you move forward with your project, consult with an architect. These specialists, along with Design Everest’s structural engineers, will be able to analyze your home’s design to determine if costly inefficiencies may be adding up. Things like the footprint or the number of stories planned, the materials used, the placement of walls in kitchens and bathrooms, and the overall volume of space inside the home can be designed in an efficient manner that reduces the construction cost, which in turn reduces the cost of the permit. Similarly, if you are building an addition, accessory dwelling unit, or renovating a particular room, consulting with these professionals can bring inefficiencies and therefore potential cost savings to your attention.

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2. Structural Surveying

Another step in refining your project to reduce construction cost is specific to the structural design. The first step in structural surveying is typically the geotechnical report that makes foundation, stabilization, and structural recommendations based on the existing soil at your site. In some cases, these reports are mandatory based on the local jurisdiction requirements, but no matter the situation it is always valuable to have this report to maximize the design efficiency. Often, the geotechnical engineers will be able to make recommendations that can reduce the cost of your construction. When it comes to the foundation design, the structural engineering team at Design Everest can then use the recommendations provided in the geotechnical report to design the most efficient foundation type for your structure and the expected loads.

An engineer should also visit the site beforehand to look at the existing structure and document the existing conditions. Areas like the crawl space and attic provide insight into the size of existing framing members and foundations, that allow the designing engineer to utilize pieces of the existing structure and reduce cost. It is impossible to gather all the information from this visit, and often there will be items that need to be addressed during construction, but a thorough investigation at the start can help minimize these additional costs. To get even more insight, see if you have any structural plans of the building (from a previous remodel or when the structure was built) or whether your contractor can open up some holes to see inside the framing.

3. Value Engineering

Armed with your contractor’s experience and knowledge, and your structural information, you can now look at alternatives to your original plan that will add value and reduce cost for your project. Value is defined by function divided by cost. If you can maintain the original function of your design, but minimize cost, you are winning added value!

With the contractor consultation and the structural surveys, we have alluded to value engineering concepts. Now, you can formalize this process with a brainstorming session to kick things off. You may realize that design items you thought were important initially, are no longer on the top of your list. You may learn that some of the materials you were planning to use are more costly than the value they hold for you personally. You may decide to build a series of short retaining walls instead of one large one, or you may decide to change the layout of your home to allow for structural columns and supports. Everything you learned through the consultation and surveying process can be put to use here.

Now you are working with an efficient project and you are well on your way to permitting success!

How Design Everest Can Help

Our experienced engineers design efficient structures and are always looking for ways to reduce cost and add value. Design Everest has a team of highly experienced engineers, including structural, civil and MEP, with specialized knowledge specific to home renovation and construction, and we would be an excellent resource not only in this step of the process, but in coordinating with the other specialists involved in your project as well, and taking your project all the way to an approved building permit. Call us at (877) 704-6765 for a FREE consultation and quote.

Sources:
[1] https://designeverest.com/blog/effective-compromises-small-changes-to-design-that-can-have-a-major-cost-impact/
[2] http://www.sbci.com/value-engineering-in-construction-our-approach-to-project-design/
[3] https://designeverest.com/blog/what-to-expect-during-construction-additional-costs-and-unknowns/

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