Effective Compromises: Small Changes to Design That Can Have a Major Cost Impact

Are you looking for ways to save on your construction project? Do you hope to add resale value to your home with an affordable addition? Perhaps you want to change the design of your house and are keen on minimizing the cost of the alteration. Regardless of the project, you may have in mind, the building is all about compromises. You often have to choose between aesthetics, durability, and cost-effectiveness. The guide below aims to make these choices easier for you as you plan your project.

1. Site Conditions

The ability to choose the location of your future home can afford you a significant cost advantage. But savings come with a compromise. If you dream of soaking up California’s stunning beauty from a hillside villa, be ready to pay out on grading and foundations, as leveling the grade and strengthening the foundation will bear a colossal premium. If living on a flatter surface is acceptable for you, then check your prospective site for other budget-busters that may hide in the ground, such as poor soil, rocks, and a high water table. If you’re free to choose your site, capitalize on the opportunity by avoiding these costly conditions.

Enhancing utility access is another way to generate savings. This can simply mean situating your building as close as possible to public utilities, which typically run beneath the street adjacent to your property. Confirm the front yard setback restrictions with your zoning authority to understand how close you can build to the street.

2. Reduce Area

This one is probably obvious. Larger houses require more materials and labour and therefore cost more. It is important to work with your architect and engineer to use the space that is available effectively. Typically, adding space to a one-story building can be fairly cost effective, but if space is limited adding a new level can be an option as well. In this case, you will want to optimize the location of this to ensure you minimize the number of new structural supports needed and don’t break the bank.

3. Simplify Design

If you’re wondering how to save on your design, consider this: simplicity is cheap. This applies both to the exterior and interior of your home.

On the exterior, avoid multiple roof lines, gables, dormer windows, corbels and trellises. They add little value, but come with extra costs. Simple gable roofs with flat ceilings, or even flat roofs, can make for easier design and construction. The shape of your home matters too. Simple square or rectangular configurations are easy to build without custom-sized materials and are not overly labour intensive, while angled and curved layouts lead to problems both in design and in the field.

On your house floor plan, eliminate redundant spaces. Every square foot of your house costs money to build, so use space efficiently. Opting for an open concept can help you maximize your living space, and also minimize your spending on features such as framing, drywall and paint. When remodeling, on the other hand, it’s helpful to keep existing walls where possible. Removing and replacing walls in slightly different locations may seem like a simple task, but can add hidden costs in construction.

4. Centralize MEP Rough-ins

Mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) services will need to be routed from their point of connection to the public utilities to the fixtures they serve in your building. Rough-ins, or holes bored through studs and other structural members, allow these services to run through your walls. According to a study by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), MEP rough-ins comprise nearly  14% of construction costs. With this in mind, finding an efficient means of routing your MEP services may contribute to a sizeable reduction in overall construction costs.

The fixtures and appliances that MEP services connect to are typically located in laundry rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms.

In the laundry room, these include your washer, dryer, and possibly water heater and furnace. In the kitchen, you will have plumbing connections at the sink and dishwasher, electrical wiring for the range, lighting fixtures and appliances, and a duct for the fume hood. In your bathrooms, bathtubs, sinks, and toilets will need both water supply and drain pipes.

The best approach to minimizing rough-in costs is to stack MEP services together. This may be accomplished by aligning your bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room vertically or grouping them close together, depending on the number of stories your home has. This configuration will allow you to centralize your services inside the walls that these spaces share.

5. Exterior Finishes – Consider Durability and Climate

NAHB’s study on residential construction costs estimates the cost of exterior wall finishes at roughly 6.5% of total construction costs. This may not seem like a large portion of the total, but the figure excludes maintenance and replacement costs. Given the primary function of your building’s exterior – to protect you from the elements – you should consider the wear and tear that it will sustain over time. Opting for cheaper, builder-grade exterior materials may lower your construction costs, but is likely to escalate future repair and replacement expenses.

That said, you may lower your construction budget by avoiding high-end materials, such as stone or wood. More economical finishes like stucco, brick, fiber cement, and vinyl can produce the desired aesthetic while balancing visual appeal with durability.

As you weigh your siding options, consider your region’s weather. California’s climate swings from cold and soggy in the North West to scorchingly arid in the South, and it’s vital to choose an exterior that can withstand the local weather if you want to minimize future repair and replacement costs.

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6. Interior Finishes – Keep It Simple

Interior finishes can add up to a whopping 22% of total construction costs. Whether you’re building a new home or remodeling, compromising on the extravagance of this pricey chunk of work can lead to noticeable savings. Consider the cost of these common interior finish materials as you plan your budget:

Flooring. Your floors handle more abuse than any other feature of the home’s interior. They’re also there for you to look at with every step you take in your home. With that in mind, ensure that you have a well-established criteria for both aesthetics and durability as you plan your flooring budget. Vinyl, linoleum and laminate tend to be reasonably priced and durable. Their leading flaw is a lack of visual appeal. Hardwood offers an unbeatable, classic aesthetic, but is more susceptible to wear and tear and comes with a heftier price tag. Ceramic tiles can land you somewhere in the middle, budget-wise. Their durability is outstanding and replacing the odd cracked tile doesn‘t pose a major challenge. Despite their immense popularity in the tropics, you’ll seldom find ceramic tiles outside of kitchens and bathrooms in North America. Stone is a millennia-old flooring material that has it all – beauty, character, durability, and natural coolness on blistering summer days. It also reigns at the pinnacle of the cost spectrum. As with anything in construction, you get what you pay for.

Trim. Simplify trim as much as you can. No one needs 9” Victorian casings, cornices, or baseboards. Limit your trim to simple, narrow casings with no backbands, eliminate crown moldings, stay away from paneling, and use medium density fiberboard (MDF) or paint grade woods instead of their costly stain grade alternatives. For example, go with poplar rather than oak. If you’re really set on straining, opt for cheaper stain grade woods, such as clear pine.

Doors. Interior doors can be remarkably cheap or tremendously expensive. The most cost-effective doors are hollow-core MDF. These are perfectly good for most applications where privacy is not a concern. When it comes to your bedrooms and bathrooms, consider solid core wood doors; they are slightly pricier and heavier, but provide adequate sound isolation. The use of hardwoods, such as cherry, maple or oak as your door slab will incur dramatic premiums. Same goes for glass panes, custom frame sizes, and custom hardware.

Cabinetry. Your kitchen holds a special place in your home. It’s where you prepare your meals and entertain your guests. Of all the things you may be tempted to splurge on, your kitchen may deserve it the most. That said, you can still find savings by compromising on the materials and styles you choose for your cabinets.

Wood veneer and laminate cabinets typically cost the least. They come in a variety of shades and colors and are easy to maintain. Next on the cost ladder are acrylic cabinets. Their glossy surface makes them easy to clean and gives your kitchen a contemporary vibe. Wood cabinets earn their popularity with their natural appearance and durability. You can also restain them should you wish to freshen up your kitchen. These handy features place wood at the top of the cost ladder, second only to stainless steel. The latter are notoriously expensive, scratch and dent easily, and are really not worth the trouble unless you want your kitchen to look like a hospital laboratory.

How We Can Help

Whether you are trying to save on costs while building a new house or looking for an affordable home remodel or addition, our team of engineers can help you get the most out of your design. With over 3,000 projects completed across the state, we offer expert advice on finding cost efficiencies. Call us at (877) 892-0292 for a FREE consultation and quote.

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