The holiday season is over and the new year has begun. Most of us will now buckle down for 2-3 months of cold weather and inside activities. If you’re already thinking to spring and house projects once the weather gets warm, now is the time to plan and prepare. We’re stuck inside anyway while the snow and wind blow outside so let’s get out the pencil and paper and start brainstorming. Construction projects cost money, its a no brainer. And let’s just put it out there right now and get it over with…there will be additional, hidden costs in any building project. Always and forever, no matter how experienced the construction team, no matter how many times the designer checked & measured, some hidden cost will show up. Now the secret is out, let’s move on to how to reduce them, avoiding as many as possible.
I’ve listed the top ten reasons why I believe construction budgets get blown or surprise cost increases occur. There are others, but these are the biggies to anticipate and avoid. They’re not listed in a weighted order as each one can cause large headaches depending on the project. In addition, many items can cause others creating a ripple effect.
1. Making decisions incorrectly – This directly ties in with not having formal plans. Whenever decisions need to be made, its best to decide them at the beginning and with the entire project in mind. Delaying a decision, rushing a choice, spreading out finish selections, or changing your mind on a selection causes problems. Also spending money inappropriately falls into this category. Your milk and eggs don’t need luxury. Don’t break the bank on dreamy appliances. All fridges stay cold and all stoves get hot, so you’re spending several thousand dollars more for a little metal logo with a good marketing campaign to store bottled water and soda? Walk away, don’t do it. While you’re at it, skip the cabinet fronted appliances or secret drawers. We all know kitchens have appliances, they’re not embarrassing so save the money and stop hiding them.
When making decisions in your project, take a step back and ask yourself how important that item really is and establish a want vs. need list.
2. Informal plans – When there is no formal plan, decisions get made on the fly, without notice. Then situations and outcomes arise and there is no damage control. Miscommunication occurs constantly as different people interpret discussions differently and everyone remembers conversations in a slightly different way. When you have a professionally drawn plan, more details get discussed and written down prior to any construction. Always work the problems out on paper first before swinging a hammer. With professional plans, you’ll get more accurate quotes, avoid miscommunication, and make cohesive design decisions. Yes, you’ll spend money on the designer themselves in fees, however, the gain is work clarification, a professional eye on your side, and an adviser. Just like lawyers, physicians or dentists; architects and interior designers provide a professional service when people need something so use them.
3. Loose budget & scope creep – From the first moment you begin your project you should have a budget in mind. Partnering a firm budget with complete plans greatly reduces the potential for scope creep, or increasing the size of the project by adding additional work. Paint the hall, refinish the doors, tile the fireplace surround all on top of the kitchen remodel and suddenly your house is a mess, your project is never ending and your budget has walked out. Pull back the reins on the project that you initially started and stick with it. If you want to add additional phases discuss that at the planning stage not during construction.
4. Updating & relocating major utilities & fixtures – Additional costs in this category is almost unavoidable. Partnering it with #5, opening walls, the unknown Pandora’s box will be released. The building’s past life is buried in the walls, ceiling, and floors and almost always has to be dealt with for code reasons. Swapping out older infrastructure and modernizing to current code standards can bring financial headaches. Project priorities will be challenged and allocation of funds will be necessary. With aesthetic creativity however, the same outcome can be achieved, no matter what utilities have to remain.
5. Opening up walls/removing walls – In addition to opening up walls for utility access, removing walls for floor plan changes and space expansion usually involves structural additions. Lintels, headers, columns and beams are costly but necessary parts of the building. Reframing openings sometimes require a change in design particularly the ceiling. Many people have aversions to beams as they feel it breaks up the space into segments. Treated correctly they can either enhance and create character or made to blend into the ceiling. Don’t sweat the structural changes, they’re necessary. Concentrate on them being done correctly and then aesthetically.
6. Historic details – When dealing with replicating and restoring historic details, often times it requires hand tools and meticulous labor. This is one area where specialty and experience comes into play. Custom molds may need to be created, relics restored, and layers of history removed or stripped away to reveal original beauty. All of this meticulous work requires additional funds, but many times necessary for historic properties. Particular attention needs to be made when working with the local SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) and the National Registry of Landmarks in order to register your building. Original building features need to be preserved and considered during design and construction.
7. Mother nature & uncontrollable factors – Weather can wreck havoc on an addition that has yet to be enclosed. Storms can delay delivery, rain can postpone crews, and ice can snap power lines. In addition to the weather, other items out of our control is processes and paperwork. By this I mean applications for financing, grants, historic preservation registration, ordinance waivers, code reviews, permits, inspections, and so forth. The submission and approval process is frustrating and slow going, but necessary. Simply do your part and go with the flow. Get copies of documents and ask ALL your questions.
8. Hiring cheap labor – There’s a reason you should always get at least 3 bids/estimates for your project. If your choice is to go with the cheap one, there’s a reason they’re cheapest especially if it’s by a lot. Again I mention this, in a previous blog about surviving construction, see the link at the end of this post. In public funded jobs the lowest bidder usually has to be accepted, but in private funds, the owner can choose, so do so cautiously.
9. Failing at the DIY method first – When a home project goes well, it can be a money saving success, however when work needs to be redone, torn out, corrected, or recalculated the price adds up quickly. Kuddos goes out to those who try first but know your limits then call in the pros.
10. Custom orders – Many people think custom is better and implies quality and they’re wrong. Custom simply means someone made it especially for you and you’re paying for it, dearly. As a designer the term “custom kitchen” drives me crazy. I was trained that unless the dimension is obscure and aesthetic is unique, use standard issue cabinets. The worst is when I see a generic kitchen that has standard dimensions and the client or realtor says “it’s custom!”. I’m thinking, no it’s a rip off. Do not equate custom with better. It might very well be better constructed or highly personalized, but if you’re simply looking for white or basic maple kitchen cabs buy quality store ready ones As long as the doors close correctly, the joints are sound and the boxes stay on the wall go with store bought and splurge on the granite or quartz counters that you really want, your dishes won’t care! This also pertains to custom made furniture too. I once had an upholsterer tell me that he was making a custom sofa for a designer that cost $5,000 to make and that with the retail markup she was going to bill her client $11,000! Let me tell you, I had a physical reaction in my gut. Even he admitted it was a rip off and it was his sofa. When ordering furniture from a retail store, you may get offered custom fabric or COM (Customer’s own material) where you can choose any fabric under the sun. Three questions always to ask when deciding whether to do this 1. How much more does it cost? 2.How much time will it add to the order? 3. Is it necessary?
Someone will always be willing to sell you something more expensive, you as the consumer/buyer need to know when its not necessary.
Juggling these 10 construction balls can challenge any project’s budget. Some are unavoidable but some can be managed. I may rant on some hot buttons, but money and resources get wasted so easily in construction. I try to educate and provide pros and cons to my clients for them to make the right choice for themselves and their project. Everyone comes with their own priorities and we all value different things. You may enjoy luxury line items and that’s OK, however those items should fall by the wayside when new drainage lines or wiring updates need to suddenly be made. People only like spending money on the pretty finishes as those are what you can see, however what’s on the inside of the walls is vital for success. Then, feeling good on the cash you saved, bank the money and apply it to the mortgage.
Check out my past blog on Dust & Debris, Surviving Construction for additional construction survival tips. Don’t be afraid of construction, design well and build smart!
Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ
Studio Owner & Interior Designer
Daricilar Design Studio – Medway, MA