reducing construction costs, how to save money during a renovation, construction expenses, construction help

10 Budget Busters; How to Reduce Construction Costs.

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 factorsWeather 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!

Sincerely,

Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ

Studio Owner & Interior Designer

Daricilar Design Studio    –    Medway, MA

 

Join in February: “Housing Alternatives

Dust & Debris, Surviving Construction

NEED & PURGE

So you want to change your space, you believe you need different space or you will burst at the seams if you don’t build or remodel.  PAUSE- did you purge all the unnecessary junk from your space?  If not, read my last month’s blog about flexible and evolving rooms. (Blog)  There’s a motivating section about sorting out your stuff.  Constructing new space just to fill it with unused stuff is pointless and expensive.  If you’ve already purged, please have a seat.  Let’s talk…

ESTABLISH the PROJECT

The most helpful step in a construction job is to know exactly what are you wanting in the outcome.  Are you painting and buying new fixtures or are you redoing the whole bathroom?  Are you tearing out empty offices to pave way for an open office layout or just removing cubicles?  It’s important to clearly define the boundaries of the project from the start. If you don’t, the project will “grow legs” and run away from you making your timeline unrealistic and the budget blown.  The phrase “while we’re at it, why don’t we just…”  is a very alluring statement. Yes it is more economical to have the work done all at once, but you don’t want to renovate the whole building if it’s just one room that really needs the work.  Also, consider phasing the work, especially if you are occupying the space during construction.  Enough unknowns will be uncovered while remodeling as it is to delay the project.  If there is additional desired work, it’s best to discuss it with the designer and contractor to figure out when and how to add it to the original scope.

HIRING the PROFESSIONALS

In the beginning stages of contacting professionals it is important to familiarize yourself first with the correct terminology regarding construction. Below are some words that are often times confused.  The subtle differences can greatly affect the impression the professional forms regarding the scope and depth of the project.

Preservation: respecting the historic property in its entirety and efforts are focused on maintaining current conditions without making modifications.

Restoration: returning a property to a specific previous time period using the original materials that are present. Other items not matching the chosen time period are removed.

Rehabilitation: similar to restoration however originals in poor condition may need to be recreated in order to complete the work.

Renovation: aesthetic updates to dated interior finishes such as flooring or wall finishes. Can also include plumbing fixtures, lighting, and appliances.

Remodel: changing physical characteristics like doors and walls as well as finishes mentioned in renovations.

New Construction: either constructing an addition to the existing structure or a new building altogether.

Once familiar with the specific term defining your project, meet with an interior designer. They will know who you need for a project, what plans need to be drawn and help you solidify your ideas.  Refer to my article about hiring a professional. (Blog)  Unless you are a seasoned DIY veteran many construction jobs will require professional design help.  Review their portfolios, discuss past projects, and have them view your space to brainstorm ideas prior to signing a contract.  This will also allow piece of mind that your ideas are aligned.  Items also important to discuss when hiring a  designer are your style inspirations, historic preservation items, environment/sustainability concerns, allergies/health and age range of occupants (infants and elderly specifically).  The designer won’t just help design your space but also assist in managing the construction site and working with you and your contractor.  Specific notes can be written into the plans to address necessary concerns for your project.

In general, you want to get as much work done on paper first before bringing in the sledgehammer.  You may be anxious to get the work started, but it will always be cheaper and more beneficial to work it out on paper first.  Plans, details, schematics, finish schedules, custom orders, contracts, deposits/payments, permits & insurance, workshop space, tool storage, dust mitigation and garbage removal are all items that need to be addressed prior to any hammer getting swung.  A word of caution when reviewing quotes from contractors:  Always get at least three different quotes.  Look for the outlier (extremely high or low).  If one is drastically different than the other two, don’t accept it.  They’re either missing part of the scope, desperate for work, or misunderstanding the project. 

SCHEDULE & BUDGET

You may have established an end date in your mind prior to meeting with your designer and contractor, however they well help fill in the details and make adjustments as necessary.  What may feel like a quick job, may indeed need more time because of unconsidered factors such as plumbing or electrical updates or needing increased structural support for wall openings.  If there’s a big event that the work needs to be completed by that needs to be communicated in the planning stage to have the most impact.

When creating a budget, know your financial limits firmly.  Is there a loan or grant getting used or a fixed cash amount that needs to be maintained?  Yes you’ll sign a quote from a contractor but contingency is there for a reason, make sure it’s part of the quote.  Allocate 8-15% of your budget for contingencies as unknowns are always discovered.   Remember if you “rob Peter to pay Paul” then your budget will need to be adjusted. Meaning your big ticket items need to be covered if they’re necessary and scrapped if they’re not.  For an in depth remodel  imagine a $100 pie; roughly a third should be for the interior work including finishes, non structural wall alterations, and windows.  $5 is allocated for furnishings.  Plumbing, electrical, and HVAC take another $33 of the pie.  The remaining third should be roughly divided into  $25 for the structure itself,  and the remaining $10 of the pie for contingent expenses discovered along the way.  If its just an aesthetic interior renovation the $25 for the structure can be allocated into other pie portions as needed.

DURING CONSTRUCTION

A careful decision is whether to attempt to continue to use the space vs vacate during construction.  Demolition is brutal, especially if nothing is being salvaged and the walls or floors need to be opened up for electrical, plumbing or HVAC work.  If you must remain in the space consider construction phases or scheduled time for excessively noisy work.  Dust partitions and walk off mats should be installed regardless to help reduce tracking dirt elsewhere in the property.  Otherwise, set up a temporary location elsewhere, it will move the work along faster and help you keep your sanity. 

demolition, construction, home remodel, bathroom renovaationconstruction, demolition, bathroom remodel

Also during construction material samples should be available to select remaining finishes such as flooring or paint colors.  With technology 3D models and color renderings are standard practice as well as example photos.  If not possible, ask to visit a showroom or view past projects to visualize an item prior to installation.  The schedule and timeline is very important to continue work progression.  The construction trades follow each other in work sequence so delaying a tile decision, for example, can hold up plumbers and painters.  Decisions need to be made as early as possible as lead times for many items can be 6-12 weeks if not readily available as a stock item.  A single order needs to be placed for finishes to prevent different color batches to occur. If special orders or back orders occur, a faster alternate should be suggested if the delay will cause significant schedule setback. 

It is best to discuss frustrations and problems as they occur to keep the aggravations at a minimum.  Update meetings should occur twice a week for a project that is less than 12 weeks in duration and once a week for jobs longer than 12 weeks.  Once daily phone calls and email exchanges should suffice for quick clarifications but bombarding contractors and designers with hourly issues will complicate matters and can cause more confusion in the back and forth transactions. When walking through the job site, dress appropriately especially footwear.  Sturdy, closed toe shoes should always be worn to avoid tripping and injury.  A dust mask and safety glasses are always wise to have on hand.  A hardhat during heavy demolition and structural construction will be required by the contractor and should be announced ahead of time. 

During construction feel free to document the progress with photos.  Also,  city inspections reports/sign-offs and permits should be posted.  As the owner, copies of these should be provided to you if desired.  When all work is said to be completed a final walk through  should be performed.  The site should appear finished, cleared of all leftover debris and professionally cleaned.  Have your designer perform a “punch list” during the walk through.  This list should only include small items such as paint touch ups and receiving manuals.  If any major issues are evident, consider the work incomplete.  Final payment to the contractor and owner occupancy shall occur after punch list items are completed.

AFTER CONSTRUCTION

The project is finally completed and hopefully successful.  You are excited to move into the space and are pleased with the finished product.  The contractor and designer aren’t finished yet.  Post occupancy surveys, portfolio photos and client references are the last steps to completing your project.  These are the venues to air your exaltation or grievances.  Please complete the surveys, write the references/reviews, and let the photographers take the photos.


As the old adage goes, “only experience brings true confidence”.  However, with the help of a qualified designer and seasoned contractor you should feel comfortable tackling any construction job.  Don’t be afraid, make the jump and improve your life.  After the dust settles it will be awesome!

Sincerely,

Sarah Daricilar, NCIDQ

Studio Owner & Interior Designer

Daricilar Design Studio    –    Medway, MA

 

Join in October: “Favorite Finishes, A Designer’s Choice.