Size Matters… BUT SO DOES DESIGN. 20 Design and Construction Features That Can Save You Money When Building a New House—BYHYU 017
Most people know that the square footage of a house will affect the cost of construction, but many people don’t realize that how a house is DESIGNED and LAID OUT will also affect the bottom line. And since many of us are unaware of what design choices we can make to reduce our construction costs, I’ve compiled a list 20 money saving design and layout ideas.
The easiest way to save money DURING construction is to figure out how to reduce costs BEFORE construction even begins—during the design and planning phases. The cost to build two houses with the same square footage can vary greatly depending on how the houses are designed and constructed. Great savings can be hidden in small details, and a few dollars saved here and there can add up to thousands of dollars over the course of construction. We’ll find out how we can design our homes to reduce construction costs in a moment, but first let’s define our pro term.
Pro term: Cantilever-- a projecting structure fixed at only one end. It’s rigid construction extending horizontally beyond its vertical support. The use of cantilevers in house design is relatively common. From simple balconies that extend past supporting walls, to having entire rooms suspended in the air. The most common cantilevered designs, though, extend no more than 2 or so feet beyond a home’s wall. I bet you’ve seen a cantilevered structure on a home before. It’s simply a “bump out” that extends from the side of a house. Cantilevered designs can increase the space in a room without having to expand the home’s foundation footprint. Take a look at the cantilevered spaces below.
Now on to the those money saving tips...
There are some features and house plan layouts that more economical than others. But despite being more economical, those options can be just as beautiful and functional as more expensive features. Look for options that you can incorporate into your house plan that you find both practical and attractive.
A common theme with many of our tips is that simple design is the most economical design. The cheapest house to build has four corners and one roof pitch. Think of a traditional colonial style home. Those simple lines are classic and budget friendly. Here are some other money saving ideas.
1. Reduce the footprint of the house. The foundation is one the most expensive parts of construction so, there are significant savings from planning a smaller foundation. Instead of building a single story house that sprawls across your lot, consider a house with two or even three stories. Not only will that reduce foundation costs, but it will reduce roofing costs, another big expense. Building a 2 or 3 story house will allow you to increase your square footage without increasing the size of your foundation and roof.
- Another way to increase square footage without increasing the home’s footprint is to cantilever the walls of a room out a couple of feet beyond the foundation and wall. The bonus here is that cantilevers add dimension and interest to sides of your house.
2. Build on a slab foundation, if possible. Slabs are the least expensive concrete foundation. There are different types of slab foundations that we will cover in the future, but for now, know that slabs, in general, are a great way save money without compromising on strength or stability.
Basement foundations may make more sense in cold climates because most homes in cold climates have foundations that begin several feet below grade, or below ground. So since you have to dig that far below ground anyway, many people in cold climates put in basement foundations. And remember, you don’t necessarily have to finish the interior of the basement. Or you can finish it in the future, as your budget and schedule allow.
One last word about foundations— foundations with fewer corners are the most affordable. If you can choose a house design with a simple square or rectangular footprint, you’ll save money. The more corners and angles your foundation has, the more expensive.
3. Place your house closer to the street, if setback requirements allow. That way, you’ll have a shorter and therefore, less expensive driveway, and less landscaping for the front yard. The bonus here is that you will have a bigger back yard for your children, grandchildren and for entertaining. Usually backyards need less landscaping than front yards.
4. Keep the roof simple. A simple front-to-back gable roof is less expensive to build than a complex, multiple-pitch hipped roof. Complex roof lines and lots of gables require more materials and labor. Plus, complex roofs are more expensive in the long run since they are more prone to roof leaks and because repair and replacement costs are more expensive when compared to a simple, not too steep roof.
5. Consider advanced framing techniques which will decrease the amount of lumber needed to frame your house. We talked about advanced framing last week so… you know what it’s time for, right? Pop Quiz. True or False, With advanced framing, walls are comprised of 2x6 studs on 16 inch centers? The answer is false.
Advanced framing uses 2x6 studs on 24 inch centers. Traditional framing uses 2x4 studs on 16 inch centers. So with advanced framing you use fewer studs, which translates to lower lumber costs. And if you’re building in an area where framing crews are experienced in advanced framing, you should be able to save on labor costs as well.
6. Centralize your plumbing, as much as reasonably possible. Plan for spaces with lots of plumbing to be clustered fairly close together and back to back, if possible. Areas such as the kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms should be grouped together as often as possible. This reduces the cost of running costly pipes all over the house. And if you are building a 2 story house, second floor bathrooms should be stacked above first floor bathrooms or the kitchen, so plumbing can be connected along the same wall.
7. Eliminate walls by choosing an open concept design. The more walls you can eliminate, typically, the more you can save on labor and materials. Occasionally, it may cost more to build an open room because of the added costs of purchasing and installing structural beams. But usually, fewer walls are cheaper. And the savings are not just on framing materials and labor. You can also save on purchasing and installing drywall, paint, trim work, doors and electrical wiring. The bonus benefit here is that open floor plans are very much on trend and the openness makes the house feel larger--so you could actually build smaller, without the house feeling too cramped.
8. Simplify room shapes and first and second story floor plan designs. I told ya simplicity was a theme here. The most economical rooms are square or rectangular. Curved walls or rooms with odd angles are more expensive. And if you are building a 2 or 3 story house, make sure walls line up between floors. If not, additional beams and other structural elements may have to be added to hold everything up. So align your walls as best you can.
9. Simplify exterior and interior details. Fancy details can quickly raise the cost of your home. What do I mean by fancy details? Extensive window and door trim (especially stain grade trim), detailed moldings, unusual window shapes or oversized or odd-sized windows, cathedral ceilings and ornate ceiling details, niches, and built-ins. The more of these things you include in your home, the more expensive it will be.
A note about window trim. If you can’t decide whether you want window trim or not, cut it from your plans and from your budget. You typically save money when you forgo window trim and having clean, simple, trim-less windows is very much on trend.
10. Add Open shelving and painted cabinets to save money in the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Stain grade cabinets are more expensive than painted cabinets, and obviously, traditional cabinetry with doors is far more costly that open shelving. And guess what? Painted cabinets and Open shelving are both classic and current. I realize that most people don’t want to go with ALL open shelving, but even replacing some of your traditional cabinets with open shelving can save money.
11. Ok, I know this may seem obvious, but don’t build rooms that you don’t need or won’t use. That not only increases your upfront construction costs, but you’ll have the added expenses of having to furnish and heat and cool those spaces. Will you really use 5 bedrooms? And do you really need a formal living room, a family room, a bonus room, a sunroom AND a hearth room? Maybe you do… if you have a family of 15, but most people don’t need that much space. Don’t build a space just because that’s what everyone else has done. And, remember, you don’t have to build a space just because it’s on the house plan. You can have the plan modified. I know you’ve got to consider what is expected for resale, but I don’t future homebuyers will hold it against you if you don’t have 5 living areas. I’m just sayin’.
12. Optimize your design for the use of standard building materials. By designing your rooms with standard dimensions in mind, you can save on construction and disposal costs and you also decrease construction time since there will be less measuring and cutting of materials.
Many building materials, including dimensional lumber that’s used for framing, come in 2 foot increments. If most of your rooms and ceiling heights are designed in multiples of 2 feet, that will accommodate the widest range of building materials from foundation to finishes. Whose idea was it to make rooms 13-feet wide and 15 and a half feet long? You may need to use these odd dimensions if you are trying not to exceed some specific square footage, but you might save money on materials and labor, if you can reasonably design your room and ceiling height dimensions with multiples of 2 feet.
Building materials such as drywall and plywood come in multiples of 4 feet. Standard sheets of drywall, for example, are 4x8 feet. So choosing 8 foot ceilings is more affordable than opting for higher ceilings.
But if you’re like me, and have your heart set on higher ceilings, you can ask your drywall guys about ordering longer sheets of drywall for those walls with taller ceiling heights. Those longer sheets can also be used for the ceilings. The longer drywall sheets will produce fewer joints and that should decrease your labor costs. The drywall lengths vary, usually by multiples of 2 feet. So they should be able to get sheets of drywall in 4x10 and 4x12 sheets. I’ve also seen 4x16 sheets.
13. Design bedrooms that you plan to carpet with a 12 foot width, so make them 12x13 or 12x15, for example. Carpet comes in 12 foot rolls, so designing rooms with 12 foot widths makes more sense than having a bedroom that is 11 feet, 8 inches or 13 feet wide. Carpet installer will bill you for additional carpeting and seams needed to complete a room.
Tile flooring varies in size by 2 inch increments. Hardwood flooring planks come in different lengths and, in general, the longer the planks the more expensive the flooring.
14. Simplify your staircase. Staircases with straight runs and no landings are the most budget friendly. The more curves, landings and direction changes you add, the more expensive.
15. Thoughtfully consider the number of windows you include in your design. Windows are a big ticket item, but you’ll want to choose the most energy efficient windows that you can afford. Where you should try to reduce costs, is by decreasing the NUMBER of windows you have. Even if you reduce the number of windows by just a few, that can be a big money saver.
16. Make sure your HVAC system is properly sized. Purchasing an oversized system can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars more that having a properly sized HVAC system installed. Don’t allow your builder or HVAC contractor to use the old school, inaccurate rule of thumb of one ton of air conditioning for every 400-500 square feet. Instead, insist on a Manual J calculation. You might even seek out an HVAC designer or home energy rater to do the Manual J calculation. Remember that the Manual J is the first step in designing a heating and cooling system. Time for another pop quiz.
17. Skip the expensive commercial-grade kitchen appliances and go with mid-priced appliances, unless you’re a really serious cook. You can save thousands of dollars. Purchasing close outs, floor models and scratch and dent models can also reduce costs.
18. This is a simple one…Opt for shower curtains in most bathrooms instead of glass shower doors. That could save you $1500 or more
19. Consider designing for FUTURE upgrades. There are several extras that are not necessary for obtaining a certificate of occupancy. You can add those upgrades over time, after you finish construction. Some of those extras include:
Security camera systems
Central Vacuum systems
Interior basement finishes
Patios and decks
Swimming pool and hot tub
If you do plan on adding some of those features after you move in, just make sure that your contractors know about your future plans. During construction, have them do the work that would be difficult to impossible to do after your home is complete-- work like running gas lines, plumbing, electrical wiring and insulation. Those things are fairly inexpensive to add during construction and can wait until you’re ready to complete your upgrades.
20. Before you have your house plans finalized, start collecting rough estimates and the contractor’s cost savings suggestions on preliminary drawings. When you are asking for estimates from potential subcontractors, ask them to look at your plans with a critical eye and make notes about where you could save money, without significantly compromising quality and without negatively impacting the work of the other subs. If you are going to use a general contractor, you can ask those in the running for your job to do the same thing. Those early estimates and notes can help you modify your plans to save money.
There are many ways we can tweak our house plans that will allow us to reduce costs without compromising quality. Hopefully, you learned about a few of those tweaks today. Let’s see if you did. It’s quiz time.
1. What are 2 things that we talked about today that you can do to increase your square footage without increasing your home’s footprint?
You can build up instead of out. Instead of spreading all of your square footage over a single story house with a large foundation, you add a second and even third story to your home. That way your foundation and roof will be smaller and therefore cheaper, without having to loose any square footage.
You can use cantilevers, which are bump outs that extend past the walls of a house about 2 feet or so.
2. Is it better to design room dimensions and ceiling heights in multiples of 2 feet, 3 feet, 4 feet or 5 feet?
The answer is in multiples of 2 feet. This is because most building materials come in standard dimensions that are multiples of 2 feet. Many materials have standard sizes of 2 feet, 4 feet or 8 feet. If most of your rooms and ceiling heights are designed in multiples of 2 feet, that will accommodate the widest range of standard building materials from foundation to finishes. This will decrease materials costs, labor costs, disposal costs and time.
That’s it for this week. I hope you got some good ideas about what to include and exclude in your house design to get the biggest bang for your buck. Incorporate those features that make the most sense for the form and function your home.
And If you know anyone who is planning on building a house in the near or distant future, share this episode with them so they can incorporate some of these suggestions in their house design.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition. Building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.