Where to save money on a build

tyler_72usMay 12, 2014

So we're planning on building a home pretty soon and had a different money saving question. What are the things to spend extra on during the build, and what things can be upgraded later (for example I know good appliances save you money in the long run, but upgrading appliances is much easier a few years after the build then trying to upgrade the insulation for the house) so basically I'm trying to find the things that all in three categories 1) can't be upgraded easily after construction so spend the money to upgrade during 2) can be upgraded "relatively" easily after the build but using GC suppliers the money will save enough money that I should consider upgrading (I hear that often counter tops fall in this category) and 3) can be easily upgraded after and the amount of money saved by upgrading during is minimal. So basically I want to spend as much money on possible on the more permanent things(better windows, insulation, using screws instead of nails (i just heard that one helps reduce creaking)) on the house and live with cheaper replaceable things for a bit (carpets, appliances, ect).

Oh and I actually pretty handy (i cant wire a light fixture or do some finishing pluming like putting in facets with out worry, but i couldn't wire the whole house or do the plumbing) so that's something to consider with the list, or even if you want to throw in advice about what are some of the more likely things i should do my self during construction.

I know that may have been a lot for one question but I appreciate any advice in advance.

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Number one thing in my opinion that is the easiest to change later--paint.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 2:34PM
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You need to rethink the idea of buying cheaply and then buying better later unless you think you can sell the stuff on Craigslist. The things to look for are the things you can live without for now, or better yet, forever. Do you really need a water & ice dispenser on the door of your refrigerator?

Simplify the design especially the structure and use inexpensive finishes like carpet and perhaps postpone crown moulding. Two of the greatest expenses of modern homes are the long span joists and beams necessitated by large open spaces and the huge roof trusses necessitated by square one story house footprints sold by the internet plan mills.

I posted the Life Magazine cost effective "Dream House" design by Robert A M Stern years ago and no one was interested. Of course, I'm biased but I think the best way to save money is to hire a good architect. If you don't, you're going to give that money to the builder anyway so why not use it to design a cost-efficient house?

Here is a link that might be useful: Stern is expensive but he knows how to design a house

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 3:24PM
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I'm not an architect, or a builder, but Renovator's advice makes a lot of sense. I hate the way our society has become so careless about throwing things away, and upgrading to better stuff when the old stuff is still functional. I think buying a good carpet/counter/fridge now is much more economical (and a better overall use of resources) than buying cheap and planning to replace.

The advice to choose "neither" instead of choosing between cheap and expensive is spot on.

If you can get away without finishing all the rooms (basement, bonus room, etc), you can save money now.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 4:07PM
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Where not to try to save:

-- Before construction- on siting the house and on the design

-- during construction:

0) Sealing against air infiltration
1) insulation
2) drainage around and under the foundation, including adding pipe to vent radon
3) flashing details on all penetrations
5) adequate plumbing and electrical rough-in against present and predictable future needs
6) energy efficient and well-functioning windows
7) sufficient architectural detail to make the house true to its style and an interesting place to live

I chose to save money by going DIY on items that were labor intensive but not physically backbreaking and items where I didn't want to pay the labor up-charge resulting from choosing premium materials or installation methods. These included:

-- hardwood floor installation and finishing throughout
-- interior cherry trim (window and door casings, baseboards), but not paint-grade trim upstairs and in the basement
-- retrofit used kitchen cabinets, making a few to match to fill in gaps
-- tile in the bathrooms we didn't need to use right away
-- landscaping
--fireplace mantel

Some things like built-in cabinets and a coffered ceiling in the family room remain on the maybe someday list.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 4:12PM
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We plan on spending our money on good/large windows, insulation, ground source heat/cooling, kitchen cabinets, ceiling heights, overall square footage and size of rooms, and some exterior things (porch, roof accents, things that you cant add later). We are cutting back on bedroom, bathroom flooring and trim, exterior covering, countertops, concrete outside (apron in front of garage, we also will live in the country), finishing the garage (trim, mudding sheetrock). Basically we are getting what we want on the things that can never be changed, and cutting back on things that can easily be upgraded later, like you said. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 4:13PM
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You can start right at the beginning and build a house that is a simple rectangle of couple of rectangles with gable roofs. There are many very nice looking houses that have a simple structure. The modern trend of design where the house ends up with three dozen corners and an extremely complex roof with valleys adds to complexity of the build which adds to costs.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 5:21PM
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I'm not in favor of "planned obsolescence" -- that is, putting in something cheap with the idea of dumping it in a few years. Figure out what you really want /need, and if you can't afford it, I see two options: 1) decrease the square footage, 2) save and wait 'til you can afford it.

To save, I'd say design a house with a simple shape: Stick fairly close to a simple rectangle with a simple roof. A complicated roofline and lots of bump-outs don't improve anyone's life! Make it modest in size; no family of four really needs a 4000 sf house -- nor do they want the effort and cost of maintaining it. Aim for modest and comfortable rather than huge and impressive. Build for the space you actually need, not for the twice a year you'll have a houseful of guests all at once.

This post was edited by MrsPete on Mon, May 12, 14 at 23:40

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 6:33PM
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I realize the use of the term "build" is a shorthand reference to building your own house but it always makes me pause and think of how much people today seem to me missing about the wonderful world of architecture and how it can shape our lives for the better.

A house is more than a "build"; it is where you will live and raise your family. It is a residence; you ail live there. The spaces should suit your goals and aspirations not what is currently popular on the internet and TV. It's OK to have a water dispenser and a vacuum system but it won't make a difference in your life like a beautiful dining room would. It's OK to be able to see a TV screen from every point in your house but you will remember sitting on a porch with your friends and relatives much longer than a TV series.

I was born before the big war and before TV. When you think of good design look to the past. Many of those design solutions are considered dated now but they worked extremely well. My grandmother had 12 children and the most important rooms were the dining room and the porch. I will never forget the time I spent listening to my uncles and aunts, now long gone. There is no more important space in a house than where you eat and it should not be on a stool or looking at a stove or a sink. Bring your family together and talk to each other. As time passes without distractions they will tell you things you need to know.

To be continued; can't be late for dinner.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 7:28PM
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Renovator8: I enjoyed reading your last paragraph. I have memories of my grandparents at their kitchen table and we played cards after supper at every visit. It is all about the dining room. Miss that time.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 8:16PM
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Reno8, I was born smack-dab in the middle of Vietnam, but I was raised in a small town in a way that "felt like" a generation earlier. Most of my family memories include meals:

- Many, many outdoor potlucks at my great-great aunt's house. This was when I was very, very small and we still had ALLLLL the older generation. No one had a house big enough to feed everyone indoors, so we ate outside. The men'd set up tables with wood and saw horses, and the women'd load them with delicious food. Everyone brought his or her own lawn chairs. It wasn't a fancy type of celebration, but I remember loving it.

- By the time I was in upper elementary school we'd lost many of that oldest generation, yet we still stayed outside to eat most family meals. My father LOVED to grill.

- I do have memories of smaller gatherings in my grandmother's and my great-great aunt's dining rooms: My grandmother had a big Craftsman with a massive dining room, but my favorite eating spot was the tiny booth in the kitchen. My great-great aunt's house was built of heart pine and none of the walls were ever painted . . . but she had a lovely window seat (overlooking a grove of pecan trees) at the end of the dining room, and after I was finished eating I was allowed to go sit in the window seat with my book, and I'd halfway listen to the adults /halfway read my books. The other thing I adored about that dining room was that the dish cabinets opened on both sides -- you could wash dishes in the kitchen and put them away . . . then remove them from the other side.

I agree that these memories have more to do with the people than the surroundings. Vaulted ceilings, French doors, chandaliers . . . they aren't as important as the family.

However, before you begin deciding how you want your eating areas to look, you should be honest with yourself about how you entertain. Do you cook for everyone? Do you host pot lucks? Do you go out to a restaurant? Build what you're actually going to use!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 11:57PM
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Reno, unrelated to your comments, I followed your link and looked through the architect's portfolio. To my surprise his Old Palo Alto entry is a few blocks from where we live. It's an impressive looking home, but I do question that the prevalent style of this neighborhood is "Italianate". If anything I'd say that tudor, spanish, and various flavors of colonials and cape/shingle style homes are the majority represented. This one stuck out like a sore thumb. Italianates are a novelty in this neck of the woods outside of San Francisco and Alameda.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 12:50AM
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The Stern house has some basic materials in common with the Italiante style that dominated the housing styles of the mid 19th century in the west and midwest but it is considered "Palladian inspired".

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 5:40AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Don't scrimp underground...it's hard to lift the house and redo it. So put in whatever waterproofing, curtain draining, insulation, radon mitigation, etc. into the ground.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 7:41AM
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Love your post, Renovator8. I grew up eating family meals together, and we sit down at the table and eat 90% of our meals together as a family now, too. :-)

I love the outdoors eating/entertaining as well. We host large potluck get-togethers, but couldn't afford and didn't want to build a house large enough to hold 30-50 people 1x-2x a month, so we also have outdoor patio dining space, plus a picnic table, plus seating around the fire pit, ect., and three sliders to get in and out easily. The hope is that people will flow and mingle both inside and out. The majority of our planning was for our family, and what we needed.

I planned to scrimp on carpet but now we are upgrading. I also hate the thought of waste, plus paying labor twice....

We are doing our own backsplash and crown molding to save money. We got the nicest cabinets we could afford but are putting in laminate countertops. Easy to change out in a couple of years. And with cabinets, we didn't add anything we couldn't do after-market, such as pullouts, dividers, ect. The biggest money saver is probably the luxury vinyl plank floors we plan in all the main living areas. Builder wants to charge over $3000 just in labor, plus overpriced the actual product, so we are getting the standard sheet vinyl at no upcharge and installing the floors ourselves. We are installing our own cabinet hardware, installing our own ceiling fans (builder charges $75 per), installing our own garage door opener. I would say we are just over beginning level at DIY stuff.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 11:01AM
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It really depends on your priorities. We're choosing to build the smallest house we think the two of us can live in together, but upgrade the craftsmanship and finish materials. It probably doesn't make sense for resale, but we hope that will be our heirs' issue, not ours!

We didn't scrimp on foundation, roof, windows, heating system, either. I guess we didn't scale back on anything but size. There are a few places I wish we had another few inches, but that's about it!

Make sure to only build spaces you'll use every day and that can save a lot.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 11:56AM
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I am planning to skip a few upgrades to do later on, but not many that would result in pure waste.

Example - I can't afford my dream fridge now, but as it's only 2 of us, I don't need one that size anyway. But when we have kids, I will likely get another for the kitchen, and put the old one in the garage/basement for drinks other items. My FMIL built a house a while back, and just upgraded her counter tops a few weeks ago. They gave us their laminate tops, and we are putting them in our barn as work tops. Same could apply to some flooring, we put carpet from the house in our tree forts growing up.

I know there are many items you can't recycle as easily, or you may not have the space for them somewhere else, but it's something to think about. I won't be trying to save money by downgrading roof, hvac, windows, etc. We will be DIYing a lot of the interior also.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 10:18AM
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I'm not in favor of "planned obsolescence" -- that is, putting in something cheap with the idea of dumping it in a few years.

That one made me chuckle, MP, because it made me think of neighbors a few doors down who have had the opposite problem. This tract home development was built in the mid to late 50's. Picture it - original owners, in their 80's, were in their 20's, only married a few years when they had the house built. She told me that the homes had a $100 (!) allowance for all the light fixtures and they thought they'd buy better after a few years. Of course, besides the light hanging over the kitchen table, they've changed not a one.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 8:47PM
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We splurged - a bit - in the master bathroom. Ditched the tub and put in a walk in shower with a terrific mural and accent tiles in it. I grin every time I take a shower and see those tiles!

We saved on garage doors and house windows. Sure, they're all functional and energy efficient. They will last (I hope), but they aren't designer in appearance.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 9:34PM
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