Trying to keep this build "modest"...

phoggieSeptember 15, 2012

Many of you know my saga in this new life, but since DH has passed, it is more important than ever to keep this 1635 SF house build in a "modest" price range.

My contractor came last night for his first draft for the digging of the crawl space, removal of trees, and the cement work done in the foundation and garage floor....BUT it was over his estimate by $7,000!...this was the first and I hope the last shocker!...seems the cement contractor's bid did not include the garage area~~DUGH!...but he did do a great job, so paid the bill and trying to think of ways I can maybe cut down on some costs.

I am "thinking" of changing from 9 to 8 foot ceiling height..would save on lumber, sheetrocking, insulation, siding, paint, etc. Since it is just me living there, I don't mind 8' ceilings. So my question...would this be a wise decision?

I am using a pearl painted cabinets in the kitchen...could save by using stained, but there is only one window in the kitchen and it is covered by a porch roof, so doesn't get much light in there, so need to keep them light. I think I have decided to use laminate counter tops other than granite.

I do want hardwood flooring in the kitchen, and I am looking at hickory. Has anyone had any experience with Lowe's flooring? They are about $3.00 SF cheaper than a flooring company. I will be using carpet in the bedrooms..about $2.00 SF, and tile at $1.79 SF.

I also decided that I will not put in a fireplace...but will buy a electric one instead. We had a gas fireplace in our former build and we really didn't use it all that much and I can get the same "feel" with an electric one....they have really improved them so much.

My contractor likes to use Anderson 400 series windows...he thinks they will help in utility bills. He is pricing double hung compared to the casement. Some think that a person pays for the "name" using is there another brand that meets the same quality at a less expensive price?

I will use a walnut stained birch for the cabinets in both the master and guest bathrooms with onyx molded tops.

My contractor likes hardiboard (I think that is the name) for siding...prepainted at I can keep everything as maintance free as possible, because at 70, I don't need to try to keep up the outside. We will use a 30 yr. shingle. I'd like to put some stacked stone to trim up the front, but will have to see what that costs.

Is there ANYTHING else that any of you seasoned builders think I could do to keep within modest budget? I am building cost + with an Amish crew that has a great reputation for being honest and they make sure everything is done according to code.

Since my departed husband was an architect and contractor, who was "supposed" to be here helping me build, I have to rely on the opinions of others....but I have built three other by myself, so I have a little knowledge of the building process, but funds are not what they used to be your help is GREATLY appreciated. I am trying to think of this build as an "investment" other than spending it...I am just moving funds from my bank account into this house...and hopefully, myself or my kids can make a profit when it is sold...this might save my sanity writing these big checks! Thanks!

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Phoggie- I'm sorry to say, this is probably the first of several 'shockers' but you are so smart to try to keep other costs down.

I think 8' ceilings would be fine, since it's a retirement home, but I'm sure many will prefer 9'. If it really saves you some money, I'd rather have lower ceilings and nicer finishes.

As for the exterior, my mom has cement board siding (I believe it's called) and it's wonderful! Very durable and holds the paint color so well. I hope that helps :)

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 8:16PM
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If you do 8 ft ceilings how will your exterior end up looking?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 10:35PM
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Phoggie- If you do decide to use the 8' ceilings, don't forget there are lots of tricks you can do, to make the room seem 'taller'. Hang drapes right to the top of the wall (so the rod is almost up to the ceilng) and paint the ceiling a lighter color than the walls...and'll use less money heating/cooling and it's easier to clean/paint the walls! :)

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 10:47PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

It's hard, but you need to make sure you actually yield the savings you need...some have said nice laminate can be close in price to low end granite. Also, you really should've budgeted for cost overruns as they will be part of any build...we figured by about 1/3 of the total we wanted to pay. During the build materials costs can have big fluctuations. We were building during the huge run up in copper prices and really got ... er... flucted on that one.

Are there ever cost under runs?

And you have to look at trade offs of now vs later. Later you can upgrade appliances or flooring, but you can't change ceiling heights. I think sometimes you just have to eat the costs...just make sure they are truly when we hit ledge under part of the foundation and had to hammer. Clearly not what we expected.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 5:20AM
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There are lots of discussions about 8 ft or 9 ft ceilings so I won't recreate that argument ... except to say that Lavender Lass is in the minority. If I was buying, I could upgrade the finishes but not the roof height. Every generation is taller than the last ... by about an inch.

Is vinyl siding not an option? There are cheaper brands than Hardi for cement based siding. I can't spell it but it has a good reputation.

Anderson windows in a modest build is crazy in my opinion. There is very little difference among brands in the air leakage as far as utilities go. Anderson does not corner the market in either u-value or SHGC.

When we were building modestly, we did vinyl windows from ViWinCo which was about 50% what Anderson would have cost. Vinyl is of course cheaper than alternatives regardless of brand. Switching from Anderson 400 to basic vinyl would probably get back your $7000.

Otherwise window brands are regional. In NC, MW sells a window at a more modest price point than Anderson/Marvin etc. It is a very common window around here and I am in my third house in a row with them. From tract built spec to full custom.

I've had several cost underruns in 2 recent builds. One was concrete but that was 2009. The other in 2011 was interior paint. The drywall contractor was hungry and gave a great price for drywall+paint. I wound up getting prefab granite in 3 of the baths from Lowe's at a large savings from budget.

You can save a chunk by using standard size vanities in the baths and buying stock size cabinets and tops. This often requires planning in the framing/design stage.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 7:39AM
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We are building a 2,200 sf house on a very modest budget. I agree with LL about 8' ceilings. And while we are clearly in the minority on this forum, I doubt we are in the general population. LL has some great ideas about increasing the sense of height.

I assume you've considered laminate flooring instead of hardwood? We have a friend who is a building supply manager at a big box store, and he put in laminate flooring that does very well mimicking wide-plank hardwood. As with countertops, high end laminate could come close to low-end hardwood, but a thought.

My general is using Milgard windows on our house, something like that might be a consideration instead of Anderson.

My wife's grandparents have an electric fireplace and love it. They strongly encouraged us to do the same, and we will.

Stepping back from this, as LL has said a number of times, we need to keep perspective (myself certainly included in this!). Think of all the options we are putting into houses, the great majority of which were beyond the wildest dreams of our grandparents. Hardship because we overspent on housing is real; hardship because we don't have 9 ft ceilings is not.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 8:57AM
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Why don't you work with your general contractor to find ways to reduce costs? Ask him about your ideas and what he thinks are reasonable ways to save. If he is honest and reputable, as you say, his experience should be a big help.

In the end, whatever the GC thinks is more expensive is...and whatever he thinks is cheaper is! He's the one doing the work! Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 9:55AM
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The problem with windows isn't so much how they perform when new, but how they perform a few years down the road, and how long they last. I could have bought cheap windows at a big box store with similar energy ratings to the Marvin Integrity line I went with and saved a lot of money, but if I had to replace them in a few years, the savings would be lost. I would do as much research as you can on windows, paying particular attention to longevity and customer service. I spent more than I wanted to on windows, but couldn't find anything in my price range that didn't have enough negative reviews to scare me off.

You're in a similar situation to us; a limited budget, and the desire to have a house that will out-last us so we don't ever have to sink any more money into it. I'm focused on a solid house with low maintenance roofing, siding, and windows. If I have to have plywood floors for a while, I can live with that.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 12:22PM
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I would NEVER EVER go with 9' ceilings, even in a "modest" build. Put your money in the architecture, NOT the finishes. You can put in lower cost finishes and replace those as you go along, but you can't "replace" 8' ceilings with 9' ceilings. It's a completely false economy.

You can always get the cheapest cabinets offered and then paint them white. Get a quote from the painter now and see what he'd charge to do that before you move in. It's probably less than the upgrade costs. Have the GC pick up slabs of laminate from the box stores and put them in for you, but you need to sure you get rid of any odd angles in the kitchen for that to be successful.

Put in plain plywood floors, and score the lightly with a cirucular saw and then stain and finish them. You can always do a nail down installation of wood at a later time, but that gets you in the house.

Put the GC to work. It IS his business to know where the savings could come from and he should be able to offer suggestions on local sources for millwork or flooring that could help you hit your budget number.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 2:04PM
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Recently moved from a house in Houston with 10' + ceilings (lots of ceiling fans)
and enjoyed the height - dealing with the heat etc.
The new house we bought in VA has 8' ceiling - and we love it - very cozy and easy.
I had to go out and buy a little giant ladder ($200+) in Houston so that I could change the battery in the fire alarm in the ceilings. Dragging that ladder around is not easy and I'm glad I don't need to do it anymore.
We also have Anderson window in the new house and they are great.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 4:19PM
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We live in an area with cold winters and short, but hot summers. The two months of heat is outweighed by the five to six months of cold weather.

While high ceilings might be a huge plus in certain parts of the country...I'd rather have 8' ceilings than having to replace finishes.

It's a retirement home, so most people probably will not want to redo many finishes, when it is time to sell. Maybe see what other retirement homes look like in your area? Is an 8' ceiling that uncommon?

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 4:30PM
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archie123, I can relate to the "ladder". My last house had 9' ceilings and I had to always get out the step ladder to change batteries or lightbulbs....and I have a balance problem, so I am forbidden to get on a ladder anymore.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 4:33PM
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What are the heights of the ceilings in your area? In my neighbourhood 8 foot ceilings are the norm, and a two storey house with 9 foot ceilings would have looked taller than the other 2 storey houses, and hence out of place (and therefore we went with 8 foot ceilings). In my part of southern Ontario, Canada 8 foot is still the norm and 9 foot ceiling height is an upgrade (I have never even been in a house with 10 foot ceilings!). Can you contact a real estate agent and ask what the ceiling heights are in your area and for houses of the size you are building to be sure that if you do go with 8 foot ceilings you will not be downgrading from the norm?

Good luck with your build Phoggie. Your husband would be proud I am sure!


    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 5:07PM
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There were some posts a month or so ago about problems with Hardie plank that was factory painted. It seems that the problems were mostly in areas where snow piled up against the siding. The company was not dealing with its warranties. The solution is to have your contractor do the painting--it has not had the same problems--just the factory-finished ones. This issue may be resolved, but it's worth looking into.

Also, will you be using the fireplace as a back-up heating solution? If your area loses power in the winter, having a gas fireplace may be more desirable.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 8:43PM
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LilFlowers MJLN

The 'standard' ceiling height in my area on the west central side of Louisiana is 8 foot. Now in the Lafayette area it is more leaning toward 9 foot. You have to live there. You have to foot the build. Would I rather 9 foot ceilings? Yes, because I feel that Louisiana needs taller ceilings to help with the flow of air. Honestly I want 10 foot ceilings. In the old homes around here, that is what they have in them. But to keep with honesty, can I afford 10 foot ceilings? I probably cannot.

It shouldn't be about resale value. If this is your retirement home, I wouldn't worry about it, but that is me. My living room feels roomy even with 8' ceilings. The ONLY problem I have with the 8' ceilings is that when we put the bunk beds together for our 5 and 7 year olds, we were at a loss because the ceiling fan was in the way ANY way we put the bed.

I would get a quote with 8' ceilings and another quote with the 9' ceilings. Sometimes, it's not much of a difference and you can find somewhere else in your build to save.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 10:32PM
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If you want to keep it 'modest', I would suggest you use vinyl siding for at least 3 sides. This would save allot over hardyboard. Maybe front with stone accents. Hardyboard needs to repainted every 8-10 yrs so it is not maintance free. I would also look at the local companies that make windows. They can be just as good as name brand but cost much less. In this area, the framing costs include installing the windows so it shouldn't cost any more but you could save alot by using local mfg.
Are you in a neighborhood? If so, how are the homes there made?
ditto what Tiffany said about ceiling heights.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 11:30PM
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