There seems to be a rule of home building that says the cost of constructing a new home is equal to the amount of money you have available plus at least 10%. A second rule says that the final house cost is never less than the starting budget. While there are exceptions, these rules apply often enough to suggest that starting out budget-conscious is a wise move.
Start conserving cash by considering your needs and space requirements in a home. While bigger homes may cost a little less per square foot, their total cost will still be greater.
Savings in planning
Look carefully at the size of rooms and consider how you will furnish and maintain them. Often the additional floor space doesn’t add features, just bigger rooms. This means higher heating and cooling costs, more time spent cleaning, and investing in more furnishings.
To help visualize space, visit some model homes. These often have dimensioned floor plans or information sheets available or you can approximate dimensions by simply pacing off the room size. Compare room sizes with your lifestyle and how you plan to furnish them.
Look at the overall design of your house, concentrating on the rooflines and outline. Roofs are usually the most expensive part of a home to construct. Complicated roofs with multiple ridges add substantial cost. A word of caution: Simplifying the roof doesn’t include reducing the size of overhangs. Wide roof overhangs are your log’s first line of defense against damaging sunlight and weather. Narrow overhangs mean more maintenance and reduced energy efficiency.
Like roofs, a complex outline or “footprint” means higher construction costs. Count corners for a quick measure of complexity — more corners usually mean a more complicated foundation and roof. Complex outlines also generate more materials waste. Often you can actually gain square footage while saving money just by eliminating a corner or two.
If your closets are currently overflowing, you may be considering large walk-ins. But are larger closets the answer? If your closets are clothing style museums or do double duty as storage, consider a good closet cleaning coupled with smaller closets and separate storage areas using spaces you already have available. At basic square footage costs, reducing closet space may you will save several thousand dollars.
Bathrooms and kitchens are the most expensive rooms in your home. Gourmet kitchens are beautiful and impressive, but what if you hate to cook? For the cost of a gourmet kitchen, you could install instead a small galley kitchen and enjoy a lot of meals in gourmet restaurants.
Luxury baths with walk-in showers, sprawling tubs, and acres of marble are hot. But what if your lifestyle or temperament is such that you will rarely take advantage of those features? Consider a smaller utilitarian bath.
Savings in construction
You can also create savings using creative construction strategies: adding features later, leaving areas unfinished and contributing your own sweat equity. You can reduce the cost of your home by 10% to 30% or more.
At the top of the “added later” list are garages and finished basements. You can append an attached garage to many designs without compromising design or structural integrity. Design the garage so it has its own roofline; this will eliminate the construction costs of removing part of the existing roof when it time comes to add on. Make sure the entry from garage into the house is well located — usually garages enter into a hallway, mudroom or kitchen.
Finished basements can turn a small house into a large one. This is perhaps the best way to get the greatest square footage for your dollar.
Porches and decks also offer the possibility of delayed construction. Decks are easiest to delay because they simply attach to the house. Include the deck in your preliminary design so that you can locate doorways and windows conveniently. If necessary, add additional framing during initial construction in anticipation of future decks and railings.
Savings in labor
Sweat equity offers a third way of conserving your financial resources. Many people enjoy hands-on involvement in their own home and this interest can translate into savings. But know your skills and resources: While you can save money, you can also spend considerably more if you aren’t careful than you would hiring professionals.
Even if you have the desire, do you have the tools and time? Sometimes the tool investment exceeds the cost of hiring pros.
The most likely candidates for do-it-yourself jobs include adding decks, finishing basements and attics, and finish chores such as painting, staining and varnishing, installing trim and stone and tile work. Specialized tool requirements are few and can be filled usually by renting. The large building supply stores often host seminars or workshops for many of these activities so you can “test drive” tools and techniques before tackling them yourself.
Jim Cooper is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and author of Log Homes Made Easy and The Log Home Project Planner. He owns Tallgrass Consulting, Inc and consults throughout the country on custom wood home projects.