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5 Solutions to Save Money During Construction

Our resident builder shares his top five solutions to save money during the construction of your log home.

Written by Dan Mitchell
 Photo: Courtesy Zach Parmeter
Everyone likes to save a buck or two where they can. But when it comes to building a custom log home, cutting corners is never worth the long-term price you pay. Luckily, there are a number of ways you can save money now and help your home perform for the long haul. Check out five of my favorites:

1. The Plan

Oftentimes, homes are designed without construction costs in mind. From the get go, consult with your builder about your log home’s design and seek out ways to value engineer it. A good builder can look at your plan and identify ways to save money. For starters, space allocation. Do any rooms seem oversized for your needs or your lot? Are there areas that can be consolidated or serve multiple functions so you can maximize a smaller footprint? Are there hallways or interior load-bearing walls that can be eliminated by reinforcing structural supports in the ceiling or roof, thereby increasing your usable square footage? Any one of these can help cut costs.

2. Wise Buys

With a design in place, you need to focus on what’s going into it. It’s surprising how many custom-home buyers don’t realize that they will have to select every detail in their house, from the size and species of their logs, to the type of windows and doors, to the pulls that will grace their kitchen cabinets.
It’s not easy to save money on “the box,” meaning the walls, mechanicals, plumbing and wiring, but if you know how to hunt for deals, you can save a lot on finishing materials.
The best strategy is to shop in advance and continuously. Don’t wait until your log shell is near completion and you’re forced into making snap decisions (a scenario which almost always leads to wasting money). Create an exhaustive checklist of everything you need to supply for your home, including quantities, square footage, room dimensions, etc., and keep it with you at all times. That way, if you are at a home supply depot, an antiques or architectural salvage dealer — even online, for that matter — and you see a bargain, you’ll know if it meets your needs and you can snatch it up on the spot.

3. Material Strategies

From windows to doors to roofing, there’s a host of building materials that can save money. But it’s not enough just to save on the cost of goods. There are other financial decisions to consider, both from a construction standpoint and long-term usage.
One of the best examples lies in your foundation. If you know you want a finished basement, concrete block isn’t the only game in town. Though it may be one of the least expensive in terms of upfront price, you have to factor in all aspects of the foundation’s construction. A more advanced product, like insulating concrete forms (ICFs), may be a viable alternative.
On the surface, ICFs are undoubtedly more expensive than concrete block; however, block has to be installed, mortared, sealed (inside and out) with a waterproofing agent, framed with furring strips, insulated and enclosed with drywall or another finished surface. That’s a lot of extra material, labor and expense on top of the cost of the concrete.
On the other hand, ICFs, which consist of a rigid thermal framework that stays in place after the concrete walls are poured, would save you multiple steps (and trade contractors) during the construction process. So even though ICFs may cause a little sticker shock at the onset, they could actually put a little money back into your building budget. And, because they’re highly efficient insulators, ICFs can lower your monthly heating bill over the life of your home.

4. The Process

Typically, electricians, plumbers and other trades are going to have set minimums and cost-per-hour fees for conducting their portions of the project. So when they arrive on site, there’s no time to waste. One of the best ways you can save money during construction is to ensure your build team has the items they need when they need them. If you don’t, not only are you running the risk of cost overages for labor, any delays in the process can add substantial time to finishing the build, which could result in extending your construction loan and accruing additional interest.

5. DIY Tasks

Nearly everyone looks to save a little cash by performing tasks they think they can handle themselves, and sometimes that’s a good solution. But if you don’t have the time or skill set to tackle a job — don’t! When the clock is ticking on a job site, nothing is more frustrating to a professional builder than having to wait a week for a DIYer to finish a task that one of his crew could have knocked out in two days. And often an eager-but-unskilled homeowner ends up damaging something, like nicking the log walls with errant equipment or spilling paint on a hardwood floor. Keep in mind that with DIY projects, you’re on the hook for anything you damage, not your builder.
There are always ways to save a little cash while building your dream log home, if you are open to them; but there’s a difference between saving and skimping. The last thing you want is “short term gain for long term pain,” so invest where it makes sense, and always be on the lookout for a good deal. 
Dan Mitchell is a builder and a Log & Timber Home University professor. He owns Eagle CDI, a construction firm based near Knoxville, Tennessee.

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