Construction costs for building or renovating a home are still higher than ever, but you can still beat the system - at least a little - and reduce the cost to build or renovate your home.
After writing two articles that describe ten great ways to reduce the cost of construction and also ten poor and ineffective ways, I offer five MORE great ways to lower the cost to build or renovate.
Top Ten Cost-Savings Strategies in Construction
In my other costs article Top 10 Ways to Reduce the Cost of Building a House, these are the ten recommended strategies:
Hire the builder early
Simpler Building Form
Advanced Structural Framing
Consult with the builder's HVAC and plumbing contacts
Plan the ventilation system
Plan the plumbing layout
Develop a daylight strategy
Simplify decks and balconies
Use solely exterior insulation
Standardize junction details
Building construction costs escalated astonishingly in the past five years. Although some materials such as lumber have come down from their peak, the cost of building construction will not come down overall. As my most popular article seems to be Top 10 Ways to Reduce the Cost of Building a House, I've outlined another set of tips to reduce the cost to build your home or a multifamily building.
Five More Cost-Savings Strategies in Construction
#11 Early Team Involvement
Get as many professionals as possible in the room right from the start
In the vast majority of projects, the owner wants to minimize upfront costs until the team has developed enough of a design that the owner feels comfortable hiring additional consultants. However, the project nearly always must be substantially redesigned when only one or two consultants are hired at the start. Once other team members provide their input, time is wasted going backwards - changing things that didn't take into account all factors.
You want to start construction with the comfort and knowledge that your project is going to move forward quickly and steadily with essentially zero backtracking.
#12 Consolidate Windows
Maximize window size, minimize window quantity
The window frame is the poorest performing component of a high-performance window. However, each linear foot of frame requires special installation sequencing that accounts for most of the labour cost for a window. The whole (true) purpose of a window is to see out and let light in, and the frame is really just a byproduct. You want glass; there's no need for lots of frame.
For example, a single 4'wide x 6' high window has more total transparent area and requires less frame than two 2' wide x 6'high windows with the same performance ratings. Not only do the two separate windows have less useable area, but they are more expensive to buy, more costly to install, and they don't do as good a job as keeping the heat in during winter.
#13 Alternative Manufacturers
Explore multiple suppliers for similar products
Most product types are made by different manufacturers. Buying from a local manufacturer or from a manufacturer who has a distribution centre that is local or at least in your region will save you both shipping costs and TIME. Time is money - especially in construction. A different supplier may also offer a lower price if fewer people are buying that particular product even if it's the same in quality and performance but not as well-known.
This is not necessarily a matter of compromising on quality. New companies strike up deals with other material suppliers and keep their sales and support margins small to keep their price now. The product may be completely identical. For example, while you can buy aluminum composite panels from more than half a dozen companies, the base material will always be coming from one of three global manufacturers.
#14 Simplify Your Palette
Reduce the number of materials and simplify the façade
Every building should have some visual articulation in the façades. It's what prevents the exterior from looking boring. One way to do this is making some portions of the wall pop out or be recessed. Another way is using different finish materials on the same wall. You could add a roof dormer or peak. In most jurisdictions, the municipal planning department reviews applications to ensure an adequate amount of articulation. In some areas, the city may prescribe specific material types or roof shapes.
However, every joint where one exterior finish material changes to another will cost additional money, take extra time to install, and be potentially another location where water could eventually enter or where falling raindrops leave behind particulate that accumulates and runs down the wall, visible as staining. Choose 2 or 3 exterior finish materials and locate changes strategically.
#15 Reduce Build Duration
Shorten the construction schedule
The longer the construction of a building takes, the more money you're spending. The cost of operating a construction site includes rentals of construction fencing, builder's insurance, fees to the city for using or blocking the road or sidewalk, portable toilets, security, and other things. During the construction period, you're also potentially paying rent to live somewhere else or leaning into the goodwill of your friends or family while living with them.
The more that the construction timeline can be shortened, the more money that both you and the builder save. If the new building will provide rental income, completing construction sooner means less lost potential revenue and less interest on your construction loan.
There are three main methods of shortening the timeline:
Usually only on a commercial or institutional project in which there is an immovable - and often unrealistic - deadline, more construction workers are assigned, and some work longer shifts. This is not cost-effective since it increases the overall cost, workers are working less efficiently since they're always stepping on each others' toes, and the rush increases the frequency of mistakes. You might pay an extra 50% to gain 25% speed, and you've paid more. This is why it's rare in residential construction.
Building parts of the building somewhere else can be great for saving time and improving quality because prefabricated assemblies are usually built inside a warehouse or similar indoor facility where cold weather and rain don't interfere and the lighting is consistent. The caveat is that more coordination is necessary, and it is required earlier in the project. Since assemblies will be brought together, there's less ability to adjust on-site; everything has to fit pretty much perfectly. Without adequate coordination ahead of time, adjustments are very expensive and time-consuming. Ensuring everything is thought through is actually trickier than most teams realize until they've built a few projects with this approach.
Well-researched Design and Comprehensive Construction Documentation
This is one that most teams get at least a little wrong. Most projects have longer construction schedules than necessary for various reasons, and many projects take longer than the scheduled time due to on-site changes. A small portion of these changes result from unforeseen circumstances - freak weather, underground surprises, etc. - but most are the result of incomplete design and of inadequate coordination.
Typically there is a gap between how detailed the architect's design is and how much the builder is prepared to sort out during construction. I advocate for the builder's participation during the design because this overlap closes almost all of that gap. The builder's input helps ensure that the design is worked out to a very buildable level of detail, and the architect's engagement helps prevent the builder from having to figure out what the design intent was. The drawings have all the detail and other information that the builder needs to construct everything, and he can be confident that everything will fit together more or less perfectly. This strategy is really a repeat of and support for #11: bringing the whole team together early on.
How do you get all these into your project?
With this knowledge, how do you ensure that it happens on your project? The key is for the design team to have a process. While nearly every architectural firm follows the same basic process of five (or six) project phases, my SAPPHR Strategy™ is a more detailed and methodical process that optimizes the building's design and performs comprehensive research to eliminate surprises down the road.
If you're interested in a copy of my SAPPHR Strategy™ Guide, please follow the link below.
Are you interested in moving ahead in the near future with a multiplex and want to apply this strategy? You can book a free, 30-minute call with me by booking a Diagnostic Session using the button below.
The information included in this article is to an extent generic and intended for educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute legal or professional advice. Thorough efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of the article, but having read this article, you understand and agree that Daniel Clarke Architect disclaims any legal liability for actions that may arise from reliance on the information provided in this article. Readers are recommended to consult with an architect before making any decisions or exercising judgement base on information in the article.