7 Ways to Save on Your Remodel

7 Ways to Save on Your Remodel

Smart Savings

man sleeping with money in bed
PHOTO BY MARK HOOPER

Busting the budget is everyone’s biggest fear when it comes to renovation. And with good reason. Even if you follow the essential advice we’ve been doling out for years—build in a 20 percent cushion to cover the nasty surprises, get contractor references and check them, banish the words “while you’re at it” from your vocabulary—it’s hard not to end up shelling out more than you want to, even if you want to pen a check for a million bucks.

But why scale back a project or forgo that Viking range? No, what you need to do is get your dream at a price you can afford. And not by cheaping out, either. With some strategic thinking about design, materials, and timing, you can cut costs without cutting corners. On the following pages, we’ll show you the ways, from the big (knock down the house and start over) to something as small as choosing a wall sconce over a recessed light. But another universal truth about renovations is that every little thing adds up. So save a little here, save a little there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

1. Increase Efficiency, Not Size

If you can reorganize and equip your kitchen for maximum utility, you may not need to blow out the walls to gain square footage. Start by replacing space-hogging shelves with cabinet-height pullout drawers 8 inches wide, containing racks for canned goods and other items. “You’re getting three or more horizontal planes where you might otherwise get only one,” says Louis Smith Jr., an architect with Meier Group, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You could easily shell out a few thousand to outfit cabinets with upgrades like dividers, pull-out pot trays, and lazy Susans, but you’ll save many times that amount by skipping the addition you thought you needed.

Cost to expand kitchen by 200 square feet: $48,000 to $95,000

Cost of super-efficient, custom-designed cabinets: $35,000

SAVED: Up to $60,000

2. Bring in Natural Light Without Adding Windows

find smart ways to use lighting for mood and energy savings
PHOTO BY SOLATUBE

Before cutting a big hole in the side of your house and rearranging the framing, consider less invasive—and less expensive—ways of capturing light. To brighten up a windowless bath or hallway, for instance, you can install a “light tube,” which slips between roof rafters and funnels sunshine down into the living space.

Cost to add a double-pane insulated window: $1,500

Cost for a light tube: $500

SAVED: $1,000

3. Hit the Recycling Center

front doors displayed in Guilded Salvage
PHOTO BY <A HREF=”HTTP://WWW.GUILDEDSALVAGE.COM” TARGET=”_BLANK”>GUILDED SALVAGE ANTIQUES</A>

Do-it-yourselfers can reap big savings with recycled or lightly used fixtures and building materials. Habitat for Humanity operates about 400 ReStores nationwide, which offer salvaged materials at half off home-center prices. One caveat: Many contractors won’t work with salvaged items, or homeowner-supplied materials in general, because they don’t want to assume the liability if something goes wrong. That said, if you’re doing your own work, you can find anything from prehung doors to acrylic skylights to partial bundles of insulation. (To find a ReStore near you, visit habitat.org.)

Price of 4-by5-foot insulated window in a home center: $600

Price at ReStore: $300

SAVED: $300

4. Donate your Trash

crew members slicing through multiple coats of paint to remove built-in cabinetry
PHOTO BY RYAN KURTZ

Before you begin a remodeling job, invite the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to remove materials and fixtures for later resale. “About 85 percent of a house is reusable,” says B.J. Perkins, Habitat’s ReUse program manager, in Austin, Texas. “We can do a total takedown, or do a cherry-pick job and take the cabinets, the tub, the sink, and so on.” You save space in the landfill, collect a charitable tax credit for the donation, and help a good cause. Visit Habitat to find an affiliate near you.

Cost to trash a suite of bathroom fixtures: $50 to $75

Cost to donate: Nothing, plus you get a tax deduction

SAVED: Space in the landfill (and a little bit of your soul)

5. Do Your Own Demo

crew members removing fireplace surround
PHOTO BY RYAN KURTZ

Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself—as long as you proceed with care. “If a homeowner wants to demo a deck, well, I am sure they can handle that,” says Michael Winn, owner of Winn Design, in Virginia. “But when it comes to interior spaces, I would dissuade them from doing it unless they have done it before.” The reason: A reckless wrecker might unwittingly take out a load-bearing wall or, worse still, plunge a reciprocating saw into live wiring or pressurized plumbing. (For tips on how to do demo right, see our October 2005 feature, “Before You Construct, You Have to Destruct.”)

Cost to demo a 200-square-foot deck yourself: $450 (Dumpster rental and parking permit)

Cost for a pro: $1,000

SAVED: $550

6. Consider Long-Term Costs, Not Just Short-Term Gains

house with curb appeal and shipshape siding
PHOTO BY LINDA OYAMA BRYAN

If your addition calls for clapboard siding, for instance, you can save more in the long run by ponying up now for the preprimed and prepainted variety. It costs an extra 10 to 20 cents per foot, but “you’ll wind up paying for half as many paint jobs down the road,” says Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Byggmeister, a design-build remodeling firm in Newton, Massachusetts. The reason? Factory finishes are applied on dry wood under controlled conditions—no rain, no harsh sun. “I used prefinished claps on my house about ten years ago and the only flaw in the finish is the occasional mildew spot, easily washed off,” Eldrenkamp says. “The paint looks as if it’ll be good for another ten years, easily.”

Cost of unfinished siding for a 10-by-40-foot addition, plus two paint jobs: $5,000

Cost for prefinished claps and one coat of paint at installation: $3,750

SAVED: $1,250

7. Tap Your Contractor’s Sources

couple looking at catalog with contractor
PHOTO BY COURTESY OF THINKSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

When it comes to things like flooring, ask your subcontractor if he has odds-and-ends stock left over from other jobs. While renovating a Civil War-era bed-and-breakfast in New Jersey some years back, contractor Bill Asdal needed wood flooring. He made a few phone calls and came up with hundreds of square feet of hardwood, in various lengths and widths, that otherwise would have gone into the trash on other job sites. Just by planing it to uniform thickness, then sanding and refinishing it, he saved his client almost $9,000 in materials costs.

Cost of new flooring: $19,200

Cost to use someone else’s discards: $10,500

SAVED: $8,700

9. Consult an Architect

ruler, calculator, building plans
PHOTO BY COURTESY OF ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Depending on the scale of your project, you might not need a full-on architectural commission, which involves extensive meetings, multiple job-site visits, and several sets of construction drawings, to the tune of about 8 percent of a project’s construction budget. You might be able to tap an architect’s design savvy by having him undertake a one-time design consultation. For example, for a $400 flat fee, Baton Rouge architect Kevin Harris will meet with a homeowner, examine the problem, and sketch out a few solutions that could be as simple as opening up a partition wall or moving a door. The homeowner can then give the sketch to a builder or take it to a drafting service, which will charge about $1 to $1.50 a square foot to crank out formal construction drawings.

Architect’s fee to design a 300-square-foot home office: $2,250

Fee for design consultation only and plans: $580

SAVED: $1,670

10. Partner With a Contractor

couple looking at plans with contractor
PHOTO BY COURTESY OF FUSE/GETTY IMAGES

Though the practice is controversial among the trades, some contractors will offer consulting and mentoring services to skilled do-it-yourselfers on an hourly basis. Chicago-area builder Ted Welch charges $150 per hour for such coaching, with a two-hour minimum commitment. “The most satisfied clients tend to be those who have good manual dexterity, who realize that skills need to be practiced in order to be perfected, and who are willing to risk making a few mistakes and then learn from them,” he says.

Cost to drywall one room: $1,000

Cost with DIY consultation: $300 (2 hours of coaching), plus materials

SAVED: $700

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