Build on a Budget - Ideas That May Save You Money

Cut Costs When You Build or Remodel Your Home

Couple Holding Hands and Wearing Tool Belts
Couple Holding Hands and Wearing Tool Belts. Photo by John Lund/Sam Diephuis/Blend Images/Getty Images (cropped)

How much will your building or remodeling project cost? Maybe less than you think! Here are some ideas for how to cut costs without compromising comfort and beauty.

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Estimate Early

Photo of a property and calculator, figuring out and estimating building costs
Estimate Costs. Image by Dieter Spannknebel/Stockbyte/ Getty Images (cropped)

Before you get far in the planning process, start collecting estimates. These early estimates will be approximate, but they can help you make important building decisions. Understand the process of building and design. Once you know the likely hidden costs, you can modify your plans to meet your budget.
Building Ideas: "Guesstimate" Your Building Costs

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Beware Budget Building Lots

New Construction in a Very Rural Setting
New Construction in a Very Rural Setting. Photo ©Rick Kimpel, rkimpeljr via, Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The cheapest building lot might not be the most affordable. Your costs will soar if your builders have to blast through rock, clear away trees, or provide extensive drainage. Also be sure to factor in the cost of installing public services and utilities. The most economical building lots are often in developments with access to electricity, gas, and public water lines.
Building Ideas: Find the Best Building Lot

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Choose Simple Shapes

Domespace by Solaleya, a half-sphere structure with windows. wood shingle exterior siding, and an inset front door
Domespace by Solaleya. Photo by Thierry PRAT/Sygma/Getty Images (cropped)

Curves, triangles, trapezoids, and other complex shapes are difficult and expensive to build by your local contractor. To save costs, think primitively. Choose square or rectangular floor plans. Avoid cathedral ceilings and complicated roof-lines.  The possible exception? Forget the box and opt for a dome home, like the Domespace model shown here. "Our designs are guided by nature's spontaneous proportions (the Golden Number: 1,618) to enhance structural strength and promote a sense of wellbeing," claims the Solaleya website.

"Think of a soap bubble," says Timberline Manufacturing Inc., another maker of geodesic dome kits. "A sphere represents the smallest amount of material surface area needed to enclose a given volume of space....The lower the total outside surface area (walls and ceilings) the greater the efficiency in energy use for heating and cooling. A dome has approximately one-third less surface area to the outside than a box-style structure."
Building Ideas: What Is a Geodesic Dome?

Source: Solaleya amd Timberline websites accessed April 21, 2017.

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Build Small

Rainbow Over a Tiny House in Vermont
Tiny House in Vermont. Photo by Jeffrey Coolidge / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)

When you compare costs per square foot, a big house can seem like a bargain. After all, even the smallest house will need high-ticket items like plumbing and heating. But check the bottom line. In most cases, smaller houses are more affordable to build and more economical to maintain. Also, a house that is deeper than 32 feet may require specially-designed roof trusses, which will make your costs go through the roof.
Building Ideas: Find Plans for Small Houses

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Build Tall

Floor Plans, first floow, second floor, third floor, and basement plan, small footprint
Floor Plans for a New York City Townhouse, 1924. Photo by The Print Collector/Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The most affordable houses are compact. Think of city townhouses, that rise up several stories, like the long, slender floor plans for this 1924 Vanderbilt home. Instead of building a single story house that sprawls across the lot, consider a house with two or three stories. The taller house will have the same amount of living space, but the roof and foundation will be smaller. Plumbing and ventilation may also be less expensive in multi-story homes. Initial building costs and future maintenance, however, may be more expensive as special equipment (e.g., scaffolding, residential elevators) may be needed. Know the balance and trade-offs where you live—especially your local building code regulations for residential buildings.

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Don't Pay for Phantom Space

A New Home in Wyoming
A New Home in Wyoming. Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Before you choose a plan for your new home, you'll want to know how much space you're paying for. Find out how much of the total area represents actual living space, and how much represents "empty" spaces such as garages, attics, and wall insulation. Are the mechanical systems separate from the floor area?
Building Ideas: How to Compare House Plans

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Reconsider Your Cabinets

Open Kitchen at Facebook Headquarters
Open Kitchen at Facebook Headquarters. Photo Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Solid wood cabinets are elegant, but there are less expensive ways to give kitchens, bathrooms, and home offices a sleek, designer look. A doorless pantry can hide a corner wall. Consider open shelving or painted or stainless steel cabinets with frosted glass doors. Salvaged cabinets or restaurant equipment may be worked into the design. Or take a cue from Silicon Valley and open your kitchen up as if it were Facebook Headquarters in Palo Alto, California—that's the office kitchen shown here.

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Use Recycled Materials

Junkyard or Architectural Salvage?
Junkyard or Architectural Salvage?. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge Archive Photos/Getty Images (cropped)

Recycled construction materials are earth-friendly and can also help take the bite out of building costs. Look for products like recycled steel, pressed straw paneling, and sawdust and cement composites. Also browse architectural salvage warehouses for reclaimed doors, windows, lumber, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, fireplace mantels, and assorted architectural details—like retro 1950s red stool tops. Happy Days!

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Postpone the Frills

Shopping at The Home Depot
Shopping at The Home Depot. Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images News / Getty Images

While your budget is tight, opt for door hardware, faucets, and light fixtures from your local home improvement store. Items like these can be easily changed, and you can always upgrade later on. The cost of "small" items can quickly add up. Paying cash and buying in advance of need will let you buy when products are on sale.

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Invest in Quality

Sustainable Wood Siding and Windows
Sustainable Wood Siding and Windows. Photo by Richard Baker / Corbis News / Getty Images

While you can postpone frills like fancy doorknobs, it doesn't pay to scrimp when it comes to features that cannot be easily changed. Invest your homebuilding dollars in construction materials that will bear the test of time. Don't be fooled by sales hype. No siding has ever been maintenance-free, so live within your personal comfort zone - literally.
Building Ideas: Exterior Siding Options

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Build For Energy-Efficiency

Lowe's Sells Home Solar Power Kits
Lowe's Sells Home Solar Power Kits. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Insulation. Energy efficient appliances. Appropriate HVAC systems for your climate. Experiments in renewable energy. Even Big Box stores like Lowe's now sell do-it-yourself solar panels, and the prices have come way down. Energy-efficient heating systems and "Energy-Star" rated appliances may cost a little more, but you can save money (and the environment) over the long haul. The most economical house is the one you can afford to live in for many years to come.
Building Ideas: Build to Save Energy

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Go Modular

Carol O'Brien Stands on the Porch of her Mississippi Cottage, a FEMA Modular Unit Modified to Permanent Housing in Diamondhead, Mississippi
Carol O'Brien Stands on the Porch of her Mississippi Cottage, a FEMA Modular Unit Modified to Permanent Housing in Diamondhead, Mississippi. Photo by Jennifer Smits/FEMA News Photo

Some of the most interesting and most affordable homes being built today are factory-built, modular, or prefabricated homes. Just like the Sears mail order houses from the early 20th century, modular homes come complete with building plans and pre-cut construction materials.
Building Ideas: Katrina Kernel Cottage

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Finish it Yourself

Amish Rebuilding House in Pennsylvania
Amish Rebuilding House in Pennsylvania. Photo by Bettmann / Bettmann / Getty Images (cropped)

You don't need to be a construction expert to take on some jobs yourself. Sometimes all you need is a group of friends to get things done. Perhaps you can take care of finishing details such as painting and landscaping. Also, consider postponing some parts of the project. Leave the basement or garage unfinished and tackle those spaces at a later date. You'd better not leave off the roof, though.

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Consult a Pro

oung woman architect changing architectural drawings at business meeting with client couple
Young woman architect changing architectural drawings at business meeting with client couple. Architects can help with decisions. Photo by Jupiterimages ©Getty Images / Collection: Stockbyte / Getty Images

When money is tight, it's tempting to skimp on hiring a pro. Keep in mind, however, that architects and professional home designers can help you avoid costly mistakes. Pros also have access to money-saving resources that you might not find on your own. To cut your consultation costs, sketch out your ideas before your first meeting.