What are Some Pro Tips to Reduce Construction Costs?

By Sean Canning

I wanted to make a quick video to discuss ways to save construction costs. It's no secret that construction costs in San Diego are through the roof. We’re looking at a starting cost of $250 a square foot for entry-level finishes and basic construction.

So how can you reduce the cost?

Well, let’s take a look at this from multiple perspectives, multiple scales.

First off, on the larger scale, the easiest way to save costs on construction is to make sure that your design is very simple. So this typically means less articulation in the overall design.

A simple rectangular box is going to be the cheapest way to frame something. However, of course you want some sort of articulation to get an aesthetic that you look on the outside, but just be a little conservative because the more detailing you put into the exterior envelope, the more expenses you’re going to have when it comes to framing, sheathing, and cladding the structure. 

So that’s a good perspective when you’re looking at the entirety, the macro scale of the project.

Now moving down from that, in the medium level, there’s a couple of different ways you can save costs. And sometimes it may be saving a long-term cost. Meaning you may be spending more upfront to save more down the line.

You will also want to consider if you’re the person living there or if you’re going to have a tenant living there. So for example, energy efficient appliances and windows and well-insulated building envelope is going to yield great benefits from the energy standpoint.

But if your tenant is paying the utilities, you may not be seeing these benefits. So that’s another thing to consider. 

Now, if you are the homeowner and you’re going to be reaping the benefits of these energy upgrades, I would say your first consideration is gonna be your windows.

The first upgrade I would make to a building is the windows. And we recommend Marvin’s Fiber Glass line of windows because they’re a significant step up from typical vinyl windows.

They should last quite a bit longer and they should look far nicer. And they’re not too much of an additional costs. But the longevity of the window is what we’re considering in this conversation here.

Also while we’re on this subject of upfront cost versus life cycle costs, a metal roof may be something you can consider because while it does cost twice as much upfront of your asphalt shingle roof, it would last three times as long.

But now, if you’re not into upfront costs, getting back to, just reducing that upfront cost, reducing the base level of construction while you’re planning the interiors of your spaces, as much as possible you want to try to stack the plumbing over each other.

So if you have a bathroom on the first floor and a bathroom on the second floor, if you could locate them directly over each other, you’re going to consolidate your plumbing and you’re going to make the rough plumbing much easier to install, and there could be a reduction of cost for that.

Okay, a couple of other things here. Now, when it comes to kitchens, this is where a lot of our clients spend a lot of money. We’ve had a quarter million dollar kitchens designed by kitchen designers. We’ve designed a quarter million dollar kitchens. I don’t recommend you spend a quarter million dollars on your kitchen.

An easy way to save money on your kitchen would be doing an IKEA kitchen and most IKEA kitchens are warrantied for 25 years.

The only difference between the IKEA kitchen and the custom built kitchen is going to be the custom built kitchen is probably not using MDF for the cabinets. Although they may be. With the IKEA kitchen, you can design the entire kitchen, build the entire kitchen, and eliminate the labor that you’d be paying somebody for. And you can get most of the features, if not all of the features that you’d want. So we were pretty high on IKEA kitchens.

They also have a great set of cabinet fronts that are available and there’s a whole series of third-party cabinet front providers who can get exactly the look that you want in that IKEA kitchen. I should also say they generally do the kitchen sale once a year. And if you can time your kitchen build with this, you can get about a 25% discount on IKEA kitchens. So I highly recommend you take a look at that. 

Another area where people lose control of their costs is the kitchen appliances.

So there are thousand dollar refrigerators and there are $10,000 refrigerators. And there’s a whole spectrum of quality in between them. So if you’re providing a unit for a tenant, you may want to consider buying a refrigerator that’s going to be on the low to mid-range in terms of quality and features.

And if you’re buying a refrigerator for yourself, you may want to sprint for the nicer refrigerator with all of the features and maybe the smart home features. So just something to consider.

While we’re talking about kitchens, one of the techniques that we’ve used to reduce our cost of kitchens is to do a painted backsplash.

So we’ll typically have the dry waller install their drywall, and we’ll have a a level four or level five smooth finish on that drywall. And then we’ll paint it with an enamel based paint, which is a water proof.

This actually ends up looking like a solid surface backsplash, which you cannot do behind a cooktop. So this is a great way to reduce the costs and get a higher end look than you would have otherwise.

While we’re talking about the countertop materials, we particularly like solid surface materials on countertops because it allows us to do a bunch of cool things where you heat seam the welds, and you basically don’t have any grout lines.

And a solid surface kitchen, while it’s not going to be your cheapest kitchen, when it comes to getting a high end look, it’s one of the cheaper, least expensive ways to get that higher end modern kitchen look.

So take a look at solid surface material for your kitchens and maybe for your showers as well. A Home Depot brand is called Corian. So you may be familiar with the term Corian Countertops. 

Okay. There may be a couple other ways we can save some costs here on the construction. I would say just taking a step back. It’s very important to make sure your contractor has access to the job site so he can bring a truck in and work straight from the truck.

One of the best examples of this would be pouring a foundation. If you can have the concrete come right off the concrete truck onto that foundation, you’re going to save construction costs in comparison if the contractor has to wheel barrel all of that concrete over. So job site access is also another important cost savings tip.

And then in line with that, a whole thing about these larger scale ways to save costs, saving time on your construction project will also save you costs because if you’re building and ADU, which is going to rent for $1,500, if you finish in 10 months, rather than finishing in 12 months, you’re going to save $3,000. Or I should say you’re going to make an extra $3,000.

So make sure your contractor is available. Make sure work is getting done every day on the job site and in the long run, this is going to speed up your project and either save you costs or contribute to some rental income, which will help offset your costs.

And then one final rule of thumb for saving costs on construction and that comes with materials. And this is one of the most common places where clients will lose control of their construction costs.

So you may have everything dialed in from construction costs right up until framing or right up until drywall. And then all of a sudden, the contractor’s asking you, which finishes should I install here? 

Well, finishes range in price greatly. There’s a whole spectrum of finishes. Some you can get a Home Depot or habitat for humanity restore, and some you can get straight from Italy imported, and there’s a huge range of pricing on these.

So I recommend you start your material searches from the bottom tier pricing and then move up from there. Try to keep things to solid materials, because that would allow you more flexibility as other materials become available and solid materials will blend nicely with a patterned material. But if you go with a patterned material first, you may be boxing yourself in and then you have to perhaps pay more for the second material later.

So try to keep materials simple looking at the first price tier and take it from there. And hopefully you can save some costs on your project. 

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