How to Cut Costs on your Custom Build

Live in the moment inspirational reel

One aspect of construction that gets more attention than anything else is always the budget. It's front and center with every choice you make, from the initial planning phase to punch list items before move-in day. And if you're thinking of building anytime soon, you're probably well aware of the rising costs of material and labor. For example, a lumber package that once cost $30,000, can easily be more than double now. And before you know it, a 5% increase here and a 2% increase there, can easily spiral out of control, which leads to stress and uncertainty. So to avoid those panic-filled emotions, I'm listing some solutions to help you combat sticker shock and keep your budget in check. Here they are, organized into the three main phases of a home building project: planning, design, and construction.


  • Hire professionals. This one step may seem expensive initially, but it can save you tens of thousands of dollars throughout the process. I know it's tempting to go at it alone, but professionals will think of ideas and efficiencies that you might not. I like to compare it to hiring a wedding planner or a financial advisor... when there's hundreds of thousands of dollars involved, you won't regret hiring someone familiar with the process (who looks out for your best interests). This can include realtors, consultants, surveyors, engineers, draftsmen, house designers, and architects, but the key to a solid budget is having a fully thought-out set of drawings that work on your property, so the builder understands the design intent and your expectations, so he prices your job accordingly. Not to mention, the drawings become part of your construction contract, so they're your first layer of defense, if things go south.
  • Build Up, Not Out. Sometimes a single level home is a have-to, but for the most part it's a want-to. If you're building a 3,000 SF house, you can essentially cut the footprint in half & reduce the materials required for your foundation and your roof by building up. This has a substantial impact on the budget for two big ticket items. So if you're open to a multi-level home, it's a great opportunity to start saving money from the start.
  • Downsize. Another not-so-popular topic is building a smaller house. Nobody wants to cut square footage after they've fallen in love with a larger floor plan, so start the process with a smaller footprint in mind. How much space do you really need on a daily basis & what are some "just in case" spaces that could be shared in a multi-use area? And remember downsizing does not mean down grading. A smaller footprint house with high quality finishes has its advantages... less areas to furnish, fewer rooms to clean, and lower heating and cooling costs to name a few.


  • Reduce Square Footage in Key Spaces. The most expensive spaces to build are kitchens and bathrooms. They include every trade... plumbing, electrical, mechanical, cabinetry, trim, countertops, painting, tile, hardware, and other specialties. Unlike a bedroom or garage, which includes much less. Here's a couple examples, omitting the powder room and letting guests share the kid's bathroom, getting rid of the fancy freestanding tub if you're strictly a shower person, or making your pantry larger and your kitchen smaller, creating an efficient layout that reduces costs. 
  • Select Economical Materials & Finishes. Start thinking about finishes early in the process, so you aren't rushed to choose something you don't like later, that's not your style or in your budget. Especially the high quantity/ high ticket items like windows, doors, flooring, and lighting. The price range between these items varies substantially. Take flooring, for example, carpet and sheet vinyl is your cheapest option, there's also luxury vinyl plank which is a bit more, then engineered hardwood and polished concrete floors next, and finally hardwood floors and tile as the most expensive option. Same with lighting, the cost of a chandelier vs. recessed cans is considerable, so be strategic with your design. If you know you want decorative fixtures for the main space, but something less is okay for the bedrooms, make that design decision sooner rather than later. Remember it's possible to do a combination of finish levels throughout your home, but it's tough to recover financially, if the builder quotes on the low end and your expecting materials and finishes on the higher end. There's so much to be said for materials & finishes, I'll provide an expanded blog post on this category alone. Read it HERE- Controlling Costs: Choosing the Right Materials & Finishes for your Custom Home.
  • Trust Yourself. At the end of the day, this is your home and you need to make choices that fit your family and your lifestyle. I'm all for getting advice on your floor plans from friends, family, and even Facebook groups, but don't let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others because, when all is said and done, it's your money. If you lose focus or encounter design fatigue (it happens), reflect on the way you want to feel in your future home and how the house will function as a whole. It's incredibly difficult to change the layout once construction begins, and, ultimately, only you understand your behaviors, habits and routines.


  • Complete Items & Areas in the Future. Some items don't fit in the budget immediately, but are easily added later down the road. And if they're truly upgrades, you can decide, after living in the house for a bit, what's missing and worth saving up for. The things that come to mind are:
    • Wainscoting & Wall Moldings
    • Built-ins like Bunk Beds & Banquette Seating
    • Fireplace (interior or exterior)
    • Finishing out the basement or bonus room over the garage
    • Screened-in porch
    • Backyard swimming pool
    • Outdoor kitchen.
  • Select Builder Grade Items For Now + Upgrade Later. This is great for items that are essential to the functionality of your home, but don't necessarily fit your style. Buy something cheap and inexpensive to get the project finished, then select items to upgrade as your budget allows. This could include:
    • Light fixtures
    • Faucets
    • Appliances
    • Closet Systems
    • Range hood
    • Shower Enclosures
    • Mirrors
    • Cabinet Hardware
  • Salvage / DIY After Moving In. Expanding on the previous tip, choosing items for your home without schedules & deadlines allows you the freedom to shop around and make selections at your own pace. Not to mention, saving projects for after you move in can shave time off the schedule and money off the budget. This might include big projects like planting your own landscaping or installing your own tile backsplash, or small projects like creating a drop zone with flea market finds by refurbishing it with a little paint, hardware, and countertop remnant. I once bought an old clawfoot tub (minus the feet) on Ebay for $50, painted it and enameled it myself, and my husband built a steel frame to replace the feet. I probably spent $250 on the whole project. So if you're crafty and creative, the possibilities are endless.

If you've been through this process, I'd love to hear any creative solutions I missed. And if you're in the midst of the construction process, just know you're not alone. There are so many people experiencing the same struggles and successes with you.

I know it may seem difficult at times, but trust me, your dream home is worth it! 


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