Ah, a budget. Most of us are all too familiar with living on a budget, especially these days.

Tips for saving money when remodeling

While this client did not have the budget for a large master suite addition, an architect was able to help them gain access to an updated bathroom from a reconfigured master bedroom.

(David T. Price)

Successfully living on a budget is not blindly spending until the money is gone. It is planning where the money will go and sticking to the plan. Knowing how much things will cost and itemizing expenditures will help you know how far your money will stretch.

The concepts of budgeting for a remodeling project are no different than budgeting for your monthly bills and living expenses.

So, why do so many people start a remodeling project with the mind-set to see how far the money will take them without planning where the money will go?

They are setting themselves up for failure. People who don’t plan accordingly end up either running out of money in the middle of a project or going way over budget.

This mistake can be avoided. It starts with properly planning and itemizing your project. One huge misconception about remodeling is to go the contractor for a quote first.

A contractor cannot give you an accurate quote without proper construction documents, meaning floor plans, exterior elevations, interior elevations, structural engineering, etc. They can only give you a rough estimate until they know the true scope of the work. Before you ever approach a contractor, work with an architect to discuss the project plans and the budget.

A good architect will help you determine what you can get out of your house within your proposed budget. Remember the more you plan, the easier it will be for you to stay within your budget.

In addition to the drawings, an architect can help you create a design specifications book. By choosing and documenting all the fixtures and finishes in the planning stage, you will enable the contractor to give you the most accurate quote possible for your job.

A thorough specification will eliminate the surprise costs that you might run into if you wait to choose the light fixture at the last minute when the contractors are ready to install it. Don’t forget to include a contingency in your budget (5 percent to 10 percent of the project cost); remodeling always has its surprises.

Planning your itemized budget ahead of time will allow you to see the big picture and give you time to determine where you can cut back and where you should buy the best.

We recommend not cutting back on the permanent components of the structure. Even though it may not be the most fun, it is always a good idea to get quality doors, windows, roofing and insulation. These items will be well worth the money in the long run. Electrical, heating and hot water systems are also areas to buy quality.

One of the easiest ways to save money in a remodeling project is on labor costs. If you have a lot of time and construction experience, you may be skilled enough to be your own contractor.

Though you can save thousands of dollars, you will earn every penny of it! There are also some ways to save on labor for the not-so-skilled homeowner by being responsible for the unskilled portion of the labor on your job. This would include demolition (remove old flooring, cabinets, wall coverings, etc., under the supervision of the contractor) and general routine job clean-up.

The next level would be to do your own painting, wallpapering or install your own floor coverings. Even laying tile is a completely doable project if you are feeling handy, and it will save you hundreds on labor.

You can also save money throughout your remodeling project by repurposing, recycling or refashioning items. For example, if you are remodeling your kitchen, you might not need to buy new cabinets. If your cabinets are in good shape, you might be able to just refinish them and add new hardware.

In older homes, you might find beautiful hardwood floors under the carpet that can be refinished rather than replaced. When you replace the countertop in the kitchen, you may be able to use the old countertop in the laundry room remodel.

The key to saving money on your remodeling project is planning ahead.

The irony is that the tighter your budget, the better off you will be by spending more up front with an architect to thoroughly plan your project. A great set of construction documents will result in a dependable bid from your contractor.

We contend that the amount you spend on an architect will be recouped somewhere within the project: You will avoid expensive changes or mistakes during construction, and because your project will function well and look great, it will result in a higher value for your property than a less successful remodeling job.

Finally, if you know what you need by planning ahead, you can take time to shop for deals. When shopping for flooring, lighting fixtures or other finishing items, check the discontinued and sale items first.

We have known thrifty clients to save hundreds and even thousands by shopping around. Every little effort counts!

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.

Renovation Solutions: Tips for saving money when remodeling