Busting the budget is everyone’s biggest fear when it comes to home renovation, and with good reason.

Tips to Cut remodeling costs without cutting corners

If funds are tight, consider hiring a contractor to build just the exterior “shell” of your addition and then you can complete the interior finishes as funds become available. (Brent Murray)

Even if you follow the essential advice we’ve been doling out for years — build in a 10 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 spending more than you want to.

We feel that the most realistic goal is to get the largest portion of your dream at a price you can afford, rather than getting the entire dream and ending up house poor with regrets that haunt you for years.

With the aid of savvy design professionals helping you with strategic design choices, material selection and timing, there are opportunities to cut costs without cutting corners.

While it takes big changes to save big money, the little things add up, too.

Increase efficiency, not size

When you need more space, the first thought is to add on. While some design solutions may actually need more square footage, many problems can be solved by reconfiguring the layout to make the space feel bigger and function better.

Additions cost by the square foot. An addition means incurring the cost of a foundation, exterior walls and roof, which means more labor, more materials and more expensive permits.

Moving interior walls and strategically reconfiguring existing space to accommodate your family functions will save money while potentially providing comparable results.

Take storage for example. Many families struggle with storage issues and think they need to add more space. Sometimes all they really need is some creative, more efficient storage options.

When you see the storage space you gain by replacing kitchen cabinets with fixed shelves with cabinets with fully-extending pullout drawers or shelves, you may change your mind about needing to expand the kitchen.

We have found smaller additions and bump-outs can dramatically change the look and feel of a home without the expensive cost of a larger addition. The key is to work with a professional architect to help you clearly define the problems and to optimize your existing space.

Do your remodel in phases

One way to save upfront costs is by doing your home remodel in phases. Many clients do one project a year working toward their dream home.

The only way this approach saves you money is by having a master plan and doing the projects in the right order. Finishing a family room in the basement this year is not wise if you are going to move a bathroom on the main floor next year. Moving plumbing may require that you tear out the beautiful, new family room ceiling. The idea of phasing a project is to save money. Don’t do something in Phase 1 that you will end up having to rip out in Phase 3.

A residential architect can help you plan your home remodel and organize it into phases that make the most sense.

Construction is sequential by nature, so the phases in a project should have some basis in logic. This may require discipline, since replacing the electrical panel and sewer connection is not as much fun as picking out cabinets and flooring for your new kitchen.

However, updating and preparing the infrastructure will make the future phases go much more smoothly and save you from making costly mistakes by having to backtrack.

Time remodel for best prices

If you remodel your home in the middle of summer, you will pay premium prices for your contractor. During the peak remodeling season — the summer and between September and Christmas — contractors’ rates reflect the high demand.

If you choose to remodel after the new year, you may see a 4 percent to 5 percent savings.

Contractors are in their slow season and want your business. Construction doesn’t stop in the winter and an interior remodeling job may be a few thousand dollars less in January than in July.

Look at the big picture, then cut

When you are planning your remodel, you can save money by looking at the project as a whole. Once you see the plans and have a realistic budget, you can find opportunities where you can save money.

Sometimes it is big money and other times it is small decisions that will add up.

For example, it will save you on plumbing costs if you don’t move the shower or the toilet when you remodel because these items have larger drain lines.

On the other hand, moving a sink with its smaller drain line is much easier and more affordable.

Another way to save on a smaller scale is with lighting. Strategically plan your lighting and understand that the installation of recessed lighting is going to cost more than that of wall- or ceiling-mounted lighting.

Recessed lighting is more expensive to install because the contractor has to cut numerous holes in the ceiling, as well as running wiring to each fixture.

However, the actual recessed can fixture is generally less than a decorative surface-mounted fixture, so you have to look at the whole picture in order to see which option is more economical.

Again, prior planning and professional input can help you create a realistic budget.


If you have construction experience, good contacts in the construction trades and lots of time, doing your own work or being your own general contractor can save you a lot of money.

Since that does not describe most of us, the wise approach is to find a good contractor and ask how you dig in and help out in different ways.

The best way to add sweat equity is up front, by handling your own demolition, or at the back end, by doing some of the finish work yourself. Or better yet, help with cleanup every day. Instead of paying someone to pick up sawdust off the floor, pay someone else to trim the window properly while you man the broom.

Contractors may charge up to $200 a day for clean-up. That adds up quickly. Work with your contractor to find ways you can cut the costs.

It is best to build a remodeling team that is on your side. It is a rare situation when a homeowner does not have to prioritize and distinguish clearly between wants and needs.

The basic formula to remember is size x finish equals cost. If you want to reduce the cost, then you have to reduce the size of the affected area or change the level of finish material.

Ultimately, your professional design team will be able to help you see what adjustments you can make in order to adapt your dream project to fit into your price range.

Even if you have to compromise, attaining 80 percent of your dream is infinitely better than living another year (or five) with the roadblocks and challenges your current home may present.

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.

Tips to cut remodeling costs without cutting any corners