How to Save When Building a House

Getting the most house for your money is not as impossible as it sounds.

A limited construction budget is a design constraint that can truly enhance the result and, in many cases, can make for a more enjoyable and creative process. Instead of looking at a tight budget as a sacrifice, see it as a fundamental condition of building. You get to choose your priorities and discard the elements that don’t make the cut.

Data from the National Association of Home Builders tells us that the average price of constructing a single-family residence is roughly $289,415 — or $103 per square foot. However, the “average” figure doesn’t tell us much because home building and affordability vary vastly across the United States. This is why building a house as cheaply as possible requires a lot of research, ingenuity, planning, and careful project management throughout all phases.

Can you do it? Absolutely. Will you have fun? Most definitely. But does it call for a serious commitment of time, money, and resources? Without a doubt.

How Much Does It Cost to Build a House Right Now?

When you’re trying to understand the difference between buying a pre-built new home and a custom home, you should know that there’s a range that the “average” figure simply doesn’t reflect.

Factors like location (both state and city/town), lot size, materials used, land and zoning permits, waterfront construction, proximity from schools, amenities, and cultural centers will also affect your total cost to build a new home. Think of new home custom construction costs as lying on a spectrum of low, average, and high.

In some states, the range between these three discrete points can vary vastly. In California, for example, the cheapest average cost of a custom home starts at $152,000, but it can go all the way to about $1.5 million. In Pennsylvania, however, the variance between the two ends is much more stable, starting at $345,000 and going up to approximately $450,000.

Major Home Construction Costs Before You Begin

The idea goes that building a custom home from scratch is usually more expensive — but that doesn’t always have to be the case. There are plenty of factors or “levers” you can modify without compromising quality, safety, or livability. However, a few fundamentals are non-negotiable.

1) Plot or Parcel of Land

The plot or parcel of land you buy to build your home on will vary in cost based on location and permits involved. Despite the variation, the average cost of a plot of land is $3,040 per acre. The lot itself might need some work before its construction-worthy, so you may have to factor this cost in as well.

2) Excavation and Foundation Work

Excavating and digging the foundation presents a significant cost, and it’s doubly complicated if you buy a sloped lot, a hillside property, or an in-fill property. It involves excavating, pouring, and backfilling your foundation. However, these types of properties are also priced to sell quickly.

If you’re ready to get a bargain, there’s an easy workaround. Choose a floor plan designed for a sloping lot and then work with an architect to modify the plan based on the land you’re working with. Keep in mind that you may need retaining walls and additional landscaping for flood prevention. Prepare to shell out anywhere from $4,000 to $12,000.

3) Mechanical and Plumbing

Another area of home construction you simply cannot skimp on is major systems installations. These include wiring and electrical, plumbing, and HVAC. If you know you want to improve on sustainability and energy efficiency, this might also involve learning how to set up and install solar panels. A good electrical and plumbing team will run you $30,000 to $50,000 for an entire home build project.

Five Ways to Build a House As Cheaply As Possible

Now that you know the rough numbers around the “must-haves” are, you can shave valuable dollars off your budget using the following seven tips to build a house as cheaply as possible.

1) Be Your Own Contractor

If you know you want to build a house from a custom floor plan, you’ll need to commit to the upfront research required to be your own contractor. The good news is that there’s no dearth of information or resources available out there. Take your time and learn in phases, based on where you are in the building process. For example, during the starting phases your own general contractor, consider the following:

  • Getting permits
  • Installing insulation
  • General site clean-up
  • Sourcing and purchasing all materials
  • Scheduling inspections
  • Shingling the roof

You can then offload any tasks you’re not too fond of or well-versed with to local subcontractors. These should be specialists like carpenters, foundation specialists, concrete specialists, plumbers, and electricians.

2) Choose Floor Plans Strategically

If you kept costs low by purchasing a smaller lot, now is your chance to choose a floor plan strategically. Smaller lots are cheaper, so they’re a great way to save some money. However, if you know you want a large front and backyard, choose a home with multiple stories rather than a bungalow or a one-leveled floor plan.

You can also save money by centralizing your plumbing. For this, find a floor plan that has the kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms in close proximity to each other. These are the rooms that usually take the most wiring and plumbing installations.

3) Phase the Finishes

You don’t need to finish everything at once. Instead, plan to finish your basement two to three years after you officially move in. You can also roll your upgraders and interiors out in phases, based on a rolling budget.

4) Allocate 10 Percent of your Budget to the Pros

Consult with an architect and landscape architect because they’ll be able to guide you and help avoid costly (and dangerous) building errors. You may also need to allocate to architects, designers, or builders and land surveyors. If you opt to include these experts, each of their going rates will factor into the cost of your home. Fees for each professional will depend on the rate within your area. A few example rates are as follows:

  • Architects: $60 – $125/hour
  • Engineers: $100 – $150/hour
  • Surveyors: $300 – $700/hour
  • Designers: Five to 15 percent of your construction costs

5) Get Smart About Your Materials
There is a lot to be said about starting at salvage yards and recycled lumber yards. Not only are the costs for materials lower, but you can also find related high-quality construction materials with your salvaged wood. You can also find home kits at many reclaimed lumber yards. These kits come with useful pieces like wood flooring, brick, and more that you can use to get your project started.

As you carve out your budget for a custom home, the first place to start is with a plan. Using Monster House Plans’ wide database of floor plans, you can narrow down your search based on features of a home, home style, additional inclusions, foundation type, and so much more. As part of your pre-building research, you can use Monster House Plans to gain detailed insight into cost and materials.

Opt for our signature 3D Intelligent House Plan and work with expert architects and designers to create custom additions for your home. You can design your dream home on a lot that works for you using floor plans from Monster House Plans. Browse our extensive selection today!

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