By David Wulff, AIA

Last issue I wrote about a number of thoughts where you can save on your remodeling project. Here are some more to think about:


Consider look-alikes

Some imitations just make sense: Lumber giant Weyerhaeuser sells a fast-growing natural eucalyptus hybrid under the brand name Lyptus. Sustainably harvested in plantations in Brazil, the clear-grained hardwood looks and feels remarkably like mahogany. It’s sold as tongue-and-groove flooring and in planks and sheets for cabinetry and millwork. (Visit to find a distributor near you.)

Demolish the whole house and start from scratch

Ok, I know you really don’t want to hear this, but it really needs to be considered on major remodels. In one case, for example, plans for a 1,300-square-foot addition revealed that the house’s existing foundation wasn’t up to code and would have to be replaced—a $30,000 proposition. After crunching the numbers, the owners concluded that it would cost as much to update the house, a former summer cottage, as it would to reproduce it new. For a relatively small additional cost you can get all the benefits of new construction while preserving the character and feel of the old house.

Wait until contractors want your business

Don’t schedule your reno in the height of summer or between September, when the kids go back to school, and Christmas. That’s premium time. Suppliers tend to be busier, labor scarcer, and deliveries slower.


Skip the foundation

Most local code allows this option. You may be able to support a small addition on posts and beams, as you would a deck.


Don’t move the kitchen sink

Or the toilet, if you can avoid it. That often becomes the biggest part of the plumbing-price increase. If your new layout requires that you move the toilet, use the opportunity to upgrade the pipes at the same time. That will save you money in the long run.

Make decisions early

Start prowling the aisles at the hardware store or home center way before the wrecking crew shows up. Get a good feeling for what you want in fixtures and appliances and what they cost. If you aren’t absolutely specific up front about what you want, you’ll have to rely on your contractor’s estimate, called an allowance, and his notion of what is acceptable may be quite different from yours. Ninety-eight percent of the time, allowances are too low. For instance, you may have had a glass-tile backsplash in mind, but your contractor’s bid was for ceramic.

Cost of change orders midstream: The difference in the item price, but also time lost to project delays and communications glitches.

OK, so now you are set to tackle that renovation with some realistic ideas on how you can save some serious cash. So, why wait?

David H. Wulff, AIA is an architect in Lake Lure.