SQUARE-FOOT CONSTRUCTION COSTS
One of the first questions that we are often asked is, “What are the current square-foot construction prices?” Professionals and laymen alike like the idea of “Square-foot pricing” because of its simplicity. If the SF cost is $250 and the project is a 200-square-foot addition, the cost is $50,000. The truth is that the cost of a construction project is determined in the details. For example, if the addition is a simple attached room off the side of the house with a couple of windows and a single door, then $250/SF might be a realistic construction price. However, if the addition requires relocation of a hot water heater and the electrical service disconnect, then the cost of the project has increased, but the square footage has not. Make it a second-story addition, and it’s likely to double that. Although this has more to do with the fact that it’s become a 200-SF addition and a 200-SF remodel. Add a bathroom into the mix, and the price goes up again. It’s all in the details.
ALLOW FOR UPGRADES
It’s been our experience that the happiest people that go through a construction project are those that allow for “upgrades” in their budget. We’ve been at this a while now and have literally thousands of projects under our belt, and in all those projects, we’ve yet to meet someone that didn’t want to refine the original vision once work began. The possibilities for upgrades are endless, as are peoples’ tastes, but the one constant is that those who set aside enough in their budget to allow for this were the happiest by far. We typically recommend that work begins with a projected cost of no more than 80% of their final budget.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF A REMODEL
Most of us take for granted that our home is our sanctuary. Home is a retreat from work, stress, and day-to-day hassles. Most remodeling projects are spawned not from utilitarian needs, but out of the desire for a more pleasant home environment. Therefore, it’s important to address not only the metamorphosis of your refuge but the impact that construction remodeling will have on your nervous system.
Construction is a loud, messy business. You’re asking someone to come into your home, deconstruct a portion of it, and put it back together again. Unfortunately, there’s no other way around the whole dust, pounding, strangers-in-your-home intrusion you’ll face. Our advice to you is to keep focused on the goal. The discomfort will be over before you know it. Be patient.
Second, there’s a metamorphosis that often occurs during the construction project. While a new addition or remodel is emerging from its cocoon, it’s common for the owner to want to add special touches. Architectural Digest and Better Homes magazines pop out of the woodwork. The primary vision expands to include more details and possibly higher-grade materials. This is normal, and even those of us in the profession are not immune. It doesn’t help matters that, even when starting out with the most detailed set of plans, it’s difficult to truly “see” the end result. Most people can’t visualize the elements of the construction project until they start to physically fall into place. Often as the project starts to become three-dimensional, the desire to change the initial vision occurs. However, there are two important considerations to keep in mind when it comes to raising the bar on your project. Generally, it’s more expensive to make a detailed change in the middle of a project than to build that detail in from the start. Most changes result in prolonging the project, sometimes substantially so, which naturally extends the period of discomfort as well. The most common complaints faced by the construction industry are: “It took longer and cost more than expected.” Our experience has been that most cost increases and construction delays are driven by client changes that are requested after construction has started. Therefore, we encourage you to scrutinize the details of your project with your design and engineering team before the construction begins.
Expectations, or perhaps differences in expectations, lead to most conflicts between construction professionals and clients. Most client concerns revolve around finished details. Unfortunately, clients are often not aware of their own sensitivities until the particular work in question is accomplished and they realize that it’s not what they expected. Each of us brings with us our own idiosyncrasies into a project. It’s important that you examine your likes and dislikes, and make the architect and building contractor aware of your particular finish concerns before the work begins.
It is important to recognize that all construction projects are “custom.” While the individual tasks that make up the project have been performed before, your actual project is not a “boilerplate” production. A construction project is as unique as its owner. Mistakes will occur; they are a normal part of the construction process. Groundwork is the best way to minimize surprises, but no amount of preparation will eliminate them entirely.
Experience has taught us that no matter how well we plan, unexpected issues will arise with every project. A wall may be opened up for a new doorway, and they discover electrical wiring or plumbing pipes in the way. What begins as a relatively minor carpentry job, expands to include plumbing and electrical work. Almost every project involves the use of contingencies or “just in case” because there are too many unknowns lying just beneath the surface. With new construction projects, we recommend that “Contingencies” is set to at least 5% of the overall construction budget, and 10% for remodels.
Change Orders are the documents used to record changes in the definition of work already set in the contract. A description of the work, how it will impact the schedule, and how much it will increase or decrease the cost of the project are included. There are two types of change orders. The first type involves a change in the scope of work. This is typically client-driven, and although it can be used to reduce the scope of work, more often than not, we find it used for client "upgrades." The second type of change order is related to contingencies. Whenever a "surprise" is uncovered, a change order is typically generated to record the details.
Few clients make all of the decisions necessary to generate a "hard" budget number upfront. Following are some examples of items that can impact the final material and labor costs and that are often undecided early on in the project: tile, flooring, countertops, cabinets, doors, windows, paint colors, and baseboards. For budgetary purposes, "allowances" line items are typically used to signify these. Once the details of these line items are determined, Change Orders are used to adjust the contract amount to reflect the final decisions.
If there are to be any significant savings, they will be found in the details of the project. How is something to be built? Can it be built differently to reduce the cost without sacrificing design, quality, or safety? Which details are costly? Which offers the better value? Asking key questions throughout the design process often results in considerable construction savings.
Conventional Wood Framing –with wall studs/joists at 16-inch on center (16” OC) and rafters at 24” OC historically found to be the most economical form of construction
Advanced Framing Techniques – a relatively new construction approach for smaller scale projects with all framing members spaced at 24” OC. This technique typically results in a 1/3 less material usage, with related labor savings and a more energy-efficient structure.
Engineered Lumber – manufactured lumber products that generally allow for longer lengths, easier installation, higher span values, and better strength-to-weight ratios over conventional lumber
Roof Truss – a manufactured assembly that allows for greater spans with less materials over conventional lumber. The roof assembly goes together in a fraction of the time as compared to an on-site framed roof assembly. Trusses also allow for easier installation of plumbing, HVAC, electrical, fire sprinklers, etc.