5 Ways to Save on Construction

Identify unseen areas where you can cut expenses.

Identify unseen areas where you can cut expenses.

Whether you are undertaking a complete renovation or a small construction project for home improvement, construction costs have a tendency to really add up. Doing your homework ahead of time and putting in a little bit of sweat effort of your own can add up to big savings on your bottom line. Set your initial budget and monitor your progress while implementing some creative cost-minimizing strategies. A little creativity can go a long way in stretching the power of your dollar.

Choose Contractors Wisely

One way consumers can save money on home improvement is by learning their state's consumer protection laws before soliciting bids from contractors, according to Venus Stromberg from California's Contractors State License Board. In California, for instance, contractors typically may not accept or request more than 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less, as a downpayment. Stromberg says ensuring a contractor is licensed can offer a safety net from sky-high prices. “In many cases, hiring an unlicensed person to save a few bucks has ended up costing the consumer at least double that amount in having to take corrective action for incomplete or poor work or giving somebody thousands as a down payment, only to have the so-called contractor never show up,” she cautions.

Save on the Unseen

Orange County, California architect John Salat suggests pinpointing items that are typically unseen such as wall interiors, attics and foundations, to include them in an open spec with your home contractor. An open spec means the method and materials must meet both minimum code requirements and offer a cost savings. Your project’s tradesmen can help find opportunities for savings by thinking outside the box and securing separate permits when necessary.

Shop Second Hand

For the home interior, patio and backyard construction projects on her family’s residence, northern California author Diana Tenes saved big by shopping second hand. “We go to the flea market as well as garage sales and thrift shop. We also shop on freecycle.org and craigslist.org,” she says. Some of her freebie finds included a lawn mower and wrought iron furnishings. Tenes scored pavers and bricks at a 2/3 savings over her home improvement store’s prices. “Shopping second hand, you can do your part to save the planet by reusing, reducing waste and shopping locally,” she says.

Search for Treasures

“Using indigenous materials is honest, authentic, and most cost-effective,” Salat says. Strolling along deserted beaches for driftwood or hiking through rural areas is one method to having fun and seeking abandoned treasures. Lend an eclectic look to your construction project by shopping at world import retailers, flea markets, antiques stores, scrap metal reclamation centers and other salvage yards for materials. Keep an eye out for building demolitions — barns, bridges and industrial buildings can provide raw materials for construction and furniture-building. Reclamation yards are a good place to find utility rigging and industrious antique products. Many times your finds will feature natural patinas or blemishes that add character and require cleaning, sealing and treatment for safe indoor use.

Trim Costs on Finishes

Comparison shopping for your finish materials like flooring and cabinetry can cut 20 to 50 percent off your construction project, according to Pacific Palisades architect May Sung. Salat suggests color bleed acid-etched concrete as a less-expensive substitute for flooring. Shopping for textiles imported from developing third world countries adds not only a cost benefit but an aesthetic improvement over big box store offerings. “Most Third World items are handmade rather than machine-made. The energy transmitted through handmade items is lively and their imperfections and irregularities add character and a relaxed feeling,” he says.



  • John A. Salat; Architect; Orange County, California
  • Venus Stromberg; California's Contractors State License Board; Sacramento, California
  • May Sung; SUBU Design Architecture; Pacific Palisades, Calfiornia
  • Diana Tenes; Author; San Francisco, California

About the Author

Tricia Chaves began her writing career after working in advertising and promotions for entertainment publisher "The New Times." In 2005, she earned her real-estate salesperson license from the state of Ohio and certification for leasing and property management from the Northeast Ohio Apartment Association. She was certified as a life and weight-loss coach and master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming in 2011.

Photo Credits

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