10 Architect-Approved Ways to Reduce Custom Home Costs

Seeing luxury custom home building and “budget” in the same sentence seems like a study in contrast. But they’re not mutually exclusive. Unless the sky’s the limit (and it’s not, even for the likes of Bezos and Buffet), an established budget is a must for new home construction and remodeling projects.

It’s natural to want the most high-end materials and design details in the initial planning stage. But with rising construction costs, custom home building costs rise with them and cause budgets to escalate quickly. Sometimes tough choices are required to keep building costs down. Everyone’s budget threshold will look different, from the total project costs to what items get prioritized over others.

On the bright side, designing to a budget is an architect’s specialty. A good one (ahem, the KGA team) will become your trusted partner and facilitate real conversations about costs. For cost-effective luxury home design, an architect’s training, skills, and expertise can help you allocate in the right places without having to make disappointing sacrifices.

Bringing a quality builder into the fold early is also an advantage — an effective architect and builder team will work together to maximize value in the design stage to prevent a costly redesign or change orders during construction. Here are practical and proven ways to maximize a custom home budget without compromising design and quality.

10 Ways to Save Money on Building a Custom Home

1. Stack Bearing Walls

A home designed with stacked exterior and interior bearing walls between floors requires fewer supporting beams and load transfers and reduces material costs. Mechanical runs are simpler to install, which also keeps building costs down.

2. Approve Use of Framing Modules

Two-foot framing modules are a classic example of custom home value engineering. Two-foot modules use less lumber and are easier to install. They also allow the use of standard sheet sizes which cost less than custom cuts. And because they produce less material waste, they’re also a more green building option.  

3. Use Box Beams Instead of Solid Beams

Embellishing the ceiling with wood beams adds character and creates the illusion of more space by encouraging the eyes to look upward. Instead of using expensive solid timber, opt for box beams. Crafted using faces of wood planks joined together to form a hollow beam, they offer a similar look for less.

In this penthouse condo remodel in Wash Park, we used box beams to cover the existing “double T” concrete structural floor above, gaining back ceiling height that had previously been covered over.

4. Limit Retaining Walls

Masonry adds up quickly for both materials and labor. If a retaining wall is higher than three feet, your installation requires an engineer in addition to your contracted landscaping company, adding to your cost. If your site can accommodate, consider grading back the slope to eliminate or reduce retaining walls. If retaining walls are a must, try keeping them under three feet — they offer a financial benefit and are more pleasing to the eye in the planting bed as landscaping matures.

Shorter walls are more pleasing to the eye and can be very beautiful within the planting bed as the growth matures. Pictured: Traditional Farmhouse.

5. Use Standard Windows

Arched and other types of specialty windows enhance architectural character but add costs. Specifying standard-sized windows with boxed corners helps keep your window budget in check. The good news is that more manufacturers now offer a wider range of standard window sizes and styles, providing even greater design flexibility.

Contemporary Farmhouse by KGA
Square windows are more cost-effective than arched or other custom window types. Pictured: Contemporary Farmhouse.

6. Use Less Masonry

If you love the look of exterior stonework but want to keep costs down, you can still get a similar look for less money. Ask your architect to use it strategically, focusing on the areas that make the most visual impact.

A series of French doors is an attractive and cost-effective alternative to large moving glass walls. Pictured: Contemporary Farmhouse.

7. Reimagine Large Glass Walls

Large moving glass walls wonderfully blur the boundary between your home’s interior and outdoor living space. To create a similar look, consider installing a center-meet sliding glass door. A series of French doors is another attractive alternative that complements a variety of styles. You’ll see more door framing, but you’ll still enjoy expansive views and a seamless indoor-outdoor transition at a fraction of the cost.

We used center-meet sliding glass doors in this whole house remodel to open up the living spaces to the new wrap-around deck.

8. Reduce Custom Cabinetry

There’s nothing like custom-crafted cabinets designed to perfectly fit your interiors. And as one of the most expensive interior items, they’re often a source of sticker shock during quote review. In the kitchen, for example, cabinets account for approximately 30 percent of the project budget, more if they are custom.

To save on cabinetry, consider going custom in the kitchen where you and your guests use and see it the most. Semi-custom or stock cabinets are good lower-cost alternatives for bathrooms, mudrooms, and laundry rooms. 

Going with custom cabinetry in the kitchen where it will be seen and used the most, and semi-custom or stock cabinetry in lesser trafficked areas of the home is a good way to make your budget stretch. Pictured: Polo Club Remodel.

9. Limit Waterproofing Features

A deck off the primary bedroom is a popular request, but it creates another potential point of failure for water intrusion. An above-grade deck requires more waterproofing and regular maintenance for years of worry-free enjoyment. If a deck isn’t properly cared for, it can cause damage over time resulting in costly repairs or a full replacement.

10. Centralize Home Systems Placement

Balancing a home’s aesthetics with utility and functionality improves performance and optimizes your project budget. Centralizing the HVAC system reduces the distance and the number of corners treated air must travel. You don’t have to rely on a larger and more powerful (expensive) system to force the air further — the unit size can be ideally suited to the home’s square footage.

A long-term benefit to a centrally located system is improved energy efficiency. Because it requires less energy to operate, you’ll enjoy lower monthly heating and cooling bills.

Get a Great Building Team

Your choice of architect and builder can make or break your project, so build your team in the early stages of design. Their combined knowledge of methods and materials inspires creativity and innovation uniquely tailored to your tastes and lifestyle. Take advantage of their expertise and contributions to help you build a high-performance custom home that’s on budget and meets your overall goals. Contact KGA to discuss your project and discover what’s possible.

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