Tip 1: Plan your project and get bids well in advance
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Advance planning pays off
You get the best contractor deals when contractors aren't so busy.
Have you ever tried to find a contractor in March to start your new
three-season porch that you want completed by Mother's Day?
It'll cost more than if you'd found a contractor in
January. Most contractors plan out months ahead
and don't want to disrupt their schedules. They'll
shoot you a high bid, because they really don't
want to fit you in...unless you pay a high rate.
Most building trades have busy seasons
and slow seasons. Plan ahead, and you'll
get more competitive bids during the slow
seasons. Best times to schedule:
- roofing—cold or rainy months
- indoor renovations—winter
or during rainy months
- heating—late summer,
- air conditioning—late
winter or early spring
- chimney cleaning—
anytime except fall!
- project design
(architects)—fall and winter
Tip 2: Pay extra for energy-saving features
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Invest in the future
Investing in energy-saving features now will save on future expenses.
With energy prices rising, many contractors are offering energy efficiency
upgrades (at an additional price). These might
include higher-efficiency windows; guaranteed air sealing;
extra-thick insulation; and higher-efficiency heating, cooling or
other appliances. If they don't offer this, you can ask what
additional measures they (or you) can take to improve your
home's energy performance. Then compare the estimated
energy savings with the cost of each upgrade. A payback
period of seven to 10 years is good. (Simple payback is the
time it takes for the savings to equal the original cost.) Keep
in mind that upgrades done during the remodeling process
always cost less than upgrades added later.
Tip 3: Hire an architect or designer for at least an initial sketch
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Don’t throw money away
Don't waste money by building an addition you don't like!
The most expensive mistake you can make
is to build an addition or remodel a room
that you don't like when it's finished.
Professional design help during the planning
stage helps you tailor the space to fit.
Sometimes it takes only one or two key
details to make that room special.
Most architects and designers will walk
you through the initial planning for a modest
fee. Gather lots of visual material to
illustrate your ideas. And be sure you're
on the same page as your
spouse! Be prepared to
do some legwork.
Tip 4: Pitch in and do parts of the project yourself
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Tackle the parts of the project within your skill range.
Doing the entire project yourself is by
far the best way to save. But if you don't
have the time or skills, your part-time
sweat equity can reduce costs. Consider
taking on such labor-intensive jobs as
demolition, moving materials, digging,
cleaning up the job site after work, sanding
trim or painting. Coordinate the
jobs with the contractor in advance and
agree on their value. Beware! Once you
commit yourself, make sure to complete
the work in a timely way. Tardiness can
throw off the construction schedule and
cost you more in the long run!
Tip 5: Plan for future upgrades if you can't afford them now
You don't have to wait until you can
build your dream addition all at
once. You can get started now and
gradually add as your finances
allow. But work from a master plan
so you don't have to go back and
tear out or upgrade what you've
For example, consider:
- an electrical service with capacity
for the future addition, workshop
or hot tub
- in-the-wall wiring for electronics
in every room or a future home
- rough plumbing for a future half
bath or hot tub
- wiring for future lighting fixtures
- rough framing for future doors
- French doors that open to a
Tip 6: Compare the price of remodeling with the cost of buying new
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Remodel or move?
It may be financially smart to buy a different home rather than invest in your current one.
Your house is your most important investment as well as the place you call
home. Although you may love your house and neighborhood, check how
much your addition would add to the value of your home. Creating a luxury
home in a modest neighborhood may not make financial sense. A real estate
agent or home appraiser can make a close estimate. If you can't recoup at least
75 percent of the cost when you sell, at least consider the advantages of buying
another house with the space or features you need. It may well be a better
investment to move rather than to add on.
Tip 7: Shop for materials yourself
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Shop for finish materials and appliances to take advantage of sales.
You won't save much by trying
to stockpile lumber, drywall,
electrical wiring or other
basic building materials. But
when it comes to the finish
light fixtures—your own
footwork will pay off. Not
only do you get exactly
what you want, but you
also can find bargains,
especially if you start collecting
these items well in
advance. You can even plan to
reuse a stylish old stove,
distressed hardwood flooring
or other items that add a
creative touch to a room.
But clear your decisions with
your contractor; installation
costs might be higher for
Tip 8: Don’t overdo windows and skylights
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Windows are hot!
Excessive glass area will raise energy costs and decrease comfort.
Big windows and skylights can have a spectacular effect in a new addition,
making it feel bright and cheery and offering great views. But more
is not always better. Not only are windows and skylights expensive, but
even energy-efficient ones will sharply increase your heating and cooling
bills. Large skylights can make a room feel like a furnace in the summer!
You may have to replace your air conditioner, heat pump or furnace with
a larger one. Or perhaps add units to keep the room comfortable.
Tip 9: Avoid moving the plumbing or changing the foundation
You can't always avoid it, but any
alteration to these two systems typically
adds thousands to a remodeling
project. Neither is simple. New
plumbing often requires breaking
into walls and floors; resizing lines to
meet newer plumbing codes; and
replacing old, out-of-date pipes.
New foundations usually require
excavation, concrete and other heavy,
expensive work. The price jumps
whenever you add these two items, so
ask yourself if you really need to move
the kitchen sink during a kitchen
remodel, or if you really need the
extra space in a bathroom bump-out.
Tip 10: Order over the internet
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Internet shopping will save time and money.
Can't find a nice-looking low-voltage
light fixture at a nearby home center?
The Internet puts a wide selection
of products at your fingertips. Even
better, it gives you access to hard-to-find
specialty items at competitive
prices. Often you
can save 40 to 50
the list price.