Tuesday, March 6, 2012

First cost estimate, and doing work ourselves

After months of scheming, we finally thought we'd come up with a floor plan that we liked.  We got together with our builder to discuss the plans and to get an approximate cost estimate.  During that meeting, we discussed a few things that we could do to reduce the cost.

We had drawn up a few features that turned out to be overly complicated in an effort to minimize square footage of floor space.  Our builder reminded us that anything we can do to simplify framing, foundation, drywall, etc will help cut costs, even if it means adding a few more feet of floor space.

Another way to cut costs is to eliminate labor charges by doing certain jobs ourselves rather than paying a sub to do it.  I'm pretty handy and certainly am not afraid of tackling certain jobs if it means saving some money on labor costs.  We discussed a few of these options with our builder and got his input.  The included:

* Low voltage wiring (network, sound, etc):  As a long time computer guy, I've run lots of network wiring.  Network wiring, in particular, is rather picky about things like kinking and bend radius.  A hard kink in a wire will reduce the bandwidth that wire can carry, even if the kink gets straightened out afterwards.  I've seen far too many people--even professional installers--screw up the install process.  If I could do only one thing myself on this house, it would be installing the low voltage wiring.

* High voltage electrical wiring:  I studied electrical engineering in college.  The concepts governing the electrical codes just make sense to me.  I've rewired about 90% of our current old house myself, so I know what I'm doing here.  Still, for some reason, it never occurred to me to run the high voltage stuff myself.  Our builder claimed that roughly half the cost of the electrical sub was for labor, and that doing that part myself could save us $10K on this house.  He also said that a professional sub wouldn't get a cheaper price on the Romex, as I'd feared, but would instead just buy it at Menard's at consumer prices.

* Back deck:  Building a deck isn't rocket science.  With a couple of friends, most handyfolk can build a deck in a weekend.

* Drywall:  I've hung lots of drywall in our current house.  I own all the necessary tools, and my results are at least as good as most pros.  The down side is that I'm slow, and I don't particular enjoy mudding & sanding.  Yes, I could save some money on labor by doing it myself, but it would take me forever on a house of the size we're considering.  Our builder wasn't really keen on waiting that long for me to drywall the place, so he talked me out of this job.

* Paint:  Stacy & I have painted most of the rooms in our house.  We're perfectionists, so we're pretty good at it.  Interior painting seemed like an obvious option for saving labor costs.  We're still not sure about doing the trim ourselves--or even if it will be painted at all (rather than stained).  I don't care for heights, so I'm not touching the exterior paint.

* Flooring:  I can't do carpet, which is what will be in the bedrooms.  I've done enough tile to be comfortable with laying it in the bathrooms.  One thing I've never laid is hardwood floors, and those will occupy about 2/3 of our house.  I've seen it laid, and it looks easy enough.  Remember, I'm pretty handy.  Nevertheless, our builder recommended against me doing those myself.  Something about it being important detail work, which I'm not sure I buy.  I'm gonna do a little more research, but I think I'm gonna insist on this one.  One local installer charges $2.39 per square foot just for the install, which means about $5K in labor.

After all this, about a week later, our builder came back with his rough estimate.  To our dismay, it came in about 25% over our desired budget.  We're going to look more seriously about any labor we can save, and we're also trying to scale down our plans where possible (though not the full 20%).  We're also investigating possible sources of additional funding.

We'll keep you all up to date.

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