Imagine you’ve decided to construct your dream home. You then call the building contractor to give you a cost estimate based on the proposed design. Unfortunately, they come up with what is way above what you anticipated. Minimizing construction cost is somewhat the last thing on your mind. This is not unusual.

You are now faced with different options of which you have to weigh critically before making a decision. Do you opt for an entirely new design? Do you just hold off till the project until you save enough money? Or do you try to figure out how you can reduce construction costs by tweaking the design?

Out of all these options, trying to reduce construction costs while still at the design process is a great way to execute your project within a limited budget. This approach involves applying innovative changes to the design until you arrive at a more affordable home design.

In this post, we’ll consider three primary ways through which construction costs can be significantly reduced during design. Here’s a quick list of them;

  • Scale Down the Scope
  • Simplify the Project
  • Switch to substitute Materials or Systems

Scale Down the Scope

Reducing the project’s scope is the most significant way to reduce construction costs. This approach will enable you to achieve a cost-effective construction within the limits of your budget. This process involves eliminating redundancies in the design. Such redundancies include; irrelevant spaces and features. The result is an efficient floor plan and an affordable home design.

The reason why trying to scale down the project scope is the preferred strategy is because it is tied to a much wider overall effect on your structure. For instance, if you can try to eliminate 120 square foot from your project, it results in savings in several other facets ranging from material savings (due to reduced finishing, insulation and windows requirements), labour cost (due to reduced time required in working on the project) and energy cost (due to lower energy-demanding space).

Things You Should NEVER Forget When Reducing Project Scope

1)  Choosing the space to eliminate is a matter of personal preference. Different spaces in a house have different perceived value in the eye of the owner. You cannot expect to have the same result if you eliminate space in the bedroom instead of the kitchen and vice versa. Certain rooms like the kitchen are usually more expensive to construct due to the sophisticated finishing that is required. Compare this with places like the bedroom or store with a lower finishing cost. Putting this factor into consideration will enable you to find the perfect balance between your budget and personal preference so as to arrive at a cost-effective construction process.

2)   Pay little attention to the cost per square foot. A quick way to get easily discouraged is to consider the cost per SF, why is this? This is because after reducing the project’s scope, cost per square foot tends to rise. This is as a result of the several costs such as energy, kitchen, etc. being spread over a smaller area, this makes the ratio to increase. However, the goal is to ensure that the overall cost and not the cost per square foot is substantially reduced.

3)  Segment the construction phases into manageable chunks. If it’s feasible to focus on very pressing construction processes now and deal with other structures later, you can reduce construction costs at the moment thereby using your budget more efficiently. However, it is important to note that this is beneficial in the short-run. In the long run, this approach tends to raise the overall construction cost.

Simplify Your Project

We all have a picture of a complicated, magnificent dream home in our heads; super-high ceilings, majestic landscaping, several curves and angles, and splendid finishing. We fail to realize that increasing the complexity of the construction project tends to increase construction costs. By simplifying the design, you can reduce construction costs substantially.

This reduced savings is possible because complex designs require greater expertise and take a more notable amount of time to complete. This increased time is manifested in increased labour costs, machinery cost and overhead costs. Simplifying the design reduces the time spent thereby leaving you with more affordable home design.

Also, with complex designs, construction errors can be easily made and are very expensive to correct. However, simplified home designs are easier to execute.

Things You Should NEVER Forget When Simplifying your Project

1) Opt for a Dense Design. Ensuring you have a compact floor plan will result in a cost-effective construction. Imagine you have the option of building a 2000- square foot plan either as a 2-story house or a 1-story house, which should you opt for? A 2-story building is more compact so it’s preferable. The reason that the 2-story building is less expensive is that you will deal with a smaller site space, fewer foundations, and reduced roofing sheets compared to a 1-story building. However, you’ll have to factor in the cost of stairs and scaffolding.

2)  Try to use Standard Dimensions wherever possible.  Most building materials come in the standard size. For example, most plywood and drywalls are produced in 4 inches by 8 inches. If you design your house in a 2-inch or 4-inch module, you will drastically reduce material wastage. This will invariably result in a more cost-effective construction process.

Switch to Substitute Materials or Systems

As a last resort, replacing building materials with other cost-effective building materials can also reduce construction costs. This can involve simple substitutions like changing tile products or wall sidings. It can also involve a more elaborate change like using a stick framing instead of SIPS.

However, swapping to cost-effective materials isn’t as effective in reducing construction costs when compared to the other two strategies. This is primarily because, with this approach, the labour cost remains the same. Using cheaper tile produce or opting for ship-lap instead of shingle siding will invariably leave you with the labour cost to deal with. As a result, if you want to drastically reduce construction costs, this might not be a preferred option compared with the other methods discussed.

Things to NEVER Forget When Switching to Substitute Materials

1)   What are you letting go of? To reduce construction costs by using replacement materials, you’ll probably have to opt for more cost-effective materials which is most likely going to be of different or inferior design and quality. It is therefore very important that you analyze the extent to which you’re willing to sacrifice the aesthetics of your current design in order to come up with the more affordable home design.

2)   Changing materials can sometimes be complicated. Sometimes, when you change the construction materials, it affects other facets of the project. For instance, a material change can influence the suitable colors, restrict options of complementary materials, raise compatible and maintenance issues and even affect the overall life-cycle of the project. Knowing how the new material will affect the overall design will be really helpful in analyzing the perceived savings.


Never forget that to effectively reduce construction costs dramatically, it’s best to make changes while still in the design phase before actual the execution phase commences. Doing this enables you to come up with a more affordable home design. In addition, tweaking the design to reduce cost enables you to proactively save time and money that would otherwise have been spent as over-budget.

Reduce construction cost

Action items:

As a quick recap, here are the steps needed to take advantage of the methods described here;

  • Obtain a preliminary design of your desired home.
  • Bring in a building contractor to estimate the cost that would be involved in executing the design.
  • If the estimated cost is within your budget, good for you! Then, just continue to the execution phase.
  • Otherwise, if the estimate is over-budget, see how you can use the strategies discussed in this post to reduce the construction cost.
  • If after applying these strategies, you’re still way over budget, then you have four basic option; either your source for additional funding or you suspend the project till you have the budget or you change the design completely to fall within your budget or finally, you abandon the project altogether.