Step 9: Learn to Cut the Right Corners

This is step 9 in a 10 step process uncovering whether Owner Building is right for you.

Nowhere in life does the old adage “you get what you pay for” ring truer than in residential construction. From tiles to timber to the paint you slap on your walls, when it comes to quality of materials, what you put in is what you get out. Don’t make the mistake of shaving a few bucks today at the expense of longevity. Your home should be built to last.

When looking to trim back on expenses, the savvy owner builder knows when to cut corners and when to harden up and pay more for quality. Final decisions need to be made on a case by case basis, depending on the likes and needs of the homeowner, but here’s a simple guide to lowering building costs the right way.


Keep your focus on the long haul.

Taking a slice out of building costs isn’t accomplished in big chunks. It’s unrealistic to discount the price of X, Y, or Z by thousands of dollars per go. Instead, think of cost cutting as an attitude and not the result of half a dozen decisions. Houses come in under budget by trimming $100 here, $250 there. Not by finding a few magic shortcuts which pocket five grand a pop.

The only tried and true method for drastically reducing building costs in one shot is to scale back on total square metres of floor space. According to the UN, new builds in Australia are the largest in the world, a full 7% larger than in the United States (2nd) and 18% larger than in Canada (3rd). It’s embarrassing when you consider it. You have to ask yourself do you really need that second or third bathroom? Not only will you most likely survive in a more modest home, you won’t stress out on the repayments and you’ll save even more money in the long run by paying less in heating and/or air-conditioning expenses.


K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Stupid.

Your most effective cost cutting measures come into play during the planning stage. Complex shapes like curves, triangles, and trapezoids are complicated and hence more expensive to build. The more rectangular your floor plan, the less you’ll spend on both labour and materials. While gorgeous, vaulted or cathedral ceilings add quite a bit of cost to your bottom line.

Something else that very few owner builders take into consideration is how the building lot can affect the overall price of the project. When it comes to lots, cheaper is not always the most affordable. Budget lots often require blasting through rock, clearing away trees, or excavating extensive drainage. In many cases, purchasing a more expensive lot with access to electricity, gas, and public water lines pays for itself.


Kitchens and bathrooms gobble up money.

Solid wood cupboards are elegant and project a definite “wow” factor, but there are far more affordable ways to give your kitchen and bathroom a modern look for a fraction of the cost. Consider a door less pantry to add storage space with style, and look into open shelf designs or sleek stainless steel cabinetry equipped with frosted glass doors.

Pedestal sinks are priced lower than bathroom vanities and a bath/shower combo costs a lot less to install than a separate tub and shower.


One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

A great many bargains can be found by browsing for discontinued items on eBay or Gumtree. A sink is a sink, right? Landlord’s do this all the time. They can buy a full kitchen for $1500 rather than the full $15,000 simply because they took a day out of their life to rip it out themselves.

If you really want to pocket some cash, find out where the nearest architectural salvage warehouse is located. You’d be amazed at how much less you’ll pay for reclaimed doors, windows, plumbing or lighting fixtures, and other assorted building odds and ends. After all, you’re an owner builder, get creative!


Think about upgrade-ability. 

Does your dream home have hardwood floors and marble counter-tops? While it would be great to go all out with every detail, the reality is that you may not have the funds to have your cake and eat it too. It may be time to have a heart-to-heart with the department of internal affairs (your spouse) to determine which luxuries are truly important and which ones could slide over to the wish list.

Consider installing less expensive, but easily replaceable flooring and fixtures when the money gets tight. For example, the second bathroom, bench tops or ensuite cabinetry can wait if they get the job done now and are easily upgraded down the line.

For aspects of your home that are not easily modified, sometimes you’re better off to splash out and pay for it now as opposed to being stuck with something you’re not happy with but would cost a fortune to fix.

Put your thinking cap on and be open to new and unique design ideas, and never forget the Golden Rule of construction cost-cutting: “If Plan B seems too good to be true, it probably is!“

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