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Tips for How to Save Money When Building a House

So you've decided to build a brand new home for your growing family but you're wondering how to save money when building a house? Making your dream home a reality can be an expensive undertaking and it's important to do it properly — you don't want to cut corners on aspects that are essential to the structural integrity or comfort of your new home but there are always ways to save money.

Whatever your budget or the type of house you want to build, here are our best tips for building a house on a budget.

Budget mindfully

Hopefully, you've already asked yourself "how to save to build a house?" and have a savings or investment account ready for the purpose. You can also take out a loan to cover the construction costs of building a home on a budget and working with a reputable certified general contractor, like Fortress Home in Chicago, will make it easier to borrow money for your new dream house.

Before you begin, know what you have to spend and budget carefully. A financial advisor and trusted real estate agent are good people to talk to initially. Then speak to a general contractor to get a clear estimate for what you're looking for, and remember to be open with them about your budget. You need to have a solid budget to build a house that you can stick to.

When you're speaking to a builder make sure you know exactly what's included, and more importantly, what's not. This will help you understand how to build a house on a budget.

Choose your contractor carefully

Working with a certified general contractor will have an extra cost but brings a lot of benefits. The experience they have built up over the years in budgeting and scheduling work should directly save you time and money. They will have negotiated trade prices with all the local material suppliers and can pass many of these savings on to you.

When you start looking for a contractor you should speak to a few companies who have experience building the type of home you’re looking for and have a good reputation locally. We don't recommend you necessarily go for the cheapest quote either. Look for a contractor who creates a detailed estimate with a line-by-line breakdown of everything. Find out which builders and contractors have a reputation for going over budget, and those who are known for sticking to the budget.

At Fortress Home we are experts at building beautiful homes, to budget in Chicago for over 20 years.


Negotiate

While we don't recommend you try and low-ball your contractor you can always ask and see if any discounts are available. Maybe they have some materials left over from a previous project that they can offer you at a reduced price. You can also help by being flexible in your design and material choices - ask your builder if they have any recommendations for reducing your budget.

How to save money when building a house — be flexible on timing

Find out when the peak time of year for construction is in your city and try and choose a quieter time of year. You are more likely to be able to negotiate a good price with your home builders if they are quiet and there is less likely to be a rush on materials, which can push prices up.

Choose unconventional homes

There are lots of alternative styles of houses available these days, and many of them are great budget options:

  • Tiny homes are a growing trend offering convenience and smart design, all with a small footprint. They can be great for small or awkwardly shaped lots. And having a smaller living space will save you money in many other ways than just building materials. You will save on decorating and accessorizing your new home and may need to consider some of your shopping habits too. Doesn’t a simpler life in a tiny home appeal?
  • Modular homes come ready to assemble from the factory which means that you can build a new home in a much shorter time and save money in the process. Choose your floor plan, order your modular home and the basic structure will arrive on the back of a truck, ready to assemble.
  • Container homes are assembled from those huge shipping containers you see at the docks and can be as simple or complex as you want. They can be insulated and have windows and doors installed where needed, with several shipping containers used to create interesting, modern layouts.
  • Get started building today!
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Watch your footprint

They say that size matters and that’s very true when budgeting for building a house - every square foot makes a big difference in the overall cost of a house, so don’t go overboard when adding rooms to your house plans.

Build upwards

If you can only afford a small lot maybe consider a three-story home to give you more square footage with a smaller footprint. The costs for clearing the lot and laying the foundation will be lower, as will be the roofing costs, as they will all require fewer materials due to their reduced sizes.

Another type of footprint

Another type of footprint you should consider when you want to save money, in the long run, is your carbon footprint. Building for energy efficiency will be sure to save you money over time, if not in initial construction costs.

Design ideas for saving money

Stock plans can cut your building a home budget

Commissioning an architect to design your dream home might get you the perfect house, but it will likely come at a high cost. As well as having to pay all the design costs you may also end up with a structure that’s more expensive to build, as it may well use non-standard size materials and fittings.

Did you know that you can buy stock plans for a wide range of home designs?

As these are off-the-shelf blueprints you should save a lot of money on the design costs, and save time as these plans are ready to use.


An added bonus is that these plans should also come with an indication of the cost to build them, although this will vary based on location and exactly what material costs at the time of construction.

Aesthetic choices to build a home on a budget

When it comes to designing some aesthetic choices, many of which are very popular right now can help you save money.

  • An open floor plan may be cost-saving as it can reduce the number of walls needed to be built — as long as the building is still structurally sound of course. Speak to your builder about this as they should be able to advise on whether this will work with your designs.
  • Minimalism is also very popular right now, so keeping your design features and paint colors to a minimum can also help cut costs when building a home. White paint will often be the cheapest, so a minimal white home could be more affordable as well as stylish. And of course, you can always re-paint at a later date.
  • Industrial chic is a very popular look right now and can be found in many city lofts and apartments. Exposed beams or struts and polished cement or exposed brick walls all contribute to this aesthetic and help cut finishing and drywall budgets.

What can you upgrade later?

Some parts of the construction can't be upgraded at a later date, such as foundations, roofing, and framing. You also don't want to cut corners on many of these things, even if you are looking for ways to cut costs when building a house, as they will contribute to the strength and durability of your home.

However, there are lots of reasonable upgrades when you have more money. For example, light fixtures and hardware such as door handles can easily be replaced. Appliances can be upgraded and décor, including paint, wallpaper, carpets, and curtains, can all be refreshed without too much hassle further down the line. Vinyl flooring is a great way to cheaply cover your floors and is very easy to update.

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Standard sizes help

When you sit down with the blueprints make sure that all the windows and doors in your house are standard size. This means you’ll be able to get ready-made units fitted, which will be much cheaper than custom windows and doors.

Take on simple tasks yourself

While we don't suggest you build the entire house yourself, perhaps you can save some money by doing some simple tasks yourself. You will need to agree on this with your general contractor beforehand, including the timings and scope of what you'll be doing.

It's best to choose tasks that are done at the end of the construction project, so you don't cause any delays for the builders — and time is money when it comes to homebuilding.

Some tasks you might consider tackling yourself include:

  • putting on the final coat of paint
  • laying outdoor footpaths
  • putting down decking or wooden flooring
  • staining any wood trim
  • landscaping your garden

How to save money when building a house with fitted units

If you’re reasonably handy you can buy and put together ready-to-assemble kitchen and bathroom units. This will need to be agreed upon with your builder, especially if you are assembling units where sinks or electrical appliances will need to be installed.

Be energy efficient

One word of caution, cheapest isn't always best. When looking for ways to cut costs when building a house you want to make sure you don't sacrifice quality and durability for quick savings. For example, using less insulation or putting in a cheap HVAC might save you some money on the construction costs but will end up costing you a lot more as the years go by, in repairs, maintenance, and higher utility bills.

Reuse and recycle

Maybe you have a great washing machine in your current home and some gorgeous retro freestanding kitchen units. Can you incorporate them into the design of your new home?

You can also search out recycled materials, reclaimed lumber, and salvaged vintage plumbing fixtures such as sinks and faucets for your plumbers to install. These will not only save you money but will give your home a unique and personalized style.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best way to save money when building a house?

Probably the best way to cut costs on building a new house is to be realistic in the type of house you want to build - smaller houses will be cheaper than larger homes.

If you are in a location with high land prices you can also compromise on location in order to reduce the costs.

Although make sure the plot you choose isn't far from roads, water mains, and electricity or you'll end up spending all the money you've saved on land on connections


If you can't compromise on location a smaller plot in a desirable neighborhood will be cheaper, and if you build smart you can still have a wonderful house at a reasonable price.

What costs the most when building a house?

This all depends very much on location and your ideal home. If you are in an area will high land costs then the plot is likely to be one of the most expensive things. Secondly, the framing is likely to be very costly, and is unlikely to be an area where you can, or should save much money. If you have luxury tastes for decor, fixtures, and fittings the costs can also add up quickly, but fortunately, this is an area where you can cust costs.

Can you save a lot of money building your own house?

If you have construction experience and have a good network of contacts you can certainly save money by building your own house. However, this is a very time-intensive process and you should also be very careful to factor in the cost of your own time if you want to undertake a project like this yourself. If you are having to turn down well-paying work in order to manage the project it can end up costing you a lot in lost income, so we advise you to think very carefully before undertaking a project like this yourself.

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