Tip 1: Plan your project and get bids well in advance
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, before fall
- 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
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
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 after going through these home improvement tips.
Tip 4: Pitch in and do parts of the project yourself
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 already done.
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 theater
- rough plumbing for a future half bath or hot tub
- wiring for future lighting fixtures
- rough framing for future doors or windows
- French doors that open to a future deck.