Were you one of those persistent children who always asked, “Why? What about this? How about that?” While you may have a distant recollection of your parents pulling their hair out, exasperated at having to answer yet one more question, I wanted to let you in on a little secret. Homeowners that ask questions save money. Period. And, contrary to your predisposition to think you are being annoying, you are most likely providing key feedback to your architect, contractor (or heck, even dentist) that will ultimately save you money or just make for a better project. Come mid-construction when your head is spinning, and you are at the end of your rope trying to determine which of the many heating systems (and brands for that matter) are right for your addition, you will ask your contractor and/or architect for a recommendation. When they respond, “Frank’s Heating and Cooling is the best.” Ask why. Ask how much it costs. Ask how it compares to other brands/sub-contractors. Ask for one other bid so you have something with which to compare the first bid. It will save you money and even if it doesn’t, it will give you peace of mind knowing that you did your homework and selected the best possible option for your needs (and you can impress your friends with your detailed understanding of mechanical systems!).
The point is, there will inevitably be portions of your project with which you will be unfamiliar, and you can’t let that stop you from asking, “WHY?”. Unlike seeing the price of an expensive tile and simply asking if there is a less expensive option, the structural drawings, mechanical and electrical systems, how things actually get built, or other similarly less familiar portions of the project could be a bit more baffling. Instead of hiding behind uncertainty, I would simply ask a few basic questions. Try, “What is the costliest structural portion of my new second story addition?” You might be surprised to find that it isn’t the actual second story addition. It might be that you must remove large sections of siding on the main floor in areas you weren’t planning on touching to make some key structural connections. If so, ask, “Is there a way we can avoid that? Is there some small change that could make that go away that wouldn’t destroy the design intent or result in a large delay?” You might find that something as small as shrinking a few windows could allow you to circumvent this costly work.
It is up to you to ask questions. You don’t have to have the solution. You just have to ask if there is a different end result that is better. Let the professionals figure out how to get there. Engineers can come up with 6 ways to do everything, and their first attempt might not be the least expensive way to get the results you need.
What if you learn that you need a crane to boom in a large beam called out on the structural drawings? Ask, “Can we break that beam up so we don’t need to pay for a crane?”
What if part of your newly finished basement will need to get ripped up to allow for a new post that supposedly will hold up the house? Ask, “Can we….. um….. just NOT DO THAT? Can we accomplish what we need to accomplish without ripping up the Basement?” (If you find yourself in this particular situation, you should have read my blog titled What Is A Master Plan and Why Do You Need One?)
I realize this may sound obvious. However, it is super rare for homeowners to ask for less costly alternatives, because they worry that they don’t fully understand what they are asking or how it will affect sixteen other things… or that it will make them appear “cheap.” Well stop worrying. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saving money on your heating ducts, so you have more money to put into your Kitchen.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one extremely vital piece to this money saving puzzle. Just because it is less expensive doesn’t always mean it is better. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you and your architect likely spent months making a multitude of decisions that got you to where you are at today. Remember when we shrunk some windows a few paragraphs ago to avoid some added structural costs? You and your architect might have painstakingly framed Mount Rainier from the bed in your new Master Suite so that you could have perfect views from both sides of the bed. If you shrink the windows without recalling that ever-so-thoughtful design consideration, then who gets the side of the bed without the view? There are a million decisions that will be made over the course of your project. There is literally no way for you to remember every single decision unless you are a super-human database. If you willy nilly go changing everything just to save a buck, you might just botch up a big portion of your design that you really REALLY wanted when your head wasn’t in mid-construction manic mode. So always ask WHY, determine the factors at play, check your assumptions with your architect, and then decide which change is worth the savings.