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Five ways to keep control of your build costs

As a practice, the management of our clients’ budgets has always been important to the way we design. A few years ago, we realised we needed a tool to help keep control of the likely build costs as we worked through the design process. This is why we developed our cost calculator. It’s a crude tool but it enables clear cost discussions through every step of the project journey. This tool is always reviewed and developing as we strive to deliver the best value service and projects for our clients.

Here are some important lessons we’ve learnt along the way that will keep your project costs in check.

1) Tender Early

It sounds obvious, but the earlier you tender, the earlier you’ll get an accurate idea of costs. This early information can also come at a point when you have the best opportunity to affect the project cost. Waiting until after all the design work has been done doesn’t leave you much scope to reduce costs without just cutting items from the build.

It’s especially important to have this early detailed cost if budget is a big risk factor in your project. If what you’re doing is stretching your resources this could mean the difference between a successful project or one that ends up incomplete, or never started.

Read our blog on choosing a builder to find out more.

2) Get a site investigation

Carrying out a site investigation will undoubtedly save you time and money in the long run. This is especially the case with new-build houses on undeveloped sites. However, it can also apply to extensions.

In almost all cases, the cost of the investigation will be more than saved by the value it will add to your build. It also greatly reduces risk and gives much better cost certainty. This certainty allows you to more accurately balance costs across your project.

Without a site investigation, your engineer will have to design for the worst possible case. This isn’t cost or material efficient.

Read our blog about site investigations to learn why they’re so important.

3) Beware of scope creep

It’s impossible to predict every cost on a project. Sometimes there are unknowns along the way. This is why we always recommend having at least 5% contingency within the budget.

Sometimes you agree to change the project scope and these costs are planned and agreed in advance. There is a risk, though, that the scope of the project can stealthily expand. It’s easy to add something like new windows or some bespoke fitted furniture whilst you’re doing an extension and to not fully appreciate the cost impact. Be clear about what your budget can include and stick to it, or expect costs to rise.

4) Keep it simple

The more complex a project is, the more expensive it will become. Cost per m2 is a useful metric but ignores that there are very different ways of achieving the same floor area. Simple building forms are more cost-effective and have the bonus of being more energy efficient. Funky floor plans and jaunty roofs introduce more junctions to detail and build and more locations to lose heat. Likewise, simple material palettes inside and out will keep costs reasonable.

5) Prioritise

We find it much better to be upfront about likely build costs with our clients. Construction is expensive and it’s not unusual to find that a client’s budget and project aspirations don’t match. It’s always best to know and to come to terms with this sooner rather than later. You can make priority decisions about what’s important to you. Do you wait until you have more funds? Do you choose to remove elements of the project. You can make decisions on what the real fundamentals of the project are that will transform the way you live. Spend money on special bits and then pull back your budget and expenditure elsewhere.

Read our blog on costing your build project to learn how to realistically budget for your project.