Expert advice: construction costs


Sometimes you just need to hear it direct from the experts. Oregon Home asked those in the field to share their knowledge with readers.  Cost is an intimidating factor in most remodeling jobs. Thomas R. Payne, certified master builder with Craftsman Homes Group, who serves on the board of directors for both the Oregon Home Builders Association and  Home Builders Association Metro Portland, offers  homeowners advice on cost planning.


Anyone who has remodeled or built a home knows that the cost surprises that occur at the end of a project hurt more than the ones at the beginning. Two things make that issue a problem. One is that the items you need, want, see and use go into the house last and you may not have the budget left for all of them. I want to be sure the special things that my clients want they get. The other is that there are fewer dollars left to move around in the budget at the end of the project.

I discuss with my clients what I half jokingly call “Tom’s theory on the knowledge of construction costs.”  Simply put the knowledge of construction costs are well known in the opposite order of construction. For example, the appliances are typically the last items to go into a home and they can be quoted exactly and even purchased, so those costs are exactly known. Moving backwards in the process, you can pick plumbing and electrical fixtures, cabinets, tile, slab, etc., as well as carpets, doors, windows, roofing, finish carpentry, etc. Even big-ticket items like a masonry chimney can be well estimated. Insulation, drywall, finish carpentry and painting can get pretty close estimates, but always must have a reasonable contingency amount added to accommodate changes that become necessary or as site conditions dictate.

Rough-in for plumbing, electrical and mechanical (heat and A/C) can be close to the estimated cost when a good blueprint and specification is available. Site conditions can change the routes that these subcontractors had planned for, so those costs can change to some degree. You can get a good quality estimate if you use a firm like Globe Lighting or Rejuvenation that have lighting designers available to help you through the many choices of products. Be sure your lifestyle is met by the lighting design. Do you need more light in work areas and would you like a reading light over the bed?

Utilities can be a big-ticket item if your construction runs through cooler months; the house must be kept warm and dry regardless of the hundreds of times the exterior doors are used.

On the other hand, what comes first requires either X-ray vision or an engineer as the costs to excavate and build a foundation depend on what is hidden in the ground. Soils engineers can help provide good information about the soils and their ability to support your home and should almost always be used on sloping lots. The engineer has always been worth the cost to me. Excavation and foundations are expensive and changes in wall or footings are not linear. For example, a change in wall height may affect its thickness, the amount and size of re-bar and the footing specification may require more concrete, more concrete pumping costs, more waterproofing, etc.

Other big-ticket items that can be difficult to estimate closely are the real costs of the foundation, the framing lumber package, and the exterior siding. With a very good plan they can be estimated to a reasonable degree but there are issues that cause cost increases. The foundation is dependent on what the footings and walls need to be after the excavation. Framing and wood siding materials are a commodity that can have large cost swings depending on supply and demand. Again, the foundation requirements can affect the amount of framing needed if there is additional height needed for the lowest walls.

The moral of the story is to shop ’til you drop for all the things that you can get costs for and determine the list of “got to haves” vs. the  “want to haves” in case you need to move money in the budget later in the project.

Thomas R. Payne; Certified Master Builder;  Craftsman Homes Group, LLC