How can I keep costs down during the permit and construction phases of my green home?
The more decisions you make before the noise and dust begin, the more efficient the production crews will be and the more economically your dollars will be spent. Bringing together the architect, contractor, builders, and owner early in the process will ensure that intentions are understood and expectations realistic; this is especially helpful in green design where some parties may have less experience.
- Have a full set of documents available when meeting with your contractor. These include exact-scale floor plans, roof plans, elevations, and the electrical and mechanical layouts. Your set of plans should include detailed specifications for all the products you will be using, plus notes on codes, structural issues, and other nonstandard building details. Consult this checklist on the HPA Design website for all the features a full plan set should include.
- Communication between you and your contractor must be open, honest, and frequent. Prevent delays in decisions, payments, and work schedules by creating a partnership with clear responsibilities and goals. Ask the question, “Who is doing what and by when?”
- Making decisions in advance will keep change orders and additional work orders to a minimum, saving you time and money. There are many delays you can avoid; for example, not having a lighting plan on paper with fixtures specified for the electrician, or changing the lighting plan after rough electrical phase is completed.
- Make sure your contractor is familiar with your city and county requirements. This will facilitate the resolution of any code or inspection concerns that may arise during the permit or construction phases. You may want to ask the following questions:
- What permits are required: building, plumbing, mechanical, electrical?
- Who is responsible for obtaining these permits and by when?
- Does a construction debris disposal plan apply to my project?
- What are the construction work hours and the maximum noise level?
- Be prepared for the change orders or additional work orders that will inevitably occur. Some will be caused by hidden conditions or unforeseen circumstances; for example, removing large boulders discovered while excavating for foundation work. Others may be due to changes that have occurred in local codes and ordinances since the plans were developed. These types of work orders are time sensitive and require the owners to make quick, informed decisions.
Know the lead times for the products you select, and talk to your contractor about how your choices will affect construction costs. Take window choices, for example: If window sizes and materials are stock items carried by a local supplier, then the costs of framing, materials, and labor are less than they would be for custom windows that need to be ordered and require special cladding or finishes.
Another example is insulation: You might choose a formaldehyde-free batt insulation that is in stock at the local supplier and can easily be installed by your construction team, or you may select a foam cellulose insulation that needs to be applied by a subcontractor, potentially increasing time and labor costs.
Make sure your contractor is familiar with green products, from fly ash concrete and engineered lumber to dual-flush toilets and LED lighting.
Several strategies can be used to prevent or lessen the impact of financial surprises. Payments can be arranged so there are no unmanageable sums to be disbursed during construction and payment amounts and dates are agreed to in advance. Another approach is to schedule payments according to milestones based on subcontractor schedules and completion of specific tasks.
If you find your budget getting out of control, consider phasing the project over a period of time. You may want to create a list of the 10 must-have items and a second list of items that can wait until later.
Thanks to Daniel Bell, Dennis McCullah, and Dave Yarnell for their assistance with this question.