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How to Keep Remodeling Costs Down

Ready to put a little "sweat equity" into your home? Don't sweat it. It doesn't mean you actually have to do your entire remodel yourself. After all, you're not a professional contractor, right? That's why you're hiring a pro. But if you're willing to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty you can save yourself some money while adding to the value of your home.

Do It Yourself

It is possible to cut the costs of a remodel by doing your own demolition, including such chores as tearing out carpet, removing lighting and plumbing fixtures, and clearing the kitchen of old appliances. You can also cut down on costs by doing the painting yourself and the clean up. How much you'll save by doing these things yourself depends on many factors, including the size of your remodel. It's possible to save $1,000 or more on a major kitchen remodel by doing some of the demolition yourself. And if you're good at painting, and the project is sizable, you can save possibly several thousand dollars or more by painting yourself. Don't mind doing major clean up? Again, if you do it you could save $500 to several thousand dollars.

But before you leap in and negotiate with your contractor over how much you'll save if you add a little sweat equity to the project, take a deep breath and think it through. Be realistic. Your contractor may cut the cost of the project by $1,000 if you agree to do your own kitchen demolition, meaning removing all appliances, removing plumbing fixtures, and knocking down a half wall. Do you have the tools for the project? Do you know how to turn off the water main and the gas while you take out appliances? If you get the refrigerator out of the kitchen, then what? Do you have a truck to take it to the dump? And if you're a weekend warrior swinging a sledge hammer for the first time in 25 years, what happens if you pull your back and can't get back to your office the next day?

Cleaning up after a construction project also is likely to be a bigger and much messier task that you might imagine You'll need a shop vacuum cleaner, for starters, and you'll have to figure out how to dispose of a lot of leftover bits and pieces of construction materials ranging from insulation and bits of drywall to wads of duct tape. Sound fun?

If those "sweat equity" opportunities don't sound inviting, there are others that can save you money. Most people can paint interior walls and cabinets. The risk you run by painting yourself of course is moving in without getting the painting done which will not only diminish your own pride in the remodel but is ultimately harmful to cabinets, wood work and drywall, all of which need protective coats of paint.

Other Cost Cutters

For many people, there are ways to minimize costs that don't involve getting in overalls and wielding a paintbrush or sledgehammer. For instance, if you're doing a kitchen or bathroom remodel, take the time to really research appliances and fixtures. Make realistic decisions about whether the $6,000 "professional" cooking range is really worth $5,000 more than a very good, less glitzy one. Do you really need the Scandinavian bathroom fixtures that look like modern sculpture and cost as much as a half a year of college tuition? Maybe. Maybe not.

The same principle applies to kitchen and other cabinets. Yes, custom cabinets are often beautiful. But you might be surprised at how good-looking and sturdy some of the ready-made cabinets are at home improvement centers. Again, you might end up saving $10,000 on kitchen cabinets by purchasing them ready made rather than having them custom built.

Finally, the best way to cut costs is work out a good plan with your contractor before the project starts, then stick to it. Change orders cost time and money. Don't make them.

By Diane Tuman

Next article: Managing Remodeling Finances

Previous article: Working With a Contractor

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  • Last edited October 12 2012
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