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How we saved $65k Off the Top of our Modern Home Construction Budget


In the ever-hot market of Southern California coastal real estate, there is one clear loser in the home remodeling and new construction game: the homeowner.


Let’s face it #buildingmodern is expensive. The go-to architectural choices are premium-priced and made of premium materials. It definitely takes a little creativity and ingenuity to get the same look at a lower cost.


Between raw materials such as steel and lumber going up 25% (thank you, President Trump) and the real estate market going crazy, the high-end modern exterior finishes that we originally had dreamed about were dashed. Our “alternative sourcing” and “value engineering” was now mandatory, not optional.


By the time we were ready to build, the market had turned against us. Contractors were automatically adding a 25-50% (yes, 50%!) premium to their bids over what we had initially researched back in the happy days of 2014.

After paying permitting and expert consultant fees of over $200,000 —courtesy of state, county, city and California utility companies— we knew the first thing we had to do was CUT, CUT, CUT from our initial construction budget.


We in fact, ended up cutting over $65,000 from our exterior finishes during the design phase and pre-construction phases of our project, and I’m happy to say that excepting the clear cedar siding (*sigh*), I don’t really miss any of it. I can honestly say that I do not believe that our overall design aesthetic was compromised either. How cool is that?!? :)


THE CUTS—THREE WORDS: GLASS, STEEL, AND WOOD


Windows and Doors

While we absolutely loved working with our architect, Tyler Van Stright of #jlcarchitecture, we initially had some expensive ideas. In our original sketches, we a had floor-to-ceiling #Westernwindows system across the front of the house. While stunning, the system proved to be problematic across two areas: Security and privacy. By cutting the window system in half, we eliminated both worries, and saved over $16,000.



Thank you David Wyms at #Dixielinelumber


We also had those amazing glass and steel #Westerndoors specced as our front door, exterior office door, and kitchen deck door. As we were trying to decide between a pivot (no hinge) option or a hinged option, I happened to *realize* that our front door alone was pricing out at $5000-$6000—yikes! I quickly changed the office and deck doors to more pedistrian wood options that still included glass, and the front door to a cool fir-and-glass-paneled style from #SimpsonDoorCompany #7406ContemporaryThermal For half the cost. Painted in the fun, almost purplish #BenjaminMoore #Smokedoyster , I think the front door substitution adds some warmth and whimsy to our entry. Total exterior door savings: almost $6,000.


Our architect had also specced the aforementioned #WesternWindows throughout the whole house. A quick tour around the block to check out a neighbor’s remodel led us to changing the rest of our windows to #Milgard, which in the satin clear anodized frame choice offered a lot of the same cool modern aesthetic without the premium price tag. Net saved: $15,000.


In the end, we decided to stay with the magnificent #WesternMultislidedoors but in our largest door opening decided to go from a four panel door system to a three panel. This not only saved us another $1500, but also yielded greater views to the canyon and ocean due to less steel framing and more glass.

Steel Overhang

We also had a modern steel overhang across the front of our upstairs deck sketched-in. As cool-looking as it was, it offered no protection from the elements nor did it provide shade; it was purely a decorative feature. With the new China tariffs and the ensuing uptick in the cost of steel happening right at our construction time, we ended-up taking this feature off our design. We saved at least $15,000 in doing so.

Wood, Wood, and Less Wood

Lastly, since our little lot is literally right on the street (typical of So-Cal beach properties), we had requested a wood privacy screen to be built across the front where our main hallway would be. The same song-second-verse comes into play here: with lumber prices increasing concurrent with the start of our construction, it had to go. Goodbye, zen-looking wood screen; hello walking through the hallway clothed. Net Savings: $5,000.

Kind of cool, but don’t you like it better without?


We had two more lumber epiphanies at the same time. The siding of our house was originally specced by our architect as Ipe wood, a South American exotic hardwood. Due to our proximity to the ocean, our contractor Danny Monjito of #DMBuilding recommended changing to a clear cedar, which he said would be more stable in the moist sea air. Even with cedar running less per foot than it’s pretty Brazilian cousin Ipe, we were looking at at least an increase of $8,000 over our original bid. It was at this point I started driving around and compulsively taking pictures of non-wood siding treatments across LA, Orange, and San Diego counties. Honestly, I was stunned to find not only cool urban condominium developments used #Hardiplank, but also a lot of custom home projects used it for not only its lesser cost but also for its retro-aesthetics, durability, and ease-of-care. After a (rather exhausting) search and a few visits to specialty lumber yards, we landed on a #JamesHardy #vgroovehardiplank for our siding across the front of the house. Painted in this cool #BenjaminMoore #Irongate gray, it proved to be a handsome choice with good long-term care and durability prospects.


Lastly, we had envisioned a wide, Ipe wood-top for our Feeney steel railing system that runs across our main and rear decks that face the canyon behind the house. Dubbed by Tyler the architect as the “Canyon Cafe,” our thought was to make the wood railing-top 10” wide to accommodate plates and have it function as a place to both drink and eat for guests. Fortunately for us, Tyler himself had just completed his own custom home project and had also incorporated a wide wood railing top. Unfortunately for Tyler, his wide wood-railing top was already cupping. So, we narrowed the width to 5 and a 1/2” across (hello, little tapas plates) and changed the wood top to a less expensive fir that we decided to paint in #BenjaminMoore #elephantgray , our exterior door color. Net saved on wood railing top adjustment: $1500.


Glass, Steel and Wood: three modern design elements that are the cornerstone, yet at once the hindrances of our project. I guess the moral of the story here is that plans CAN be changed, and exterior construction and exterior finishes CAN be edited in the design, pre-construction, and even construction phase of a custom home project. Yes, it takes a little ingenuity and creativity— and definitely consistent collaboration with your architect and builder (Thank you #JLCArchitecture and #DMBuilding) —but we shaved $65,000 exterior finishes And still love the outcome. And with the home construction market in the boom state that it’s currently in, that’s pretty darn good.






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