This is a guest post from JerichoHill.

For the past few weekends, I’ve described what I learned through the process of building a home addition. In part one, I covered costs. In part two, I covered capitalization (obtaining a loan). Today I’ll describe the actual construction. You can read through the whole process in the forums.

I want to end this series with the tips and tricks we’ve learned that are helping us save money on our construction costs. Instead of writing like a ramblin’ wreck, I’m going to list the varying lessons learned throughout the construction process.

  1. Labor is expensive, so do everything that you feel comfortable doing yourself yourself. Even the little things can save a lot of money.
    • Dumpster pulls are a few hundred dollars each pull. By taking a morning to sift through the rubble in the dumpster, Julie was able to create a lot more room. I flattened out debris to put into the dumpster. These efforts saved us two dumpster pulls.
    • Keep the worksite clean. Your contractors are supposed to keep the work site clean, but they are focused on their job at hand. Rather than pay your carpenters their hourly rate to clean the job site, clean it so that all your contractors can keep focusing their skills on the tasks they do best. Just keeping a clean job site can save you hundreds, if not thousands.
    • Maintain the property line yourself, if your addition construction is going across it. There’s very little a shovel, a rake, and some gloves can’t handle outside, and keeping your property line clear (as well as your yard) helps keep the work flowing.
    • Use your extra dirt to fill in. While we were maintaining the property line, we took the time to even out parts of the yard. We had quite a bit of space to fill in, so we used extra gravel and soil. Our efforts allowed us to not only smooth out the yard but completely fill in space we thought we were going to have to purchase fill dirt for.
  2. Design your home efficiently
    • We put our air conditioning unit in our attic, with the ventilation system coming out of the ceiling. We not only now do not have to worry about blocking vents in our rooms, but our cooling costs will be lower because cool air falls. Brilliant!
    • Replace your old windows. Julie’s windows were casement. They let in the outside environment like a sieve. We went with new vinyl windows. We also found that your local window store may have some very good deals. Some window dealers came to our house for a pressure-laden sales pitch. If you really like their product, be assured that if you don’t purchase it with their one-time only discount, you’re likely going to get called back in a few weeks and offered and even lower discount because they over-ordered vinyl or something.
    • Moving your bathrooms and/or stairwells are very expensive renovations. If you don’t have to move them, don’t.
    • Go to your local hardware store and read about, or watch, or participate in the demonstrations and classes they have on various home improvement projects. We learned how to build our own fence, install trim, take up our hardwood without damaging it, and other money-saving skills!
    • Watch where you shop. We’ve noticed large price differences at the stores we’ve visited, and we’ve also noticed that some stores are cheaper in some goods and more expensive in others. We have a small book we maintain as our items ledger where we can note prices and quality in the stores as we look around, and then can make our decisions later. A digital camera helps in this endeavor.
    • Recycle what you have. I mentioned earlier that we designed a one-bedroom apartment for the basement. We were also building a new kitchen. Rather than throwing away the old kitchen, we saved the cabinets and appliance and are putting them in the basement kitchen. We also saved hardwood to use for patch jobs in other places around the house.
  3. Do-it Yourself
    • With a little bit of instruction, you should be able to install your own cabinets, appliances, and trim. IKEA cabinets are especially easy to install, though there are problems with their stock and on-time delivery. It is not unusual to be waiting on cabinet doors for a few weeks from stories I have heard.
    • We’re installing radiant floor heating. Radiant floor heating saves money on your energy bill in the long run, and can save you money initially if you install it yourself. It also provides a more natural and comfortable source of heat than open-air convection.
    • Storage. A two-bedroom house needs approximately a 10x12x10 space for storage of all items. This would normally cost around 200 dollars a month for rental space (plus whatever initial fees there are). To save some money, we used a free-standing garage I had available at my house (I rent). Since my roommates could not use the garage, I repaid them for the inconvenience by doing a few more chores around the house.
    • Paint. That’s fairly obvious, right?
    • We took down the old and rather dingy metal fence. One thing about old fences is that they were made to stay in place, mainly by two metal crossbeams which ran diagonally across the fence posts and at an angle into the ground, which made digging them out a pain. After getting the old fence out, we bought fence posts and planks and re-dug the holes to about 2 feet down, placed gravel at the bottom, and used a level to ensure our fence would be on the straight and narrow. It takes about an hour per post unless you have a fancy digging machine. We didn’t.

And most of all, know what you want, because once you build it, its in there.
Questions? I’m all ears!

You can follow the whole home addition process, including pictures and summaries, in this GRS forum thread.