Remember, cost of project is a moving target


YOU'VE MADE up your mind. You know exactly what improvements you want to make to your home.

Now it's time to talk about the money.

You should already have set some sort of figure for yourself based on what you want to spend and on common sense.

It should be clear, for instance, that a two-story addition will cost considerably more than a one-story one, and that doing some of the work yourself will save money.

But this has just been batting practice. Now it's time to get in the ballpark.

It is possible to estimate, to some extent, what your project will cost. Remember, however, that whatever you come up with at this point will not be the final figure.

It's merely a ballpark estimate to let you know whether the project, as you want it, is feasible for you.

Easy to spend $37,000

Let's use an example of a one-story family room addition with a powder room.

The structure will be 14 by 20 feet on a concrete block foundation, with vinyl siding, 25-year-rated shingle roof and Andersen windows.

The estimate will include "allowances" for interior fixtures and finishes based on good quality materials in the middle-of-the-line price range.

In this example, the addition will cost about $100 per square foot.

Multiply $100 by the square footage of the addition -- $100 x 280 square feet = $28,000 -- that's the price for the addition.

The powder room will need extra plumbing and fixtures, at a cost of about $4,500.

That makes the ballpark total $32,500.

Then add a 15 percent contingency factor for unforeseen conditions (such as termite damage, more wiring being necessary than expected, boulders impeding digging the foundation and so on), and you have a realistic budget of $37,400.

If this is what you expected, and somewhere near your desired budget, you can consider the project feasible.

If that's not near your budget, you may have to change the scope of the work.

Trim a little here and there

The "sticks and bricks" of the project are set costs. To change that cost, you have to consider altering the project.

You might make it smaller to reduce costs, or larger if -- amazingly -- you are pleasantly under budget.

Once you're satisfied with the cost of the basic structure, you can begin to look at details -- the finishes and fixtures. Prices for these items vary widely, and what you choose can have a big impact on final costs.

Exterior finishes will include things like windows and doors, roofing and siding, gutters, porches, decks and landscaping.

Interior finishes would include paint and wall coverings, plumbing and electrical fixtures, flooring, doors, door and bathroom hardware, cabinets and counter tops, baseboard and moldings, ceramic tile and appliances.

In order to make rational decisions about what kinds of details you want to include in your project, you need to know what things cost and what is allowed for them in the ballpark budget.

Money on the floor

For example, the flooring allowance for the project described above is $26 per square yard for carpet in the family room and $3 per square foot for ceramic tile in the powder room. (The allowance is for materials only; labor cost is not included.)

Once you know your allowances, you can go to a showroom and choose your flooring.

If you can't find anything you like in the allowance price range, you can choose something that costs more (or less), keeping in mind that if you choose something more expensive, you will be adding to the total cost of the project, or if you choose something less expensive, you can save money or have more money to upgrade other finishes.

You may decide, for instance, to spend more on carpeting and make up the difference by cutting somewhere else to maintain the budget.

And finally, a renovation budget is always a moving target.

No contractor can foresee every problem that might come up, and no homeowner can determine exactly what the project will be until seeing it in progress.

When Karol redid her kitchen recently, she ultimately changed almost every finish except the cabinets.

High cost of free material

One example: In the gable end visible where the cathedral ceiling of the addition meets the roof of the existing structure, she had specified board-and-bead wainscoting, to match the wainscoting on the walls.

But then she saw some beautiful old barn wood and decided to finish the gable end and the beam below it with that.

The wood was free -- from a generous friend with a tumble-down barn -- but the labor was extra.

Ron says that in his experience, even the most carefully constructed budget is almost always exceeded by 10 percent to 15 percent -- a good fact to keep in mind when you are determining the absolute top dollar you want to spend on your project.

Next: Drawings and specifications.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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