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So where do I make budget cuts?

Benneaf | Posted in General Questions on

My project has hit a snag. Chiefly, the excavation and clearing of the lot is costing thousands more than I projected. Shame on me for not doing my homework better on how much it would cost to remove most of those dang trees. flog me for that. I have to make some cuts in my project and that likely means cutting some of my energy efficiency upgrades. Here’s kind of what I was planning on and then I’ll list the cuts I’m thinking of making (and why). What I am looking for is input on if I am cutting in the right places (it’s a compromise you can’t say don’t cut anywhere…I’ve got to pay for this stuff) or if I should look somewhere else. This is in Climate zone 4 just outside KNoxville, TN

So the plan before cuts looks like this.

1. Encapsulated Crawl Space
2. 2×8 top and bottom plates with 2×4 walls off set on each edge by 8″.
3. Blown fiberglass insulation.
4. OSB sheathing with TYVEK WRB
5. Open Web trusses between 1st and 2nd floor where all duct work would be.
6. High Heel Trusses with approximately R60 insulation.
7. SuperSeal casement windows with above average ratings on SHGC and U values.
8. Front porch shades Southern Windows in summer.
9. GE 50 heat pump water heater
10. HVAC to be determined, but likely a heat pump product whether it be mini-splits or a ducted unit with an inverter such as Nordyne’s product.
11. Whirlpool’s Heat Pump Dryer
12 Air Sealing with Acoustical Caulk and foam.

I took a Hanley Wood course on code changes around energy efficiency recently they point out that Energy loss is (on average) 40% through the roof/attic, 36% through basement, crawlspace, or slab, 14% through windows and door, and only 10% through the walls.

After Cuts:
1. Encapsulated Crawl Space
2. 2×4 Wall
3. Roxul or fiberglass batt insulation.
4. OSB sheathing with TYVEK WRB
5. Open Web trusses between 1st and 2nd floor where all duct work would be.
6. High Heel Trusses with approximately R48 insulation.
7. SuperSeal casement windows with above average ratings on SHGC and U values.
8. Front porch shades Southern Windows in summer.
9. GE 50 Gallon heat pump water heater
10. HVAC to be 16 SEER 2 stage heat pump with scroll compressor
11. Whirlpool’s Heat Pump Dryer (or possibly a normal dryer).
12 Air Sealing with Acoustical Caulk and foam.

So I cut back mainly on the wall and the HVAC system (and possibly the dryer). Are those the right places to make my cuts to bring my budget back into line?

Thank you

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  1. krom | | #1

    Spend the money on the shell, make the cuts on things you will be replacing down the road anyway. I'd dump the heat pump WH, and Dryer.
    Get this part right, and you won't need open web trusses or ducts, just a couple mini-splits. Which are much, much cheaper to buy, and operate than any ducted system (of course you need a room by room analysis of heat/cooling loads)

  2. Andrew_C | | #2

    Good for you to consider all these improvements over “standard” construction.
    These thoughts spring to mind, though I’m not a builder and don’t have a good feel for costs…

    You can upgrade other areas later, but you generally only have one shot at getting the envelope right. Basic wall design and air sealing are important. Counters, lighting, flooring, paint, landscaping…these can be upgraded later. Some “temporary” arrangements work fine for years.

    Re 3) Fiberglass batts are always the wrong answer. Roxul batts, blown cellulose, or blown fiberglass would probably be better options for interior wall insulation.

    Re 5) If you’re going to use ductless mini-splits, perhaps the only duct work that you need is for the ventilation system (HRV, Lunos, etc); do you need open web trusses, and are these more expensive than other options?

    Re 11) I agree with cutting the dryer. You can always upgrade later if you don’t like drying on a clothesline ;) (We line-dried clothes during warmer weather when I was a kid, and I always hated that chore, but it worked well and the clothes smelled great.)

    Even if you plan to upgrade later, don’t put any cheap can lights thru your top floor ceiling.

    This may not be a cost saving, but if you’re not extremely confident in your builder’s (and his sub's) attention to detail, you might prefer plywood instead of OSB; it’s just more forgiving.

  3. Benneaf | | #3

    I didn't mention, but should have. I'll be foregoing tile, instead linoleum...not vinyl flooring. Probably carpet in bedrooms. No granite countertops, I'll go laminate. I will likely install the insulation, both to save cost and make sure it's done right. By the way ORNL testin shows fiberglass does a fine job as insulation as long as everything is sealed up tight.

    Part of my thinking on scaling back on the walls is, 1. According to the Handleywood presentation that is the area of least impact. 2. As I finish the plumbing, hvac, electrical, I can see better where I am budgetwise. IF dollars permit I could come I. With furring strip and install some roxul board...but I doubt that will actually happen. I could come back at my 20 year remodel and wrap the house in roxul board and do different siding. If I were to still live there.

  4. yogumon | | #4

    I wouldn't skimp on the wall even if it means living on bare subfloor and line drying clothes for a while.

    Heat pump clothes dryers are still an overpriced "novelty" in the US, while they are totally mainstream and reasonably priced in Europe. Just give them some time.

  5. Expert Member

    Run the numbers and see if you are really saving much by going with 2"x4"s rather than 2"x6"s, remembering that the spacing can change.

  6. ohioandy | | #6

    Andrew, are you confident of the cost estimates for the rest of the job? Have you bid everything out already? I am a builder, and I just finished building my own house, and have re-learned the very basic truth that EVERYTHING will cost more than anticipated. I mean, I feel for you: forced to cut important items before any nails are even driven. If you've blown your contigency in the tree-clearing phase, I fear you're in for some rude surprises, and they'll come fast and furious.

    Trevor is right in #1: hold the line with your shell. Consider shrinking your footprint or if it's too late for that, eliminating something "frou-frou" like a dormer or bumpout, or switch out crawlspace for slab.

    Good luck.

  7. jackofalltrades777 | | #7

    If you have already gone over budget just because of the tree clearing, I am going to second the statement that you are headed for trouble. If you are GC/owner/builder then you are going to face huge problems if you spent your extra contingency money at groundbreaking.

    NOTHING goes according to budget and if you didn't calculate that into your budget, you will have some major pitfalls. Did you do a spreadsheet with all of the house costs? If so, what was the range percentage?

  8. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    Here's my advice:

    1. Don't skimp on air sealing details, and budget what you need for a blower-door test.

    2. Your plan to use windows with "above average SHGC" makes me nervous. You may want above-average SHGC on your south side (although if you have a porch there, I'm not sure that it matters), but definitely not on the east and west sides -- on those sides, below-average SHGC makes more sense. For more information on glazing, see All About Glazing Options.

  9. user-4053553 | | #9

    Mirroring others advice here is my view
    You can't undo structural facets later without spending enough to buy an new house so here is what you should do (making sure you can still afford the house with a comfortable margin before going ANY further)

    1. Full basement is preferable and worthwhile (bugs, mice and spiders will haunt you forever with a crawlspace no matter how well encapsulated), but if you don't agree and won't make that sacrifice (and don't mind spending 20-50k later) then at least make sure the footings are deep enough for a full basement so you can dig out and put in a slab later (by spending 20-50k instead of 5-10k now).
    2. Go with 2 x 8 it will cost a bit more and pay for itself over the house's lifetime.
    3. Go with dense packed cellulose, the cost may be slightly less then fiberglass, it will insulate better, and have less unique to fiberglass problems
    4. OSB with tyvek is standard practice and should not resent any unique problems, i have hear a lot good about zip sheathing but i'm sure it costs more.
    5. I don't know enough about this to give advice
    6. The difference in cellulose between R48 and R60 won't be a lot of money, within the rounding error of the house cost.
    7. Get an expert to calculate and give advice on this for your design
    8. Get an expert to calculate and advise, if these can be added later you may be able to defer the expense for now.
    9. Get a power vent natural gas tank, you can upgrade later, this is an easy place to save money
    10. Get an expert to give advice on your proposed design, and think about cheaper options that can be upgraded later.
    11. Get a natural gas or electric dryer for now and upgrade later, or better yet use a clothesline for maximum savings as others mentioned till you have the money for the heat pump model in the future.
    12. I'm not sure you need acoustical caulk but airsealing in general is a good idea, and don't forget the HRV, don't skimp on this.

    Have you considered waiting a year or two to build up more funds before breaking ground?

    "I took a Hanley Wood course on code changes around energy efficiency recently they point out that Energy loss is (on average) 40% through the roof/attic, 36% through basement, crawlspace, or slab, 14% through windows and door, and only 10% through the walls."
    This is wrong, you should get a copy of Hot2000, BeOpt or other software, learn it and use it to optimize your design, there is a learning curve but they are free and very useful.

  10. Benneaf | | #10

    It is quite apparent that I have asked my question an incorrect way. Maybe I should have asked. If you had to cut back something in the shell of your house that would save a significant amount of money and have the least impact what would it be?

  11. Benneaf | | #11

    My answer based on the Hanley data is the wall. Alan B says, "This is wrong" and refers me to software. Most everyone else made it sound like my project is screwed. Well my project is screwed because I wanted a house payment of under $500 and now it's going to be around $700. The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Now...on my income that's significant, but I can swing it.

    That being said, I did like Alan B's helter skelter response. It was just funny. He did say consult an expert...and I will.

    Martin, I will be paying extra attention to air sealing. I won't get to passive house numbers on insulation and overall energy use, but I'll be gunning to get there from an air sealing perspective. Also, when I said I would be spec'ing a higher than average SHGC I guess I meant in terms of higher quality or higher performing...not really a higher SHGC itself. It's so easy to use the wrong terms when discussing some of this stuff.

  12. user-4053553 | | #12

    What does helter skelter response mean?

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