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100K House Budget Review – Our Biggest Meeting to Date

by Chad Ludeman on February 7, 2008 · 23 comments

in budget,Development

Yesterday afternoon we had our much anticipated budget review with the entire team for the 100K House. Scott from Level 5 Construction had taken the past two weeks to come up with a comprehensive estimate based on the most recent design of both homes in the project.

I knew we were exceeding our $100K budget with the current design but had no idea if it would be by 10, 20 or even $50K. Scott emailed us the quote about 15 minutes before arriving and the number was $143,600. I was not surprised but was obviously hoping for a slightly smaller figure to start with. We quickly learned that the number was a bit deceiving as about $15K was for the CMU walls in the front and back of the house that everyone quickly agreed needed to go.

Scott came very prepared and had an full page of itemized notes on his top suggestions for reducing the cost of the construction budget. After some discussion, we agreed to accept most of Scott’s recommendations and only passed on a few small items like switching to Vinyl windows or eliminating the radiant heating and ductless air conditioner system. Below are the main points we agreed to along with the corresponding budget reductions:

  1. Starting budget = $143,600
  2. Eliminate both CMU walls in front and back of the home -$14,800 = $128,800
  3. Eliminate the sloped, metal roof in place of a flat, rubber roof with cool, white coating – $4,200 = 124,600
  4. Eliminate plywood on the core of the house – $2,000 = $122,600
  5. Eliminate the half bath on the ground floor – $1,600 = $121,000
  6. Eliminate the Patio/Deck on second floor – $1,500 = $119,500
  7. Reduce the footprint to a true 1,000 square feet – $20,000 = $99,500

This looks pretty not bad except for a minor detail I left out. The figure does not include the kitchen cabinets or appliances since we have not spec’ed them out yet. We are figuring this will be around $10K extra so we still have some cutting to do.

While we were discussing, Brian sketched a simple diagram of the new design that reflected the major changes we had agreed upon.

As you can see it indicates the new roof, a slightly smaller footprint and a loss of our double height space. We have left an opening at each end of the house between the first and second floor to facilitate natural air flow in the home and to let heat freely flow from the ground floor radiant system to the second floor. This detail needs to be fleshed out more, but we all agreed it was necessary. A couple options thrown out were a two foot opening with a full railing on either side, metal grating over the gaps with no railing and random, small holes drilled into the floor in the 2′ section on either end of the second floor. Oh, we also had an idea for a built in bed with air vents underneath.

Let’s go back and look at some of the cuts we made again as some were easier than others. The CMU wall was easy and we all agreed it had to go as soon as we heard the figure. The figure is high due to the need to construct footings under the wall in order to support the weight. I also agreed that postgreen would foot the bill for all landscaping outside of the $100K budget as it is not integral to the case study. The landscaping will vary according to location and owner taste and was never intended to be part of the $100K budget.

The roof was more of a struggle. ISA was very hesitant to see both the structure and the material of the roof fade from the design. It added a much needed architectural element to our otherwise boxy home that we will need to make up in other ways. The standing seem metal was estimated to cost roughly $10psf to install which I thought was a bit high but it was clear that the combination of the slope and material were going to cost thousands that we could not justify. With a flat roof, there was no need to hold onto our premium material so we reverted back to our standard Philly rubber roof with a white coating that will still earn us LEED points. This will also allow us to easily send the water to the back of the home where it can be better utilized in a low-cost rainwater collection system to irrigate the rear garden area. Since the standing seam metal also was used on portions of the facade I am hoping that we can gain more than the estimated $4,200 cost reduction once we look at a revised plan in more detail.

The plywood on the core was a slightly easier negotiation, but it is still another architectural detail that is hard to let go of. Everyone agreed that we do not want to cover the plywood with some type of a thin veneer to achieve a similar effect as that is just adding cost for aesthetic reasons only. We can look at differentiating the core with a different paint color which will not add any material or labor cost when we look at the interior design in more detail later in the process.

I agreed to let the half bath go quickly and no one objected. The more I thought about it, a half bath seemed like an unnecessary luxury in a minimalist home that would most likely be home to only two people. I was impressed to see that Scott had estimated this to be a low cost reduction as he had taken all aspects of the efficient design into account. There are many contractors that would quote a half bath at $5K in Philly regardless of the layout or design.

The deck/patio was also my choice to eliminate and I hope to gain more reductions by replacing the sliding patio door with more cost and energy efficient windows. We have discussed decks before and while buyers like them when walking through a property, they are rarely used in Philly rowhomes unless they are very large and/or have nice city views from the roof. Ours was met neither of these so we will focus more of our effort on the rear yard where people will spend much more time.

Reducing the overall footprint is something we have spoken about before and took much of our time to figure out. We have been touting a 1,000 sf house from the beginning and the square footage has slowly crept up to over 1,200 sf since we started. We also had a large double-height space which is neither cost-effective or energy efficient. By cutting about 200 sf out of the design we agreed that the living quarters of the home would not suffer too much. All of the space will most likely be taken from the very large open space in the front of the current design and the second floor may go untouched. We will need to play with the layout a bit more to make sure we utilize the smaller layout on the first floor to the greatest potential. We may even end up with the original core idea that we started with where the kitchen/utility core lines up with the second floor bathroom core to make it appear that it is one piece dropped into the home’s shell.

In the coming weeks we will continue to tweak our design and numbers until we hit our goal on paper. I think there are still some savings we can get from the exterior cladding, window configuration and mechanical system that need further investigation. We are also pursuing SIPs due to multiple quotes in the $15K range that may  allow us to come in lower than traditional stick framing and insulation. Scott has graciously agreed to entertain this option again after I told him we would most likely pass due to cost and unfamiliarity with the system in Philly.

That’s it for now. Feel free to give us feedback on our cuts and tell us if we’ve gone too far in any direction…

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 2 trackbacks }

» 100K House Budget Review - Our Biggest Meeting to Date
February 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm
100K Budget Update - Time to Make Final Cuts |
July 28, 2008 at 8:29 pm

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shawn February 7, 2008 at 12:56 am

Hey Chad,

I’ve been eagerly awaiting your post.

I’m at roughly the same spot (actually, a few months ahead of you, but close enough). Like you, I had expectations that were quickly dashed by contractor estimates. Like you, I went through the process of cutting costs to meet my goals…though I’m still far from my objective.

I guess one thing that I have found is that many contractors are significantly low when “ballparking” the project. I’m wondering what your experience is here? When you first spoke with Scott, did he seem to indicate $100k was feasible? And, if so, were the details spelled out, or was it simply “we want to build a home for under $100k”?

The reason I ask is this: I’ve had contractors look at a set of plans, give me a ballpark figure, then come back with a formal estimate that’s 30-50% over their high number. In your case, it’s 40% over the original goal. Is this inherent to the business, are contractors just hopelessly out of touch with their subs, or is the “ballpark” a meaningless concept?

I agree with most of your cuts – they seem like fair compromises. I’m curious about the windows – our contractor wants us o go with vinyl (saving nearly 50% off of the fiberglass ones we spec’d) but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

2 chad February 7, 2008 at 3:41 am

Shawn – Our first meeting with Level 5 was a feasibility meeting and I brought a rough sketch and description of what we wanted to build. See one of our first posts here for more info –

We chose Level 5 after interviewing many contractors. One of the reasons is that we could tell that they would give us realistic quotes and not low ball us to get a job and then go over budget. Scott has given us realistic feedback in this and all previous meetings. While it’s difficult to cut things out of the design, Scott is the perfect contractor for the project as he will ensure that we succeed at hitting the target we set out to.

3 Jeremy February 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

What will this mean for the overall design of the 120k House? If, for that project, things like the standing-seam siding/roof were feasible within the budget, would they be kept, or would they be dropped to maintain a coherent aesthetic with the 100k House?

4 chad February 7, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Our focus right now is on getting the 100K budget on target. I can’t see us using the standing seem metal on one house and not the other.

I think the extra $20K is going to go fast with a 10% larger footprint, an extra 700-800 sf of exterior cladding and a few more windows. If we have a little extra budget leftover I’d also like to show some upgraded options in finishes.

5 Rob February 7, 2008 at 3:45 pm


Looks like you have made some very tough decisions, and I have to agree with most of them. The deck, half bath, cmu, two strory space and plywood deducts all make sense. The metal roof is my only concern. The rubber will be much more maintance over the life of the roof as compared to metal. Life span of 15-20 years maybe for the rubber and the metal could last 50-100. Still cost is a concern.

I am also very glad to hear that you are considering a core for the building. Condensing the plumbing and any mechanical into the core could definitly reduce costs.

Also, you may want to check out Petersburg Commons. It is green affordable housing built in Central PA.

6 chad February 7, 2008 at 5:08 pm


Thanks for the encouragement and local example. You are right about the longevity of the roofs but the good thing here is that there are so many roofers that install rubber roofs it is quite cheap to have them resurfaced every 15-20 years.

If we are able to save money with SIPs we may be able to bring the material back.

I wish there was more info on this OPA project. It looks like it is a multifamily project which helps cut costs. Also, the labor costs in central PA are a bit less than in the city here.

7 Rob February 7, 2008 at 5:51 pm


Yes you are correct, it is multifamily. And I am sure labor is drasticly different in Phillly. Premanufactured products, like the sips, should help with your labor costs. The metal roof on Petersburg Commons, and some siding on the back, are exposed fastner type from Fabral I believe. And the rough sawn hemlock siding is from . Not sure that aesthetic is right for your site though. The building was insulated, above code standards, with blown cellouse and used a similar core comcept to simplify the plumbing and duct work. It also has some exposed structure. As for more information, regretably there is not much on the web about it. You might try contacting OPA and asking if they have any more info.

The rubber roof trade off makes a lot of sense, if it is readily available and reasonably priced in Philly. I wouldnt go back to the metal. I also love the idea of saving the water and using it for irrigation.

And if you do remove the cmu walls will you relpace them with a fence of some sort, or nothing at all?

8 chad February 7, 2008 at 9:05 pm

I just spoke with Bruce at OPA and he was very helpful. He mentioned a bunch of things, including that they found 2×8 construction with blown in cellulose to be the most cost and energy effective.

The homes were 18′ wide with 3 beds in 1,230 sf of livable space. Design aspects like exposed concrete floors and rafters were vetoed by the Realtors on the design team. They focused on using as many local materials as possible as well.

We are looking into replacing the CMU with some type of metal fence that could wrap around the development and possibly facilitate the growth of vines to create a natural, green wall. Another idea is a gabion wall of similar metal design. We’ll revisit this later as we are focused on the floorplan and cost reductions to the design now.

9 brandon February 8, 2008 at 12:43 am

Lots of great info and ideas on this post. Quick question. Why does everyone seem to be so opposed to vinyl windows? Are they less efficient in some way? Are they just cheap building material? I haven’t done much research into windows in the past so I’m just looking for some opinions. Thanks.

10 Shawn February 8, 2008 at 1:41 am

I’m curious to hear other thoughts on this as well.

We chose the Marvin “Integrity” line of windows because of their high rating, durability, and good looks.

They are fiberglass exterior, with wood interior. A good value, but you can get vinyl for almost half as much. Is it worth it? Good question…I’m curious to hear other comments on this subject, as well as Chad’s thoughts.

11 chad February 8, 2008 at 2:26 am

The fiberglass Marvin “Integrity” is a nice window due to its energy efficiency, low embodied energy and durability. I looked into them but they were pricier than the more stylish Pella windows ISA spec’ed out.

Vinyl or PVC is one of those materials, like concrete, that is controversial in green building. Some think it is evil and others think its great. It’s durable and lasts forever without needing to be repainted. It also has a bad history of causing harm to people who manufacture it. From a development standpoint it can also appear cheap to prospective buyers.

The USGBC has awarded LEED points for avoiding the use of PVC in buildings in the past and has since undergone extensive investigation to judge the “greeness” of the product. The “Blue Vinyl” movie is also a point of controversy that sheds a bad light on PVC and all those manufacturing it or adorning their homes with it. It’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

I’m not going to judge whether vinyl is evil or not now. I will say that I try to refrain from using it as much as possible though and the only PVC we will have in the 100K House will be in the PEX tubing for the radiant system and possibly other plumbing depending on the plumber’s preference.

Scott did offer a line item for reducing cost by going with Vinyl and I think it was only $1K. Not worth it in my opinion. I was very pleased with the window and door portion of the estimate and see no reason to look for cost reductions with a different line or model of windows and doors at this point.

12 chad February 8, 2008 at 2:43 am

Upon closer examination it looks like the Marvin “Integrity” windows would be almost identical in price. I’m sure Level 5 would be able to get the Marvin’s at a larger discount than my original quote also. We’ll have to take a closer look as it could end up saving us $1K or so. Every grand counts!

13 Shawn February 8, 2008 at 3:25 am

Hey Chad,

Thanks for the thoughts on vinyl. I haven’t done the kind of extensive research you have, but have always just “intuited” that vinyl wasn’t the *best* choice.

The Marvin line recently saw a small price increase. Probably as a result of their increased popularity. And, they have a new website, which is much nicer. Anyway, the vendors I’ve spoken with all say about the same thing: The Integrity line is a great value and rock solid. Consumer Reports recently reviewed them and rated them very favorably. And, like Chad says, they are great in terms of efficiency.

In case anyone is curious, the window package for our project runs a bit over $9,000. There are quite a number of windows. Good quality vinyl would save us about 20-30%. Inexpensive vinyls saves us almost 50%. Still, it’s not apples to apples: vinyl windows are a definite aesthetic and (to a lesser degree) performance compromise.

I have seen some folks strike a compromise in the window department – putting nicer windows on the front of the house, and less expensive windows on the sides and/or back. This strategy might work with some homes, and not others.

Last, but not least, fiberglass – unlike vinyl – can be painted. So, if you are looking for something other than the “white” trim window, fiberglass is a good bet.

14 Rob February 8, 2008 at 3:37 pm


Glad your conversation with Bruce was helpful. Petersburg Commons is a good project. I do think, however, that you could get away with exposed concrete floors especially since you are trying to look modern, you are in the city and the floors will be warm. You may need to polish them or stain them but it could definitly be done.

As for vinyl windows – yeh they are generally considered to be not green. The manufacturing and the potential off gasing of dioxins, the potential health risks – all add up to not a green product.

I love the idea off a green fence/wall. What a perfect idea for a sustainable house. Petersburg Commons was supposed to have greenery growing on the trelis at the front entrance. It appears as though that might have gotten cut out.

Oh and PEX is not PVC, it is polyethylene. Much greener in my opinion.

15 Jeff March 26, 2008 at 4:15 am

I built, largly myself, a SIP home finished about 1.5 yrs ago. Great energy choice but do not discount the other advantages of air infiltration and noise reduction. I am 80′ from the (subdivision type) road and can seldom hear the traffic. There must be someone local with SIP experience. Don’t let the electricians bull you about how hard is is to wire SIPs, it is not true, it is just different, not harder. Many now have pre-installed boxes… To save $ further have you considered using PEX for all the plumbing and not just the radiant heat.

16 chad March 26, 2008 at 11:00 am


Thanks for the encouragement. I did actually find one person who built with SIPs just down the road from us and he was kind enough to let me pick his brain. We will try to get the electrician on site while the SIPs manufacturer is still here teaching us how to install them to help with the learning curve. We do also plan to use PEX for all plumbing and radiant.


17 Jeff March 27, 2008 at 8:28 pm


I used SIPs for the roof system and even the basement… It did not appear to me that your plans included a SIP roof, however if it does you can save $ by staying with a conventional roof system. Then, after the drywall is up, shoot a 1″ layer of foam to seal, topped with celulose a dozen + inches. Same or better than SIP roof sys and much lower cost. I heat my house with forced air Lifebreath system charged with my Rennai hot water heater. Best of luck…


18 Sean May 9, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Noticed the effort to look at costs but have not looked at your whole plans (time is tight now). Has anyone looked at ICF’s? ICFs and SIPs in combination seem to reduce my footing materials requirments by a third, and my footer/crawl space/basement wall timeline by half. The additional cost of the forms seems about equal to the savings in concrete, and leaves reduced labor costs as savings for us (tying rebar is pretty much eliminated). Noticed the mention of SIPs in the project. We are doing a single story passive solar “test” addition with a green screen element in Media PA using SIPs and ICFs. We have a client who wants to build a full SIPs building in the next few years and we wanted some experience with both building with them, and living with them, so the addition is going on our “green” “test bed” house which is a 1400 sq foot 1926 twin which has been rehabbed as 2 ea 1 br apts and has been sealed, insulated to R-50 in the roof, and sports an assortment of LED bulbs we are evaluating and a collection of 2010 standard appliances too. After Sips this summer, we install Geo in spring 2009 and 6K PV to feed it in late 2009. I commiserate with you about standing seam: it is hard to fit into an affordable model, though it is an attractive design element, can last a long time, and, can reduce framing member sizes due to its light weight. Best wishes to you….we follow it as time allows. Our site goes up June 1

19 tracy July 20, 2008 at 3:25 pm

I may be missing an updated budget post by commenting on this older one, sorry if so. Given resale and owner environment, I just wanted to caution on removing things like 2nd bathrooms/half baths and patio/deck on second floor. And I also think that the fundamental 100K foundation needs to be modular enough so that over time, the owner could go further…make the roof green, add other green features. And so given budget is certainly a honorable constraint with this project, I’m wondering if you’ve done research into salvageable materials…whether that’s used energy star appliances or re-purposed industrial materials. Speaking for myself, I’d be cool with a used fridge if it meant I could have a patio/deck.

20 Kris November 28, 2010 at 9:40 am

Just wanted to add a clarification. PVC is polyvinyl chloride and it is a different material than the cross-linked polyethylene from which PEX tubing is made. Also switching from PVC to ABS for plumbing drain pipes is an easy way to “green” a project.

21 vinyl windows fort worth October 30, 2011 at 3:09 am

It is also necessary windows material and glasses should be according to budget.Thanks for sharing prices and other information.

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