100K House Budget Review – Our Biggest Meeting to Date

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:

100K Budget Update – Time to Make Final Cuts [edited]
  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.

Good and Bad News for the 100K House Project

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.

First Postgreen Sale and General Updates

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…