Bang for Your Buck

Seeking Efficiencies in Design

By Carolin Santangelo

This is a great time to purchase on the island and construction activity has been affected along with the overall softening of real estate prices. Those in the market can evaluate a surplus of existing homes. It comes down to available inventory; what is in your price range, does the plan suit your family, and if not, what would the price tag be to upgrade it? To find answers, prospective homeowners are investigating remodeling and addition, and new home design and construction.
It may be a good time to enter the building process. I say often: “It is not for the faint of heart. It can take six months to a year, or longer, in a love / hate relationship with your builder (and spouse).” At the end, however, your family may be able to achieve just exactly what is desired.

In this economy, it is vital that a floor plan deliver everything it can; without wasted floor space, and also with enough of the features that are required, like enough closets, and adequate room sizes for each intended use. This does not mean that your house has to be boring. You can have a custom design with impact in all the right places. There are ways to remove fluff without losing charm and style.
Great local builders are ready to compete for your business, though they aren’t giving anything away free. They will review materials, features, and finishes for your proposed home, make recommendations for those that are within your budget. Interviewing builders and visiting their respective products will assist you in decision making. This is not a popularity contest, and not based only on who is quoting the best price per square foot! It is part reputation, part personality, and part performance.
Maybe you’ve seen a house you would die to own, and it is way out of your price range. With careful space planning and attention to room sizes, it may be possible to take a concept you long for, design to fit your pocketbook and the site, and still retain that look and feel you desire.

The design stage will be critical to getting the most bang for your buck. Raised construction on pilings is expensive. An odd shaped house, or with many protrusions, can require more pilings and concrete, and consequently, be more costly to build. In general, two-story house designs are more reasonable to construct than an equivalent sized one story, due to this extensive piling foundation requirement. Stacking an upper floor directly over exterior walls of the lower level is most practical, reducing need for costly beams. Use of 2’-0” increments in the design is not always possible, though is the height of efficiency to eliminate material waste (Read More Here on how to efficiently manage waste). Unusual sizes could lead you to wonder whether another house could be built from the dumpster while your home is under construction.
Good design should achieve functionality without waste; ideal is a plan with the most effective use of space. For instance, hallways need to be wide enough to move things around, though not wide enough to hang out in. Two-story foyers can be dramatic, however, high ceilings and excessive width are costly to construct, and also to heat and air condition over the life of the home. are re-assessing bedroom size, understanding this is not where much time is spent, instead placing priority on comfortable, and not enormous, space in public rooms. More homeowners are opting not to include a fireplace in the main living area; acknowledging it is often underused, placement can compromise furniture arrangement or view, and can steal precious square feet from the plan.
Standard cabinet sizes and appliances will greatly assist in controlling your budget. Use of 42 inch tall wall cabinets is nearly requisite in kitchens in our area; elimination of soffit above, that requires additional framing and finishing can help offset added expense of cabinet height. As an alternative to upper cabinets, open shelving suits seaside styles. Both of these promote an open feeling. Ranges and built-in microwaves on an exterior wall permit less complicated and more efficient direct venting.

Paneled wall treatments are integral to cottage style, and can be accomplished with application of chair rail or wainscoting directly to sheetrock, painting the inset panels to match. This is an effective way to curb costs. Bead board adds charming effect, but is not necessary to hand apply individual 3” strips, instead, paneled sheets can be used, making installation fast and simple. Lucky too, that with this look, white paint can be applied over paint-grade wood, also assisting with keeping down costs.
Both designer and builder want the homeowner to attain the home of their dreams, and can make suggestions about a project; however, it is still up to the homeowner to stay on track with the construction documents, keep changes to a bare minimum, and make selections in line with allowances, to rule out costly surprises.
Seaside Home Design, LLC endeavors to educate Islander readers regarding a full spectrum of home design and construction issues; products and materials, and construction techniques; particularly those specific to seaward construction, and also profiles interesting custom-home design projects. Carolin Santangelo is a home designer and owner of Seaside Home Design, LLC. Contact, or 409-632-0381, or visit

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