Design issues that affect costs – Part 1

One of the first questions new clients ask is “how much is this going to cost to build?” In the initial conversation that is very difficult to answer, as there is no design and no plan. Today we will explore design issues that affect costs.

Early in the process we use industry standards as a guild to building costs, but ultimately, your design will influence the cost of build.

How do you design to save on building costs?

When designing a building, or informing or considering that design, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

  • – Budget – you need to have a budget and design to it.  Let the budget inform the design, not the design informing the budget.  The more intricate the design, the larger the building, special features and expensive fittings and fixtures, the higher the building cost.
  • – Lines on paper are cheaper than walls on site.  Understand the decisions that have been made in creating the plans.  If your concept design is not what you are after, it is important to make changes now, rather than during the working drawing or building steps, as your change is likely to require further documentation.
  • – Every decision has a cost associated.  The earlier this decision is made, the less it will cost.  It is important to understand that projects are never completed without alterations to the starting documentation.  More changes mean more expenses, especially as the project progresses.
  • – Get ahead of the project.  The earlier significant trades and suppliers are consulted, the better.  These trades and suppliers can provide vital early feedback, particularly if you are after a unique or detailed feature.  It hurts to hear the words “if only you’d called me when you were designing this thing”.
  • – Design for climate.  Take measures to site the building properly and orient the windows and shade elements.  This controls the cost of the balancing measures that otherwise need to be taken; like air-conditioning, double glazing, heating and insulation.
  • – Design for timber.  Not because timber is better than steel, but because if minor changes mean no structural steel is required, there is one less supplier and one less trade to worry about.  There will always be carpenters involved in the building.  There are span tables available from manufacturers and within the Residential Timber Framing Code to help with this.  This can also be an instruction for the project engineer.  In many cases, engineered timber can be used in place of steel if your engineer knows this.


It is important to set your budget and design to it – even if it means letting go of some of your wants to retain your needs.

Making design decisions earlier in the process, will mean fewer changes to your project.

Talk to your designer early in the process and don’t progress your project until you are satisfied with the plans.