Brad Johnson, president of the Minnesota Society of the American Institute of Building Design, says that careful attention to the design aspects of a pre-drawn home plan can save you some green after you first break ground.
"Pay attention to the exterior first," he advises. "Strictly speaking, you should cut corners here. Choose a home plan without unnecessary jogs and angles, which add to your cost. There are very good designs on the market that have eliminated extraneous corners." Because these homes have simplified truss and framing systems, they save you money from the start.
Examine the floor plan. When it comes to the design's interior, there are myriad ways to keep your cash in your pocket. Take ceiling heights. Truss systems can be utilized to create panned (tray) ceilings, giving the effect of higher ceilings without building higher walls. If you love volume ceilings, look for two-story--or at least consistent--ceilings, rather than staggered heights throughout a floor. Explains Johnson, "If you minimize the hoops your contractor must jump through, you'll pay less."
Keep an eye out for floor plans that use "dead" (leftover) space smartly. Common solutions to this problem are niches, alcoves and storage spaces like cabinets and closets.
Want your living spaces to breathe? There are plenty of ways to accomplish this. Look for unobtrusive half-walls, which create interior vistas without adding extra framing costs. Generously spaced wood rails on staircases exude open-armed warmth. Speaking of staircases, it's best to keep them as straight as possible. Straight-run stairs are easier to build than double-backs (U-shaped) or curved stairs. In the kitchen, island cabinets open up the room and connect it to adjoining areas--unlike overhead and upper cabinets, which tend to close off the space.
In addition to eye appeal, don't forget what can't be seen. Think mechanical. Start with plumbing. Does the plan you're considering allow for plumbing runs to be shared; that is, are bathrooms situated back-to-back? This will save you money up-front and in potential maintenance costs.
Finally, let there be light! Natural light, that is. With proper placement and types of windows, you'll be surprised how small areas and dark spaces can come to life. Look for taller, single-unit windows that reach for the ceiling while the sill remains at the same distance to the floor. The result: more light, better views, marginal increase in price!
You've heard enough about saving money after you've moved into your new home. It's time to save money before you build. Your contractor will thank you, and so will your pocketbook.