How to Save on Remodeling Costs When Wood is Expensive

Table of Contents 1. Start With the Right Design2. Repurpose and Recycle3. Look For Big-Box

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If you’re like a lot of Americans, being stuck at home during the pandemic has given you a few ideas about remodeling your space. 

Maybe you need a proper home office, or it’s finally time to redo that kitchen from the 1970s. No matter what your project is or how you finance it, you may find yourself spending a lot more money than you budgeted for if you’re not careful. The price of building materials has shot up during the pandemic, the result of a surge in demand and shortage of supply. Lumber prices, even after a recent decline, are still about twice as high as they were in April 2020, according to an analysis by the National Association of Home Builders.

“What we’re seeing right now is just a lot of havoc in the supply chain. So that’s created a lot of shortages,” says Elizabeth Gomez, owner of Bridge City Contracting in Portland, Oregon. From border closures to manufacturing plant shutdowns, the disruptions caused by COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic had effects that are still being felt now.

But there are still a few ways you can save on remodeling costs, if you’re willing to get creative. Here’s what remodeling experts suggest you think about before diving into your next project.

1. Start With the Right Design

The biggest opportunity to save is in the planning stage, says Gomez. Homeowners often make the mistake of planning a home improvement project without thinking about the materials involved.

“One of the biggest areas where people lose money on projects is, the projects are poorly planned,” says Gomez. “It’s important to take a couple steps back and really assess your project,” she adds.

Make sure the materials you need are readily available (and affordable) at your local supplier before you start demolition. Otherwise, you may be stuck scrambling for materials or contractors that are more expensive due to expedited service fees.

You can also tweak your design upfront to make it more cost effective. Opting to preserve the original framework and structural components of a room, known as the footprint, can save lots of money compared to gutting built-ins and altering load-bearing walls.

“If you go outside your existing footprint and do an addition, you’re going to have all kinds of costs,” says Judy Transue, co-owner of CHC Design-Build in Kansas.

Also think about keeping your design simple. In a bathroom, for example, leaving the plumbing intact or reducing the amount of tile you are using can reduce the cost of the project.

2. Repurpose and Recycle

We’ve all grown up with the mantra: Reduce, reuse and recycle. This can apply to your home renovation, too.

Building centers sell products and materials that are on their second life, at a big discount. You can also check to see if there is a Habitat ReStore in your area; these stores also sell repurposed building materials — even entire kitchens — at lower prices. 

“You can find one-of-a-kind pieces that not everyone is going to have,” Gomez says. Of course, you may have to do some digging.

Also consider keeping some of the materials that are already in your home, Transue says. Instead of replacing a hardwood floor, for example, you could have it refinished or expanded by patching in new flooring. 

“You’re going to save a lot of money versus replacing it,” Transue says.

3. Look For Big-Box Discounts

While they might not be a source for lumber itself, big box stores such as Costco are increasing the quality and quantity of building materials they sell, Gomez says, and can be a great way to save on other aspects of your renovation project.

A Kohler brand sink and faucet set, for example, might cost $300 at Costco but would be triple the price at a plumbing store. “There’s a lot of value there,” Gomez says.

This strategy can also apply to appliances. Consider floor models, scratch-and-dent deals, or closeout sales to save money on those purchases, Transue suggests.

4. Sell What You No Longer Need

The temptation is real to start off your home renovation with a sledgehammer: Knock down walls, smash the old cabinets and haul it all away in a dumpster.

But before you do that, ask yourself if any of the materials have resale value. Transue once saw a client carefully remove and resell an entire kitchen: cabinets, countertops and all.

Re-selling old materials could be a source of income to offset the heightened cost of new supplies. Your contractor likely won’t resell any of your materials for you, Transue says, but you have a window of opportunity to sell materials before any real demolition or construction work begins.

If you’re not sure what to do with old materials or fixtures, try listing them on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. Worst case scenario: Nobody buys it, and you can donate it or dump it, but it’s worth a try.

5. Work With a Professional Remodeler

Designing and even executing a renovation by yourself in an effort to save money can sometimes be a smart move, but experts warn it might also have hidden costs.

This is especially true with lumber: Professional remodelers and contractors have access to products that the average consumer doesn’t.

“Lumber prices are what they are,” Transue says. “Working with a remodeler, they are able to get discounts at lumber yards,” she adds. 

Transue suggested starting with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) as a resource for finding and hiring a qualified professional. (Transue is a NARI Certified Remodeler and serves as the Kansas City chair for the organization.)

Gomez agrees that there are significant benefits to working with a professional. They can work with you to understand the goals of your project, and suggest different types of materials that best fit your budget.

But keep in mind that, no matter what you do, you might still run into supply shortages, delays, or price increases; that’s the reality of renovating during the pandemic.

“It’s created a challenging time for people looking to do-it-yourself and for industry experts,” Gomez says.

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