If you want cut the cost of your extension or simply extend your house as cheaply as possible, it might be time to rethink your plans and extension design rather than your budget. There might be ways to shave a bit of money off various elements of your extension project – from being clever with the design to cutting the cost of labour – without ruining the look or function of the space.
Here's how to save money on house extension costs – and still get a great result. Find out more about adding an extension to your home in our ultimate guide, and use our extension cost calculator to work out your project's budget.
1. Keep your design simple to cut extension costs
Curves and corners are costly to build, so keep your extension design as simple as possible. A rectangular or square footprint with a simple pitched roof will be cheapest.
Use our guide to building a single storey extension for design tips.
2. Plan ahead in detail
Spending time planning the smallest of details can save you money further down the line. By specifying everything from light fittings and socket locations to flooring and wall colours at the outset, you’ll save money on the cost of making alterations at a later stage.
3. Stick to the agreed design
Then, it's important to stick to the agreed design if you want to keep the budget down.
‘It’s important to stick to the plan and design you’ve agreed, as any changes will cost money,’ says surveyor Steven Way. ‘Have a proper building contract with an itemised budget and an order of works in place, which will help save you money in the long run.’
4. Go off-the-shelf not made-to-order
Design the build around off-the-shelf products, such as standard-size doors and windows. Avoid any products that have to be made to order; instead, choose materials that are readily available and easy to use. So, stick to cast concrete for the sub-floor; concrete blockwork for the walls; brick, render or timber cladding; and a softwood timber roof structure. Try rooflights instead of dormer windows and interlocking concrete tiles for covering the roof.
5. Avoid complicated groundworks
If possible, avoid complicated groundworks, such as building near to trees or drains and sewers, or other buried services, as these will increase groundwork costs. Remember, though, that if you live in a period or character property, your choices will be limited.
Read more: Maximise natural light with a glass box extension
6. Project manage yourself to save on house extension costs
A builder will add 15 to 25 per cent on to the total cost of labour and materials to cover their time for managing the project. You can save some of this cost by effectively taking on the role of building contractor yourself. This will mean liaising with your designer/architect and your local authority’s building control department, finding and hiring tradespeople, directing the work and supplying all of the necessary materials, plus scaffolding, skips and so on.
Though time-consuming, it can be very rewarding. To do it well, you need time and flexibility, plus confidence, management skills and some knowledge of construction. The job may take longer to complete overall, but the savings can be enormous.
Read more: Find out how to be a good project manager
7. Get the timings right
Whether you're project managing or just ordering your own materials to save money, getting the timings of deliveries right to save on wasted labour costs is vital. 'A site with no one working on it is costly, so materials need to arrive in plenty of time,’ advises Steven Way, practice principal at Collier Stevens Chartered Surveyors.
8. Save on VAT to cut back on extension labour costs
Most extension work will attract VAT at 20 per cent on labour and materials, but if you use self-employed tradespeople who each turnover less than the threshold for VAT registration, you will not be charged this tax — saving on labour costs. Second hand materials sold by private individuals on the internet will also be free of VAT.
Some types of work attract reduced-rate VAT at in any case — upgrading insulation and extending a building that’s been empty for two years, for example.
9. Get next door to sign a party wall agreement waiver
If you are building on or near the boundary of a neighbour, your extension will need to comply with the party wall act. If a party wall settlement is required, it will cost around £700 per neighbour; more if they use their own independent surveyors, which they're within their rights to do, and for which you foot the bill.
You must notify your neighbours in writing about your extension plans eight weeks before you start. If you can get them to write back that they do not object or complete a party wall agreement waiver, you can avoid using a surveyor to arrange a party wall settlement and save on fees.
It pays, therefore, to keep neighbours on board with your project, discussing plans and being considerate about any concerns they have.
10. Save on extension planning fees
While it is a false economy not to invest in design, some designers know how to keep down costs, while others only produce very complicated, if beautiful, plans that are very expensive to build. For a simple, low-cost build, find an architect, architectural technician, chartered surveyor or structural engineer who will produce planning and Building Regulations drawings for a fixed, all-in price. Look for a track record in designing low-cost projects.
11. Avoid cowboy builders
There are plenty of cowboy builders (as in any trade) and they may vastly underestimate costs — through incompetence or, possibly, deliberately to secure a job. They may then ask for more money for changes or extras. They could even demand some or all of the money up front, leaving you with no comeback if they fail to complete the work to satisfactorily.
To avoid being ripped off, always ask for references — and check them. Never, ever pay for building work in advance; pay only for work that has been completed and that you are happy with.
For a small project, pay when the job is finished. For an extension, agree payments at set stages, or interim payments based on a verifiable list of labour and materials used up to date. Never hand over money for materials in advance. If a builder does not want to supply materials, buy them yourself.
Read more: Find out how to find a reliable builder
12. Measure twice, but cut only once
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Making changes or mistakes that waste labour and materials is a major factor in the final bill for many projects. Measuring everything on site, rather than off your plans will help reduce wastage. Having accurate, scaled plans in the first place will help.
The more time spent at the design stage, visualising the end result, the more problems can be anticipated and headed off. Accurate and complete design will ensure that you have services, such as plumbing and wiring, in the right places, get floor levels right between rooms, and ensure that doors are hung to swing in the most space-efficient direction.
Once you have made up your mind, stick to it; changes always incur extra costs, often in ways that don’t reveal themselves until much later.
Over-ordering materials can also waste money, but it’s better to have slightly too much than to fall short and have problems making up the difference. This will incur delays and extra delivery charges; worse, you may not be able to find the exact same thing again.
13. Reuse, recycle and repair
Existing materials can be reused or sold rather than thrown in a skip. Old floorboards, doors, radiators, towel rails, kitchen units etc. can all be revived and reused, cleaned up and given a new finish. Sell or trade what you can’t use.
Buying salvaged materials – on the internet or from salvage yards – can be a lot cheaper than buying new. It will also introduce instant character. Second-hand items that offer good value include roof tiles, bricks, internal doors, timber floorboards, fireplaces and roll-top baths. Some people even hunt through skips - although you must ask the householder before removing their waste.
Reducing wastage will also reduce costs for skip hire and disposal. Bear in mind, too, that as a private individual, you can dispose of waste in your local council tip for free.
14. Negotiate trade discounts
Find out where those in the trade buy their materials and aim to get the same wholesale/trade prices. Always negotiate and see if there is any discount for paying in cash — making sure you get a receipt. Bulk-buy from a single supplier for a further discount and ask about reduced delivery costs. Buying end-of-line deals will save you a fortune, especially on items such as carpets, units and appliances.
Getting the best deal will often mean moving away from the big brand names and finding equivalents without the price premium. If you are clever, however, you can save on price without compromising quality.
To keep down costs, stick with a basic specification — so go for radiator-based central heating, carpets for floors and standard white sanitaryware, for example.
15. Limit the relocation of services
When you're planning an extension, consider the position of fittings, for example, a new toilet. If yours can be placed in a convenient position for the existing soil stack, you'll save on labour costs.
16. Find a problem-solving builder
If you want to keep costs down, it's important to find a builder with both experience and an ability to think around problems. This isn't always easy, but with good research locally, you will find a builder (or project manager) who can think on their feet. When you're comparing quotes, don't just ask about extension costs; quiz your prospective builders, too, about their experience, how they've overcome problems, whether they work with a fixed team or a shifting workforce, and whether they have access to surveyors or architects. The answers will all help inform you of their experience and abilities.