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Building your house cost effectively

By - | August 23rd 2012

In these tough economic times, every prospective homeowner is looking for ways to lower construction costs. As ALLAN OLINGO found out, you can minimise building costs without compromising on safety, comfort or the beauty of your residential dream house?

Many people dream of building their own house. Not only does it allow the homeowner to choose the design, size, material and finishing that best meets their needs and means, but it can also be a great way to save money on housing.

It also allows the homeowner to set his own budget, and to select materials and methods that allow him to construct the house while keeping finances under control.

One of the most important things to do is a feasibility study that will give an approximate overall cost of a proposed building.

Feasibility study

Kennedy Odhiambo, a quantity surveyor, says the feasibility study has an objective of reviewing the strengths, benefits and weaknesses of the proposed project.

“This kind of study includes the estimated cost of a project, potential returns and whether the project will provide a suitable return for the required time and resource investment,” Odhiambo offers.

Expected expenditure

Ideally, anyone who wants to build a house would want to know as close as possible the expected expenditure for the project. Another aspect is the wish to see the project work finished at a minimum cost compatible with satisfactory materials, workmanship and time.

To accomplish this, the architect will come up with sketch plans — from the client’s brief — which the quantity surveyor will use to come up with the preliminary cost estimate of the project for the client’s consideration. The cost of the project will have to be amended in accordance to architectural or engineering design demands until the decision of final design is made.

So does size, design, materials, shape and labour affect the overall costing of a house?

According to Odhiambo, the larger the house, the more it will cost, but this also depends on the specifications and design factors.

“A building can be small in size but be more expensive due to design specifications. For example, a banking hall or office will be more expensive than a primary school due to the type of finishes required even though the built up area will be smaller,” says Odhiambo.

A general rule is that, if other factors are kept constant, costs per square metre decrease as the house design increases in size, indicating that there are economies of scale in house building.

Odhiambo says this is largely because the cost of building more volume does not necessarily require a proportional increase in labour and materials.

Right Design

There are areas that someone can look at while trying to reduce the overall cost of a house and the design is one of them. A very complicated design increases the overall cost of a building.

Stephen Mutua, an architect, says a house plan should be simple as it dictates the amount and complexity of the perimeter required to enclose a given space.

“Plan, shape and layout of the building affects the overall cost of a building. The vertical elements such as walls, windows, doors and wall finishes are affected not only by the area of the building but also by its shape,” says Mutua.

“A square building, for example, is more economical in its use of external walls than an oblong building of the same area. The cost per  square metre of gross floor area for external walling elements decreases as the wall to floor ratio decreases.

 The design should allow for more natural ventilation as opposed to artificial air conditioning; it should allow for more natural lighting as opposed to artificial lighting during the day,” Mutua explains.

Another factor that affects the cost of a building is the type of materials used mostly because they differ in prices even though they might be serving the same purpose.

A developer with Moke Gardens, Harun Nyamboki, says that if you are on a self-building concept, you can opt for GCI sheets as opposed to decra roofing tiles or ceramic floor tiles as opposed to timber floor strips.

“The roof is easily the ultimate design highlight that draws the most attention but you should avoid complicated roofing designs. Compared to hipped roofs, gable roofs are less expensive as they don’t require additional framing,” adds Nyamboki.

When building at cost, factors such as climate and comfort requirements,  and ease of access to the site lowers the cost of construction.

The shorter the distance from sources of labour and materials the lower the construction cost.

Says Odhiambo: “Other areas that a person can look at are the procurement methods used, time period to complete the construction, engaging qualified contractors with vast expertise in construction, use of ‘labour only’ contracts, and application of new construction technology among others.

“As a construction economist, there are a lot of money saving tips especially for those doing self construction and one of them is to engage professionals to advise you on cost effective designs,” he offers.

Quantity surveyors are best suited to advise you on how much your building would cost based on different designs available. They can also advise you on the less costly procurement methods, material specifications, life cycle costing, and how best to invest in construction to get value for your money.

“You should also do a thorough market research on type of materials in the market and their availability. When you are building without a contractor, engage a qualified foreman who is keen on details, and who shall ensure minimum material wastage,” advises Odhiambo.

If you decide to take on the project yourself, you will be able to save yourself a lot of money in labour costs, overheads and profits contractor’s charge; but you will also have to be reasonably skilled to pull it off.


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