Tricks of the Trade: Building Better Projects with Cost Control

Jonathan SwindleExpert Advice

The procurement of quality building design services and construction has an enormous impact on the outcome of a project, especially in regard to maintaining cost control. Cost control is the cornerstone of any successful building project. How much a project ultimately costs, when it will be complete, and how functional it will be in the long-term are all tied to how effective cost control methods were during the planning and construction phases. In addition, extra measures for cost control should be taken when working with several sub-contractors to make certain projects are completed on time and on budget.

Here are just a few examples of how WKMC’s cost control measures can help maintain an efficient project timeline that will ultimately save our clients time and money on future expenditures:

Site Design

In order to maximize cost control measures, site design should be carefully considered, as new site improvements usually constitute a minimum of 10% of a project’s cost. Concrete paving should also be used wherever possible, especially for concrete service drives, and will result in significantly reduced long term maintenance costs. Other practices may include reducing curbs, gutters, and underground storm piping in addition to using precast wheel-stops in lieu of concrete curbs, and replacing concrete piping in storm drains with high-density polyethylene.

Site details and natural topography can also enjoy cost control measures including landscaping with low-cost, indigenous xeriscape landscaping, reducing the width of sidewalks and drives, stockpiling and reusing topsoil when possible, or working with natural features and existing topography to limit construction costs. Care should also be taken when selecting potential build sites as off-site utility extensions, street improvements and difficult sites can significantly increase the cost of construction.

Building Design and Layout

The scope and size of your building project can also mean higher costs. For this reason, it is imperative to rigorously control the size of the building program and design. Streamline all plans and keep layouts simple. For example, you may elect to use built-ins for storage instead of adding closet space. It may also help to standardize room designs where possible as the repetition can equal to savings. It is also helpful to control the “surface to volume ratio” of the plan. Exterior walls are costlier and create more exposure for energy consumption. As such, it may be best to use low maintenance materials wherever possible. Wall heights should be kept to a minimum and walls that are just 10% higher increase total building costs by 1%-2%. Using king-sized brick in lieu of medium brick can also save projects roughly 20%-25%.

Other cost saving exterior features can include using only anodized aluminum window frames with internal drainage systems, and limiting the use of field painted items in the building’s exterior and opting to use factory-finished or galvalume steel for maintenance-free surfaces for up to 20 years.

Interior Materials

From walls to floors and ceilings, cost control methods can be applied to nearly every aspect of a building’s interior. We suggest using several measures including limiting the use of vinyl wall coverings, and instead using “zolatone” coatings on drywall areas that may be subject to high abuse. Clients may also elect to use flat latex paints on drywall not subject to impact or above 8 feet, using drywall construction and sound insulation to construct sound separation from ceiling to roof decks, or implementing wainscoting and low-cost design treatments at corridors to limit frequency or need of painting.

Flooring can be selected in either vinyl tile, stained concrete, with addition options such as terrazzo or tile for corridors, 6×6” quarry tile or poured epoxy flooring for kitchens, and non-glazed ceramic tile for restrooms. Nylon uni-backed or carpet tiles work well for office and/or library spaces while sealed concrete is an ideal option for mechanical and custodial closets.

All suspended ceilings should be 2×2’ for the most cost-effective ceiling system, as it will not sag from exposure to humidity and can be easily replaced if damaged. Restroom and kitchen serving areas should be 2×2’ suspended tile with ceramic waterproof finish in corrosion resistant grid. This is more economical than painted gypsum board and also allows access to mechanical systems above the ceiling. We also recommend using computer-based energy management systems to improve operational control and energy consumption. Restrooms should contain floor-mounted fixtures instead of wall-mounted ones, and walls should always be masonry with a ceramic tile or epoxy paint finish for maintenance-free wet areas.

To learn more about our cost control measures, or to get started on your next building project, contact WKMC Architects today at (361) 887-6696, or email us at