Budget for Costs

The most common question asked of contractors is “How much will it cost?”

The answer can come in two forms: an estimation or a bid price.


Also referred to as ballpark estimates, estimates should not be considered an agreed price. They merely provide some sense of what projects may cost based on previous work that is somewhat comparable. However, estimates are often misinterpreted as actual price.


Bids are generated from approved plans with all materials, methods of assembly and subcontractor bids listed which includes a site examination by all who will be involved on the work site. Providing a total project cost for remodeling still requires some estimating regarding the needed amount of labor, unlike a new construction project which does not include obstructions, demolition and fitting together the old with new.

Estimates versus bids are not the only things to consider when projecting remodeling costs.


Do you want to know what you are getting for every penny? It is frustrating to accept a price without much information about what is included. When you hire Vaage Design Build, all project costs with description of materials, as well as invoices, sub-contractors bids and overhead with profit are open for review.


The budget is the entire cost of a project which includes planning, permits, cost of construction and an allowance for contingencies. How much remodeling can you accomplish with your budget? To find out, begin by subtracting the cost of planning, permits and desired finished amenities from the budget: the remaining amount can be applied toward how much of the structure can be altered.


Contingency funds, unlike allowances, are a percentage (commonly 5%) of the budget that is set aside to pay for the unknown: what cannot be identified by visual inspection; inclement weather, deterioration, leaks, ground movement, material/labor increases, design and material change orders, and such.


As part of the budget, money for labor and materials yet to be selected is reserved in order to complete the project. More often it is towards the completion of a project that selections for finish materials, e.g. plumbing fixtures-cabinetry-countertops-floor coverings-entry/garage doors-door hardware-lighting fixtures….are made. Choices are vast, and they are easier to visualize when the structure and drywall is in place.

However, since it is almost always the client who will make the final selections and are often busy themselves, this can create delays for schedules made. Also having allowances that are too conservative lead to cost overruns.

Preexisting Conditions

Any preexisting conditions (leaks, drainage, settling, neighboring annoyances, pests, etc.) unnoticed by the contractor that you are aware of, should be brought to attention. These issues mentioned up front can save time and money later.

Change Orders

Change orders are addendums following the terms of prime contract that may state new work to be included or subtracted, or substitutions of materials. Simple substitutions are typically acceptable with minimal change to the overall budget. However, changing custom orders and designs can significantly affect cost and scheduling.

Time & Materials (T&M)

Time & Materials refers to paying for work without a predetermined total cost, and is typically applied to repairs that cannot be fully assessed due to obstructions. This form of paying-as-you-go is invoiced per amount of time, and includes material receipts and overhead percentage. Note: Most clients prefer a definite price before authorizing work to be done. However, if the work cannot be completely examined it cannot be bid, and contractors may inflate/pad the cost in order to protect themselves. In turn, you might pay more than needed. Instead, a contractor can give an estimate with a price cap prior for T&M agreements.

Big Box, Little Box

This is a familiar term implying that when you buy more, you pay less. It carries the same meaning in construction. When various trades are at work remodeling, they would like to accomplish as much work as possible, so you do not repeat the costs of travel, set up, clean up and business administration that are included.

When adding square footage, more or less becomes disproportionate because the initial work that includes all of the planning and setup is needed for each. So when dividing the cost of 100 square feet, the price will be lower for 200 square feet.


Warrantees by state law typically cover most work for 4 years and 10 years for latent structural defects. Manufacturers provide their own terms of warrantee for their products that rarely include the cost of replacement, adding an additional charge. It is the client’s responsibility to choose the designer/builder that will ensure longer product life.

For more information, see the page 5 of the Consumer Guide provided by the Contractors State License Board under the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Material elements

The grades and brands of finish materials are many and your choices will determine the majority of product costs. Below are many of the options to consider.

1) Entry: door style; width x height, stained or painted, glass, foyer, closets, storage; art display.

2) Windows: frames; vinyl, fiberglass, wood clad, veneered, operation of opening, tinting.

3) Floor coverings: wood, engineered laminates, carpet, tile, vinyl, concrete.

4) Walls/ceilings finishes: paneling, wall paper, skylight openings.

5) Counter tops: tile, natural stone slab, concrete, laminate, solid surface, butcher block.

6) Hallways: width, lighting, closets, built-in storage, gallery.

7) Doors: height/width and styles, solid, hollow, painted/stained, glass.

8) Lighting: natural, interior recessed, under-counter, surface mounted; ceilings/walls, exterior lighting; direct/indirect.

9) Heating/cooling: conventional forced air (resized for added square footage), dual systems, solar, radiant, passive, mini split heating/cooling (for remote rooms), whole house fans.

10) Electrical: main service increased, solar, wiring upgrades, receptacle/outlets style/color.

11) Data: internet/phone.

12) Security system.

13) Plumbing: water heater; tankless/conventional, solar, recirculating, on-demand.

14) Insulation: R-rating increased in existing walls, ceilings, floors, interior walls/floors, sound reduction, attic radiant barrier.

15) Drywall: Thickness (1/2”-5/8”), sound reduction systems, corners; square/radius, arches, skylight well designs, textures; sprayed, hand troweled.

16) Painting: typical interior includes 1 base coat, and 2 finish coats; flat enamel (low sheen) for walls; flat for ceiling (reduced glare); semi-gloss for wood work and areas with moist conditions. Additional colors or sheens increase cost. Typical exterior painting includes pressure washing, 1 base coat, 2 finish coats of low sheen for walls and 2 coats of 1 trim color (adding a third trim color is a nice touch).

17) Roofing: materials; composition, tile, steel, slate, wood; shake/shingle, gutter style including rain runoff management, attic ventilation.

18) Bathrooms: master, bedrooms, guest; shower w/ seat, tub, whirlpool, faucets, showerhead and handheld, toiletries niches, lighting, walk-in or glass door, recessed, mobility, sinks, toilet, bidet, cabinetry finish, storage, finish surface materials, mirrors, medicine cabinets, accessible to exterior.

19) Bedrooms: how many, door width x height, lighting, closet, desks, fireplace, entertainment.

20) Laundry room: convenient location, storage, gas/electric appliances, sink, cabinetry.

21) Kitchen: location, entertaining, open or separate, counter space, island, bar height with seating, breakfast nook, pantry, sink(s) with location, appliances, wine storage, cabinets (quality of construction), finish; painted, stained, laminate, door/drawer style, raised or recessed panels, inset, glass, (with many selections of hardware guides, amenities, pulls and knobs), appliances; gas/electric.

22) Living room: formal, open, entertainment, cabinetry, lighting, fireplace, views.

23) Dining room: formal/casual, seating arrangement, open, lighting, cabinetry, access to kitchen, views.

24) Home office: location, accessibility.

25) Studio: arts and crafts.

26) Guest quarters: attached/separate, privacy, access, front/rear, amenities.

27) Driveway: vehicles, RV, storage.

28) Garage; attached/separate, vehicle count, storage, shop, lighting, garbage/recycling.

29) Garage door(s): metal, wood, insulated, decorative glass, automatic openers.

30)Yards: access, ornamental/edible gardens, courtyards, patios, shade structures, water/fire features, pool/spa, entertainment, cooking, lighting, storage, fencing, waste disposal, bikes, pet accommodations, green house/garden storage, livestock e.g. chickens, rain runoff drainage system, rain collection, wildlife inviting (no pesticides), neighboring issues.

31) Curb appeal: Traditional with neighborhood, contemporary, dramatic/cloistered entry, roofline, courtyard, open, walkways; pavement or decking, open to interior, places to gather, entertain.

32) Siding: Enclosed eves with soffit, wood, horizontal/vertical, tongue and groove, lap, bat n’ board, fiber cement (most installations available as wood patterns), stucco conventional three coat system (available in many patterns), masonry, combined elements.


Previous: Building Your Design      Next: Remodeling 101

Experience Living in a One of a Kind Design

Start to finish, we work together to make your home one of the most important places in your world.