The Places Where Builders Can Cut Corners

By Ron Wynn

January 26, 2021 5 min read

Don't think of it as someone trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Think of it more as "you get what you pay for." Just like when you shop for a car, furniture, or a quality suit or pair of shoes, at first glance, an item doesn't always look that different than the top-of-the-line version, but after careful examination, big differences show.

With new construction, there are many degrees of quality. And you need to know what your priorities are to make sure it's affordable. Square footage or quality? Do you prefer a bigger house, a better-built but smaller house, or a quality house on a small lot?

Steel reinforcements are expensive, and they are required to support a modern, wide-open floor plan with few supporting walls. Builders have mastered how to build for less by minimizing steel reinforcements. It all starts with an architectural plan that provides adequate wood support.

Another way to save money is on windows and doors. Solid-wood double-hung windows, sliding windows or crank windows are more expensive than vinyl, aluminum or synthetic. Bi-fold or pocket sliding doors are far more expensive than typical sliding glass doors, or French-style hinged or sliding doors.

Builders can reduce wood finishes and intricate custom carpentry to cut costs. Examples include tongue and groove vaulted ceilings, crown molding, custom fireplace mantles and closet build-outs. From prefabricated cabinetry to custom cabinetry to imported Italian lacquer-finished cabinetry, cost can vary tremendously. Materials range from pressed wood to paint-grade wood to triple-grade-A wood with expensive, hand-rubbed, custom stain and hand-brushed finishes.

Cabinetry hardware and assembly come in many quality grades. For interior finish, wood is always more expensive than a veneer over a low-grade raw wood, but also consider exterior finishes. Consider a house with a mostly rough plaster exterior versus one with a custom smooth Italian hand-troweled finish or a Cape Cod house with lots of wood siding, crown molding and corbels. Shiplap is a more economical product and application but looks less elegant than solid-fitting, custom-cut wood planks, which is what you might see on an authentic Hamptons-style home.

Hardwood floors, both solid and engineered, vary in quality, from manufactured plank to solid oak, from imitation wood to wood over manufactured pressboard.

Electrical is far more expensive in conduit than Romex material. Is the plumbing copper or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is a reliable hard plastic? Needless to say, the copper will last for longer but is much more expensive and rarely visible.

Fireplaces add to cost as well. Most cities no longer allow wood-burning masonry fireplaces. But know that a true masonry wood-burning fireplace is far more expensive than a prefabricated gas fireplace.

Appliances are another issue. Do a little research to discover the difference in cost and quality from one brand to another, and from an entry-level model to another.

The same goes for plumbing fixtures including bathtubs, sinks and toilets. And for home security, home theaters and sound systems.

Learn to differentiate between standard and high-quality light fixtures, hardware, faucets, shower heads, spigots and drains. Not only is the look different but the durability and life expectancy are different as well.

Staircases and rails can be simple wood, custom wrought-iron or floating, steel-reinforced, the last of which is expensive.

Never sacrifice on weatherproofing or drainage. These are two areas that need to be perfect. Crawl areas and foundations must be dry and sustainable. Always have the foundation and any sub-areas checked to make sure they are dry and airtight. For further comments, call a reliable inspector to do a complete environmental check for moisture, mold, chemicals, plastics, etc.

For general information on buying trends, and information on where you can best stretch your budget or compromise when on a budget, call me.

For more information, please call Ron Wynn at 310-963-9944, or email him at [email protected] To find out more about Ron and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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