There’s a reason why people buy knock off Gucci bags and Rolex watches. It’s because they can’t afford what they want but they want other people to think they can. So if your $20 Rolex stops working after 2 weeks then fine; it was a $20 risk you could afford to take. But when your $100K renovation goes off the rails, that’s much more difficult to recover from both emotionally and financially. So how do you ensure that you don’t break the bank or spread your budget so thin that you end up just putting lipstick on a pig? The answer is be honest with yourself and be realistic with your expectations and your budget.

When it comes to building materials, there is not a huge variance in price. Drywall, lumber, insulation, etc. may vary a little depending on the market but these are not things you can save on by doing without them or making less expensive selections. The same goes for labour. In general, plumbers, electricians, carpenters all have similar rates so that they can keep busy. There are some that charge a premium for special skills or experience with certain high end finishes. Still, the difference is minor.

The largest variance in pricing a renovation is the finishings. You can purchase tile for $4 per square foot or $64 per square foot. Flooring, plumbing fixtures, counter tops, window, doors, etc., all have a major spread in their potential cost. This is typically what makes or breaks a renovation budget; and these things are all in the hands of the client, not the contractor. Knowing this, and knowing from our last post not to skimp on the contractor, there are really only 2 sensible ways to save money on a renovation; the first is to choose finishings that fit within your budget, and the second is to spread out the scope of work and don’t do it all at once.


Our best advice when choosing your finishings is to keep an open mind.
We all go into a renovation with stars in our eyes, likes in houzz and folders full of magazine clippings. It’s easy to get carried away and overlook the fact that if it is in a magazine, it is likely going to be prohibitively expensive. So instead of limiting yourself to choosing finishings that look exactly like your photos, use your clippings to gather an idea of feelings that resonate with you. Colour schemes you are drawn to, materials you favour. Determine what you like about the photos you’ve selected. Are they light and airy? Bold and botanical? Industrial and rustic? It’s ok to decide you want a natural look with lots of wood. But be wary of deciding that you must have the 8 inch select grade light coffee french oak floor hand milled in Spain that you saw on Houzz. If you go to the flooring store with an open mind and an idea of what you like, you are more likely to find something that suits your style that also fits within your budget. If you have something too specific in mind, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. In reality, a mid-priced floor with a similar look will feel just as good when it’s in your home. Remember that magazine photos are staged, and often what you are responding to is the feel of how the whole room works together, the lighting, the furniture, how the space is styled and the angle of the photo. The actual finishings are not as important to the overall feel of the home as you think, and most often, simpler finishings actually work better in regular homes than the stuff you see in magazines. That expensive custom stainless steel kitchen that looks incredible in House and Home is not going to look incredible without photoshop after it has been scratched by pets and kids, dented by use and dulled by actual cooking.
The other thing to note is that a little goes a long way with finishings. You can build the foundation of your space on simple, good quality, timeless design and then sprinkle in a few special items. Be wary of trends in home design – they can be expensive mistakes. Instead, enjoy design trends through items you can replace like throw pillows, paint etc. During your selection process, go to the tile store, the flooring store, etc, and look at prices while you’re looking at finishings. It will help to not get your hopes up about things that are outside your budget.
One great thing about home finishings now is the incredible selection of quality finishings that are made to look like more expensive materials. Porcelain tiles that actually look like concrete, slate or marble but are cheaper and easier to maintain; Gorgeous quartz countertops that look like natural stone but are more durable and less expensive than marble; Semi-custom kitchens that look like custom but don’t carry the same price tag.

Scope of Work:

If you can’t get finishings that will make you happy without sacrificing quality of workmanship, the only thing you can do is reduce the scope of work and tackle the project in stages as you’re able to afford it. Stretching your budget too thin or compromising on quality of workmanship rarely goes well. As we have all learned with the knock off Rolex, you always get what you pay for.