Home Design RI-MA: Value Engineering

Aside from land costs which can be expensive in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, consider the following: Affordable design requires balance between many options. Some architects and designers may view affordability as a restriction on being creative. Yet, others may see it as a challenge in which their ideas can flourish. Here we are interested in frugality, not boredom. Value engineering means getting maximum effect at minimal cost.


Foundations are one of the most expensive components in any building project. The more complex the foundation shape, the more the cost to build. Squares and rectangles are the most efficient building shape. They require the smallest area of exterior wall surface for any given living space within. This reduces the cost of the foundation, framing, insulation, siding and all other elements which make exterior walls expensive. The space a house foundation occupies is called the footprint. Keeping the footprint simple should be the first priority in any affordable design.

Multiple Floors & Cantilevers:

The more living area you can create within a given footprint, the lower the cost. Cantilevering (creating a bump-out where the floor joists overhang the foundation) the floor framing to add extra square footage without expanding the footprint is another option for reducing costs. For example, if you are building a house that is 24’ deep by 36’ wide, design a foundation that is 20’ deep by 36’wide. The floor joists can then extend over two feet on both front and back of the foundation. This will add 144 sq. ft. of finished living area at a reduced cost, by saving on excavation, foundation, footing and basement floor. Cantilevers can also be used for closets, bay windows and other nooks.


Locate bathrooms and kitchens back to back or stack above each other in two-story homes. For additional savings, place baths and kitchens close to where sewer and water pipes enter the building. These steps save money on excavation, sewer-lines, waterlines and venting.

Energy Geeks trade secret logoTrade Secret: When possible design the foundation with the bearing wall or beam in the center of the building. This may reduce the weight load on floor joists allowing for the use of smaller dimensional lumber, further reducing construction costs.