Building & Renovating

10 Budget-Friendly Renovation Tips

A seasoned renovator shares valuable insights to make your project easier on the pocket

Photography: Pexels

Given the rising costs of some building materials like wood and paint, it’s inevitable to spend a huge amount of money when working on home improvement projects. Whether it’s a retiling job or adding cabinets in the bedroom, it involves careful planning and budget allocation. Since we spend our hard-earned cash to prettify a space, it’s important that we avoid construction roadblocks.

If you can afford it, redo everything all at once,” says Diane Cuna, a seasoned renovator. “Move out of the house and hire an architect and contractor.” For many people, though, making small, incremental changes is more feasible, and this is what Diane did. “It’s easy on the pocket. It has also given me time to reflect if what I did was right.”

Doing it little by little could end up being more expensive because of the start-up costs of every project. But if it’s the way you choose to go, here’s how to make it work for you:

1. Prepare a master plan.

Visualize what you want to happen for the whole house. List down the scope of work and estimate the cost. Set your priorities, then break it down into manageable chunks that will fit your time and budget.

RL Tip: When breaking it down, do the dirty work first. This includes structural modifications, plumbing and electrical work, or any demolition work. Finishes, like painting, should be done last.

2. Do it by room.

Instead of doing several areas at the same time, renovate one room fully before doing other spaces. This way, the whole room is made new and other areas will remain usable during the renovation. You can also renovate adjoining spaces (e.g. the living-dining-kitchen area) by component—floors, walls, or ceilings.

3. Picture it.

“Always show them a picture,” Diane says when giving instructions to carpenters. After she’s shown the carpenter what to do, Diane asks him if he has any more questions. “I really want to make sure he understands everything.”

4. Find good craftsmen and keep them.

Diane has a suki carpenter, Ben, who’s been working for her for four years now. Referrals are still the best way to find good workers. You can also train them to become more efficient.

“Some carpenters aren’t very organized in their work process. I have to orient them about laying out all the materials first, and measuring them before cutting and assembling. I’m lucky that Ben is very systematic," she shares.

5. Pay by the job.

Diane pays laborers according to the work they’re supposed to complete—not per day. She delineates the scope of work and construction time in a written contract. If they exceed the number of days set in the contract, she deducts a corresponding amount from the bill. She usually agrees to give 20–30% of the contract amount in the beginning and makes progressive payments depending on how much has been accomplished. “On the last day, we do a ‘walk-through.’ Only when I see that everything is in good condition do I pay them the last 30%.”

How was she able to supervise the work with a full-time job? Diane recounts, “I’d usually talk to the laborers on weekends. During weekdays, I’d ask the lead man to wait for me so I could ask him for updates.”

6. Buy materials in advance.

If you can allot only 20% of your monthly income for home improvement, instead of spending for materials in one go, buy these little by little. “I make sure all my materials are complete so the laborers can work continuously.”

RL Tip: Store materials you buy in a dry, safe place. You can use the storage room or a shed outside the house.

7. Recycle.

Some components of the house are ideal for recycling—like doors, windows, metal components, and plumbing fixtures. Make sure these are carefully handled during construction to prevent damage.

8. Get or rent equipment.

Explore the hardware section of home depots for ways to make the work more efficient. When her carpenter was doing the cabinets in her home’s master bedroom, Diane rented a circular saw for P350 a day. “I asked the carpenter to prepare and measure everything that needed cutting beforehand to maximize my P350.” When the workers retiled Diane’s floor, she also rented a tile cutter to minimize wastage of material.

9. Use less labor-intensive materials.

It took only four days to retile Diane’s terrace, living room and kitchen. Her secret? Ceramic tile adhesive. She opted not to demolish the existing cement tiles and chose to install the ceramic tiles on top of them instead. The tile adhesive sets faster than cement mortar. “You can walk on them after 30 minutes!” Diane testifies. She also saved on labor for not chiseling out the cement tiles.

10. Learn from experience.

When Diane talks about her renovation projects, she drops terms like media por quatro or media por dos (Both refer to wood measurements). She’s gained confidence in renovation through experience. “I learned from the contractors,” she says. For Diane, house improvement remains a continuing project.

READ: 20 Common Construction Terms, Decoded

Read the original article ("10 Smart Renovating Strategies") in the November 2004 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

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