How to save money on a renovation

Blowing the reno budget is never fun. Follow this handy savings guide and find out what you can scrimp on and what you should splurge on


Painting tired floors is a great short term solution to get them looking fresh and bright.

How to save money on a renovation

Coming in under budget on a renovation is everyone’s dream. The reality, though, is often very different, even when you’ve done what all the experts tell you and factored in unforeseen extras. However, cutting costs without compromising on your dream reno is possible with some thorough research, clever planning and good organisation.

Minimise plumbing changes

Keep the position and layout of bathrooms and kitchens roughly the same because moving plumbing isn’t cheap as it involves removing wall linings and making holes in flooring. Group the laundry, bathrooms and toilets together. If you have to reposition something, try to keep the move to a minimum.

Keep the same footprint

Building within the existing building footprint is the most cost-effective way to renovate. If you’re hoping to extend, make sure the foundations are up to it before you buy a property. Replacing them is expensive.

Paint floors rather than replace them

If floors are in bad shape or only covered in particle board, paint them with water-based enamel until you can afford better quality flooring.

Do your prep

Well before the builders arrive, get out to the hardware stores and builder’s depots to make sure you are very clear about what appliances and fixtures you want and what they cost. You need to brief your builder, electrician and other contractors precisely on these to avoid problems further down the track. Having to redo wiring after the walls have been lined because you wanted dimmer lights but didn’t advise the electrician can be very expensive.

Who does what?

Nowadays many contractors specialise in just one area – wall linings or joinery, for instance. Having regular conversations with tradespeople can avoid confusion.

Moving or removing walls costs money

Only knock out walls if it’s absolutely necessary. Sometimes moving just one wall will be enough to create a more open feel. Adding walls costs more, so if the space is too open-plan for your tastes, consider using furniture, flooring, rugs or screens to define different areas.

How to save money on lighting

Using track-, wall- or ceiling-mounted lighting, rather than recessed fittings, saves you money on labour (including cutting holes in the wall and ceiling) as well as the cost of fittings.


Organise your trades

Builders generally have their own preferred subtrades that they will organise, but if you are running the project yourself, figuring out who is responsible for each stage can be tricky. It’s cheaper and more efficient for each trade to come in at the right time, rather than having them come backwards and forwards or – even worse – all at the same time. This means having everything each contractor needs on site before they get there.

Don’t panic about sales

Some homeowners prefer to buy building materials and appliances on sale in advance of the build and keep them in storage until they are needed. Be aware, though, that things can change during construction and your pre-purchased appliances might not suit further down the track.

Aim to use standard sizes

Custom-made doors, windows and cabinetry are much more expensive than standard sizes. And it’s a lot cheaper to line rooms that are designed around the standard sheet size of plasterboard or plywood. Cutting and fitting them for odd-shaped rooms is also time-consuming and therefore expensive.

Materials matter when it comes to saving

Use materials such as Triboard, ply or grooved Ecoply lining which can simply be painted, instead of plasterboard which needs plastering as well as painting. That way, you eliminate at least one contractor.


An eye for potential can be great for upcycling furniture.

Re-purpose furniture you already own

If you’ve got a good eye, look for interesting pieces of furniture that can be re-purposed as a kitchen island or bathroom vanity. Alternatively, buy secondhand kitchen or bathroom vanity cabinets online or from building supply auctions. Update the benchtop or the basin if necessary for a more contemporary look.

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There are economical ways to spruce up your kitchen cabinetry and give your kitchen an inexpensive update

Get clever with cabinetry

Kitset cabinetry is cheaper than custom-made and you can always spend a bit more on the benchtop to give the kitchen some wow factor. Also, consider reusing the existing carcass and adding new doors and drawer fronts. As an alternative to extending the entire kitchen, try upgrading existing cabinetry with more space-efficient dividers, shelving and pull-out trays

Use paint to transform a space

Paint can instantly transform a space for not a lot of money. It’s cheaper to buy unfinished kitchen cabinetry and doors and paint them yourself if you have time. Make sure you work out exactly how much you need as it’s easy to over-order paint. Busy paint trade centres will often sell mis-tinted paint cheaply but always buy a premium brand.


Haier French Door refrigerator, $2299, see for stockists.

Go mid-range with appliances

You don’t need to spend a fortune to get good appliances – there are some well-priced mid-range appliances on the market that offer top-of-the-line features. We love the new Haier French Door Refrigerator – it has a sophisticated look and feel, fits more than a standard fridge including full-width platters, and has adjustable coolness control for crispness.

Install light shafts

For dark bathrooms or hallways, rather than cutting holes in the cladding and rearranging framing for windows, or installing skylights in the ceiling, consider a light shaft or tube. It will be easier to install and cost a lot less.

Buy it yourself

When contractors pick up fixtures and fittings, they’ll often add a margin. Go to the supplier and pick them up yourself instead.

And buy right

Do your research on where to buy those materials and fixtures. Most retail showrooms have end-of-line or clearance sales on a regular basis. Try outlet stores, ‘factory seconds’ shops and stores that sell discounted display stock of curtains, lights and bathroom fittings. Check out the big-box hardware stores, too – the selection and quality are improving all the time.

Renovation worksheet


  • Look out for wall lining products that only need painting or sealing, not plastering.
  • Instead of buying custom glass shower doors, use well-designed shower curtains and change them every year to refresh the look.
  • Composite wooden flooring can look as good as the solid stuff for considerably less money. For high-traffic areas choose engineered wood or a good-quality laminate flooring. LVT (luxury vinyl tiles or planks) is another option.
  • Existing or secondhand kitchen cabinets can be refreshed with paint, new handles and a new benchtop.
  • Keep plumbing where it is and use the money you save for flash fixtures.
  • Find jobs you can do yourself. Time- consuming jobs that don’t take a huge amount of skill include demolition, insulation, sanding and painting. Helping to clean up every day means you’re not paying someone else to do it.


  • Indoor-outdoor flow is always a top priority and a fabulous way to add value. Invest in French or sliding doors and a spacious deck or terrace to connect the house to the garden.
  • Increasing natural light can dramatically change a space, whether it’s adding big windows or just a skylight.
  • If spaces are small, raising the ceiling height will make them feel larger.
  • Door hardware, light fittings and tapware are used daily and need to look good and be of excellent quality.
  • Likewise with kitchen benchtops. They have a big visual impact, and the better the quality of materials, usually the better the warranty.
  • A separate toilet is a great addition to any home and an absolute must for growing families.
  • Never skimp on bathroom fixtures and materials as leaky showers can cause mould and lead to structural issues if the water gets in behind the linings.
  • Good tradies are well worth the cost.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Chris Warnes, Sharyn Cairns/

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