Ask the Architect

Saving money now — and later


Q. We got estimates from three contractors to add a second floor to our house, and now are confused about what to cut back. All of the estimates are much higher than we can afford or want to spend. The contractors made suggestions that make sense, but we just want to understand what it means. One suggested that the 2x6 walls could be made as 2x4 and that would save money. Another said that heating our floors costs more than baseboards — a lot more. We can save money using vinyl windows and no wood trim. We don’t know if we’ll like the look and don’t know what to do. Any suggestions?

A. A penny saved is a penny earned, right? At least up front, you save, but you have to look to the future, at the potential future costs, not just the present expense. You named items that actually do save money to just leave out of the construction, but will end up saving you money in the long run. Operating costs, taxes and insurance are all future costs that go on and on. Unless you don’t plan to live there much longer, future expenses should also be a consideration.

For the few thousand dollars you save on switching to 2x4 wall studs from 2x6 wall studs, you limit the amount of building strength and insulation value you can gain with thicker insulation, which will save heating and cooling costs. Heating and cooling are a constant in your home, and at least 75 percent of the year, most people have either air conditioning or heating running in their home. Add up those utility expenses and see what running your air conditioning or heating more will possibly cost. Add in the historically projected increase in utility costs and you get a better idea of future expenses.

The savings with more insulation are substantial enough for the average home to pay back the expense of the wall studs within a few years. But then the savings continue after the construction is paid for. The same goes for a radiant heated-floor system. Radiant heat is more efficient because it heats the building materials that the state-of-the-art, non-puncture pipes run through. The floor system heats up and radiates continuously after the thermostat has told the boiler that the room is warm and the boiler shuts off. The more time the floor has to cool down, the more time the boiler is off, saving you money.

Baseboard heating has fins that work the same way, but cool more quickly. Also, the “heat zone” for baseboard heaters is against the wall, sending heat to the ceiling, while the heated floor system makes the floor warm and toasty enough to go barefoot, with the heat lingering to a height in an average room of about 5 feet off the floor. Window trim can be added later, so install hidden items like studs, insulation and piping while you have the chance.

© 2017 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.