Value Engineering (Housing)

A HUGE thanks to our friends at Epikos Design in McCall for their insights (below) on value engineering in the West Central Mountains:



Architects’ role in low-cost housing:

  • using design to:
    • make the most of very limited interior spaces and construction budgets
    • solve challenges of increased density to ensure a positive experience for residents and a positive impact on neighbors and the community; such challenges include:
      • noise control
      • sense of privacy
      • relationship to adjacent properties
      • visual impact of increased bulk
  • using experience to:
    • minimize avoidable costs and construction surprises
    • identify appropriate construction technologies or strategies
    • navigate regulations and the local entitlements process; may include:
      • Fair Housing Act (FHA)
      • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
      • Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS)
      • International Residential Code (IRC) / International Building Code (IBC)
      • Local zoning laws and design review processes
      • Regulations vary with:
        • funding sources
        • location
        • density
        • type of dwellings (townhouses / apartments / etc.)
    • analyze lifecycle costs for rental units
    • assist in site selection process

Contractor role in design:

  • Early involvement can improve construction economy and make costs more predictable.  However, these benefits must be balanced with the potential savings of a competitive bidding process.


A more level site will be less costly to develop:

  • limits earthwork and fill
  • avoids retaining walls
  • avoids slopes that lead to complex foundations

Look out for surface drainage problems and high water tables.

  • High water tables are common in Valley County.

Note location and capacity of existing utilities:

  • sewer / water / power / propane (optional)
  • Increased density may overload existing infrastructure.
  • Understand the costs of extensions and upgrades.

Site planning and design:

  • Arrange circulation to minimize roads & driveways.
  • Sensitive design can transform a less desirable and less expensive site into an asset.



  • Building less is the most direct way to reduce cost.
  • Consider 2-bedroom units at 700 s.f. and lower.
  • Try to shrink spaces and combine functions where possible.  
  • Think of garages as a plus, not a must.
    • carport space about half the cost of garage space
    • surface parking space about a third the cost of a garage space
    • However, garages double as personal storage and yield a less cluttered site with fewer cars and belongings left outside.


  • A modest fit and finish is appropriate:
    • laminate counters
    • basic vinyl / carpet flooring
    • vinyl windows
    • base-level plumbing fixtures
    • fiberglass tub-shower kits
    • products and finishes that are durable but inexpensive and easy to install
  • Focus resources on items that are subject to heavy use, malfunction, or complaint:
    • doors & hardware
    • heating appliances & other equipment
    • acoustical assemblies
  • Focus upgrades on energy efficiency:
    • better insulation and windows
    • greater air-tightness of construction
    • add heat recovery ventilators (HRV)



  • simple forms w/out hips or valleys (improves both cost and long-term performance in this snowy climate)
  • basic shed or gable roofs with prefab. trusses and 4:12 min. slope will:
    • minimize need for specialized labor
    • avoid additional underlayment materials needed with lower slopes
    • allow use of cost-effective blown-in cellulose insulation


  • Stick to simple, shorter spans for floors and roofs.
  • Tend toward basic, compact forms.
  • Keep shared walls straight & simple w/ minimized penetrations.


Appropriate application will depend on specific project, but in general, the goal is to reduce on-site labor costs and shorten the construction schedule, which can be useful in our short construction season.  

Roughly three different types:

  • prefabricated trusses and walls (both common here)
  • custom designed, prefabricated building modules
    • available from Boise
    • need volume; In our experience, at least 10 similar units to make sense.
  • pre-designed, prefabricated standard building modules
    • think building blocks; often stackable
    • growing industry – see ‘indie dwell’ in Boise


Don’t skimp on acoustic separations.

It’s nice to avoid common interior spaces such as corridors and common entries.

Include provisions for personal storage in absence of garages.

Bear in mind the implications and limitations of different dwelling configurations:

  • single-family homes / duplexes / townhouses / apartment buildings  
  • Each type has a unique impact on everything from the character and density of the development down to requirements for fire-rated separations, sprinkler systems, and accessibility for people with disabilities.