Construction costs for building out office space don’t seem to be going down any time soon. Surging demand, raising material costs, and a shrinking labor pool are all among reasons that we’ve had to get increasingly creative at how to do more with less.

With the help of some of our favorite industry partners, we’ve put together a list of some tangible ways to reduce tenant improvement expenditures on your next project.


Don’t wait until design is over to start demo. Consider pulling a demolition permit to get a head start. By getting a jump on demolition, you can uncover surprises above ceilings and behind walls, allowing your design to shift if needed.

Get a jump on polished concrete. “If polished concrete is a part of the design, place this task under pre-construction demo. This is something the contractor can easily complete with no subs around and then cover with finish protection,” says Cynthia Gage of BCCI. This tactic can cut several weeks on the schedule, which ultimately reduces contractor supervision costs.

Don’t assume to remove all the cabling. If the existing cabling appears to be in good condition, it’s a nominal cost to have it tested for functionality to see if it can be repurposed for your project.


A commonly high-ticket line item on projects is millwork and simplifying requirements can be a big cost reducer.

Design as a team. Get the client, architect, and millworker in a room to understand what all the shop drawing details will look like. Outlining the associated cost implications of these decisions can pay dividends to make sure the client gets what they want without overbuilding anything.

Consider open shelves without doors. It not just cuts down on labor and material but will encourage your team to stay organized due to the greater visibility.

Ask yourself if that custom millwork built-in can be furniture instead. “There are robust furniture solutions all over the market that are much more tasteful than what we had seen in the market 10 years ago,” says Drew Padilla of SmithGroup.


While we’re seeing less ceiling systems in today’s workspaces, we need to be strategic about when ceiling systems are appropriate from a cost standpoint.

Be careful not to remove too much valuable existing ceiling. Removing existing ceiling systems results in expensive reworking of the MEP infrastructure that is hiding above it, so use caution in not removing too much attractive existing ceiling if you have a tight budget.

Look at Rockfon Acoustical Ceiling Tile. This brand ( was recommended recently to me by two separate architects. “It’s more durable and significantly more cost-effective than the other more widely used brands,” says Melissa Pesci of HGA Architects.

Build new ceilings only where you really need them. If you are building an office from shell condition without existing ceiling systems, consider not constructing ceiling systems in areas with limited acoustical requirements such as server and copy rooms.

Wall Partitions & Layout

 Think pre-fab. Modular structures have advanced significantly over the years as alternatives to conventional construction. Find ways of partitioning space in ways that avoid creating HVAC, lighting, sprinkler and life safety separations. Instead of the cost to build a conference room, check out Orangebox’s Acoustic Pods at

Combine utility rooms. If feasibly operational for your organization, create multi-purpose utility rooms that have production / copy, storage, server functions.

Receptionista? Merge your reception desk and a coffee counter for a welcome space for guest that doubles as a collaboration area for staff.

Keep new walls and rooms away from perimeter windows. Conference rooms and private offices on the core of the building provides economic benefits. “By avoiding building on the perimeter, you’ll avoid managing difficult and demanding thermal zones as well as the limiting the distance and reach of infrastructure,” notes Padilla.

Finishes & Material Substitutes

Finding different approaches for finishes on a project can help your bottom line.

Be thoughtful with your polished concrete scope. “If you’re craving the look of polished concrete but not the price tag, consider exposing and polishing a ‘pathway’ around the office. It’s better for acoustics, less expensive to implement, and serves as a way-finding device,” according to Natalie Estrada from IDF Studio.

Use plywood as an architectural design element. As an alternative to pricey species of wood paneling or wallcovering, we’re seeing more interior spaces use plywood (treated and untreated) as a solution for a decorative, edgy wall finish.

Substitute steel bar rails at stairs with cable. If your project has a staircase, the metal side rails don’t need to be built out of thick steel. Use a lightweight cabling solution to reduce material costs.

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing & Other Infrastructure Systems

One of the largest groups of construction costs on any project comes from what is happening overhead: mechanical, electrical / lighting, plumbing, fire sprinklers and other infrastructure.

Get experts to determine what existing systems can be reused. “Take a hard look at the existing space before demo and see if there are MEP systems that can be salvaged or re-purposed,” says Patrick Moyer of Principal Builders. Spending time and money upfront to bring in key engineers and subcontractors to evaluate existing conditions reduces build back costs and minimizes future change orders.

Use BIM (Building Information Modeling) software to avoid costly clashes BEFORE your build. Overhead MEP systems are a critical component to avoiding in field conflicts and allowing significant coordination and prefabrication work to occur prior to ever hitting the jobsite. According to Rob Melinauskas from Level 10 Construction, “(BIM) eliminates onsite delays and produces a superior functioning and architecturally enhanced MEP system. Money spent in modeling is saved in productivity.”

Reduce lighting control costs. Lighting controls are end up being a larger element to the electrical number than often realized. This can be reduced by using systems with wireless light switching and motion sensors, says Padilla.

Keep the lights altogether and consider a lamping change. Altering existing light fixtures will trigger Title 24 code upgrades. In some cases, finding a more pleasant temperature lamp will make a big improvement.

Use task lights at workstations. Reduce overhead light fixtures and provide task lights at desks.

While we only have so much control over rising construction costs, these trends will help keep you on budget.