5 Ways to cut costs with your veterinary hospital build or renovation

August 26, 2020
Caitlin McCafferty, Assistant Editor

dvm360, dvm360 March 2021, Volume 53,

Planning a practice renovation or building a new hospital is a massive undertaking. Here are 5 ways you can save on construction costs for your project.

If you are considering a hospital renovation or building one from scratch, architect Dan Chapel, AIA, NCARB, has some money-saving advice for you. Chapel, who owns Chapel Associates Architects Inc in Little Rock, Arkansas, says there are many ways to lower construction costs while maintaining function and quality. Chapel offered 5 tips during his lecture today at the Fetch dvm360 virtual conference.

1. Don’t build more than you need.

When it comes to building projects, “frugal is the new normal,” Chapel said, so get creative with your architect. Consider multi-use spaces, such as exam rooms that double as treatment rooms or even offices when not in use, or add a resource room that can function as a meeting room, library, staff workspace, or client conference area.

When building exam rooms, Chapel recommended having two exam tables for every veterinarian you have practicing. Putting up a folding or sliding wall in one or more exam room enables more functionality during busier times. He also advised carefully calculating how much ward space you will need, as this is an area in which many practices overestimate what they need and end up with wasted space.

Large hallways are another area where space—and money—tend to be wasted. “Hallways do not make you a nickel and do not translate to any good veterinary medicine being practiced," Chapel said. “You can’t not have them, but try to minimize them.” 

2. Select a buildable site.

Meticulous planning and choosing the right piece of land for your new hospital can save a lot of money in the long run. When looking for a suitable lot, Chapel advised, consider all associated costs, such as the need to blast rocks in the foundation or difficulty gaining access to utilities.

“If you can select a builder better site, you are light years ahead when it comes to saving money,” said Chapel.

To reduce change orders during construction, connect with everyone on your build team up front to lay out a comprehensive game plan. “Although sometimes change orders are unavoidable,” he said, “eliminating or minimizing them before the build begins will save confusion, lost time, and needless, costly expenses.”

3. Be patient.

Completing your build will take time, so be flexible throughout the process, Chapel said. Unavoidable glitches are bound to occur along the way, such as delivery delays and bad weather. Do not try to force your project’s completion by encouraging overtime work or adding more workers, as doing so will add to your costs and may result in mistakes that create even more delays.

“The more you box a construction project into a time frame,” said Chapel, “the more expensive the construction is going to be.”

4. Examine mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

“Approximately two-thirds of your hospital budget is in mechanical, electrical, and plumbing,” said Chapel, “so this is a good place to [save] money.” After reviewing the engineer’s recommendations, ask if there are less expensive options for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing system components and fixtures that will function as well as the more expensive options. Other cost-saving considerations include reducing the size of your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; removing or reducing air filtration; and eliminating floor drains and sloped floors where possible.

5. Shop for affordable furnishings and equipment.

Furnishing your hospital is another major expense in your building project. To save money, Chapel recommended these cost-cutting measures:

  • Delay purchasing some equipment until you have recouped some of your building costs.
  • Consider used equipment. Buying stainless-steel sinks and tables from the restaurant or dairy industry or using platforms like Ebay can save a good bit of money.
  • Purchase prefabricated items, such as dental or wet tables, rather than having them custom built.
  • Shop for “scratch and dent” or discontinued items, which come with a lower price tag.
  • Always negotiate prices with your vendor, including for shipping costs.
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