Idea Log

Construction Costs

We are frequently asked “How much will it cost to build this house?”  Unfortunately it is very difficult to quote construction costs because it is very dependant on location.  We have found that in the US construction prices will vary by as much as 20% in the metropolitan regions.  Rural areas are kind of their own special case with factors like available labor and materials, codes or lack thereof, and distance to the site from population centers etc.   That being said we try to keep our designs affordable by holding to clean designs that are relatively simple to build or prefabricate off site. Obviously, the quality level of finish and materials are also factors. You can think of a range of about $85.00 to $130.00 per square foot as a knock around number for budgeting on the cost of the building only.  Site improvements and the other factors mentioned previously will add to the cost.

For a rough cost estimate you could visit that takes you through a series of quick questions to arrive at a ballpark number.  The cost is adjusted for location. But really the best way to find out what a house will cost is to talk to a local builder in your area.  We set the prices for our Design Plan Sets very low so that you can purchase them without a large financial commitment.  You can then show them to your builder so they can give you a more realistic estimate of costs.

3D Models

For most of our designs, you can purchase and download a 3D model of the home so you can explore it inside and out before deciding to buy the Design Plan Set drawings.  Using Sketchup, which you can download for free at, you are able to look around the entire exterior of the home as well as walk inside and see what the rooms and spaces look like.  It is a great visualization tool.  You can also experiment with paint colors and even place furniture if you want to.  There are many websites where you can download all types of furniture for free.  We’ve tried to keep the cost of the models quite low so you can “kick the tires” without a larger financial commitment.  Try it out!

Simple Construction

Charles and Ray Eames designed their steel framed house in Malibu, California using off-the-shelf components. It is said that the house was completed in one and one half days at $1.00 per square foot. That was cheap even in 1948, when conventional wood frame houses were about $11.50 per square foot. Even discounting the published results due to free labor from staff and friends, the example points out the advantages of keeping to stock materials and a simple plan. Some other ideas are: Consider the placement of service elements like bathrooms, kitchens, mudrooms and utility rooms to localize expensive utility connections, and take advantage of similar functions. Paying attention to the standard dimensions of construction materials can reduce waste, saving the contractor’s time and labor in disposing of, or recycling scrap materials. Reduce the number of rooms and interior walls by adding a few square feet, or separating private areas within the same room with furniture. Consider the landscape when determining the size of a room. Borrow some space from the garden by placing a pair of glass doors where you might have added square footage, and sit in the garden instead of building more house.

Careful Planning

The best way to control the fixed costs of building a new home is by careful design and planning. Efficient use of space and careful choice of materials will allow your house to increase in livability without becoming overly large. By focusing on the quality of the space over the quantity of square footage, and tailoring the house to your needs, you can build a better house that fits your life and your budget. If you were to hire an architect to design house today in any metropolitan area, you would pay about 10-15% of the estimated construction cost for design services. Add land costs, surveyors fees, contractor’s profit and overhead, permit costs, utility hookups and a healthy contingency for unforeseen conditions, and you will have spent a considerable amount before anyone swings a hammer. 30%, more or less, of your budget will not be available to spend on square footage. The French people have a saying; “Build as if to live forever, eat as if to die tomorrow”. While we can’t give diet advice, we have to agree with their approach to architecture. Careful planning also means paying attention to the details of living. Christopher Alexander’s book; “A Pattern Language” explains and outlines the important qualities of healthy and inspiring places. Be sure to really understand what makes a good environment whether it’s a home office or an outdoor garden. This is something much more important than square footage.