What makes a build expensive?

sweet.reverieAugust 15, 2012

I thought it might be helpful (and eye-opening) to list a few things that make building a house more expensive.

Here is what I have learned from my floorplan designing.

A lot of jogs in the plan will add cost.

If you have too great a depth, your trusses will have to be custom which will cost you more money. This has been really frustrating for us in designing our plan. We are right at the limit to how wide we can be and need to scootch things another foot to make a few things work. Blah.

These are two I did not know about.

Care to add to the list? Maybe something that surprised you as you built? Or as you were designing?

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Tall complex rooflines.

Lot issues - complex septic, grading work, clearing, long driveways

City issues - expensive permitting. It can be $500 or $50,000 depending on the jurisdiction.

Neighborhood issues - our HOA requires irrigation, certain mailbox, SDL windows on front side of house, landscape lighting, and of course general architecture that adds to cost

Large bathrooms and kitchens that are filled with cabinets. Cabinets are really surprisingly expensive.

Fancy lights are again surprisingly expensive. As are fancy appliances but I think most people realize that but really a $500 range vs a $10,000 one?

Flooring is a big cost variable and carpet is just so cheap.

In the end, sure jogs in the floorplan cost money but a lot of times far more money is spent on these other things. I mean a jog might cost $1000 but an extra 2 feet of cabinets cost more.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 4:52AM
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A long exterior perimeter. We put our garage in the back of the house as opposed to tucking it in under the 2nd floor. The added a lot of perimeter which in turn added lots of extra bricks, a larger slab and a longer driveway....and those items really add up.

Cabinets are expensive, especially if you add glazing and antiqued finishes.

Appliances and lighting can be budget busters. Flooring....travertine versus tile, carpet versus hardwood.

"Under roof' areas....large porches add a lot of cost without necessarily adding to heated and cooled square footage.

Unfortunately, we are finding out a lot of this first-hand!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 8:19AM
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There are SO many things that effect the cost of the build: Materials cost, engineering and architectural fees, contractor cost and they can differ vastly so get many quotes, mistakes; both your own choices and unforseen, excavation, the list goes on and on. I have some some suggestions for cost savings:

Push back your MB and Kitchen and your making a box-eliminating the jogs (@ approx 1k each)

For the 2nd level- ask your GC to frame for living and storage load and take as far as budget allows. You can probably live with plywood floors for a while since your kids are little it will be a while before this is a hang out.

Decks/patio....you could always do the back yard later.

Cabinetry may be pricey as has been mentioned. You could do a base cabinet run and supplement with IKEA or like products for the uppers or go without since your wanting so much light.

Lighting as mentioned. You can have rooms wired for light and fans and then just install inexpensive lighting and switch out as budget permits.

Appliances...I am struggling with this one since I have a good working stove, do I NEED a new gas range. This site has lots of good peer reviewed reccommendations on things like: sinks and appliances with sources (we are buying sink set from Overstock.com as it's significantly less than we can get locally.
Live without a backsplash for a while or do a chalkboard/faux tin...until you are able to have a full tile job done.

Shower-the glass door is beautiful but would a clear curtain work until you can order the door or in my case indefinitely since it's easier to care for and wash.

There are so many ways to compromise if your willing to have a livable work in progress. If your realistic you should still be able to have your ideal home.

Did you figure in finish work in areas like pantry. For example: sinks, cabinets... can easily be added later if they have plummbing installed.

Good thread and one I'll be checking. I'm sorry you ran into a few added expenses but better to find out now rather than later so you can make an educated decision that fits your family.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 11:35AM
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Lots of different pitches to the roof, having your water heater a long way from a bathroom with a rambler type house so it causes you to install a pressure assist pump to get the water over there. I guess it isn't a huge expense just something we didn't expect but we are happy with the pump so that you can get instant hot water! Like you, we wanted a one floor home but I think they can be more expensive to build.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 12:02PM
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Not having nearly every finish specified in advance of signing the contract.

Related to the above: Making changes in plans or finishes after signing the construction contract.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 1:42PM
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Trimwork if you choose to add extra details can add a lot of $$$. We spent a fortune on trim.

Tile and flooring.

Lights. Don't forget about the cost of lights you may not think about. We needed 10 outdoor lights- basically spent our entire lighting allowance just on those. Under and in-cabinet lighting was another small fortune.

Plumbing fixtures- I had NO earthly idea a faucet or sink could cost so much!

I don't mind the things in your control but we had a lot of surprises that we really had no choice about- like, we needed a special drip septic system; our well needed to go really deep, etc.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 1:53PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

We built green so it's a lot of up front costs with payback down the road, e.g. closed cell insulation is 5x the cost of fiberglass.

We built for low maintenance, so we have all azec trim on the house which ain't cheap. We also chose 50 yr shingles which were expensive...don't want to have to remove the solar panels, just to change the roof and have to pay to put them back.

Materials costs can be huge. For example, the stained cherry trim we used in our library and dining room was more expensive then the painted trim used in the whole rest of the house.

Changes can be very expensive. We did our best to keep costs down by making almost no changes, vs. our architect's current client who decided to make a change after the house was up which is going to require more steel to be inserted. $$$$$

Sq ft is expensive, but not proportionately so...the big bucks are still there...baths and kitchens...so yes extra sq ft will cost more, but if it's just 2x4's and sheet rock, not so much.....however don't lose sight of what it costs to heat/cool, light, furnish, insure, pay taxes on, etc. which will cost you down the road.

And to save money, design and use the sq ft in the basement...if you're building a basement, the walls and floor and ceiling are going up anyway. It isn't that much more to make it livable.

Plain vs fancy windows....

Std vs non-std sizes. As soon as it (whatever it is) is nonstandard size, price goes up.

Not sure how to put it, but "at hand" vs. "shop around". Take the first thing at hand, off the shelf, and it will likely cost you more than if you put in the time and effort to shop around. My favorite example is my round hammered copper prep sink which plumbing store wanted over $500 for, but I got it on ebay for $125.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 3:11PM
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In Rural areas or acreage clearing land, preparing a driveway, septic, well can easily cost $60,00 +.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 3:15PM
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Looks like the log and short of it is EVERYTHING is expensive...lol.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 10:19PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Not quite, ga,...dreaming is cheap...so long as you don't start building it!


    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 10:22PM
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Epiarch Designs

building a house makes building a house expensive :)

the details are what are always overlooked and catch a lot of people off guard. Electrical related things like accent lighting and extra switches. home audio, etc.
Door hardware and doors. Faucets, etc.

But the key thing is they dont have to be expensive. Good shopping can really help. But as similar to what someone else mentioned, the biggest thing to ask "can this $50 one achieve the same thing as the $300? Ask yourself that for every item and you stay within or under budget. I have never had a project go over budget.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 12:17AM
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Alex House

Paying people wages to build things for you.

The more you can do yourself, the less you have to pay the overhead that everyone engaged in commerce has to pay in order to net out with their take home pay.

If you're a physician making $150 per hour then it makes sense for you to pay, through the GC, a laborer to clean up the site for a wage of $20 per hour. If, on the other hand, you're earning $25 per hour (netting What most people are really interested in is the value of the labor that they buy. To get that labor value they have to pay in excess of the value in order for the taxes, the cost of doing business (gas, secretary, office rent, supervisor salary, advertising, etc) and the intermediaries to get paid. The greater that overhead the lower the efficiency/economic value ratio between the hired person's skilled labor versus your own unskilled labor.

If you REALLY want to save money, then do it yourself and be prepared to spend a lot more time, and commit more errors (from lack of labor specialization) and you will save money while giving up a lot of your time. This makes more sense the lower your income in the labor market is compared to those whom you must hire to build your house.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 2:38AM
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See I think lots of things are shockingly cheap. Just go to Lowe's and see what a basic door or window costs. See how cheap basic trim is.

You can build a house for $50 a sqft but you just have to eliminate all the expensive things. You don't have to DIY - except maybe the GC part.

I recently built a house that is very basic on some levels. Some numbers that I checked where (all per sqft of house)

Roof - $2
Plumbing - $5 (included fixtures/showers in this case 4 full baths)
Electrical - $3
HVAC - $5
Carpet - $1
Drywall/paint - $4
Doors - $1
Windows - $5 (Can be much less)
Insulation - $1.50
Siding - $5

Those are all cheap numbers.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 6:01AM
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To those who said "shop around"...how does one do this when a general contractor has been engaged to build the house? It's hard for me to imagine saying to the GC: oh, hold on a minute with that sink, let me check eBay first...

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 12:20PM
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Sophie Wheeler

It's a matter of perception as to what the term "expensive" might apply. If you compare square footage, there is no contest that even a pretty basic box is more costly to construct than an existing home. If you start to add things to that basic box, like make the ceilings higher, the footprint more complicated, the interior finishes nicer, then you start to go up that slope between "costly" and "expensive". Where that exact point where "expensive" begins on that slope depends entirely on your expectations for the finished product. The best way to keep "expensive" away from you is to change your expectations of getting a luxury build for an economy price. If you want that, then you buy one of the many many homes in foreclosure right now. If you don't want to buy "used", then you WILL be in the "expensive" category for your build.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 1:13PM
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cpacker - I think it is important to set those expectations with your builder up front and decieding how much time/energy you want to spend on researching materials.

Personally, in all my early conversations with builders I have made it quite clear that we will be involved in purchasing materials throughout the build. And no one has seemed to have a problem with that.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 1:20PM
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cpacker - If you have allowances for purchasing finishes, you can shop to your heart's content, you just have to do so ahead of when the items are going to be needed by your builder. That's what we did. We bought plumbing fixtures (toilets, faucets, etc), ceiling fans, sinks, etc. ahead of time and stored them in our rental house during the build. At one point, our house could have been confused with a home improvement store.

And when the builder said he was ready for light fixtures, we handed them over. It worked great and by shopping around on line, we saved lots.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 4:20PM
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When Dh and I were building we also purchased things ahead like light fixtures, cabinet pulls, some door hardware,etc. but when it came to the plumbing fixtures the plumber more or less said if we bought our own, say from a box store, he could not guarantee them because he purchased his fixtures from a wholesale supply house where he gave a 100% guarantee. He gave us catalogs to choose from and I did compare model #'s and even though they looked the same they were not. So, if we have any problems and we haven't after 4 years, he will replace them. I don't know if some builders have the same procedure or not. I know there are alot of people on this forum that purchased almost all of their fixtures even down to the nails on their own! It all depends on what your contract says or what you agree to with your contractor.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 11:43AM
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We are also doing what tooskinneejs & twotogo are doing with our fixtures.

We are saving about 35% on our fixtures & while the plumbing is a bit of a task because we had to really focused on all the rough-in behind the wall components, it is still a huge savings & builder is professional enough to provide us guidance.

We actually provide him with the specs & install docs provided by each product manufacturer prior in a clickable .xls.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 12:07AM
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1) Permitting in some areas
2) Large footprint / basement
3) Complex roof, when framers familiar only with trusses
4) Wife's dream kitchen etc. Overpriced kitchen cabinets, appliances, etc.
5) Granite from the someplace on the earth no one ever heard of.
6) Specialty flooring
7) Large fancy decking
8) Green GC
9) High-end windows. Windows could add as little as $5k to as much as $50,000.

  1. HVAC, high SEER, Geothermal systems could be between $12k - $35k.
  2. Architect fees 10% - 15%
  3. finishes
    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 7:05AM
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This blog has been a wealth of information. We are still in the beginning stages and I feel quite behind the 8ball after reading all these posts. We are still trying to find land we can afford! I do have some questions about what I read. If anyone with the experience or inclination feels like they could answer any or all of these I would really appreciate it.

How did you secure your land? Did you land separately or from a builders land home package in a development? We are having a hard time finding a bank that will give us a land loan.
What is a drip septic system, why would you need one?
What type of lot situation calls for a well to be dug more deeply?
How do you/can you purchase all the rough in behind the wall plumbing?

How soon should we start shopping around for the fixtures for all your finish work? Sinks, fixtures, faucets, backsplash etc? Did you start before building even commenced?


    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 6:20PM
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The OP said, "I thought it might be helpful (and eye-opening) to list a few things that make building a house more expensive"...

In my experience, what makes building a house more expensive includes:

1. Not really knowing what you need (as opposed to what you want) in the first place;
2, Changing your mind and adding more expenses during construction.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 9:47PM
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I agree so strongly with this comment from Virgil, "Not really knowing what you need (as opposed to what you want) in the first place".

I think many people build without researching. This seems costly to me.

We will be building as green as possible, but some things (geothermal system) don't make financial sense for us. Others while costly are more justifiable. We will be paying more for expertise with green building. There are fewer options so less competition in pricing.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 3:33AM
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