the least expensive style to build

happymary45September 6, 2007

I think about building and because we do not have a bundle to spend, I'm wondering, what style would be the least expensive to build? I know, I know, it all depends on the bells and whistles, but how about shape, the number of levels (one storey or two storey, etc.)...all that? I know windows are expensive, so I would imagine that the number of windows someone wanted would make a difference, but what else? Any responses will help give me a better idea about all this...


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The cheapest house to build is usually a house with only 4 corners and 1 roof pitch. Building up is cheaper than building out so having the kitchen, LR and a bath on the first floor and 3 br and baths on a second floor is cheaper than putting them all in a ranch (if sf is the same)

So basically a 2 story rectangle is about as cheap as you can get.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 2:24PM
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The cheapest style would be a simple box. There's some disagreement as to whether single level or two story is least expensive; part of that would depend on your lot.

With a two story, the size of the basement is smaller than an equivalent sized single level. Ditto roof materials. The more complicated your roof and the more angles you have in the foundation, the more costly the build will be.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 2:26PM
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I've heard the same thing. A center hall colonial is cheaper than a ranch due to less foundation needed in the colonial.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 2:30PM
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From what I've heard and read, a two story "saltbox" house is the least expensive way to go.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 2:57PM
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There are those who claim the 2nd floor is NOT a money saver, but they seem to be in the minority.

Basement SF is the cheapest you can get, if the lot/region makes it practical. Cheap to build, heat, cool and maintain.

Personally, I don't care for 'daily use' rooms in the basement: Media room, craft room, guest room, game room: fine. But bedrooms that will be in constant use, not so much unless they can have full size, above grade windows. There's strong evidence that a good dose of morning sun is crucial to the circadian rythum, which is critical to good brain function.

I'm also a firm believer that a portion of the savings of basement living space absolutely must be invested in a good HRV system so that the air down there is just as fresh and healthy as the rest of the house.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 3:21PM
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wow. quick responses. thanks! basement is out. I live in texas, so no need and probably contractors around here would scratch their head and ask what that is. Jojoco, what is a center hall colonial and where might I see some examples/plans for one? this is really helpful. and because this is a dream as yet, I guess I could consider this help wtih the very early planning stages!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 3:27PM
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Here in FL, almost all the houses are single story ranch, except for recent years. A 2 story house costs more here, but then, there are no basements; all the houses are built on a slab, which is much cheaper than a basement. I also know they charge more for 2nd story roofing because of insurance. I'm struggling with this decision, too, since I am designing our final house, and it needs to small and efficient. It will be on a basement. I actually prefer the look of a 2 story, but want all our needs met on the first floor, in case one of us is incapacitated in our senior years.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 3:28PM
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Here is a link to a pretty basic center call Colonial.

Around here the cheapest homes are box ("builder's") ranches. Then simple Capes. Then very simple colonials (similar to the attached but without the separate garage and with the staircase having walls on two sides).

Here is a link that might be useful: House Plan

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 4:22PM
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We went with American Foursquare style (2 story) to keep expenses and building complexity to a minimum. Still homey and with a style to work off of, though. The other benefit, depending on how it's placed on your lot with other things, is the ability to add on. We are already planning to build on a family room later, so put in a header for that future doorway, planned our wiring so it doesn't cross that area, etc. so it will be even easier when the time comes.

Best wishes!

Our version of American Foursquare:

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 4:47PM
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I love colonial homes!! I looked at colonial before we ended up with what we have. DH and I did not see eye to eye on the colonials :-)

rhome- I LOVE the color of your exterior!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 5:58PM
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rhome410 that's it!!

How much was it to build, approx. (per square foot)? I love that style. we won't need to be buidling on because we are pushing 50 and have three teens, one a senior in high school. tell me where you got your plan, etc. please!The only thing I want as a fancy add on or whatever is a great front porch. Please communicate with me. I think that is a great style and if its economical, I'm there!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 5:59PM
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thanks so much for setting up that link for me. I've also found other plans I like now that I have a better idea of what I'm looking for. I like this one alot.

Here is a link that might be useful: house plan I like

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 6:19PM
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You can also save money by ordering your windows and doors kerf ready. This way they can kerf the sheet rock right into the window and door frames with bullnose and you do not have to pay for a bunch of expensive trim molding work.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 10:52PM
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You will notice most cities across the United States have rows and rows of old houses in the "American foursquare" style, similar shape to rhome's. That is because they made the most efficient use of space (the most for your money), especially for city lots. I looked at lots of these because that was the style I was considering building at first. My problem was, I wanted to have all the "necessary" rooms on the first floor, with only two bedrooms, a bathroom and storage upstairs. So, we went with this shape:

It is based on what's called an "I house," a two-story house two or three rooms wide and one room deep, with a "rear ell," which is the addition on the back. These are common in the rural south and midwest. I've been told it is a very economical shape. Our foundation is a 38x38 square. I also feel this is better suited to our location, since it is on a farm and this is more farmhouse-like than a foursquare, IMO. The saltbox, which amyks mentioned, would be similar but with one steep-sloping roof in back, I think. That might be even cheaper.

Here is a link that might be useful: Owl's progress blog (pictures)

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 11:18PM
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Happymary45, glad to help if I can. We're still building, so I don't have final $/sq ft numbers yet. But it might not help if you live in a different area, put in different flooring, different appliances, have different utility hookup costs, fewer bathrooms, different heating and sewage/septic system, etc. Also, we are doing most of the work ourselves. The shell (concrete, Douglas fir framing lumber, trusses and sheeting/sheathing) was about $9/sq ft. Adding Milgard vinyl slider windows, HardiPlank siding, 50-yr roofing, and porches -matching front and back- framed and then decked with Trex-like stuff brought it up to about $17/sq ft. Our house is 2750 sq ft, plus porches. It has 9 ft wall ht downstairs, and 8 ft upstairs. We did all the labor, and that total doesn't include utilities, permits, or site work.

I like the plan you've found (of course). I like the way the kitchen is set up with the den. I saw a model kitchen and den setup like that at an appliance showroom and loved how it would work. Our kitchen will be separate, though, so no one has to see the mess from our many kitchen activities from any other room.

I designed our plan. We're also 'pushing 50', well, if 47 counts. Our 8 kiddos are 3 to 19, and we figure that, not only now, but when they bring spouses and kids back to visit, we'll need that family room! We only have a small living room in the house right now, so hope to add it in the next yr or two.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 11:38PM
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A square is the most economical shape to build for anything under 32 ft. square. Above that, a rectangle is more economical. The roof and foundation are the most expensive shell components, with the exterior walls coming in last. These big 3 determine the basic cost more directly than your interior layout.

Design on a 24-inch framing module. Everytime you can place a door or window opening within that module you save on framing costs. At least butt one side of each opening up against a stud on the module. Use 24-inch on center framing (called "Optimum Value Engineering" or "Advanced Wall Framing") for your exterior framing (16-inch o.c. for the roof for strength). This also gives you more space for insulation and reduces thermal bridging because you have fewer wood studs--reduces your costs to heat/cool.

In TX I would think a slab on grade is readily built, but you have some unstable soils, which can make a slab slide, so check with informed builders there. If you can use it, the slab on grade is cheapest. Here in GA you also get the lowest property tax rate for that foundation. Check with your local tax assessor's office for that info. You need to consider your taxes, utility bills down the road; not just the cost to build.

Have your builder use roof trusses rather than stick-built roof framing. Most do now. Allow your builder or direct your designer to play with the roof overhang and roof pitch a little. A small change can optimize your materials use for both sheathing (very expensive) and framing lumber.

Keep your roof simple. Omit dormers and excess gables and all of those that are non-functional.

If you're building a 2-story, stack the framing so it lines up vertically.

Place your large openings (garage doors, patio door, wide windows) in nonbearing gable ends to minimize header and wall-framing.

As to the interior, the fewer walls, the lower the cost. You'll get to interior finishes later, which is usually about 40% of your total cost, but a lot of us don't want to shave money off there, because that's what we value most. Save your money on your shell.

There are a million more ideas, and your builder or designer won't tell you most of them because it is not their concern, generally, to reduce your costs. Get a copy of Fernando Ruiz' book titled Building An Affordable House. It is based on his work with production builders, so you won't want to do all the things in there, but his designing the basic shell for economy is PRICELESS!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2007 at 6:25AM
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Pinktoes, you are awsome! Most of the houses that I know of here are built pier and beam with a crawl space. we live close to town (san antonio) so we have deep clay and caliche. It tends to expand and contract, so usually a slab isn't a good idea. I don't mind a smaller house, but 1024 sq ft. is a little TOO small, I think. so then we should probably go to a rectangle?

rhome, I am 47 my dh is 48. we live in a 1084 sq.ft. house now, that was basically post wwII track housing. I like our house but its very small and I've always wanted to live in a two story house (for some reason, not sure why). I love, love, love all the info and am so grateful. This is my favorite forum and we are not even starting a build yet! I've read some stuff here about tearing down an existing house and building new vs. renovation/addition and because we do have a great lot (although small city lot), I am going back and forth about what to do (couple of years in the future). It just seems like a waste of money to demolish and pay to have it removed, but I have read threads where some people defend this course of action. I must think about all of it some more.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2007 at 1:14PM
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If you're thinking about making a LOT of MAJOR changes, then demolition will be cheaper. We bought a house to get their lot and will be tearing it down and removing all the debris from the swimming pool as well. House is brick, 1800 sq. ft. on each level plus 400 sq. ft. garage, full length deck. It's cheaper to tear it down, including foundation.

Our builder is getting several bids for the demo. First one came in at $14K. Not bad at all.

If, however, you want to build new, but on the original foundation, tearing everything else down, then you will probably be able to build the same house for less than if you built from scratch, even considering the partial demolition work, just because foundation work is so expensive. Have your foundation checked by an engineer to make sure its sound, though.

In a lot of places your building permits will also be lower if you build atop the original foundation. It's all so local. Go visit all the local zoning/town planning, and building permit, and tax assessors offices. We got TONS of help just by being nice to those people. Plus you've got to found out exactly where you stand legally with them to know what your real options are.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2007 at 2:42PM
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Maybe think of the cost of demolition vs the costs of buying another piece of property, the site prep, the utility hookups, etc. I just learned that because our lot already had an old mobile home on it with the utilities in place, of course, we'll pay nothing to hook up water to the new house, but if it'd been an empty lot, it would've been over $5000 for a meter and hookup, plus county 'impact' fees for new construction, which would have been another several thousand for no gain in the house...

Especially if you love the lot and the location, it's worth thinking about...and if you can save a small part or wall of the old house, then you get a remodeling permit, instead of one for new construction, which I've always heard is easier and cheaper. I suppose that can differ with areas. It could be worth checking with an architect or someone knowledgeable in your area to see about changing your old house into the new one you want.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2007 at 3:08PM
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