All but the wealthiest people approach a new-home project
with a budget, and house plans are certainly a great way to economize on design
without sacrificing quality. But the bigger question is how much it will cost
to construct your house. Trained designers and builders can look at a house
plan and arrive at a ballpark estimate of construction costs. Most people need
That’s why plan companies often provide services that estimate
the cost per square foot to build a particular plan in your region. (The
Cost To Build Calculator
provided by Houseplans.com, is available for every one of the site's tens of thousands of plans.) Importantly, the services allow you to pick the desired finish level
for your house. You may want to be as economical as possible on a weekend-getaway
. Or you may want to go all in on the home of your dreams.
Cost per square foot data is a great comparison tool. But
you need to make certain that you are comparing apples to apples. Cost per square
foot may be measured from the inside or outside wall. Measuring from the
outside wall includes the cost of insulating the wall cavity, an important
consideration in cold climates. You also need to check to see whether
unfinished space in the attic, basement, or garage is included. In most cases,
it isn’t. If it is, it will make the home look like a bargain.
Similarly, cost per square foot calculations don’t tell you
everything you need to know about what it will cost to build a home. They
exclude the cost of the lot, which can vary widely by region. Also, some lots
are ready for development. Others need utilities before you can build on them.
The slope of the lot will also affect the cost of construction. A steeply
sloped lot may require additional excavation and materials. (The service
provided by Houseplans.com assumes a lot that slopes no more than 15 percent.)
Nationwide, the average cost per square foot to build a
new home excluding land, and only including finished space under roof was
$105 per square foot in 2016, according to a U.S. Census survey. That means
that a 2,400 square foot home cost about $252,000 to build. The figure is much
higher in the Northeast ($159) and the West ($129), where labor tends to be
more expensive and government fees higher. It¹s less expensive to build homes
in the Midwest ($105) and South ($95), where the opposite dynamic is in play.
One big variable in this equation is whether you build a
one-story or two-story house. Given the same square footage, a two-story home
will be less expensive to build. You’ll have a smaller, less complicated roof
and foundation. Also, a one-story home may require a wider, deeper, more
expensive building lot. A two-story home with bedrooms on the second floor can
also produce utility savings, if you routinely turn off the heat and air
conditioning during the day.
The least expensive homes to build have uninterrupted
rectangular footprints, like plan 497-13, above
. Every jog in the foundation or siding slows work and
adds expense. The same logic applies to the roofline; every bump out, no matter
how attractive, adds cost. Some exterior flourishes – bay windows on Victorians
and dormers on Bungalows come immediately to mind – may be essential to
producing the style of the home you covet. But others – particularly
overwrought rooflines and grand entryways – may add expense without creating
When builders buy house plans, they make sure they optimize
livable space. They look for unnecessary space in hallways, entries, and
landings. They delete interior walls that aren’t essential. (Plan 484-5, above
, streamlines everything down to just the elegant basics.) House plan shoppers
should apply the same discipline.
But you may want open spaces a builder may
delete. Maybe you entertain often and want a lot of open floor space on the
first floor for parties. Perhaps your ideal home features an open homework den
at the top of the stairs, like plan 888-15, above
Another important question to ask is whether you can live
without traditional rooms. Some people may want a big dining room for family
gatherings. But for others a large nook off the kitchen and an eat-in island
will suffice. Do you really need a dedicated home office, or could a third
bedroom do double duty as an office and guest room? The beauty of home Wi-Fi
networks is that you can take your work to the best spot in the home, the one
with the best view and sunlight.
It’s important to think about how rooms borrow space from
each other to create the impression of greater square footage. A simple framed
opening between the living room and dining room can make both rooms read
larger, particularly if the sight line ends in windows with compelling views. Taking
down walls between rooms not only saves expense but also results in larger,
more livable interior spaces.
The desired finish level for your home will dramatically
impact its cost. It’s easy to drop an extra $50,000 on a gourmet kitchen with
high-end appliances, custom countertops, and exotic floor tiles. Same goes for
the bathroom, the other relatively expensive room to build. Many interior
finishes increase costs without boosting square footage – fireplaces, lighting,
crown molding and specialty trim, window treatment. If you do the work to optimize
the size of your home, money may be left over to upgrade materials.
The big wild card is how much unfinished space your home
will have. A back porch or deck that borders on the woods may be the reason why
you want to build a home in the first place. You may need to get a separate bid
for that once your plans are finalized. Unfinished attic or basement space may
be great to have later on when you can afford to finish it. Since the walls,
roof, and ceiling are already in place, this is a less expensive option than
starting from scratch. Plan 928-13, above
, features a guest apartment over the garage that can be finished now or later.
The bottom line is that cost per square foot calculations
are great guideposts. But you need to carefully consider their limitations –
and your own desires and inclinations – to arrive at the true cost of building
your new home.
Read more about the Houseplans Cost to Build Calculator here