The Trouble with the Square Foot Cost Question

“What does it cost per square foot to build a new home?” This is not an easy question to answer. Yet we get this question from curious folks almost daily. The most honest answer is “it depends”. But that answer is vague and certainly not what people want to hear. Truthfully, it’s hard to compare cost per square foot figures from builder to builder – there isn’t a standard. A full custom home, like the kind we design and build, will be more expensive per square foot than a semi-custom home.

If you are quoted a price from a builder you should ask several questions and understand what is included. Is site clearing included? Excavation? Foundation? Underground utilities? What quality of building materials will be used, such as siding, roofing, windows and doors? Will the home have 10’ interior walls, or more standard wall heights? Will ceilings be vaulted or is a timber frame incorporated? Does the price include square footage for garages, porches and other unfinished space? Generally, a square foot price does not include unfinished spaces but those features certainly add to the cost of a home and will alter the cost per square foot calculation.

Factors also influencing the square foot cost of a home include the style of the home, your personal tastes, location, site preparation, quality of construction, and finish details. For example, a design with more angles and roof lines will cost more than a simpler roof system for a home with the same size living space. Other cost driving factors include mechanical systems, solar panels, car charging stations, security, back-up power generators, advanced low voltage smart home technologies, audio/visual, appliances, fireplaces, wood stoves/inserts, interior trim details, built-ins, stairways, cabinets, mirrors, bath accessories, countertops, flooring, and electrical and plumbing fixtures. The options available in each of these categories will significantly affect the square foot price.

Our company’s experience has been that a gap exists between the true cost of a custom home and the owner’s expectations of cost, especially when applied on a square foot basis. The team at Houses and Barns by John Libby prefers avoiding surprises and feels that the best course of action is to partner up early in the design process to incorporate all of the features that may fit an owner’s needs while paying attention to a realistic budget. This design-build approach opens the door to partnering from the get-go to achieve a successful project outcome.