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How Much Will It Cost to Build Your New House?

Updated on February 10, 2017
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Mario Buildreps is a graduate engineer. Become aware of topics in a way you have never heard before.

Size matters. Volume is the main cost driver of the construction costs.
Size matters. Volume is the main cost driver of the construction costs. | Source

The Sense of Architecture

Many buildings are not designed for the functions itself, but primary as an aesthetic expression, a piece of art of the architect.

Since architects have intellectual property rights, is the aesthetic expression in many cases primarily an egoic exercise.

During a study, architects learned all about functionality, shapes, and constructions, but it seems to be forgotten once they became partner or owner of an architectural office.

According to Wikipedia, architecture is defined as follows: "In relation to buildings, architecture has to do with the planning, designing and constructing form, space, and ambiance that reflect functional, technical, social, environmental, and aesthetic considerations."

It is nearly impossible to give all desired wishes the same weight and mostly they are ranked in importance. Most clients will prefer besides functionality, budget, green building, prestige and durability.

The sense of architecture is to create new buildings or to renovate old buildings that add value to the quality of life and to the quality of its surrounding. Added value can be comfort, protection, happiness, amazement, socialising, to save space and to save the environment, etcetera.

When you want to build your own home, and want to hire an architect, hire one that has experience in this field. An architect that has experience in museums will design your home as a kind of museum. This home will not only be dis-functional but also be very expensive. Problems and many discussions will be the result. It is likely that this was not the intention.

Simplicity is the key.

Louis Sullivan

Louis Sullivan is one of the most brilliant architects.

He is known as the grounder of the modern skyscraper, with the typical column-frame construction techniques that allowed higher buildings with larger windows.

His signature was simplicity.

What is More Important For You?

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Form Follows Function

An effective and more simple definition of Form follows Function can be found on Wikipedia "Form follows Function." Some architects don't like this kind of assignments because it limits freedom of design.

This is how you recognize the architect who's right for you. It isn't likely you want a home full of expensive fringes. You want it to be functional in accordance with your wishes. Form, therefore, MUST follow function, and not vice versa.

Form follows Function means practically that the 'business processes' are defined first and only then the building is placed as a box over this as a protection against the environment and elements. The box may not influence the 'business processes' in a negative way. Only then you'll have the best results that last the longest.

Most architects who follow this principle are less successful in their profession, but in most cases, these are the best ones to hire for your project!

What Is the Cheapest Shape to Build?

About 60% of the costs of a building are in main construction, façade, roof and floors. Here counts that with every enlargement the costs rise quadratically.

The discussion which shape is the cheapest to build is timeless. Many people tend to think it is a cube, but it is not a cube. It is a 1:2 rectangle. Oval shaped buildings are already more expensive, because the curvatures take more time to design and engineer, more time to prepare and more time to construct.

So, the rectangles are the cheapest shape to build.

What size is the most effective?

Weird Shapes Are Expensive

Weird shaped houses are expensive and often more ineffective. What do you think: is this house about Form or Function?
Weird shaped houses are expensive and often more ineffective. What do you think: is this house about Form or Function? | Source

Deflection of a Floor

Comparison Between Square and Rectangle

For example, a cubic shaped home of two stories high, with the dimensions of 6x6x6, with a story height (from upside floor to upside floor) of 3 m, has the following dimensions.

Square:

  • volume = 216m3
  • floor area = 72m2
  • façade = 144 m2
  • roof = 36 m2

Rectangle:

  • volume = 216m3
  • floor area = 72m2
  • façade = 120 m2
  • roof = 36 m2

As you see the façade has decreased with 17%, when the shape became more rectanglar, which equals a saving of about 17% on the costs of the façade.

But there's more.

The construction of the floor of the rectangle shaped building is less expensive because of the smaller span, that went from 6 m to 4 m. The floor construction can be about 40% lighter, that has a direct impact on the walls that carry the weight of the floors, and foundation as well that supports the weight of the whole building.

On the total construction costs, the difference between the cubic and the rectangle shaped home is approximately 25%, in favour of the rectangle. Studying these basic mathematical principles of buildings can safe huge amounts of money, especially when building your own home.

Every good architect will try to find the balance between functionality and cost control. You as a client must be aware of the major principles of costs, so you can critically watch over the shoulder of your architect!

Architects Benefit From Higher Costs

Architects are mostly not dedicated to advice more economical shapes. And that's logical, once you understand that the fee of an architect depends on the construction cost.

The more expensive a building becomes, the higher the fee of the architect. So, where's the driver to build more economical? It is nowhere.

The contract contains borders, but the contract will also contain many escapes. By monitoring the design process with the major principles in mind you're able to control these costs much easier.

There is no drive to build economically. Besides this, have architects who are specialized in building economical or cheap buildings, no fame and thus less money because they build cheap.

That is why the system of architects fee is redundant.

The tide is turning, though. The world has become less interested in swaggy expensive buildings. More and more people want green economical comfortable buildings.

The principle of the architectural fee has to be reformed to accomplish this!

Shape
Effectiveness (facade vs. volume)
Rectangle
100%
Oval
88%
Cube
83%

Cheapest Home to Build

Altogether the cheapest home to build is a 1:2 rectangle with the short side not larger than 5 m.

A straight forward home, with four corners and perhaps a large porch on one side would be the cheapest home to build.

Summary:

  • Length x width: 10 x 5 m;
  • Two stories of not more than 2.6 m from upside floor to upside floor;
  • a low pitched roof.

It is possible to build this home around $500/m2. This example would cost around $ 50,000 to build. The more you can do by yourself, the cheaper the project becomes.

Most 'catalogue builders' will charge approximately a double price for this house. They have to pay their staff, overhead, design costs, profit and risk, etcetera to run their business.

Constructing a wooden home, is mostly easier than constructing a brick home, but a wooden home requires more maintenance on the long run.

A high pitched roof takes more cubic meters, and more roof surface, and is therefore more expensive.
A high pitched roof takes more cubic meters, and more roof surface, and is therefore more expensive. | Source

Green Building

The system of architects fee should be counted into points of usefulness. The more useful, the higher the fee. When for example, when an architect combines more economical building techniques with green building techniques, the added value would be much higher. The money saved on expensive shapes could be used for green building techniques.

Here are a few tips for green building:

  • depending on the climate, locate windows more or less to the sun (on the South side on the Northern hemisphere). The windows collect solar heat inside a home in winter. To keep in the Summer solar heat out swivel or retractable screens can be applied.
  • the cheapest way to safe energy is thick glass wool insulation. This keeps cold and heat outside.
  • when using high thermal insulations, bear in mind that you should avoid differences in Rc-values (or R-values), between walls and windows or between walls and roof, larger than 0.5. Due to large differences, dew point condensation may occur on the areas where the RC-values are the lowest.
  • thermal bridges should be avoided at any time. But when they occur in high thermal insulations due to construction details, they should be wrapped in insolation material. Thermal bridges can be recognized by condensation and/or wet spots on inner walls, at places where parts of the outer construction 'pierces' through the insulation.
  • when balanced ventilation systems with heat recovery are applied, keep in mind that the fresh incoming air passes a heat exchanger that may be contaminated after a while (depending on the construction) and needs regular maintenance and/or cleaning.
  • in warm climates, the simplest way to keep a home cool is the so-called "high thermal mass", that means thick walls, small windows with shutters or screen on the outside and a vegetated roof. Installing air conditioners are mostly cheaper, but the running costs will exceed the initial costs within five years.
  • Using geothermal systems look promising, but requires a relative expensive serviceable installation.

How Much Does it Cost to (re)Build This Type of House?

Source

Do It Yourself (DIY)

When you decide to build your own home in the most economical way, the best way to build is a rectangle shaped house of 5x10 meters in two stories, with a low pitched roof. This home will cost less than $50,000 (without plot).

Every part you do by yourself will lower this amount. The average balance between labour + material is resp. 55% + 45% (=together 100%).

The same home in the full DIY version will cost about $ 22,500.

When you're planning to build your home (5x10 m) partly yourself, take these amounts into account for materials:

Material Cost 5 x 10 m Home - DIY Version

Construction Part
Material cost (± 15%)
Foundation
$2,500
Frame
$4,000
Windows and exterior doors
$1,500
Façade (sidings, incl. insulation)
$2,000
Roof
$2,000
Plumbing
$1,500
Electrical and Lighting
$1,000
Drywall
$1,000
Painting
$1,000
Kitchen
$1,750
Tiles and carpets
$1,000
Porch
$750
Unforeseen
$2,500

Conclusion

When this size is too small, it might be an option to connect two or more of these blocks together, more or less like terraced homes, but then with one inhabitant. This way of designing also keeps the door open to resize the home into pieces and sell them separately, which can be more lucrative.

Any other shape or enlargement is more expensive than this - this is the optimum shape and size in construction cost.

Keep in mind that surfaces grow quadratic, just as the costs. Constructions become increasingly complicated with growing size, just as the costs. The additional costs of fees and installations grow with it.

© 2013 Buildreps

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very helpful information from the voice of experience. We are trying to buy some land out in the country, and then we will build on it...this has been very helpful indeed. Thank you!

    • Buildreps profile image
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      Buildreps 2 years ago from Europe

      That's great to hear, Bill. This was my first Hub ever, when I had to pass bootcamp :) Good to hear there's some useful information in it.

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