Cost Per Square Foot – A Potential Pricing Problem

Blindly pricing a job on a cost per square foot is risky business.

Are we talking heated square footage, foundation square footage, total square footage?

Design, location, and finishes all influence the cost of a job. Still, customers push for this simple comparison. I explain some effects of design, location, and finishes below.

Cost Per Square Foot – Location Influence.

Building location influences cost.

Foundation costs can vary greatly.  The same 2000 square foot house design may entail raised slab construction when built on a flat lot.  Five courses of concrete block might do. Build the same design on the side of a hill or a mountain then the foundation cost will skyrocket. The foundation might become the most costly budget line item and will, therefore, up the cost per square foot.

Municipalities and subdivisions often require exceptional finishes in their architectural review guidelines.  Consider the same 2000 square foot design. Exterior wall finish requirements sometimes demand three or four different materials in some cases. Some subdivisions dictate identical roof finishes. One, familiar to me, requires all roofing to be cedar shakes. Compute these extra costs imposed by various regulations. Compare those costs to the same house with vinyl siding and three tab shingles.

Wind zone requirements affect cost per square foot. Wind zones can change over relatively short horizontal differences and shorter vertical elevations.

Is this house built at a fifty foot set back from the road? Instead, will a 1000′ driveway be necessary?

Are septic system and well, also, included in my price?

Cost Per Square Foot – Design Influence.

A 2000 square foot house design is infinitely variable.

Does the house have a garage? How big is the garage? The answers to these questions affect cost per square foot.

Are the interior ceilings eight feet high? Are they nine feet? Ten? Maybe the walls are even higher? Increasing amounts of vertical lumber, insulation, drywall and associated labor will, consequently, be required. Additionally, ceiling heights affect the height of exterior walls, requiring additional labor and quantities of wall finish material. Window sizes usually increase with wall heights. Consequently, costs will increase as well.

Is the house simply square or rectangular? If not, every added inside and outside corner will add material and labor costs. Radii add costs.

Is the roof of a low or high pitch? While aesthetically pleasing, high pitches add material and labor costs. Also, they add extra safety concerns as well. In addition, dormers add additional costs.

Also, Is there a deck? There may be. Maybe the deck is 200 square feet. Perhaps it is 1000 square feet. Is it a first-floor deck or rather second-floor?

Cost Per Square Foot – Finish Influence.

Customers have different tastes and expectations when building a house. Therefore, cost per square foot will vary along with finishes.

Suppose the baseline house has carpet and vinyl as floor finishes. Substitute wood, ceramic tile or stone. Cha-ching!

Does the house have simple baseboard and casing applications only? Rather, does the client require two or three piece crown molding, chair rail, and baseboard? Then the second condition will add new materials, additional material quantities and finish labor.

The baseline house specifies a $1000 refrigerator. Use a $3000 refrigerator instead and, as a result, your cost per square foot just went up $1.00 per square foot.

Cost Per Square Foot – Conclusion.

Because there are so many variables avoid cost per square foot pricing. Instead, rely on sound estimating and purchasing procedures

My opinion is that any project cost per square foot cannot be determined until the project is complete.

I’d be interested to hear my readers’ opinions.

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