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By Jon in Ness, WA on 12/17/2008


I'm considering building a house on five acres I own outright near Gig Harbor, WA. I finally found a stock house plan I like (goes well with the lot and the view), but I have no idea if I can afford to build it. The nearest I can tell, I'll have to purchase the plan in order to figure out what materials I will need and how much subs will charge to build it. Thus, if it turns out to be too much, I just wasted money on plans I'll never use.

How can I get a realistic idea of how much it costs to build the house before I buy the plan? I punched the house into an online calculator at building-cost.net and found the home will cost about $500K to build. That's way out of my budget, but I don't think the online calculator is even close to correct. Or maybe I entered all the wrong build quality data?

There is a link on the plan page to get a cost to build estimate for $30, but it looks like it probably just a generalized estimate as it doesn't have much detail about the actual house. Thus, it's probably misleading and not worth it.

The plan I'm thinking about is 2,281 sq ft with a daylight basement. Here's a link:

orderhomeplans.com/exec/action/plans

I take it the front glass, steep roofs, etc. will really drive up the cost to build?

Thanks for any help!

Jon

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 1/2/2009


Howdy Jon:


I have no particular answers, just a similar anecdote.

I have not tried to use any of the online building cost estimators yet, though I probably should just as a swag once I get going on my loan paperwork (the big glaring thing at the top of my To Do List).    I don't know if they only estimate materials or if they allow for labor costs.

When my architect gave me my initial estimate he was around $700K--roughly double what I'd expected.  Once I dug more deeply into the reasons behind this, however, I began to understand better the logic he was using.  That line of thinking, while perfectly sound, simply didn't reflect the fact that we planned to do much of the work ourselves--thus avoiding huge chunks of the labor costs he was building into his estimate.  By all means I intend to let others do the work when it makes sense--I can do drywall, for example, but it's frankly not worth it given how little it costs to have a trained crew do it instead--but for the most part we're going to do things ourselves.  Electrical, plumbing, radiant, solar--none of that scares me.  Honestly it looks like fun more than anything else!

Did the online estimator call out any one or group of things that were particularly costly?

Steve



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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 1/2/2009


Jon, I don't put much faith in those online calculators - they are way too general and there are a lot of factors to consider. Are you doing any work yourself and what kind of finishes will you have? If you plan to hire a builder, then you should be starting to interview them now anyway. Ask them what the per square foot cost range is for that style of house in your area. Once you have decided on a builder - then pick the print and go over it with him or her prior to ordering it. The builder may be able to suggest changes that would enhance the home as well as save $.

As far as the roof - yes it will cost maybe 25% more, but if you really like that plan and want all those windows - it's necessary. I would suggest checking with a glass company and see about getting commercial-style windows. It could save you quite a bit. Good Luck.
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By Gabriela in Readington Twp, NJ on 1/3/2009


Hi Jon,

The house plan you are considering is just beautiful! We are located in NJ and broke ground on our new home on July 31st. we are building 3,600 square feet for $329K (construction & materials) and $34K (indirect costs such as engineering, permits, application fees, architecture, etc). I started off with the budget spreadsheet from this website, and adapted it to our specific line-item needs after getting bids from multiple contractors within each trade. That's what I suggest you do now. Shop square footage with various subs. Paying for a study set of the plans is well worth it! You can take it to a local lumberyard and they will make a materials list for you and give you estimates on cost. Materials such as lumber and sheetrock are way down in cost, so you should do well especially in the timber state of WA.

I have attached our budget breakdown for your reference. Hope it helps and best of luck. Managing it yourself will save you the most money and allow you to spend it on matetials and upgrades instead of fat commissions to a GC. Our house was priced between $550K and $630K if built by a local builder (we got several such outlandish quotes). Budget posted is with a 20% contingency. We have been running about on par to finish at $360K so far.


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By Jon in Ness, WA on 1/3/2009


Thanks for all of the replies. The online calculator didn't have any one thing that jumped out as being astronomical. All the little things added up to be $200/sq. ft, which seemed high since I already own the land outright. I plan on doing the painting, electrical, plumbing, radiant floor heat, and laying the flooring myself. I'll sub out the rest.

Interestingly, my neighbor has a beautiful chalet-style home he built in 2003. He is a builder and did a lot of the work himself. His total finished cost including land, permits, materials, subs, etc. was $175,000 for a roughly 2,500 sq. ft. chalet (no basement). There has been hardly any work in this area for builders since last summer. He has taken out much of the equity in his house and is now underwater and on the verge of losing the home. He said he would "build me a house cheap just to keep working." I haven't talked to him about his offer yet, as I'm a little put off by the current economy. When I see him next, I'll try to get an idea of what he would charge to build the home.

I get the impression that not only are building materials fairly cheap right now, there are a lot of people in the building trades who are reducing their bids in order to stay busy and continue to make their house payments. It appears we are experiencing extreme economic contraction (deflation). If this trend holds, the cost of borrowing money will continue to decrease as well. But, the risk is that if you lose your job or source of income, you could lose your house as well.


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 1/3/2009


Jon, your neighbor's home does sound closer to what it should cost you. I have been building my house slowly over the last 3 1/2 years and acting as my own GC. I have noticed that bids are much lower now than they were four yrs. ago because of the current economy. Also, building materials are substantially less now. We are fortunate that my DH is fairly secure in his career and we felt because of the current economic climate, it was an ideal time to finish the house. We are two months from completion and it looks like our costs will come in at approx. $60 - $65 psf excluding land.

We did the foundation excavation, radiant heat, plumbing, insulation, TV/audio wiring, central vac, stone work, geothermal heat, paint, some flooring and tile, cabinets, and some trim. We hired a friend who is also a contractor and paid him on a per day basis. This worked out well because we knew him and knew that he was a hard worker and would not "milk" the job to make more $. However, I was also able to be on site every day - all day. If you are in a position that your job is secure - it would definitely be worth your time to speak to the neighbor and just get an idea of what the costs would be given the current interest rates. My price per square foot was also quite a bit cheaper because I designed it to get the maximum square footage with the least amount of cost. Less corners, single story on crawl foundation. 5,800 sf with crawl foundation.
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By Nancy in Linwood, NJ on 1/25/2009


Gabriela,

Your post has helped me. Any other suggestions for cost estimates? This is the most difficult phase.
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By Gabriela in Readington Twp, NJ on 1/28/2009


Hi Nancy,

I would agree lots of time needs to be spent estimating and refining your budget to make sure your plan is realistic and will take you through to completion. Our bank also asked for a detailed breakdown of the expenses by category in order to substantiate our loan and ensure they were getting a complete new home as collateral to the mortgage they put out on our behalf.

Most of my estimating efforts were based on actual lumber yard pricing for materials (based on our house plan) for the shell. When it came to the interiors finish stuff -- fireplaces, cabinets, vanities, granite, tile, marble, chandeliers, plumbing fixtures, dimmers, trim including casings, chair rails, crown and base, paint, appliances, etc., it's been tedious but I've had to look at each one by one, determine the finish grades we were looking for (I have a real problem with loving high end everything) and then marathon price shopping from there. Finding stuff in stores to actually see and touch it, marking down names, model numbers, etc and then buying online has saved us thousands in no tax and lower prices. lots of deals have free or low cost shipping even for bulky heavy stuff.

We got three to five bids from every subcontractor as well until we fit in our budget. We noticed very large swings in price for the same products and services so the extra effort is well worth it albeit another full time job.

PM me if you have specific product or service estimate questions and I'll do everything I can to help. It's just too much detail to go into here one by one.


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By Nancy in Linwood, NJ on 2/3/2009


Gabriela,

Thanks for your reply. I am also shopping for materials for the interior. Can you give me a few leads for kitchen cabinets and lighting fixtures?

Websites would be best.

Thanks,

Nancy

 


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By Gabriela in Readington Twp, NJ on 2/3/2009


Hi Nancy,

Kitchen cabinets were very tricky cause true "custom" is really hard to find, but there's lots of shops that pawn "custom" cabinetry they in fact order from some mass production company out in Ohio or Iowa and mark it up ridiculously for you. They are made in a factory, not local in someone's shop, but cost two times as much as the HD or Lowe's Kraftmaid versions. We also looked at buycabinets.com, but they will not ship Kraftmaid to NJ. They've signed some sort of agreement NOT to do that. We ended up buying Kraftmaid through HD, but first we had them do the design off our house plans, took those designs to Lowe's and had them beat the price. Then went back to Home Depot and told them if they wanted our business they'd have to beat Lowe's by 10%. This got us our full kitchen for 25% lower than original HD price. I'm happy and can't wait to get them on Feb 20th.

I found lightingbygregory.com to be the best spot for our fixtures. We went with the Camden Collection from Minka Lavery throughout the house, and they were great about giving us "bulk pricing" since we bought everything through them. You have to call and then email them your shopping cart and they'll tell you the revised prices off that. They are located in NYC, so no sales tax to NJ. Free shipping too.

Plumbing, same deal. Buyplumbing.net was wonderful. They are located in Utah, but their prices were great and also do "bulk pricing" the same way as Lighting by Gregory. No tax. Shipping is also quite reasonable, despite bulky, large and heavy items. We got Toto toilets and lavs for half the price of local supply houses. We also did the Danze Opulence faucets throughout the house and they were by far the best pricing for SPECTACULAR lux quality.

Hope that helps. Good luck with everything, and do post your findings once you've got your GC bids. I am so curious to see what types of discounting (if any) GCs are giving now since they must be much more desperate than a year ago when we were looking. it was about 40-50% more for us to have gone with a GC/builder instead of doing it ourselves. The finishes and material quality would not have been very high end at all.


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By Nancy in Linwood, NJ on 2/3/2009


Gabriela,

Thanks for the info. I will be using your stratagey when shopping begins.

Nancy


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By Lisa in Locust Dale, VA on 2/15/2009


Faye, saw your comments as I am getting ready to build in a couple of months. I am really interested in geothermal  (closed loop horizontal) and radiant floor heat in baths and kitchen. I am interested in your comments on your system. I live in Central Virginia and am just now looking for some geothermal contractors in my area. Any lessons learned?

Lisa 


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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/15/2009


Lisa, congratulations on starting your build! I would be more than happy to help anyway I can. Few questions first -- are you planning to only do the kitchens and baths in radiant heat? What type of heat will the rest of the house be? Do you have a budget for your HVAC yet? How large is your lot? Do you plan to do any DIY work. I'm not trying to be nosy, but this information will help me to help you -- LOL. As for my lessons, the biggest one is to do your homework. In my area geothermal is considered a new technology and there are only a handful of contractors in the state. Due to this, bids are very high. One bid I received was so high that I could live in my home 40 years and never see a return on my investment. When I pointed this out to the contractor he said that radiant heat was a luxury and geothermal was for people who cared about the environment -- not for people wanting a return on investment or savings in their utility bills. My home is over 6,000 sf so low utility bills is my main motivation. In order to be able to afford radiant geothermal, I HAD to DIY it . I was lucky to have good friends with skills who could help me. I also found great suppliers who worked with me and spent a lot of time answering questions and helping me to troubleshoot problems. I am still working out bugs, but feel it will be completely worth it for me. However, it is expensive and requires work so I don't think I would use it as a secondary heat source. Also, depending on the size of your home, the loops take up a large area and you will need a fairly good size piece of land for the loop field. When you interview contractors, make sure they have a few jobs under their belt. Also that the geothermal pump has a good warranty. Compressors are expensive and they should last many years if built well. Again Good luck - Faye
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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/15/2009


Faye:  Few questions first -- are you planning to only do the kitchens and baths in radiant heat? What type of heat will the rest of the house be? Do you have a budget for your HVAC yet?

Steve:  I just had to jump in here with a couple of things I've found in the process of designing our new place, since some of it seems relevant.  We're going with 100% radiant heat/cooling using a ground-sourced heat pump system rather than any HVAC at all.  Our architect (whom I think is rather excited about our doing this--I suspect he'll use it as a showcase) designed the whole thing.  We've sized the geothermal system to handle 110% of the heating on most days and 85% on the worst-of-the-worst days (which our county makes you size it for)--on those we'll stoke up the masonry heater/fireplace to take up the slack.

Faye:  When I pointed this out to the contractor he said that radiant heat was a luxury and geothermal was for people who cared about the environment -- not for people wanting a return on investment or savings in their utility bills. My home is over 6,000 sf so low utility bills is my main motivation. In order to be able to afford radiant geothermal, I HAD to DIY it .

Steve:  I've found myself in exactly the same situation.  While there are a handful of installers hereabouts who know how to install geothermal and radiant heat systems, there's likely no way I'd be happy with the projected costs so we plan to DIY it ourselves.  Our home is 7,100 sf with the radiant extending outside (optional zone) under the driveway apron so I can melt snow if desired.

Faye: However, it is expensive and requires work so I don't think I would use it as a secondary heat source. Also, depending on the size of your home, the loops take up a large area and you will need a fairly good size piece of land for the loop field. When you interview contractors, make sure they have a few jobs under their belt. Also that the geothermal pump has a good warranty. Compressors are expensive and they should last many years if built well.

Steve:  What system did you go with, by the way?  I'm planning to use WaterFurnace based on some excellent experiences others I know have had with them and their systems.

Steve

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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/15/2009


Steve, I have a GeoComfort geothermal heat pump and we custom built our radiant system. I have four zones and two of the manifolds are remote. My system should be able to heat my home during even the coldest weather but I also have two wood burning fireplaces and a gas fireplace. I also installed all of the radiant tubing on top of the subfloor and then poured 2" of concrete on top of that. I stained 3/4 of the concrete floors and the other 1/4 is covered in laminate wood floors and marble tile. My unit has a reverse on it for cooling in the summer.
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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/15/2009


GeoComfort is the other system I'm considering!  Very good.  The initial install is going to be big enough to handle the heating, but I plan to build in the ability to expand the system to add loops in a pond we'll be setting up down the road (should greatly increase the cooling capacity).

Your system sounds similar to the one I want to set up, though I intend to have more zones since I want the mother-in-law apartment to be completely independent.  Our floors are mostly going to be laminate wood flooring and tile with a few places (like the garage) concrete of course. 

Any regrets/lessons learned with either the radiant or the geothermal loops that you want to pass along?

Steve

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By Faye in Marseilles, IL on 2/15/2009


Steve, I am STILL installing this system and working out the bugs. We started with the geothermal loop installation, loop manifold installation and hung the flow meter. All of that was very easy. Then we installed all the manifolds and installed all the radiant tubing. Again, very easy. Then our plumber installed the pumps, mixing valves, buffer tank, etc. He questioned the use of mixing valves but that's what the supplier said we needed - so he hooked it up. Then the electrician hooked up the heat pump and the Aquastat. When we got the system filled and running we noticed that the water coming from the pump and going into the buffer tank was 120 degrees just as it was supposed to be. However, the water going out to the loops was only 60 degrees. The water coming back was 30 degrees. After much discussion, research and hair pulling we figured our problem had to be the mixing valves.

My plumber says that mixing valves are used with radiant systems that have boilers as heat sources because the boiler produce much hotter water and therefore the incoming cold return water is mixed in. A geothermal pump operates at much lower temps and therefore the incoming cold water (30 degrees) was cooling it off from 120 to 60, which is not near warm enough to warm my house. All those mixing valves (four) was also severely restricting my flow and I was having a very hard time purging air from the loops. Today the plumber came back and we removed all the mixing valves and refilled the system. Now we should just have hot water flowing to the pipes. The water temp is controlled by the Aquastat. The pumps are controlled by the thermostats. Hopefully, everything will be warming up and running good within a day or so. We will have the plumber come back in a few months and he is going to add some valves that will allow us to reverse the flow for cooling.

Even with running into these problems and all the hard work, I still have no regrets. I expected to run into some problems because there is very little info out there for DIY systems but I think that will change in the next few years. I definitely advise you to use bottled distilled water to fill your system and use a electrician to do the electrical work. I would also suggest you do not try and install your system in late fall/winter as I did. The biggest headache has been doing all this and worrying about frozen pipes while it's been -20 degrees outside!

Good Luck,

Faye
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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/16/2009


Well now, that's certainly unexpected!

It sounded at first glance that you somehow had the compressor reversed if you were essentially sending out hot (warm) water and getting back cold.  Those mixing valves must really have been messing things up!

I fully concur and understand with the "doing this in the cold weather" comment.  We're designing our build schedule to take maximum advantage of our warm weather window--Tanglewood is in the mountains and I figure we've got from April through maybe October and that's it.  That gives us 6 or 7 months to get the exterior up and the house enclosed, all while keeping costs as low as possible--which means DIY.   I can then work inside during the winter (wiring, plumbing, framing, radiant heat, etc.) and finalize other exterior items (driveway, septic, solar panels, etc.) next spring/summer.

At least that's the plan. If I run into nasty complications like you did I'll be turning to your experienced hands for some help!

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