Why Construction Is Expensive, Especially When It Is Small and Green

It has been a constant source of frustration for me over the years that when it comes to building anything in America, the discussion always reverts to the cost per square foot. Just because a production builder can toss up 3,000 square feet of crap made of carpet and drywall and vinyl for $75 bucks per foot, then every small prefab or minihome or garden office at $200 a foot is grossly overpriced.

For years I have tried to make the case that the easiest way to drop the price per square foot of a house is to simply pump up the volume: kitchens and bathrooms are expensive, but family rooms and bedrooms with nothing but drywall and carpet are really cheap. Now Seattle architect and builder BUILD has taken a shot at bringing a little more precision into the discussion, calling them Asymmetrical Costs:

Some areas of a home are much more expensive per square foot because they have a concentration of expensive features (appliances, plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, hardware, etc.) and are more labor intensive to build (involving carpenters, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, tile setters, painters, etc.). For instance, kitchens and bathrooms typically cost much more, and if pressed we’d say around $400 per square foot. This higher cost per square foot is balanced out by spaces like the living room (if pressed, more like $100/sf), bedrooms (if pressed, $75/sf) and the garage ($50/sf), resulting in a much lower cost per square foot over the entire house.

Then there is the issue of quality. I remember working with a production builder and wanting to increase the height of the baseboard from the usual 3-1/2" high stuff that they used. The price that was quoted was ridiculous; the builder explained that the cheap stuff was thin and flexible enough to bend; if I wanted higher, thicker baseboard, then the drywall had to be flat and the framing had to be more precise. The implications went right back to the 2x4s. Quality construction is expensive.

BUILD also notes that in renovations, such as Systems don't stop at the walls

When you apply the principles of good design to a home remodel, the work usually includes more than just the room most in need of updates. The simple fact is that, no matter how cost-effective you are, doing a good job is expensive


Ain't it the truth. More at BUILD

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