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           Almost everyone that is considering building a custom home today asks the question:

                                       “How much does it cost per square foot?”


                                        Our response is, “what is a square foot?”


As custom builders, our work, and the cost of our work, is not described exclusively in finished square feet, but instead, by the details, finishes, complexity and components that are not included in finished square foot measurements. Examples of these include porches, garages, unfinished basements or vaulted ceilings.


As building designers, however, we need some idea of cost per square foot so that our new design will better match the project’s budget goals.   We use the "factored square foot method" to answer the cost question while still in the design phase.


Imagine a one-story home that has 2,000 finished square feet.  It is built on a slab or over a crawl space, and has 8’ high flat ceilings, no garage, no porches, and a truss roof without an attic that could become finished space. Compare this home to another that also has 2,000 finished square feet. The second home has a full walk-out unfinished basement, a Timberpeg Great Room with exposed timber rafters vaulted to the roofline, a wrap-around porch, an attached two car garage, and a large unfinished attic with dormers that’s ready to become a spare bedroom in the future. Both homes have 2,000 square feet finished, but they are very different construction projects, and will have very different costs to build.                                                                                                               

Here are two examples of recent projects. Each began the design phase using the Factored Square Foot estimate, and the eventual contract cost landed in the mid-range of Cost per FSF.



We use fractional multipliers to describe areas that require work and add to building cost, but that are not considered finished, conditioned square feet. The result is the Project Square Feet or Factored Square Feet.  This number is a much better measurement of what the house will eventually cost.


This method of estimating is not intended to be an exact science, but it is a good predictor of total job cost. Once the project is designed, S&R will provide a detailed, line-by-line estimate to establish the actual cost to build based on the final specifications and details selected by the owners. 



Today we find that a quality custom home designed and built by S&R starts at about $300 per factored square foot (if there is significant finished area in a walk-out basement) and can easily exceed $375 per factored square foot, or more, depending on features and finishes.


What makes one project cost $300 per factored square foot while another is $375? Mostly, it's features, finishes, and specifications, but it can also be design complexity.  Simpler houses, with fewer corners and uncomplicated roofs, cost less. Houses with a significant finished terrace level, (aka walk-out basement) will typically be at the lowest range of cost. Larger houses almost always cost less per factored square foot than smaller houses because there is an economy of scale in custom building - houses only have one kitchen, one well pump, one driveway, etc., regardless of whether they are 1,500 square feet or 5,000 square feet.

From $300 to $325 EXPECT:

*Best building practices regarding structure, water tightness, and energy efficiency.

*High quality, low U-factor windows, such as Pella Lifestyle, Jeld-Wen Siteline, or Anderson 400 Series;      all are wood frame windows with low maintenance exterior cladding.

*2X6 wall construction with a green building certified Grade 1 level insulation and sealing package.

*Lifetime warranty GAF or equal roofing shingles.

*Poured concrete or Superior Wall foundations, insulated according to NGBS guidelines.

*Enhanced foundation waterproofing practices.

*Engineered floor joists and durable resource efficient sheathing materials.

*Pre-finished fiber cement siding.

*Solid hardwood flooring in the main living areas, with carpet for bedrooms and LVT for baths

*Solid wood kitchen cabinets with level 1 granite tops.

*Solid core hardboard interior doors with Emtek hardware, and nicely profiled trim.

*15 SEER, or higher, heat pump system, properly designed for comfort and efficiency.

*Fireplace (wood or gas) with attractive detailing.

*Wired for technology, including user-ready wifi throughout the house, and a basic security system.

*Exterior porches, incorporating pressure treated materials and attractive detailing.

From $325 to $350 EXPECT all of the above Plus:

*Enhanced fenestration specifications.

*Upgraded insulation system using spray-in-place foam and sound isolation throughout.

*Upgraded finish roofing specifications.

*Stucco, stone, brick, or cedar shingle siding for portions of the exterior.

*Upgraded kitchen with semi-custom cabinets, Level 3 countertops and high-end appliances.

*Solid wood or MDF interior doors.

*Solid wood flooring throughout the house with ceramic tile at all baths.

*Upgraded interior trim details including expansive mouldings and wainscot paneling.

*TIMBERPEG post and beam construction for portions of the house.

*Dual-fuel or Geothermal HVAC system with multiple zones.

*Fireplaces in multiple locations with upgraded detailing.

*Upgraded light fixture and plumbing fixture budgets.

*Upgraded security system features, including cameras and intercom.

*Central vacuum and other upgraded low-voltage systems, such as surround sound and home theater.

*Upgraded porch and deck detailing using masonry, or either synthetic or exotic wood decking.

From $350 to $375 and Beyond EXPECT all of the above Plus:

*Even better quality for all specifications and fixtures.

*TIMBERPEG throughout the house, if desired.

*Radiant floor heating or more sophisticated HVAC system.

*Metal, cedar shake, or synthetic slate roof.

*Custom cabinetry and more built-ins.

*Custom closet interiors.

*Larger budgets for plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures, and other fixtures.

*Lightning protection and other specialty systems, including photovoltaic solar, smart house technology, or elevator.

*Stucco, stone, brick, or cedar shingle siding for the entire exterior.

*More design complexity and more complex roof systems.


The features and options listed above are just a sampling to give an idea of what to expect in a given price range. In reality, a custom home is a series of trade-offs intended to maintain a budget. Almost no one's budget is large enough to get everything on their wish list. By prioritizing the features that are really important, and knowing how much they cost, an owner can pick and choose the features that will make their home special and still reach their budget goals.

For additional information, please contact:

                  Smith & Robertson, Inc.

               Custom Building and Design Since 1976


1128 East High Street, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

                           (434) 971-7026



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