So how much does it cost to build a custom home? This is one of the most common questions we get asked. Another variation of this question is “How much per square foot does it cost to build a custom home?”
Below is a list of costs for budgetary purposes only and is for the Ottawa area. Please remember that every homeowner, home design and building site is different (hence the word “custom”) so there will be many factors at play for every project. Also, as we have experienced with the pandemic, material costs can fluctuate significantly.
There’s no way to answer this question with an exact number nor is there a way to give you a per square foot number. The reason is because there are millions of variations and thousands of factors at play. Here are some examples of things that will drastically change the price without changing the total square footage of a home.
Site Work, Well & Septic
One lot could have perfect native soil and another lot could have 3′ of rock that needs to be blasted or chipped away. Or, in the case of my home, we had 6′ of peat moss that had to be removed and replaced with blasted rock and an engineered pad.
Access could also affect the price significantly. Digging a small hole on a tight lot could be more expensive than digging a large hole on a wide open lot. However, large lots often come with the need for lots of fill and a long driveway.
Site work, well and septic are all items that will not increase with the size of the home. For example, a septic system for a 4,000 s.f. home will not cost 4 times more than a septic system for a 1,000 s.f. home. They will be fairly close in price. This is another factor that throws off the per square foot pricing model. Similarly, the well will be the same price to dig no matter how big the home is. This means that smaller homes will cost more per square foot if you include everything that is required to build the home (not just the structure).
Checks in the foundation, pads, piers, garages, foundation type and height, slab thicknesses. structural requirements, basement or no basement: These and other factors all affect the foundation price. The simpler the design, the less it will cost. More corners equals more costs.
You could have a 2,500 square foot box with a gable roof or you could have a 2,500 square foot architectural dream design with overhangs, large windows, a flat roof and a 2 car garage. Same size, completely different price.
As previously mentioned, smaller homes will cost more per square foot as well because there is a start up cost. Economies of scale come into play and larger homes usually have more of the "cheap" space which is any floor area that does not have plumbing, cabinetry or fixtures associated with them (i.e. bathrooms, kitchens, bars)
Bathrooms & Kitchens
Your 2,500 square foot custom home could have an Ikea kitchen with laminate tops and 1.5 bathrooms or it could have a $100,000 kitchen with 3.5 bathrooms. Bathrooms and kitchens are the most expensive rooms in homes.
You could have vinyl siding on the exterior, high end wood siding, masonry veneer or stone. These all vary significantly in price and will affect structural requirements and finishing details. Keep in mind that changing one aspect of the build will often change details for other aspects.
Windows & Doors
You could spend $30,000 on cheap double glazed vinyl windows or you could go for Passive House Certified triple glazed windows with wood frames and aluminum cladding which could run you $100,000+. It’s not one or the other however this shows the significant price range.
Do you want cheap vinyl flooring and carpet or do you want reclaimed hardwood floors and porcelain tile? Carpet stairs or hardwood stairs? Wood railing or steel and glass railing? Finished basement, unfinished basement or no basement?
These are just some of the factors that will affect pricing of your custom home. I’m not saying you have to go to one extreme or the other, my point is that you can build a 2,500 square foot custom home on the perfect site with cheap finishes, 1.5 bathrooms and an Ikea kitchen OR you could building a 2,500 square foot custom home with reclaimed high end products, quality windows, a garage, 3.5 bathrooms and Passive House Certification. Both have the same square footage but they will be in completely different price ranges.
The Custom Home Budget
Now that I’ve laid the ground work and hopefully clarified where some of the costs may go, here are some numbers to keep in mind when planning your custom home project:
The goal here is to help educate and inform you of what is realistic for your custom home so that you can make conscious decisions.
Please contact us if you have any further questions.
If you’re around home building for even a short time, you’ll hear the term R-Value a lot. So what is R-Value, and why is it important? How can you get in trouble if you ONLY focus on R-Value? What is the difference between Nominal and Effective R-Value? We answer these questions below.
Why is R-Value important:
You likely know what it is in the senes that it is referring to insulation. You’ve heard the term and understand that insulation keeps us warm in the winter and cold in the summer, but not all R-Value is the same. There is a difference between effective and nominal R-Value and it definitely depends on how it’s installed!
R-Value is the ability of insulation material to resist heat (R stands for resistance). It’s calculated by getting the temperature difference per unit of heat flux to sustain one unit of heat flux between the warmer and the colder surface of material, under steady state conditions.
So OK, but what does this really mean for you? For most purposes, it’s not really important to understand the calculation of how the R-value was arrived at. What is important is making sure that you understand how the R-value will affect your home or project. The key term to consider here is “steady state conditions”. I don’t know about where you live, but where I live, the conditions are not in a steady state. There is far more going on outside the home than there is inside!
For example if you have R-22 batt fibreglass inside your basement and that basement floods and your insulation gets wet, is that insulation going to still be R-22? No, it’s not going to retain its R-value (and you may have issues with mold etc. as well). Or perhaps you have R-50 cellulose blown into your attic and it settles over time. Maybe your roof gets wet. Maybe you have insulation on your exterior with an R-10 value but no air barrier, and the wind is whistling at 50km/hr. All of these are examples of where your R-Value will be affected, because the conditions are not in a steady state. We don’t build in steady state conditions.
Installation is also important! If you squished an R-22 batt down too much, you would also affect the R-Value and it would not perform optimally. Make sure that whoever is installing the insulation knows what they’re doing and ensure that they’re installing it properly.
The point I’m trying to get to here is that it’s about more than just the R-Value of the insulation. It's crucial to understand your building, the building science, and the conditions you’re building in.
Consider this for a moment: If you had -20 degrees Celsius outside and you have a big down jacket on. Imagine the wind is howling and you turn to face the wind and open your jacket zipper and let that wind in. Would it matter how much down insulation I had in my jacket to keep me warm at this point? No, because insulation is not enough, you’d need to make sure you have that jacket zipped up. You also need to focus on other things like airtightness, for example. Your home works as a system. If you only focus on insulation, that can get you into trouble and seriously impact your results.
The last thing we’ll get into here is Nominal R-value vs. Effective R-value. Nominal R-value is essentially the estimated R-value of what, say, your wall assembly should be when you consider all the materials. Effective R-value is how well it actually performs!
For example, let’s consider the 2X6 wall with R-22 batts in it, and you build the entire wall with the standard stud-insulation-stud-insulation assembly. The nominal R-value of that wall may be R- 22, however the effective R-value would not be. Why is that? If you were to take all of the wood in that wall and push it to one end, and put the insulation on the other side you would see that the wood probably takes up about 20% of that wall construction. 20% of your wall does not have the same R-value as the insulation. Your wall would have an effective R-Value of approx 17.6, you’re not getting the full R-22. This means that the best way to get a higher effective R-value is to do it from the outside of your home, (the “jacket” so to speak). This would cover up the studs (which can bring other complications re: cladding etc. but more on that in another post) and this is the best way to add insulation and comfort to your home. Keep in mind, there are many other factors that effect comfort, efficiency and the health of a home.
If you’re a builder/contractor, know that it is your responsibility to make sure your customer gets the best possible product for their budget and priorities. As a homeowner, you want to make sure that you bring the right team on, and that your team is working together to get the best possible products so that you can make sure you get a healthy, comfortable, efficient home for you and your family.
While we’re on the topic, check out work with our favourite ROCKWOOL products on the Three Day Cottage series, a Net Zero ready cottage with a nominal R-value of R-30 for the walls and R-64 for the attic!
Spreading the word is a big part of the WHY behind what we do at The Conscious Builder.
If we’re going to really build a healthy future, we’re going to need a whole lot more builders on board with the vision of building for the long term vs. the short.
If we want this for everyone, we’re going to need healthy, thriving people with healthy businesses building better homes and buildings of all kinds.
We’re going to need high standards and good habits to make lasting, positive change.
I have learned a lot in 2 decades in the industry and over a decade building healthy, comfortable, efficient homes (sometimes the hard way!)
There is always more to learn, but I want share what I’ve learned to help accelerate your growth and the growth of your business.
That’s where The Conscious Builder Academy comes in. We are getting questions from all over the world. More people every day are looking into sustainable building standards and considering building better.
We are busy putting our most valuable knowledge and lessons in one place, to help you build and thrive, sustainably.
I’m so excited to start sharing that I’ve got a gift for you, it’s a free short course on our new school www.consciousbuilderacademy.com called “THE TOP 5 THINGS I WISH I KNEW: When starting a construction business”.
If you’re starting any business, this one could save you time, headaches, and a lot of money. It would have for me! The link's in the bio, go check it out.
Let me know what kind of materials you’d like to see us cover in the future! We’ve already got our next course coming soon (go to the academy to see what it’s about!)
TL;DR Free stuff! Love the planet! Join us!
"To make sure that everybody in the world has a healthy, comfortable and efficient home to live in."
You already know we build beautiful, healthy, efficient, comfortable custom homes. So how does that help those who can’t afford to build, or even buy? How does one company make change?
Our strategy is threefold:
First, We build homes that people want. Homes that set a higher standard for the entire industry. We use the best and most conscious products we can find, provide top quality workmanship, and choose projects which show that luxury and pleasure go hand in hand with efficiency and health. Building a home that is better for you and the environment is setting higher standards! We (and our clients) vote for this by using these products and practices with the intention that, as they become more common, they will also become more accessible. We want to help those who are building, do it in a way that will set a precedent. (It is also a great pleasure to build sustainable, beautiful things with care.)
Second, we help where we can to enrich the communities around us. One of our favourite team building activities is volunteering to help build or improve facilities that help those in need and support their community.
Third, we educate. We have learned so much over the decades. We know we can’t build it all and we want to share everything we know, because there is so much work to be done! The world needs more forward thinking, environmentally conscious and ambitious builders who are excited to add momentum to a new path for the industry, and help make energy efficient homes and quality retrofits the norm.
There are a lot of things that need to happen in order to have a project move from an idea to completion. The portion that we take care of as a General Contractor and Custom Home Builder is Project Management and Site Supervision.
Yes, we also do a lot of carpentry work in-house but that is separate from what we're talking about here. That work could also be done by a subcontractors but we choose to do some of the important work ourselves in order to control the quality and keep the projects moving along nicely.
Here is a list of what could be included for the Project Management and Site Supervision of your project:
Not all of the items above are necessarily required for each project but it is what we would take care of when needed.
Simply put, we are not Designers, Architectural Technologists, Architects or Engineers. We are carpenters and have been trained as such just like the aforementioned in each of their particular categories.
We believe a successful project requires a great team to fill in all the requirements and we are filling in the category of Project Management, Site Supervision and Carpentry. We are more than happy to provide input throughout the design process as it relates to constructibility but we will not do design work (nor do you want carpenters to do designer work).
Here are some examples of things that would need to be provided by somebody else:
Will we offer input on the items above? Absolutely! But the input is in response to the question "Do you think we should go with option A or option B?" as opposed to "What size vanity should we put in, what colour should it be and which faucet should we choose?"
It's important to note that we're happy to get costing for you for options you are considering. All the items listed above that need to be provided by somebody else may require some input from us on costing in order for you to make a decision and we understand that. So when the options need to be narrowed down and cost is one of the factors, tag us in!
The more we have designed and planned out ahead of time, the smoother the project will go. Does this mean everything needs to be decided on before construction starts? No. In fact some things may not be able to be decided on until later.
For example, we don't need to know your paint colours at the time of framing but we will need to know where you plan on mounting things to the wall so that we can include backing where required. You will also want to know where you are going to place furniture so that the designer can complete the electrical plan for the electrician before we insulate and drywall.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to think about and many team members required. This is not a one-man operation. We have multiple people involved with each project from our company alone and we pull on the experience and knowledge of our subcontractors as required.