Author Topic: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?  (Read 992 times)

Dmaynard

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House prices are a little crazy at the moment where I am (southern Ontario, Canada), so I've been looking into the possibility of buying some land and building a house instead. However, it seems like nearly every housing option I look at comes out to about the same price per sq ft.

  • Modern Prefab Home - about $120-$200 per sq ft
  • Monolithic Dome - $120-$200 per sq ft
  • Straw Bale Home - $150-$180 per sq ft
  • Green Magic Earth Bermed Home - $45-$50 per sq ft for the shell, but an additional $100-$150 to finish it
  • Super Energy Efficient Passive Home - $150-$200 per sq ft
  • Log Home - $125-$175 per sq ft
  • Timber Frame - $175-$255 per sq ft

How is this possible? We have 1000 year old building techniques coming out as being about the same price as very modern techniques that are heralded for their cost saving measures (pre fab can be mass produced off site so you save on labour and material cost; monolithic domes are supposed to use a fraction of the concrete involved in a traditional build, etc...).

Is there some construction technique or manufacturer that I'm overlooking which produces a quality product cheaply?

joe189man

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2021, 10:10:21 AM »
i have seen some videos on 3d-printed concrete homes, not sure on the cost

Watchmaker

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2021, 11:28:25 AM »
House prices are a little crazy at the moment where I am (southern Ontario, Canada), so I've been looking into the possibility of buying some land and building a house instead. However, it seems like nearly every housing option I look at comes out to about the same price per sq ft.

  • Modern Prefab Home - about $120-$200 per sq ft
  • Monolithic Dome - $120-$200 per sq ft
  • Straw Bale Home - $150-$180 per sq ft
  • Green Magic Earth Bermed Home - $45-$50 per sq ft for the shell, but an additional $100-$150 to finish it
  • Super Energy Efficient Passive Home - $150-$200 per sq ft
  • Log Home - $125-$175 per sq ft
  • Timber Frame - $175-$255 per sq ft

How is this possible? We have 1000 year old building techniques coming out as being about the same price as very modern techniques that are heralded for their cost saving measures (pre fab can be mass produced off site so you save on labour and material cost; monolithic domes are supposed to use a fraction of the concrete involved in a traditional build, etc...).

Is there some construction technique or manufacturer that I'm overlooking which produces a quality product cheaply?

I'm not an expert, and am interested to hear what others say, but I think there's a few things going on:

-Labor and materials costs vary a lot, but for a typical project, they would each be in the range of 30%-60% of total project costs. Some building techniques reduce the need for labor, other reduce the need for materials, but few do both. So usually you end up trading off labor for materials rather than saving money.

-If you are looking to build in a rural area, your local labor cost is probably below the labor cost of the prefab homebuilders, eliminating some of the benefit.

-Most innovate techniques just aren't operating at the scale needed to be cost effective. Robust and efficient supply chains of materials require constant high demand.

-Conventional building techniques have had the time (centuries in some cases) and scale (millions of buildings a year) to become pretty efficient. 

Fishindude

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2021, 12:30:17 PM »
If you want inexpensive, your best bet is a manufactured home.  Quality, type and prices vary wildly from super inexpensive too nearly the same price as a site built home.
I would never consider straw bale or earth berm, too many draw backs.  Log homes look great, but the maintenance never ends.

Build a square or close to square foot print, keep it small, keep the floor plan simple, keep the amenities to a minimum and stick with a simple gabled roof to control costs.

caleb

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2021, 05:10:09 PM »
There are some extremely inexpensive prefabs out there - like 45k USD/1000ft - assuming that you're on city water/sewer/electric.  However, they're basically plastic and chipboard, so they don't last at all.

I'll bet one of your cheapest options to end up with a solid, durable house would be an A-Frame with a sleeping loft on poured sonotube footings (i.e. no basement).  An A-Frame isn't the greatest use of space, but you could build one with very minimal tools or experience.  If you bought a rural acreage and weren't in a hurry, you could mill most of the lumber from your own trees and end up with a great finished product.

joenorm

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2021, 08:35:42 AM »
If you want inexpensive, your best bet is a manufactured home.  Quality, type and prices vary wildly from super inexpensive too nearly the same price as a site built home.
I would never consider straw bale or earth berm, too many draw backs.  Log homes look great, but the maintenance never ends.

Build a square or close to square foot print, keep it small, keep the floor plan simple, keep the amenities to a minimum and stick with a simple gabled roof to control costs.

I agree with all of this. Cheap pre-fab = Manufactured. Manufactured homes are made as cheaply as possible and inspected federally, not by the state. The problem with them is you get what you pay for, they lack any character whatsoever and they are made cheaply so don't age well.

If you don't mind the look they can be an OK option. I prefer nicer details in a home so I could never bring myself to go with one. But some people don't care, and they work out fine.

If you can GC a build yourself you can save tons of money, especially if you buy a simple plan off the internet(as stated, a box shape). But it's not the route for everyone. Tons of time and a million small and large decisions. It can be pretty taxing. 

Mr. Green

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2021, 01:47:57 PM »
If you search "modern straw bale homes" and look at the results, that is not 1000 year old building technology. That is modern building technology with nothing more than a substitution of straw bales for insulation. 1000 year old straw bales houses will be nothing but straw bales and molding compound. No concrete foundation, no plumbing, no electrical, no wood-supported, shingled roof. Any home still using all those same modern elements is going to be similar in cost.

sonofsven

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2021, 08:30:31 AM »
In my area there are outfits (Adair, Hiline, etc) that will contract to build a stick framed house on your land.
These are basic floor plans and generally no changes are allowed in the construction.
They build a limited set of floor plans but quality is generally considered a step up from manufactured (roll in).
I see them locally as a popular choice for starter homes for young folks that maybe inherited a piece of land but can't (or don't want to) afford a "better" house or budget conscious retirees moving to a more rural location.

Villanelle

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2021, 10:20:31 AM »
What about shipping container homes?  No idea on costs, but I know they exist and I don't see that option listed.

Also, does that take into account preparing the land, and is the prep required different for different methods?  Also, time to build is a consideration in cost, too, because you have to live somewhere during that time while you also pay carrying and other costs. 

BDWW

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2021, 10:28:57 AM »
I don't see steel buildings on your list either. I don't have direct experience, but my impression is that it's an economical choice for a shell (interior would basically be the same) if you're not concerned about aesthetics.

norajean

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2021, 12:14:38 PM »
Construction costs are soaring lately, partly driven by materials shortages. More than ever, it may be cheapest to buy existing stock than to build new.

nereo

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2021, 05:41:17 PM »
Construction costs are soaring lately, partly driven by materials shortages. More than ever, it may be cheapest to buy existing stock than to build new.

Like anything to do with real estate, this is highly location-specific.  In my town home sale prices have increased about 30% since the end of 2019. Thatís basically an increase of ~$100k for a typical SFH in town. Construction prices have risen as well, but not nearly as fast (materials have gone way up in that time frame, but not labor). Weíre actually venturing down the new-build path because itís comparable in price to a newer construction in good shape, and loads cheaper than a late-20th century that needs some expensive updates.

When talking to builders I was surprised I could get something something semi-custom for about the same as buying a well cared for modern home. The basic response Iíve been given is few are able (either financially or time-wise) to wait 12-18 months for a new build to their specs. It takes a lot more cash up front to build new but if you can front that the total cost can be less, depending on your area.

GreenEggs

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2021, 09:00:19 PM »
Check out "barndominium homes" on Youtube. 

ender

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #13 on: April 04, 2021, 08:18:16 AM »
House prices are a little crazy at the moment where I am (southern Ontario, Canada), so I've been looking into the possibility of buying some land and building a house instead.

You and many other people :-)

joenorm

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #14 on: April 04, 2021, 08:38:05 AM »
To OP, will you act as general contractor or be hands off?

Roland of Gilead

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Re: What's the cheapest reasonable house you can build per sq ft?
« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2021, 10:55:46 AM »
Now is really really not the time to build a house unless materials are a negligible percent of the home value.

You are going to end up spending $40,000 to $60,000 more on a mid size home than you would have at the start of 2020 and the market in most areas has not reflected the absurd run-up in materials in relation to prices of slightly older construction.

In our area, a home built in 2015 is selling for maybe $250,000 and yet it costs well over $300,000 right now to build the exact same home.