Determine Your Home Building Cost and Home's Size

One of the biggest contributing factors for determining the size of your home is your home building cost per square foot and as you are aware, to build your own home costs quite a lot money now days.  Several other factors contribute to the construction cost, as well.  However, the price of your home is not based by its number of square feet, but by its "cost per square feet".

In the building industry, building materials and labor are often figured on a "cost per square foot" basis.  Therefore, if you would like to find out just how BIG your home can be, let's ask...

What is Cost Per Square Foot?

You must first answer the above question in effort to narrow down your search process.

The following will help you prevent wasting time by looking through homes that are either way too big, or small, for your budget.  You need to find a house plan that is just right for you and your family.

Are you concerned that you won't have much

control over the home building plans and costs of your home?

You actually have more control than you think.

Home Building Cost

Following is a list of variables that will determine the home building costs breakdown.  It is up to you to work within each one to achieve the home of your desires without cutting down on its quality and workmanship.

Let's check it out...

  • Size and Layout of your home: Notice that I did not say square feet.  I will show you the variances of cost when you take the same square foot home and change its "cost per square foot".
  • Type of Materials that your home is made of: Homes are built of many different types of materials, which could drastically effect the cost per square feet.
  • Foundation Type: Comprised of footings with pillars or piles, or footings with a slab floor, crawlspace, or basement-all of which can be made of different materials such as poured concrete, block, stone, and more.
  • Comparative Shopping: Search around to find the best quality and price for everything you will need for your home.
  • Sweat Equity: Here's that term again. The more hands on experience you take on the more you can save-maybe.
  • Be "Wise Enough" to decide if you can actually do a great job for the task at hand-and do it well-otherwise, it could cost more.
  • General Contractor Fees: Usually charged by a set percent of the total cost to build your home-make sure this fee is reasonable and affordable.
  • Cost of labor for any special details that requires extensive work and/or materials.  Most generally figured within a bid; not charged on an hourly basis.
  • Mid-Construction Changes:  It's best not to make any, period. Make sure that all your decisions are made prior to starting your home; changes inevitably cost money.
  • Construction Material Prices: The prices of some materials, such as lumber and steel, move with the stock market.  It's wise to check this out when researching your home's budget.
  • Quality of Materials: Try to get the best for your money.  However, some materials can get very pricey, if you are not careful.  Though, if you purchase too cheaply it could cost you more by having to replace it prematurely and/or repair damages.  Also, don't be afraid at looking into quality home building kits as they could make it reasonably affordable for you and your family.
  • Roof Design, Pitch, and Type: You can go simple or to the extreme by having either a flat, tall, or multi-gabled roof.  Each type affects the cost.
  • Exterior and Interior Wall Structures, materials and quantity -all affect the cost.  Special wall designs and features such as alcoves, curved walls and doorways, and walls made with 2x4, 2x6, block, poured concrete, and so forth, all will affect the price of your home.
  • Siding Materials and the time and intensity of labor to have it applied.  Whether it be lap or sheet siding, brick, stucco, or stone-each comes with its own price.
  • Windows and doors: They come in all sizes and prices ranging from $35.00 to $1000.00 and up, the prices can get sky high.
  • Flooring Systems: There are many different options for building a floor system which includes both your joists and your sub-flooring.
  • Floor Coverings: There are a number of ways you can either spend or save a fortune to cover your floors.
  • Plumbing, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning: All come with different systems and prices.
  • Cabinet Style, Craftsmanship, Materials and Manufacturers: If you think Custom Cabinets are more expensive-look again-you may be able to find some savings.
  • Driveways, Patios and Sidewalks: All are made of different types of materials such as concrete, stone, or brick, and each comes with a different price.
  • Deck - size, design, material, and labor will affect the price.
  • Accidents, Fire, Theft, and Natural Disasters - could cost you a fortune if you aren't properly insured.
  • Time Delays: cost you added interest on your construction loan.

The compilation of all the above, and possibly more, determines your home construction budget. Therefore, each item can have a direct impact on your home building cost.  If you would like a guesstimate - Go to the Professionals.

Ask your Banker, the National Association of Home Builders, and a couple of respected local Home Builders for an average current cost per square foot to build the area, quality and type of home-one/two story, with/without a basement-you wish to build.

For example, cars have basically three different classifications of quality.  When you correlate these classes to a home, this is what you might get:

  • Economy Range. Basic shell construction, single roof line with no extra features.
  • Mid Range. Better shell construction with a few added features such as; some brick or stucco, higher ceilings and a more complex roof line.
  • Luxury Range. Upper line everything...exterior consists of Brick, Stone and Stucco with Architectural interests such as Columns, Dentils and Special Windows and Doors.  Interior: Marble and rich trim moldings are very common in this range.

When you consider home building cost differences in just the wall construction of a Home: a wall can be built of either bales of straw (yes, it's true), stick lumber, concrete or solid limestone, but the price per square foot can be dramatically different.

Let's say that a 2-story mid-range home has an average cost of $68.00 sq.ft. and the owner has a budget of $150,000.00.  Now, take

$150,000.00 ÷ $68.00 = 2,206 sq. feet.

That will give you approximately 1,100 square feet on each floor of a 2 story home.

Now, add another scenario to this equation:

What happens when you add the second floor in the basement, rather than above the 1st floor.

Say that the average home building cost for a ranch with a basement is $45.00 per square foot. Now, put that figure into the equation:

2,206 x $ 45.00 = $99,270.00

This would save you $50,730.00.  That is quite a difference! The cost of finishing a basement is far less expensive than adding an upper story.

Home Building Guide

Now, ask yourself...

How many square feet can we afford?

In order to answer that question, put your figures into the following equation:

"Home Construction Budget" ÷ "Average cost per Square Foot" = Total Sq. Ft.

What do you come up with?  Does that sound reasonable to you, or would you like more square feet for your dollar?

Once you know the average price per square foot you can figure an average cost to build, but remember...

... you're not even going to get a close cost per square foot price until the actual bids for the labor and materials are in your hands.  And that number won't be exact until your home is completed and all the bills are paid.

Perhaps, you should ask...

How Can I Gain the Most Square Feet for the Buck?

One of the main reasons for having your own home built is to gain the most for your dollar.  Right?

In this section, you are going to find out some ideas for getting the most square feet for your money.

On average, the most expensive part of building a home is your "Main Floor" simply because, you can't have a main floor without a roof over it and a foundation under it.  Next to that, would be a second story, with the least expensive being your basement.

Sure, you could build a basement with a roof over it and skip the "main floor" section all together, but that is not how a traditionally built home-it is an alternative home called a "Berm Home".

A traditional home is built with a foundation, main floor, a roof, and sometimes a half or upper storySticking to the "norm", I will base this discussion on traditionally built homes.  Consider the difference it could make when..

Building Down

The cost to build and finish a basement can be far less than the cost to build a bigger single story, or even add a second level to your home.  It paid us to build down.  Let's see how...


A Personal Story:

My husband and I built a upper mid-range home with a main floor of 1596 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3 bath, and with a full walk-out basement that included 9 foot high walls for added ceiling height.  This gave us a home with a total of 3192 fully functioning square feet.  Now, that's not a small home by any means.

Our basic structure included: 2x4 framed walls with mostly lap siding, partial brick front, single story, shake style asphalt roof.

Our finished basement cost us a little over $ 15,000.00 which included framing and finishing the ceiling and walls, trim work, windows, doors, plumbing and fixtures, electrical wiring, electrical fixtures, painting and carpeting.

Downstairs we put in: 2 nice sized bedrooms, 1 full bath, a large laundry room-with a sink, a theater room, a large family room, plumbed and wired for a future bar area, a mechanical room, and 2 storage areas into all of that space.

We actually doubled the size of our living space for a fraction of the cost!  Now let's figure...

Our basement's cost:

          Basement Walls and concrete floor total: $ 8,000.00

          Wall Framing, lumber and labor $ 1,650.00

          Electrical & Fixtures: $ 973.00

          Plumbing & Fixtures: $ 1,596.00

          Sheetrock ceiling & walls: $ 1,200.00

          Carpeting: $ 1,406.00

          Painting supplies (we did the labor): $ 300.00

          Grand Total: $15,125.00

Now, figure the total cost per square feet with the basement:

$ 130,052.66 ÷ 3152 sq. ft. = $ 41.25 per sq. ft.

Next, figure the cost per square feet to build just the upper floor:

$ 114,927.66 ÷ 1576 sq. ft. = $ 72.92 per sq. ft.

If we would have added twice the space to the first floor to come up with the total square foot of our home, let's see the difference.

3,152 sq. ft. x $ 72.92 = $ 229,843.84

Subtract our home building cost of: $ 130,052.66

Leaving a difference of: $99,791.18.  Now, that's incredible!


There are ways to build a basement in just about any area you live in. You just need to have it done professionally and properly.

Check out this article at:

Don't worry, you don't have to live in the dark either, there are many ways to disguise being in a basement.  Let the light shine!

Whether it be natural or simulated, the lighter a basement the less dungenous it will appear.  In this section, I will discuss several ways in which to light up a basement.

Following are a few ideas that can make your basement seem as if it is located on the ground level.  You may have other ideas in mind too, but here are a few to consider:

  • If you have a flat lot with no chance of a slope at all: You can have egressed windows installed into your basement walls.  This will bring in more natural lighting plus, you will have a fire escape access and be able to use full sized window treatments.  Build the basement with the windows at "garden" level, which is also referred to as a BI-level home.
  • If you have a sloped lot: it could slope to the back, front, side etc., put in a walk-out basement.

    You can get very creative with walkouts plus, you can gain as much natural lighting in a walk-out as an upper floor.  Take a look at the following ideas:

  • Front Walk-Outs: Have your main living area and garage downstairs to make the front to look as if it is a 2-story home built on the side of a hill. Build retainer walls set back at least 8 feet from the front side of the home in order to have big corner windows.
  • Side Walk-Outs: There are many options for this type of walk-out. Be creative, here are a couple of ideas: Build a deck off the upper floor of the home and access it through either a single door or French doors.  It would be great if this deck came off a den, breakfast room, or even a bedroom.  Put in a patio along the walk-out level and enclose it with fencing to create a private courtyard on the side of your home.
  • Rear Walk-Outs: This type is most common. You will not be so limited in the design of your home as you would with the above two walk-outs.  All you need to add to your floor plan is stairs that go down to the basement.
  • Build your staircase next to an exterior wall of your home and add tall windows to let the light shine down to the basement.  A corner staircase is beautiful and when you add tall corner windows-this is an awesome affect.  This idea is perfect with a walk-out basement too, it makes you feel as if you are not in a basement at all.  (We have stairs such as this in our home and we absolutely love it.)
  • Brighten up dark recesses.

    There is always a place in the basement that will not get very much light, usually it is towards the front wall of the home.

    You may not want to clutter the front of your home with window wells, because they could interfere with your home design.

  • Build a Theater Room. This is a fun room to add and is perfect in the darkest area of a basement because you want the room to be darker for that authentic theater affect.
  • Add MirrorsOn the windowless walls and in dark areas, or behind a bar area you could arrange large mirrors with glass shelves to reflect natural lighting.  Then install recessed lighting or a hanging bar light to hang over the bar area.
build your own home costs

Now that we have covered the basement-let's move on up and see what we can accomplish when...

Building UP

Adding either a ½ or a full second story can be more economical than to expand the size of your main floor.  This area is a great place to add your children's bedrooms, an office, a loft, library, or even a sewing and/or hobby room.

You may not get as much square feet as with a basement, but you can gain a nice loft area and a bedroom, or two, with a bath.  The "½" refers to the finished living space that is contained within the attic of a roof.

If you like a plan and it doesn't have a ½ story, then you may be able to add one.  When adding ½ story above a single story home, there must be a steep enough...

...roof pitch, with ample space within the attic to allow for a good ceiling height, as well as maintain maximum insulation and vapor barriers.  If your house plan can accommodate a ½ story, by all means, consider building up.

The roof's structural supports may need to be altered.  Therefore, it is"WISE" to consult with either an architect, structural engineer or the house plan's designer when making any structural alterations.

When considering roof design options; Click on Roof Options, to check out the different roof styles.  On the other hand, you might consider expanding just one part of the roof section and/or add a dormer.

Dormers bring in both natural lighting and character to your upper floor rooms, as well as the exterior of your home.  A dormer can have either a single or double window.  A double window allows more floor space to the upper level in addition to more natural lighting.

If you would like to add a second level to your home and can't decide whether to build it upstairs or down, it may help to list the pros and cons. Following are a few extra points to consider:

  • Main floor ceiling styles are limited when adding an upper story.  For example: you can't have a upstairs bedroom above a main floor room that has a cathedral ceiling.
  • If you want tall ceilings on your main floor - all the main floor walls will need to be the same height where the upper story rooms will be located, which could get costly.
  • Which floor would be best to place a bathroom?  You may want to consider installing at least a ¾ bath for convenience purposes. Not many children want to walk up and down the stairs in the middle of the night.
  • Whether you build up or down, you will need adequate space on each floor to add a staircase.  You will need to check out what your best options are for your house plan.

The Main Floor Level

The elevation of this level is most often at ground level, or slightly above leaving room for the foundation to support the structure safely above the soil.

The Main Floor is the most expensive part of building a home!

Simply because you can't have a main floor without a roof over it and a foundation under it.  Therefore, for the sake of keeping down your home building cost... must decide which rooms take priority for being located on the Main Floor.  More likely, this level is where you will more be doing most of your living, cooking, eating and entertaining.

There are certain rooms that call out to be on a certain floor, and because of the expense involved in building the main floor you need to be picky when choosing the rooms to fill it.  Most often, the following rooms are located on the main floor level, we'll call them:  Must Have rooms, which are the:

  • Kitchen
  • Pantry
  • Laundry Room
  • Choice of: Family Room or Great Room
  • Formal Dining Room
  • Master Bedroom with Bath
  • Child's Bedroom
  • Guest Bedroom
  • Spare Bath

Then there are the "Luxury" rooms, such as...

  • Breakfast Room
  • Formal Living Room
  • Powder Room
  • Butler's Pantry
  • Home Office, Den/Library
  • Theater Room
  • Sewing Room

You can limit the number of rooms placed within your main floor when you add other floors to your home.  However if you are limited to the size of your main floor level, and put all your rooms on one floor, one of two things are likely to happen:

  1. You'll have either a much more expensive home when you increase its size to fit all the rooms
  2. One or more of your rooms will be much smaller.

It takes a great deal of consideration while deciding the size and levels of your home.  After you have a good idea, write down the following applicable information on your Home Priorities List.

       Main Floor: Square Foot______

       Basement: Square Foot______

       Full Upper Story: Square Foot______

       ½ Upper Story: Square Foot______

All of the above factors reflect your custom home building costs, construction cost, cost per square foot, cost to build, construction budget.

If you want to find a home building cost estimator there are online websites that will provide an online home building cost calculator for you estimate or compare the costs of building a new home.

Please Note: The above figures and scenarios are example only; not true figures.  In some areas of the country it could be more expensive or even prohibitive to construct a basement that it would to build an upper story. Consult with your local reputable professionals for advice on the subject as well as check with your local planning and zoning for building ordinances for restrictions.

Buildwisely Home Building Guide