The Real Cost to Build

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When setting out to build a house, many questions are asked along the way. The most common and often the first is “What is the cost to build?”

It’s a valid question, but not the only one, as the same question will rarely prompt the same answer. People include different items when quoting a client as to their cost to build, and there is no universal standard or set parameters to arrive at this figure. Some include non-structural items such as landscaping, appliances, carpets, window coverings, and original infrastructure like power and water. But there are costs beyond the obvious material and labor costs.

Something to consider (always!) are the intangible costs associated with every choice made. And quite often, it’s the environment that suffers, in order that we save a few bucks here and there. Most people (unknowingly) choose to use materials that are toxic to manufacture, because it’s good for the bottom line. Yet we must make that choice with the awareness of what the side effects are. How is the manufacturer’s power supply generated? Wind-generated electricity? Coal? Where do the raw materials come from? Are they recycled locally? Or are they sourced from another country around the world by way of diesel tanker ship, railroad, and then truck? What actually goes into the parts that make up our new homes? What is their impact both locally and globally? What about our health?

When I set out to create the first SAK House (Sustainable Affordable Kustom) my goal was to consider all of the costs that go into constructing a building, which go beyond the cost of concrete, lumber, and nails. It includes more than just the labor, sub-contractors, and designers. It includes costs that aren’t always measured in cash. We must calculate the environmental costs, that is, the compromising of our only air supply, our limited potable water supply, our disappearing arable land, our forests, our natural world. Our construction habits and patterns take a toll on our planet. But they don’t have to. Thankfully, there are alternatives readily available for every material, component and system used in construction. There are options that can help mitigate the environmental costs.

By identifying all of the costs (fiscal and environmental) incurred in a project, we are able to realize savings through efficient planning. For example, in utilizing high quality finishes, we limit long-term costs required for upkeep and maintenance. By maximizing our insulation values, we are able to save money in heating and cooling for years to come. By sourcing renewable or recycled materials manufactured locally, we can secure our future on this planet.

These aforementioned items comprise the “real” cost to build. So be sure to look at the big picture before you start hiring and spending. This is exactly what we try to address at GBC before you spend your money on things that will make you sick, will make the planet sick and will limit the Earth’s ability to provide humanity with the necessities to survive and thrive.


One thought on “The Real Cost to Build”

  1. I found this post super helpful, especially the idea that when asking the same question of how much something will cost to build “rarely will it prompt the same answer”. Encouraging big-picture thinking is such good advice, since, even when attempting a “smaller” project (i.e. a bathroom or kitchen renovation or build from scratch), the decision-making process can be totally overwhelming, and one can get bogged down by the gazillion details that must be attended to. Having a consultant walk me through long-term benefits of options for choosing finishes, for example, is definitely something I would want to have help with as, in reading this, I realize that maintenance, sustainability (environmental as well as the impact on one’s health) and “costs not always measured in cash” need to be considered way before construction even begins. In the planning and design stages is where the real savings begin. Thanks for opening my eyes to this and making me see the value in working with a knowledgeable consultant with a specialty in the things that matter to me which can save me time, energy, money, and sanity (!) long and short-term.

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