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The cost per square foot concept began about 35 years ago when the same style homes were built over and over again in the same community. It made construction and pricing simple. Over the years, we’ve seen builders construct standard model homes with a few different options to create a cost per square foot price in their large subdivisions. Unlike track homes, every detail in a custom home is unique. When building a custom home, the options available to you are limitless, making the cost per square foot a complicated topic.

Here are just some of the details that influence square footage costs:

Architectural Complexity
Complex shapes with many corners, multi-roof planes and steep pitches with cathedral and vaulted ceilings, multiple dormers with angles and bump-outs, various wall heights, turrets and prows add curb appeal. However, these details also increase the cost per square foot.

Footprint
Both a 40’ x40’ structure and a 20’ x 80’ structure contain1600 square feet. However, the outside wall of the rectangle structure is 40 feet longer than the square structure and requires more foundation, framing, insulation, wall covering, electrical, plumbing, heating and finishing work, which all increase the cost per square foot.

Building Materials and Codes
Nana wall systems and patio doors may look similar, but they perform and cost differently. Real stone is almost twice the price of cultured stone. The roofing material you select can range from $70 to more than $500 per square. Custom windows and doors, heating options such as ‘in-floor’ and geo-thermal heating systems, all impact the cost of the home. Local codes for snow loads, earthquakes, and hurricanes can also require extra materials not necessary in other locations.

Material Quality
Cabinets for the same kitchen design can range from $10,000 (or less) to more than $35,000 depending on finishing options. Countertops for the same kitchen can range from $15 to more than $150 per foot. Flooring costs also range at length due to quality and the type or class of wood, tile, or carpet used. When it comes to plumbing fixtures, faucets, tubs, showers and toilets, a bathroom can range from $3,600 (or less) to $15,000 and up.

With so many options and building scenarios available in custom homes today, it's nearly impossible to guess a number without first making some design decisions and discussing them openly with the people of your choice. At Wisconsin Log Homes, we find it much more realistic to give a ‘good,’ ‘better,’ and ‘best’ range of what the cost could be according to our experience until we get more information about your visions.

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Comment by Ted on October 14, 2008 at 6:12pm
OK. I'll bite. Based on what Stephanie says, why would anyone want to sit at home and tell themselves that the house they want to build is "X" number of square feet and be lulled into believing that is going to be the price they will be paying to build the home of their dreams.

The logical next or first step should be to start the investigation process. Have a good idea of what you want then talk to several log home manufacturers or/and builders. Now you can get serious about costs. The next thing you need to do is to cost out all the things that the log home builder or the builder will NOT include in the building, ie interior finishing, floors, cabinets, fixtures, plumbing, electrical and the list goes on.

So, once again, do as Stephanie suggests, don't try to guess as to what it will cost you to build, do your homework first.
Comment by Laurie Sloan on October 13, 2008 at 11:07am
Architect Sarah Susanka,author of 'The Not So Big House' series, says this (and I am paraphrasing): pricing a home by square footage is like pricing a car by the pound!

For all of the reasons that Stephanie mentions, it is a poor measure and perhaps one we should try to move away from. The 'value' of a home is so much more than the dimensions of the rooms and comparing House A to House B might be an apples-to-oranges mistake!
Comment by Josh Murphy on October 9, 2008 at 11:00pm
That's funny. I was just having a discussion about this today. I agree completely. With so many variables how can someone just spit out a number based on SF? We do the same thing in issuing leveled pricing. It gives a range of options to choose from. Great post.
Comment by Wisconsin Log Homes, Inc. on October 9, 2008 at 4:29pm
ha - you're funny Tom! :) That's a pretty wide price range! I'm just telling you to never trust a number given to you until the company you're dealing with has listened carefully to your visions and understands your needs. It's amazing how many different prices can be given to you for the same house - all depending on what choices you make for finishing options. A $100,000 range is not uncommon at all.
Thanks for the comment, Tom - hope all is well with you! -Steph
Comment by Tom Heatherington on October 9, 2008 at 4:17pm
So what you're telling us is that we should average our cost per square foot using $75 to $750? :-)

Seriously, this is a good point you make, and the history lesson makes a lot of sense. This has also been my pet peeve with Realtor's 'comps' when quoting prices. Who hasn't looked at two 2800' sq. ft. homes and seen $100,000 worth of difference between the two? Good points Ms. Janczak!

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