How much does it cost to build a house, by square foot

Anonymous Sept. 5, 2017, 4:12 p.m.

I want to build a house but I don’t really have an idea of how to price it out, is there a metric for figuring out what it will cost per square foot? I plan to have it built by a contractor, not do it myself. 

Responses (1)

Ecohome Nov. 14, 2017, 4:18 p.m.


The cost will depend a lot on design, performance and material selection, but more than anything it will vary by region. Without knowing where you are it's hard to say. For the quickest answer you could call a handful of general contractors and ask if they have anything at all they can tell you about their own cost per square foot, though some may be reticent to offer you much information until they see plans of some sort. If you have yet to go through the design phase, we can offer a few tips on where the money might go if you're not careful, and some places where you may be able to reign it in a bit. 

Here are a few points that will affect building cost:

1– Corners are expensive: A square house with four corners is cheaper than an elaborate footprint. Think about the added labour every time you come to a corner – framing, drywalling, siding, trim inside and out, etc., it starts to add up. A straight run of wall is always faster to build than one with lots of corners, and a busy foundation design will usually lead to a busy roof.

2 – A busy roof is expensive: Lots of dormers and different roof pitches slows down roof framing, sheathing, installation of roof coverings, etc. it also means more work on soffits, fascia, and trim. If you’re on a tight budget, the less complicated your roof is, the better.

3 – Basements are expensive: It is cheaper to build two stories above ground than one above and one below. Depending on the lot size and how much living space you need, a slab-on-grade (frost protected shallow foundation) is a more affordable way to start a house than a basement.

4 – Material selection affects cost: for example - you can spend a thousand dollars on a kitchen counter, or 5 thousand for one the same size, so your taste is a big factor. Flooring materials also vary wildly in cost per square foot, even the paint you choose.

5 – Location affects cost: Labour rates are very different when you build in downtown Toronto or Vancouver for example, than when you build out of expensive urban cores.

With all that out of the way, for a very general idea, you are probably looking at $200-275 a square foot on average in 2017 Canadian dollars, but that can go up or down depending on the above. Keep in mind that that does not include the cost of purchasing land, excavation, septic systems or sewer hookup, wells or water connections, and landscaping. If you want a high-quality house but on the lower end of the cost scale, check out our Edelweiss House for inspiration. It is a 1,450 square foot LEED Platinum house we built in 2015 for under $200 a square foot. We wanted an extremely high performing house but for an average price, so we kept the design pretty basic - a slab-on-grade with a simple footprint and a single pitch roof.

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