by Chad DeWitt
“We want to build a small cabin like the Mini-Mod at Sea Ranch. How much will it cost?”
The Framestudio email boxes were full of inquiries after our Mini-Mod project at The Sea Ranch hit the media. It seems like everyone is yearning for their own tiny bolthole in the woods.
More often than not, people are taken aback by the cost of construction. In an effort to pull the curtain back on building costs, we’d like to share numbers we’re seeing out in the field.
The Methodology of Pricing Construction
To effectively compare the cost of construction between a 600 square foot cabin with a 4000 square foot home, we divide the construction cost by the number of square feet to get an average cost of a square foot of construction. This method works well on new construction, as it averages the cost of the kitchen (one of the most expensive areas) with a hallway (one of the least expensive areas).
For the sake of this comparison, we exclude costs associated with the specifics of the site. For example, building on hillside involves a very different foundation than building on a flat piece of land. That said, your flat piece of land isn’t always easy to build on, as we found out recently on a project in Fremont where the soil was Bay fill, requiring very expensive foundations. Depending on the geology, the type of foundation can be straightforward, or complex. We also excluded in this calculation what we call soft costs: architecture, engineering, permit costs, etc.
New Home Construction Cost Per Square Foot
For new home construction, we generally advise that projects along the lines of what Framestudio is best known for start at $500/sf in the Bay Area. In more remote areas like The Sea Ranch, those base costs increase to $600/sf.
Can Framestudio do it for less? Yes, but not without conditions.
As an example, we designed a 4,000 square foot new home recently that priced out in the low $430/sf. In a project like that, it’s important to remember the big moves will look like Framestudio, however, all the thoughtful details, unique interior finishes, and closets designed specifically to fit your sunglass collection aren’t included at that price level. “At that price, expect lots of drywall,” quips Chad.
Pricing Remodel Projects
When looking at a remodel project, the dollars per square foot rule of thumb gets a bit more subjective. For example, rooms that are only painted, with new flooring skew the average low when compared to the costs of kitchens, bathrooms and new walls of windows in other parts of the house. For remodels, it’s easiest to look at the average cost by the project, and we’ve gathered the following numbers from our recent work:
Kitchen remodels: $120+
Master Bathrooms: $80K+
Walls of windows: $50K+
Whole-house updates: $350K+
For those of you whose minds are spinning with questions, (or doubt), Remodeling Magazine does an annual Cost vs Value index where it outlines the average costs based on a specific project scope, which is then broken down by city. We found the San Francisco, San Jose to be helpful for the City and Silicon Valley, with Vallejo good for the East Bay, Salinas good for Monterey and Santa Rosa good for the Wine Country.
And How Much for that Mini-Mod?
This brings us back to the original question: How much would the 684sf Mini-Mod cost to build today? Answer: $410,000, excluding land, architecture, permits, and septic.
Chad DeWitt is the creative director the founder of Framestudio, a San Francisco Bay Area-based architecture, and design studio. He has more than fifteen years of creating unique spaces for a variety of residential and commercial clients. He has an exhaustive knowledge of building materials. His current interests are split between bringing good design to an aging population, as well as updating midcentury homes.