July 23, 2024


Elegant home interior

Building a New Home – What Is the Cheapest Square Footage?

Using the square footage in your basement can be the cheapest useable square footage in your house. OK, what does that mean to you? Simple, if you want to save money, and I mean a lot, use the basement square footage as part of your home… not just what holds it up. Think about how much it costs to build your basement, with its only functions being to hold up the rest of the house… and to store your furnace, hot water tank, and all the things you can’t get rid of. Also, think about how large it is. If you are designing a ranch, it is as big as the rest of your house. In other words, you are living (upstairs) on top of another whole house (basement)… but not taking full advantage of what it has to offer you. Why?

I’ll tell you why. It doesn’t feel as comfortable as the rest of the house. Your basement is usually cold, dark, damp and smelly. The only people who live down there are spiders, the kids when they play, or the teenagers when they want to rebel and don’t want to live with the rest of the family. They think that makes independent now, or at least they are until it’s time to eat and get the laundry done.

It doesn’t need to be this way. By using energy-efficient systems like ICF’s, PWF’s, concrete stud basements, light gauge steel framing and more, you can build a basement that feels as good, if not better, than the floors above it… and, save you money as well. If you are building a foundation (basement) anyway, why not build it energy-efficient and eliminate part or all of your second floor? The added cost to improve the basement is far less than the savings of an entire floor. I’ve designed houses where this thought process has cut the overall cost per square foot by as much as 50%. That’s not a typo.

One of my favorite examples involved a single woman that was going to be the project manager on her own home. The design was a 1400 sq ft 2 bedroom ranch on a lake that had a partial walkout basement using PWF construction. In this case, what I mean by that is the grade really didn’t slope enough for a true walkout, but since she was only building one floor, I was able to elevate that 1st floor enough to get her about 8 ft to grade… thus a full walkout. On the street side, you just slope the grade up to the porch and you’re all set. Now, her cost (this was back around 1995) to build the entire house was around $115/sq ft. This included everything except finishing the basement. If this is where she stopped, she would have had a 1400 sq ft 2 bedroom, 2 bath house with an unfinished walkout basement.

Now, here’s where the fun begins. She finished part of her basement, or about 1000 sq ft (the rest was for the furnace, etc…), which gave her 2400 sq ft of useable/livable space. When you add the cost to finish the basement to the cost of the upstairs, the cost per sq ft dropped all the way to $70/sq ft. This is the best way I know to make a home more cost-effective to build… and when you build your home with energy efficiency in mind, you win on all fronts.

So, what to do with the money saved? Well, you can upgrade other areas of the house… like the kitchen or master bath, or add a fireplace or hardwood floors. You could always just not spend it or invest it too. The choices are your’s, but you now will have choices that you wouldn’t have had before. You see, energy efficiency can be very cost-effective, with the right design decisions.