How much does a house cost to build per sq foot?

Q: How much does a house cost to build per sq foot?

A: This must be the most debated topic outside of ‘Brexit’ and rising property prices in Ireland.

A good analogy is to think of what a car costs per square foot. It’ll depend on whether it’s new or second hand, a people carrier or a German luxury sports car, whether it leather seats, two doors or four. It is the very same for building. Almost every house is different, some have double glazed uPVC windows, some have quadruple glazed aluclad. Some have red deal floor boards some have American White Oak wide plank solid flooring. Some have fibre cement slates on the roof, some have copper or zinc.

In this context, a bog standard house could conceivably be built for approximately €80 per sqft plus VAT but this is for a simple design (rectangular, plaster finishes, fibre cent slate roof, double glazed uPVC windows) with no finishes (tiling, flooring, decoration, patios perhaps not even a kitchen sink!).

In NI you can claim VAT back so while the figure is around the same mark it excludes VAT. There are many examples of this type of house scattered in housing estates throughout the 32 counties.

Q: What drives up the cost per square foot?

A: As a general rule, the more complicated the design, the more expensive to build. More elaborate houses have more irregular shapes meaning more insulated external walls, more structural steel, more roofs, more tricky areas to weatherproof and finish, etc. Site conditions are also important. Is the site on a slope? Is it well drained? Is there rock in the ground? Do the foundations need to be piled?

Q: What about extensions?

A: Extensions will command a higher cost per square foot and are much more difficult to pin down but certainly well over the €100 / £80 plus VAT mark. In NI extensions are not VAT exempt. Costs can quickly rise with issues surrounding restricted access, demolition and propping, tricky detailing to connect the house and extension, drainage and service diversion, to name a few.


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Q: Why are my tender prices coming in at different rates?

A: Builders will price projects differently – some may use previous experience, others may employ a quantity surveyor. They may add a percentage to factor in risk factors which could price them out of the running. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t. Remember that a building does not cost the original estimate quotation, but the final account. So tender drawings and construction details are essential to get comparative quotes.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, get the tenders in for the spec you want to see where you stand. And remember, if a quote looks too good to be true, it probably is. You do get what you pay for.

**UPDATE September 2019

Update from quantity surveyor Keith Kelliher:

“It’s fair to say that very few people (who are paying legitimate) are getting their shells done now for less than €100-120/sqft.”

“The RIAI are now quoting figures of above €200/sqft for a finished house. I would much prefer to change the narrative around approaching the idea of cost from the right way which is to get a sketch plan drawn and then get a budget estimate done for that design.”

“I don’t agree with the idea of cost per sqft as it just has no accuracy and takes no account of any particular design.”

— Keith Kelliher of quantitysurveyor.ie

“To update this article, I would change the ‘bog standard’ figure from €80 to €100-110 per sq foot plus VAT.”

“Extensions are really too difficult to project and a little meaningless as extension design has changed from the standard ‘sunroom’ extension of old to an architect designed parapet roofed extension with significant glazing steelwork, demolition etc., so there is no real basis for cost per square foot analysis particularly with reference to extensions in the past.”

“I also agree with Keith’s comments above.”

— Kieran McCarthy of kmchomes.ie


SelfBuild Ireland has just launched a range of build cost calculators powered by online budgeting tool ProntoCalc. The Build Cost Calculator gives you a rough idea of how much your project will cost, contractor led. It’s free, quick and easy. You can use it below:

What do you think?

Written by Kieran McCarthy

Kieran is Design & Build Director at KMC Homes based in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork
kmchomes.ie

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