I met with my builder last week to go through my plans and specs in detail. The purpose of the meeting was to make sure we’re on the same page so that he can begin developing a formal bid for the project.

The meeting started out rough. My builder, Keith, wanted to make sure I understood that the project was probably going to be more expensive than I realized.  He had recently bid a very similar house, and when he shared the bid amount with me, I think my heart briefly stopped. Keith then added that the owner of that project told him all three bids received were within 5% of one another.  In other words, that heart-stopping number is a good number.  It’s the going market rate, give or take 5%.

I haven’t gone into this project without doing research. I know that building in my area is not cheap, and that it’s more expensive to build than to buy an existing house. I know that a good ballpark figure to use for new construction with some custom finishes and above-builder-grade options is $150 per square foot.

But the heart-stopping figure Keith mentioned was well above $150 per square foot. We discussed why that was, and it basically came down to the following:

Porches and other exterior living spaces aren’t usually taken into account when people talk about construction cost per square foot. Usually, these ballpark figures just refer to the finished interior spaces, so a house that has a porch will have additional cost. My house includes a front porch that isn’t very big or complicated, but it still adds cost.

The garage roof line and dormers add a ton of cost to my project. Most garages are pretty straightforward structures, but mine is a lot more complicated because I want to include an apartment over the garage. My architect did a brilliant job at designing the two-story garage to look proportional to my one-story house. He did this by giving the garage a gambrel roof as opposed to a more standard gable roof.  Here are some reference photos so you can see the difference between the two roof lines (both images are from Timberline Buildings):

Garage with Gambrel Roof
Garage with Gambrel Roof


Garage with Gable Roof
Garage with Gable Roof


Both of these garages are roughly the same size, but you can see how the gambrel roof line provides much more usable space on the second level. The gable roof cuts sharply into this space, making the usable footprint of the second level too small for a functional apartment.  With a gable roof, you’d basically have to build a second level in line with the first, then add the roof on top of that. The garage would be much taller at that point, and it would look strange next to a one-story house.

So while the gambrel roof is totally the right (and only) choice for the garage, it is also a far more expensive choice. Not only is the roof construction itself more complicated, it requires the use of dormers for windows. Building out dormers is much more expensive than simply installing windows on a flat vertical surface.

Even though I was only planning to rough-in the apartment at this stage, it was still having a big impact on the cost of the overall project.

garage money pit


Sprinkler systems are mandatory in Maryland for ALL new construction. This infuriates me. My home will have smoke detectors, obviously, so I’ll be alerted if there’s a fire and I can get myself to safety. It should be my choice as to whether or not I want to add an expensive sprinkler system to protect my property. My house is a single-family home on a nearly one-acre lot, so if it goes up in flames, it’s not going to impact my neighbors. I’m in a rural area and will have a well and septic system, so this makes adding sprinklers ridiculously expensive. The pump alone is adding an extra $1,500 to the cost of the well, and the actual sprinkler system itself will be thousands more. It’s far more likely that this stupid sprinkler system will leak and cause damage than it will ever actually prevent damage in a fire. I am FURIOUS that I have to waste thousands of dollars on this bullshit.

Sorry y’all, but that’s exactly what it is: bullshit. I knew about the stupid sprinkler law, and I knew it was going to add cost to my project, but to hear actual numbers and to know that I have to waste so much money I’ve worked so hard to save on something I don’t even want… Well, it has made me absolutely furious.

Decisions, decisions…

Based on all of this, I’ve decided to cut the apartment from my plans entirely. It’s disappointing, but it’s necessary to make the project feasible. By eliminating the apartment, I can build the garage with a basic gable roof without any dormers or extra windows. I’ve asked Keith to quote two options: a small one-car garage and a larger two-car garage that would be the same size footprint as in the original plans. If I keep the footprint the same, I could always decide down the road to rip the roof off the garage and build out the apartment.

In some ways it’s actually a relief to eliminate the apartment. I wouldn’t be able to finish it out immediately, so I’d have to keep saving aggressively for another three or four years. It’s kind of nice that I won’t have that pressure and I can save my money for something other than the house for a change.

I’ve also found ways to cut costs by choosing different finishes in some areas of the house. For example, I found a new vinyl plank flooring option that will save around $3,000. Using butcher block on the kitchen island instead of quartz will save around $800. Using laminate countertops in the laundry room instead of quartz will save around $650. After a while, changes like these start to really add up.

Cautious Optimism

It will take about a month to get a formal price back for the project, and hopefully it will be a less heart-stopping number. I’m cautiously optimistic that the changes I’m making will bring the cost down to something feasible for me to move forward.

We shall see!