Blog: R.E. Tales
(Hey, they all can't be pretty...)
Many are not aware of the “hidden costs” when you create a new home. First, be sure that you can even build where you want. For instance, without enough road frontage or a wide enough right of way in, you may not be able to do that. Most folks focus on what the house itself costs, but that’s not all. There are things we take for granted which add significant expense. Let’s go through some of them.
1) Driveway. I can’t imagine getting one for less than $1000. To do it right would require a lot more money. The site has to be prepared with heavy equipment, geotextile cloth laid down, bigger rocks on top, then smaller ones, the ones you see, on top of that. And it has to be packed properly. If someone isn’t going to be using the drive year round, you might be able to just drive in and wear a path with your tires, assuming the land is well-enough drained to start with. Poorly drained land makes for an expensive drive. If it’s steep land, the drive needs to be longer so you can get up and down safely when it’s snowy or icy. Your costs are commensurate with the length and width of the drive as well as the soils and slope of the terrain. If you want it paved, that is a whole ’nother expense.
2) Electric. Generally the providers go in one pole’s length for free. After that, it is hugely expensive. I saved a lot of money in one place by running the lines underground (no poles to buy). The provider did not recommend this, and they had reasons which were not just about making money for them. If you need to buy a transformer, that’s big money. Just my box that sits on the pole cost me more than $1000 to replace. If you go directly to a house, there is the cost of the boot and the heavy wire that goes to the entrance box.
3) Water. Water is where you find it. Never any guarantees. Drilled wells are not cheap. I have drilled three at different place. One was $1000. That was not deep and required only the minimum of pipe. It was also done 20 years ago. One last month was nine grand. We went down 360’ and got barely enough water to meet a minimum flow. There was pipe going down most of the way; the pipe doubles the cost. And then I spent over three grand getting a pump in and the line to the home. If the well were closer that would have been cheaper.
But you need to keep the well at least 100’ away from any part of the septic system. Many old installations are not nearly that far apart and people seem to make out OK, but for something new, regulations require the 100’ – or somewhat more.
4) Septic. Figure $4500 on a simple installation with well-drained soil and not too much slope. If regs or poorer soils require it, this can easily shoot to $10-20000 for an engineered system. The engineered system requires an engineer to lay it out on paper, well drained soil is brought in for a mound into which the effluent discharges. In some cases the mound may have to be higher than the septic would normally be and requires the installation of a septic pump. Pumps use electricity and wear out, something else to keep in mind. A steep lot is harder to engineer – you don’t want the effluent breaking out to the surface, which it can do if the slope is too much. Poorly drained soils add to the cost as you need a correspondingly longer leach field. Leach field length also depends upon the number of bedrooms. Two are required in any home these days. Bedrock close to the surface may require hauling in soil. It all adds up; and some localities will not permit the installation of a composting toilet (or an outhouse).
5. Clearing and landscaping. It costs more to put in a home n the woods since the trees are in the way. If they are big and a desirable enough species, the lumber from them might offset the cost of their removal. But you have to get them to the mill and if there are not enough for a truckload, that will mean you have to do it yourself. Landscaping costs depend upon your taste.
6l Basement. Bulldozers and backhoes are very expensive to hire and you’ll need them to create a basement. At the very least, you will need enough basement to house your heat system and the area where water pipes will be exposed. You should also have a door from there to the outside. If you elect to use a slab instead, there will be less site preparation, but you will need a larger house to accommodate those things normally housed in a basement. The floor or the slab will be poured concrete and in addition to the obvious cement needed, you should also add reinforcement rods or heavy wire mesh. For walls I recommend pour cement as well. Many build using cement block but what you save on material. costs, you make up on added labor. With poured walls, you avoid the expected step cracks in between cement blocks, plus you get a lot more material, making it stronger.
7. Permits. You need permits anywhere you go now. Their costs vary considerably with the locality. Many are quite reasonable, but some definitely are not. Some, not all, towns require multiple engineering sign-offs and inspector’s approvals, certificates of occupancy, surveys, appearances before planning boards and every other bureaucratic hurdle people have been able to think of.
With this done, you can now build your home. A good contractor or architect can be of great assistance in planning these upfront costs as well as the home itself.
Some are merely amusing. some can help you immensely. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)