Per Square Foot: How much does it cost to build a new green home?

Over the 12 years that I have been building here in Asheville, this has remained the most frequently asked question that I receive. It is always one of the very first things people inquire about in order to get an idea of what a new home will cost. With this being the case, I thought I would go ahead and answer the builder’s most commonly asked question and a potential homeowner’s number one concern.

First of all, it is very important to understand that just as with many products, you will typically get what you pay for. In addition, when discussing cost with builders, take some time to read between the lines and make sure that you are comparing apples to apples. By this, I mean making sure that when a builder quotes his/her Cost Per Square Foot (CPSF), you know exactly what that number includes.

It has always been quite simple for me. The CPSF should include everything that a finished home requires, excluding two things: land and design fees. Besides those two items, the CPSF should include all land improvements, utilities, labor, management fees, materials, fixtures AND appliances for the home.

If someone tells you they can build you a home for $100 PSF, then your home may not come with a stove or a sewer tap. Also, the CPSF should only include conditioned space. If you have 2,000 square feet of conditioned space on top of an 800-square-foot unfinished basement, then it’s 2,000 square feet we are talking about.

So let’s get to the magic number that everyone wants to know. In and around the Asheville area, its costs roughly between $150-200 per square foot to build a new green home. This range will cover most homes ranging in size from 1,000 to 2,500 square feet of a finished product. Other factors include the builder’s rates, company structure and efficiency. Any good builder should exhibit a competitive range of costs.  I should also mention that this range of cost applies to most homes, although certainly not all. High-end custom homes can easily breach $200 PSF because they are not designed with budget in mind. In that market $200 PSF should be considered the base line of what to expect.

On the contrary, I am sure that there are some who can build for under $150 per square foot. I just don’t know how. The new ‘green’ homes being built today use high quality materials, insulation, efficient HVAC systems and careful planning. To go under this price you will likely sacrifice the overall quality of the home and it’s performance. It might meet code, but that is not the standard that I suggest referring to. Some folks will argue that a green home costs more. While this may be true in some instances, it’s only true because you get what you pay for and a green home is typically a better built home. For the most part, a green home does not cost that much more in comparison to its utility savings and resale value.

My best advice for getting the most bang for your buck is to do some research and connect with a reputable builder who is competitively priced. Once you choose a builder you will have the opportunity to get trusted guidance on how to build within your budget. He/she will be able to tell you where to cut back and where to spend in order to get the home you want at a price you can afford. If you do this, then you will be able to build within the range given above without any surprises.

Greg McGuffey is the founder and President of Earthtone Builders. We have been designing and building custom green homes in the Asheville area since 2003. 

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 60 of the 2015-2016 edition of the directory or as a pdf.