June 17, 2020

What's In a Number? Part II: The House

June 17, 2020

What's In a Number? Part II: The House

What's In a Number? Part II: The House

This blog was published in July of 2020 and will reflect pricing at time of publication. Material prices can change significantly over time and by region.  For more recent tips on building costs in 2022 , click below to check out our webinar with industry experts.


Today we continue our 3-part series on building costs – what to expect, and what to include, as you weigh what you want to build and what your budget should be – and whether those numbers from other vendors are truly apples-to-apples.

While we explored the mysteries of site costs in our last newsletter (and on our blog, read it here), this time we're diving into the good stuff: the house itself.  

For BBH, this is the part of the story we know best, but we still need your help. Finishes: are you a “let’s git’er done like good ol grandma and get a house that’s functional, practical, and fast” or are you more of a “build the dream with all the finest appointments and Dwell-worthy details” kind of person? (There’s plenty of nuanced balance between these two extremes, of course!)

A popular analogy in the building industry when somebody asks, “how much does a house cost?”, is to compare the question with a similar premise: “how much does a bag of groceries cost?” As with just about everything in construction, it, of course, depends (on what is in that “bag of groceries”). Finishes can come in the metaphorical form of mac and cheese and some good old-fashioned apple juice, or they can be caviar and champagne, served up on a silver tray. If the budget is clear, it’s possible to navigate between these two extremes, with accent pieces or specific surfaces taking center stage while others that are deemed less critical can remain within the more predictable costs.

The Big Dials

Not surprisingly, the biggest dials you can control in finish selection costs are most often within the finishes that cover the greatest amount of surface area. Roofing, siding, flooring, decking, and countertops generally are among the items that have the greatest amount of range in costs, depending on the selection.

For roofing a conventional 10 or 12 pitch roof, the choices are either asphalt shingles or standing seam metal roofing. While there certainly are variations on each of these, the 2 that are most typical are those that we’ll talk about here. Architectural asphalt shingles are durable, typically come with “limited lifetime warranty” which translates to 25-30 years, depending on manufacturer, and – significantly for BrightBuilt Home – can be installed in the factory and shipped nearly complete to the site. This means that, when the modules are set on their foundation, things are bolted together and the roof is flipped up, the roofing can be buttoned up within a day of the set. Your house is fully roofed and weathered in, in a day.  The convenience, cost-efficiency, and value inherent in asphalt shingle roofing for modular homes is thus hard to argue, but that’s certainly not to say we don’t love ourselves some beautiful standing seam roofs, too.

Unlike with asphalt shingles, standing seam roofing cannot be installed in the factory. What is shipped instead is a roof that is entirely covered in high-temperature ice and water shield, so that it can be reasonably weather-proof for the duration between when the house is set and when the roofers come in (ideally as soon after set as possible). For a standard guideline on cost for a standing seam roof, figure on about $9 per square foot of roof area.

For siding, expect the range to span between the low thousands for standard vinyl clapboard installation – right on up to the tens of thousands for cedar shake or cedar clapboards. Signature or specialty vinyl profiles, cement board options, and composite wood sidings fall in between.

Decking follows similar lines between composites and wood options. For decking, however, some composites can be a good deal pricier than a basic cedar or painted wood deck. Ask your local lumber yard for some square foot numbers on decking, and bear in mind that how the deck or porch is detailed can also drive up costs. Are those posts simple cedar or fir 4x4s or 6x6s, or are they trimmed out and resting on flared stone bases?

In flooring, the principles are similar. Simple laminates can be purchased and installed in the realm of $4-$6 per square foot, standard pre-finished flooring will be closer to $10 per square foot, and unfinished traditional hardwoods that will need to be installed, sanded, and finished once in place will run up to the high teens or more per square foot, depending on the species of wood and the finish. With flooring, be particularly mindful of adhesives and finishes – as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) can off-gas for months after install, creating unhealthy air-quality inside your new home. If a flooring is man-made and very cheap, it may well contain some of these toxins. Oil-based polyurethanes, while durable, are very toxic so should be avoided within a home whenever possible. Cost is important, but your health is too.


The room that, to so many, represents the heart of the home is quite often deemed the most important in the plans and specs for a new build. Materials matter, functionality reigns supreme, and surface selections depend on the chef of the house.

Cabinetry can run the gamut from the $3,000 full Ikea package (though don’t forget to factor in the cost/value of your time and sanity for installation!) to the $100k+ high-end European cabinetry lines (for literally the same exact kitchen layout). At BrightBuilt, cabinetry packages generally run in the $3k-$12k range, depending on the line of cabinet selected and any extra bells and whistles in the cabinet units themselves. Also, the cabinets arrive to the site fully installed in their light-filled sanctuaries – reducing installation time and costs on site.

Countertops are that alluring detail that few can resist. Granite and quartz has dominated the market in recent years, with sleek, cool surfaces that are easy to clean and generally easy to maintain. Because of their fragility in transport (when laying flat), these stone-based options will always be installed on site. Costs for material and labor typically start around $45-$55 per square foot (psf) for “baseline” slabs, whereas rare or specialty stones may run closer to $100-$150 psf. The second and third tier (above the baseline) are where most people shop – which is in the realm of $50-$60 psf.

If a more economical kitchen is what you have in mind, counters can be a good place to balance the finishes budget. Formica counters have vastly improved from the days of 50’s suburbia, and since these counters can come to the site fully installed, with sinks in place, faucets plumbed, and the unit ready to tie-in to the main lines, Formica is a great option for many buyers. Comparatively, Formica will run $18-$25 cost per square foot. Between Formica and stone lives the world of manufactured surfaces – the Corians and Hi-Macs of the world. At a general range of $24-$32 psf, these can be a great go-between for those who are not sure of Formica, but would like to focus their finishes budget on areas other than kitchen counters.

Appliances should not be overlooked, and it’s worth asking any builder who is putting together ballpark numbers whether he or she is including an allowance for appliances (laundry too).  A fairly standard appliance allowance for most builders is in the neighborhood of $6k-$8k. This will cover most American-brand go-tos for fridges, ranges, and dishwashers. If you seek something specialty or foreign, or you have additional appliance needs, such as microwave drawers, specialty dishwashers, oversized fridges or ranges, or additional appliances like beverage fridges, freezers, wall ovens, or otherwise, then plan to tack on some room in that allowance. High-end appliance packages are known to land in the $35k-$60k range, so shop around before feeling certain that your allowance will cover your vision.



Baths, like kitchens, can really run the gamut depending on the materials, fixtures, and finishes sought. As a very rough guideline, plan on approximately $1k per fixture for the plumber (think sink not vanity – so 2 sinks means $2k), plus whatever the cost will be for the selections themselves. Standard vanities, with a cabinet base, a counter and sink w/faucet, can be as little as $400-$700, if baseline finishes are selected. Vanity counters follow the same pricing principles as kitchen counters, so those numbers could be applied here. Faucets, shower heads, and tub fillers can come in anywhere from $150 each to $2k each. Complexity, finish choice, manufacturer, and functionality will all have bearing on cost. Surfaces will also present some considerations – with standard tile (wall or floor) landing in the $14-$25 psf range (for standard acrylics and stones – not high-end marbles, etc.) Note that, for a tiled shower, the cost is not just in the tile materials and labor alone. The substrate prep for tile can be between $400 - $2000 and up. Sometimes, the drop-in full-size acrylic showers and tubs rank highest among buyers, as they’re affordable ($300-$800, typically) and very easy to clean.

The Nut Shell

As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all in the vast world of home building and associated costs. As we learned in our last blog, site matters, and with today’s blog, size and finish matter.  

We do, however, want to leave you with some reference with which to assess your future BrightBuilt Home. The smaller the house, the higher the square foot price…

“But why?’ you ask?  It’s about math rather than arithmetic… All homes require a kitchen and at least one bathroom. A house with a 200 SF kitchen, doesn’t necessarily cost half as much as a 400 SF kitchen.  The appliance, plumbing and wiring items are about the same cost, the real estate in which they live, however, is smaller (more compact.)

Dreams are important, visions fantastic, and budgets will spell out how we can be strategic about which aspects of the vision can come fully into focus. Let’s keep the dream alive!

*This blog was published in July of 2020 and will reflect pricing at the time of publication. Material prices can change significantly over time and by region.