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Cost of Construction

The most common question we get from prospective clients is: How much will it cost me to build or remodel?

No Bid Without a Permit: A Catch 22

We often meet homeowners who are wary of entering into the architectural design and permitting process without knowing the total cost implications of their project. However, homeowners will never know the total cost implications without going through the architectural design and permitting process. It’s a total catch 22, and we understand how frustrating that is. But, it is also the truth, and here’s why: It is impossible to determine total project costs without a permit because there are many variables that can affect the price.

Some examples include:

  • Scope

  • Local Building Codes

  • Materials/Specifications

  • Architectural Fees

  • Local Jurisdiction Fees

  • Additional Professional Trades Required

  • Unforeseen challenges

Let’s dive deeper into each of these with some more information and examples.


It is common for someone to reach out to us with an undefined scope for their project. While it’s most efficient to have a program and budget ready before starting design, we don’t mind exploring. The design and permitting process will look different depending on which scope a homeowners chooses, and that will have an impact on their total project costs.

Example 1: A homeowner may want a second story addition but, through the design process, we discover that it is not the best option from a construction or budgeting standpoint. We might then recommend the homeowner explore a dormer addition instead. The total project costs of a second story addition typically varies greatly from a dormer addition.

Example 2: A homeowner may reach out to us and want an interior remodel with no structural changes. Through the design process, the homeowner decides to explore removing a bearing wall and adding a small addition to allow for a formal dining room. The costs associated with structurally altering the home and adding more space will have a greater cost than a non-structural interior remodel.

Local Building Codes

Your local jurisdiction will require that specific building codes and zoning laws are in compliance with your project. The design and permit process requires the submission of detailed plans and specifications to a building department for review. The plan set will include architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing drawings, etc. The building department then verifies that the proposed construction complies with building codes and regulations and, if everything is in order, they issue the permit. This review process helps to ensure that the construction will be safe and comply with all applicable laws and regulations. It also helps to identify any potential issues that may impact the cost or feasibility of the project, such as the need for additional permits, upgrades to electrical or plumbing systems, or changes to the design to meet zoning requirements.

Example: We designed a brand new home for a client in West Seattle. Although we did coaching with the building department along the way, it wasn’t until the permit review process that we were informed by the city that they required a water infiltration system to meet the drainage code requirements. This system added an additional $20,000 to the cost of construction. While this wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things and overall budget, it was still an unexpected cost that we could not have predicted in an initial construction estimate.


Specifications provide the necessary details for a contractor to create an accurate and realistic construction bid. Without them, the contractor would be unable to provide a reliable bid, and the project could suffer from cost overruns, schedule delays, or other issues.

Examples of why a contractor can’t bid without knowing your materials:

  • Are you selecting a standard electric range from Home Depot or a chef’s gas range with double oven from Wolf?

  • Will your bathroom tile cost $25/tile or $0.17/tile?

  • Do you want real hardwood floors that costs $16/square foot, an engineered flooring that costs $8/ square foot, or a luxury vinyl as low as $3/square foot?

  • Will you select bathroom faucets that are $150/piece or $800/piece?

  • Are you doing canned lighting or specifying sconces and pendants?

  • Will you have wood beams or will steal beams be required?

  • Will your kitchen cabinetry come from IKEA or will it be custom made of white pine from a local woodworker?

Architecture Design & Permitting Fees

While architectural fees are part of the total project cost, they are only one aspect of the overall expenses associated with designing and building a home. Focusing too much on the architectural fees may lead to a narrow perspective that overlooks the other important costs involved in the project. For example, while it may be tempting to choose an architect with the lowest fees, this choice may not necessarily result in the most cost-effective overall project. A lower-priced architect or designer may lack the experience or resources to handle the complexities of your project, resulting in higher costs later on due to design changes, rework, or mistakes.

The complexity of your project will have a direct impact on the amount of time and effort required of our team. For example, the fees associated with designing a detached garage are much less than the fees incurred for a second-story addition or new build. In most cases, we can provide an estimate of hours for our services, to help create a better understanding of fees. As with any estimate, it is a good-faith effort to provide this information and should not be interpreted as an exact quote.

Local Jurisdiction Fees

Your local jurisdiction will charge a fee to review your drawings, once they are submitted for permit. This is based on the valuation of your project scope. In addition, depending on the project, there may be other fees associated with your local jurisdiction, such as paid coaching, pre-submittal reports, etc.

Additional Professional Trades Required

Depending on the scope of your project, architectural drawings may not be the only plans required for permitting. It is very common to need documentation from a structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, land surveyor, arborist, etc. If these are required, they will most definitely have an impact on the cost of construction. We need to coordinate their drawings with ours before submittal, and the entire package will be reviewed by your local jurisdiction.

Additional professional trades not only affect cost of construction, but also your total soft costs. Scroll down to learn more about soft costs and hard costs.

Unforeseen challenges that may arise during construction

While we all hope that your construction process is smooth sailing, that’s not always how it goes. Despite the best efforts of an excellent builder, things still happen. Some unforeseen challenges that might increase costs and timelines could include weather delays, site conditions, changes in project scope, material availability, labor shortages, economic conditions, or even a pandemic.

Total Project Costs = Soft Costs and Hard Costs

The total cost of designing and building a home, addition, or remodel typically includes both soft costs and hard costs. Soft costs refer to non-construction expenses, while hard costs refer to construction expenses.

Soft Costs include:

  • Architectural design fees

  • Permit fees

  • Fees of other design professionals: structural engineer, geotechnical engineer, arborist, etc., as applicable)

Hard Costs Include:

  • Construction materials

  • Labor costs

  • Equipment rental

  • Excavation and grading costs

  • Concrete and foundation work

  • Framing and rough carpentry

  • Plumbing, electrical and HVAC work

  • Insulation and drywall

  • Windows, doors, and cabinetry

  • Finishing work, such as flooring and painting

Ballpark Estimates

Now that we reviewed total construction costs and how they can vary greatly based on a number of factors, you’re still probably wanting an estimate. We get it. There is a way of gaining a basic understanding of costs through a “price per square foot” estimate, which is calculated by dividing the total cost of a construction project by the total square footage of the area being built or remodeled.

Should you make a relationship with a contractor early in your project, they can review our drawings as they develop and provide rough estimates to you.

As with most searches, a Google search of “price per square foot to build or remodel in the Seattle area” can lead you down a rabbit hole. However, there is a lot of accurate information online. The most common price per square foot we see these days ranges from $350-$450/sqft. Keep in mind, these numbers depend on project scope, quality of materials, type of permit, etc. We have seen projects done for as little as $200/sqft and as high as $1200/sqft. Every project and client is different. While having a basic ballpark can be helpful for you to start budgeting, please take it with a grain of salt.

Getting Started

While the design and permitting process (and unknown construction costs) may seem like a scary endeavor, having an architect guide the process is your key to success. Your architect will be by your side along the way, identifying potential challenges and providing recommendations on how to address them.


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