The Hidden Costs of New Builds

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Site Itself
The plot you’re building on is more than however many square feet of earth you own, it can also come with a variety of costly implications, from the ground itself to local laws and accessing the site.

It’s impossible to know the quality of the ground you’re building on without doing a ground survey. As I wrote in more detail in back in July, poor quality ground can cause severe subsidence issues where all or part of a building gradually sinks into the ground, while ground with a high water table can cause problems with infiltration for basements. In both cases, additional structural works need to be carried out to ensure the build is safe and stable.

If you’re building nearby a river or on a flood plain, you may be also advised or required to install flood defences on your site, while any significant trees on the site will need to be looked at by an arboricultural consultant before you get permission to remove them. You had also better hope there are no bats or great crested newts on the land, as they’re protected species that will either need to be undisturbed or provided with replacement habitats.

Whether from planning departments or covenants, nearly every site will come with restrictions that can impact on the cost of a project. For example, they may demand your home is consistent with the area’s aesthetic, which might require expensive materials or detailing, such as an all-brick façade, authentic period style windows and tiles, thatched roofs and so on.

Expensive Materials
Just as I mentioned in the renovations and extensions blog, large panes of glass always add a significant amount to the costs of building your house, as the price of glass increases exponentially with the size of the pane. As you can tell from our portfolio, many contemporary designs demand substantial glass to achieve the desired look and feel, so you need to weigh up early in the process how much you’re willing to spend on glass versus the benefits you gain from it.

While the use of glass in contemporary builds can be expensive, this is usually balanced out with a flat plaster finish which – while also having a clean and elegant appearance – is far cheaper than using brick, wood or stone. Beautiful, period-style brickwork and pointing is labour-intensive work that uses expensive materials but, as mentioned above, sometimes you might not have a choice what materials you use, at least externally.

Where you do have choice, you can mix plaster and natural materials to create a contrast that is as beautiful as it is cost-effective. Instead of cladding an entire building in wood or stone, you can use them to accent certain parts of the structure while finishing the rest in less expensive materials. You can see this in Merimac, pictured at the top of the page, where the lower ground floor is clad in local Tunbridge Wells stone, while the ground floor is all plaster except for a wood accent panel.

Unusual Designs

The minimalistic, angular style of contemporary builds is more than just an aesthetic choice, it’s also highly cost-effective. From a structural engineering perspective, you can’t go wrong with simple, rectangular structures where forces are distributed evenly and predictably through a frame.

On the other hand, a more unusual design is also likely to come with a higher price tag, both in terms of the time taken to come up with structural engineering solutions that allow the structure to stand and in the more expensive material requirements. Curves, glass structures and large spaces all present challenges that basic house building techniques won’t be able overcome.

Strawberry Vale, pictured above, is a perfect example of clients who were willing to pay a premium for a bold, one-of-a-kind design. The house wouldn’t be the same without its imposing, floating first floor that appears to defy gravity as it teeters over the side of the ground floor. Unfortunately, we can’t defy gravity, and it took many late nights and expert structural engineering assistance to achieve this unique structure.

Now you know a few of the costs to consider when imagining your dream home, but every project comes with unique challenges that aren’t easily predicted. If you want to dip your toe in before taking the plunge, why not use our feasibility study? It’s the perfect way to get all the information you need on costs, planning laws and timescales before you make a commitment, and you can click here to learn more.