How Much Does it Cost to Build a Custom Home?

Embarking on the journey of building a custom home is filled with excitement and big decisions, one of the most pressing being the cost. Understanding the financial aspect of creating a home tailored to personal tastes and needs takes a lot of work. Each choice in the custom home building process significantly influences the overall budget, with variables ranging from architectural designs to the final construction phases.

For instance, the cost of a home in a low-demand market typically ranges between $200 and $400 per square foot. However, these figures can fluctuate based on numerous factors, including land location, materials, and desired design features.

Navigating these financial waters requires a clear grasp of the main cost drivers and effective strategies for managing them. This article aims to demystify the complexities of budgeting for a custom home, ensuring you’re well-prepared to make informed decisions throughout your home-building journey.

Influences on the Cost of a Custom House

Custom House With Pines Around it

Building a custom home involves various factors that directly impact the overall cost. Understanding these influences helps potential homeowners plan and budget effectively. This section delves into significant elements such as geographical area, home dimensions, design, and the quality of materials used, each playing a pivotal role in shaping the final cost of constructing a custom home.

Geographical Area

The project’s site, the land where the home will be built, significantly affects construction costs. For example, buildings in urban, historic, and restricted areas often incur higher costs due to more stringent regulations, higher demand for construction services, and, typically, more expensive land prices. In contrast, rural areas usually offer lower land costs but could include additional expenses for developing access to utilities and infrastructure. Building on a slope in these rural areas can increase costs due to the need for specialized foundation work and additional site preparation. Unlike less densely populated areas, cities like New York or San Francisco are renowned for higher premium construction services and materials costs.

Dimensions and Design

Overall square footage, layout, schedule, and design complexity are crucial cost determinants. Larger homes require more materials, labor, and time to build, naturally increasing the cost. Similarly, a complex design featuring custom structural steel and architectural details such as cantilevered components, large spans of glass, or intricate layouts leads to higher costs than a simple, rectangular design. Homeowners looking to build larger, more complex, or cutting-edge designs should prepare for a proportional increase in their budget.

Quality of Materials

The choice of materials significantly influences the appearance and cost of building a custom home. High-quality materials like natural exotic stone, premium hardwood flooring, and high-end fixtures will drive up the project costs and add to the home’s longevity and aesthetic appeal. Economic choices like vinyl siding or laminate flooring reduce upfront costs but provide different durability and lack the upscale look desired in custom homes. Deciding on materials often involves balancing cost, durability, and the desired final appearance of the home.

In each of these categories, homeowners have the flexibility to make choices that balance their budget with their vision for their custom home, directly influencing the overall cost and outcome of the project.

Understanding the Framework of Architectural Charges

Architectural fees significantly influence the total cost of building a custom home. These fees cover the standard creative and technical services architects provide, which can vary widely based on the complexity of the design and the architect’s reputation. A common practice is charging a percentage of the overall construction cost, typically 8% to 15%.

Different fee structures  can help you find the most suitable arrangement for your needs and budget:

  • Fixed Fee Arrangements: Some architects offer a fixed fee for services on simpler projects, providing clarity and ease in budget management.
  • Hourly Rates: For highly customized projects or remodels, architects may charge by the hour, with average rates starting around $150 an hour depending on the firm, reflecting expertise and demand.  This arrangement also provides flexibility to adapt to unseen conditions.
  • Cost-Plus: This model involves paying the architect a percentage over the cost of materials and labor, which is suitable for projects where changes are anticipated.

Selecting the Right Architect

One should choose an architect based not only on cost but also on their portfolio, client statements, and experience with similar projects. A seasoned professional can efficiently manage resources, minimize unnecessary expenditures, manage complex problem-solving, and ensure the home meets aesthetic standards while remaining within budget constraints.

Impact on Project Cost

The scope of work an architect provides can significantly impact the final project cost. Full services from conception to project completion, while more expensive, can provide considerable value by ensuring the project adheres to budget and timeline constraints. Having the architect on the project until move-in allows problems to be solved cohesively. On the other hand, limited services, like preliminary design drafts without detailed oversight during construction, can reduce costs but might lead to higher expenses if issues arise later.

By understanding these architectural fee frameworks, homeowners can better navigate the financial aspects of home building, aligning their budget with their vision while achieving the desired functionality and aesthetic appeal.

To find the perfect architect for your needs, consider the extensive range of design and architectural services provided by SRI Architect, including concept development, detailed planning, and sustainable building solutions.

Breakdown of Expenses in Custom Home Construction

Site Investigation

Beautiful Landscape View From a House

Collecting technical investigation of the site forms the initial phase of building a custom home. This phase involves crucial activities like soil testing, environmental assessment, arborist studies, and a geotechnical report, each integral to ensuring the land is design-ready. This phase is critical in ranch architecture, where the land’s natural contours and landscape significantly influence the overall design. Cost can vary considerably if this phase depending on the land’s initial condition and local regulations, costs. 

Land Preparation

Land preparation forms the initial phase of building a custom home once the design has been approved. This phase includes the first stages of erosion protection, grading, tree removal, and establishing means of site access, each integral to ensuring the land is design-build-ready. For instance, heavily wooded lots need extensive clearing and may involve tree removal, adding to the expense. Additionally, the expansive layouts typical of ranch architecture might require more extensive grading and soil stabilization efforts to create a suitable building site.

Base Construction

Base construction includes preparing for and laying the foundation, which is vital for any sturdy building. This step generally involves excavation, setting footers, framing the slabs, and pouring concrete, which might be straightforward or complex based on soil stability and topography. Costs will fluctuate based on materials used and the foundation type, whether slab, crawl space, or basement.

Structural Assembly

The structural assembly, better known as the core, is the phase where the home’s frame is constructed. Meticulously built walls, floors, and roofs create the building’s core, which critically influences the project’s quality and longevity. Costs here depend on the chosen materials, like wood or steel, and the complexity of the home design. More intricate designs with meandering layouts or multiple stories will typically elevate the price.

External Coatings

External materials define your home’s aesthetics and resistance to weather and punishing elements. Materials like wood, vinyl, cementitious siding, or brick have different price tags and durability profiles. For example, brick offers excellent durability but at a higher cost, impacting the overall budget.

Installation of Primary Systems

This phase includes installing essential utilities such as heating, electrical, plumbing, and air conditioning systems. Once the building’s core and shell are complete and dried in, highly skilled technicians begin installing these systems. The complexity of these systems can vary widely, affecting both the installation time and costs. High-efficiency systems may have a higher upfront cost but can offer savings in the long term through reduced utility bills. During this phase, we install the services and lighting, enclose the walls with drywall, and start the finishes.

Finishing Touches Inside

Interior finishing includes flooring, plaster, cabinetry, and fixtures, each adding layers of cost depending on quality, complexity, smart home integration, and style. High-end finishes like gemstone countertops and bronze-cast hardware significantly increase costs but also enhance the home’s value and appeal.

Overall Project Requirements

Project requirements encompass all construction necessities, including permits, insurance, site observation, and inspections. These requirements are not just formalities but ensure the construction complies with local building standards and safety regulations. They add predictable costs that must be accounted for early in the planning process.

Fees for the Builder

Builder fees are typically a percentage of the total construction costs and cover the management and coordination of the building project. Selecting a reputable builder is critical, as their expertise can prevent costly mistakes and ensure that the project stays on schedule and within budget.

Managing Your Project’s Budget

Efficient budget management is essential when constructing a custom home. Proper financial planning ensures that resources are allocated wisely, unexpected costs are minimized, and the project stays on track. By setting a clear budget from the outset and continuously monitoring expenses, homeowners can avoid financial pitfalls and make informed decisions throughout the building process.

Strategies to Prevent Extra Fees

Preventing extra fees while constructing a custom home involves meticulous planning and proactive communication. The following strategies can be instrumental in keeping the project within budget:

  1. Detailed Initial Budget: Starting with a comprehensive and itemized budget helps set clear financial expectations. Homebuilders should include every potential expense, from design and permits to landscaping and final touches.
  2. Regular Reviews: Regular budget reviews throughout the project’s progression ensure that expenditures are tracked and any discrepancies are addressed promptly.
  3. Contingency Planning: Allocating a contingency fund of 10-15% of the total budget can cover unexpected costs without disrupting the project’s financial stability.
  4. Clear Contracts: Detailed contracts with builders and subcontractors that outline all costs, timelines, and deliverables prevent misunderstandings that could lead to extra charges.
  5. Timely Decision Making: Making decisions early on materials and design elements prevents costly last-minute changes or rush orders that can inflate the budget.

Adhering to these strategies can help homeowners manage their project’s budget effectively, mitigating the risk of unforeseen expenses and ensuring financial control.


Building a custom home is a multifaceted venture with costs influenced by location, design, and material quality. Working with an experienced architect can significantly affect the overall expenses due to their fees and the extent of their services. Understanding the breakdown of costs from land preparation to finishing touches is crucial for budget management. Homeowners can maintain control over their expenses by employing strategies such as detailed budgeting and regular budget reviews, ensuring their custom home meets their aesthetic and functional needs without surpassing their financial boundaries.



Emily Warren, AIA, NCARB

Emily is celebrated for her insightful commentary and technical expertise. As a licensed architect with over a decade of professional experience, Emily boasts a rich background that spans high-end design, historic documentation, and sustainable development. She honed her skills with the National Park Service’s Historic Documentation Programs, mastering complex projects completed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

Emily’s work is distinguished by meticulous attention to detail and a passion for advancing architectural knowledge. Her leadership and teaching capabilities, demonstrated by her guidance of interns and management of multimillion-dollar projects, underscore her commitment to fostering growth and excellence within the architectural community. Emily’s compelling narratives and technical prowess make her an invaluable voice in the field as she continues to inspire readers with her dedication and vision.

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Charlotte R. DeChant



As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.

Douglas M. DeChant

Founding Partner/Principal


Architecture is more than a profession for Doug, our principal designer; it is a calling, understood since childhood. While a modernist at heart, his work reflects the necessary context of each setting and the voice of each client. He trained in the program of modernist and former Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, at Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in Chicago. After working throughout the nation and overseas, Doug settled in Vail in 1985, where he met his wife, Charlotte. Together they founded the practice in 1989 and have enjoyed raising four amazing children.

Doug’s service has included the Eagle County, Colorado, Planning Commission; the faculty of the Byron Fellowship, an annual sustainable communities conference; panelist at the Summit for Creativity in La Jolla sponsored by The Design Futures Council; participation in local design review boards; youth sports coaching; and various lay-leadership positions in his church. In 2004, he conceived ‘Benevolent Architecture’, a proprietary service offering low-cost or no-cost architecture and consulting to worthy ministries and non-profits.  In 2005, Doug began to develop an intimate, artistic retreat and conference venue, Wellspring Ranch, LLC, relocating and restoring several historic Colorado structures upon a remarkable property outside of Buena Vista, Colorado.

He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and has been licensed in numerous states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Indiana, Georgia and Pennsylvania. He finds balance in guitar, sculpture, hiking, snowshoeing, golf and crafting various elements of his retreat venue. 

Tom Bashford


Tom, one of our most valued, gifted leaders, passed away unexpectedly in March 2017. Together with his joyful spirit and hilarious dry wit, he enhanced our studio with a wealth of design and management experience. Tom will never be replaced. He was the type of person, father, leader, and mentor to which we all aspire, and the fruit of his efforts will live on, in his son, in us, and in our projects.

Pam, Peraya Mongkolwongrojn


Peraya, Pam, is originally from Bangkok, Thailand, where she first became interested in Architecture from the rich spatial environment.  She explored Canada before moving to the States to pursue her passion for architecture. Pam went to the University of Arizona to earn a Bachelor of Architecture professional degree. During school, she energized a passion for the arts and drawing. 

In her free time, Pam enjoys exploring the great outdoors, hiking through Colorado’s scenic landscapes, and finding inspiration for her designs in nature. With a keen eye for detail and a creative approach to problem-solving, Pam has been involved in many of our custom residential homes. Her passion for the arts and drawing has influenced her design style, which incorporates elements of beauty and functionality. Pam’s commitment to excellence and her love for architecture make her a dedicated professional who strives to make a difference through her work.

As she continues to grow and learn in her field, Pam remains devoted to creating innovative spaces that enrich people’s lives and leave a positive legacy for future generations.

Brett Lehr

Project Manager

Brett is a designer with a unique blend of expertise, holding an undergraduate degree in Media Arts from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and an M.Arch degree from the University of Nebraska. His diverse educational background has ignited a passion for utilizing realistic virtual environments to enhance the efficiency, enjoyment, and overall success of architectural design processes.

Beyond his professional pursuits, Brett finds joy in a variety of hobbies, including snow skiing, biking, fly fishing, golf, and hiking. Embracing the scenic wonders of the Vail Valley, he has found the perfect lifestyle fit, drawing creative inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty.

Laurie Baggott


Our studio is fortunate to have Laurie bring her considerable experience in business and finance to our daily operations. Among her many administrative responsibilities, she manages accounting, payroll and invoicing for us. When not busy here or as a private chef, she avidly hikes in our beautiful summers and snowshoes in the winter.

Patricia Marcine


Earning her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Houston in 2016 was just the beginning. From there, Trish headed to Europe, to study at the Graz University of Technology in Austria and work at the Aedes Architekturforum. Then she determined it was time to return to the Rocky Mountains. We became beneficiaries of her delightful, collaborative spirit when she joined our studio in early 2018. Her savvy technical support and inspired design voice enhance each project, while her design comprehension and growth demonstrate that she has a future with much to offer the profession. As a lifelong artist, Trish’s search for a practical art form and meaningful profession has been fulfilled by custom residential architecture, where “…not a day truly feels like work.”

Trish grew up in Northern New Jersey, playing club and varsity soccer, enjoying ski club with friends, and learning to snowboard at a young age. As a teen, she competed in various equestrian events, highlighted by working for Frank and Mary Chapot to train Olympic-level show jumpers. Eventually, faster hobbies were necessary, and Trish became a driving instructor for the SCCA and track-day rider on her CBR600RR. She’s also been an enthusiastic racer on our company’s ‘ski team’. When a new project surfaces, she’s pleased to slow down enough to collaborate with the team.

Emily Warren


Emily joined us from the DC area, lured by the mountains, our core values and our creative environment. She earned a Master of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Architecture degrees from SUNY Buffalo’s School of Architecture & Planning, with a minor in Earth System Science.

Through her wonderfully infectious spirit, Emily eagerly contributes diverse knowledge and experience, having worked on historic National Park Service documentation, and urban high-density residential projects facing strict constraints. She is a productive and dedicated team player who thrives through learning and contributing to the growth of others. Her detail, project management and organizational skills are exceptional. Emily is licensed in Maryland, and nationally accredited by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Emily is passionate about youth empowerment, with considerable experience teaching and mentoring in schools and camps. She’s an ardent weightlifter, hiker and nature enthusiast, embracing the Vail Valley’s active, outdoor lifestyle.

Cam Frey


Cam was introduced to Colorado’s rivers and mountains at an early age, returning annually from Michigan with his family to fly-fish and hike near the small mining town of Creede. His interest in design and architecture was ignited by his high school drafting teacher, who instilled a balanced approach to design through technology and craft. Cam received his BA from UNC, Chapel Hill, followed by a few years of medical research before heading West to earn his Master of Architecture from the University of Oregon. There he became interested in the interdisciplinary study of Biomimicry; an approach to solving design problems by looking to nature. Not coincidentally, this interest, the stunning landscapes, wildlife, and outdoor lifestyle led Cam back to Colorado in 2014. He joined us in 2017, quickly becoming a central piece of our culture and project management structure.

Cam serves on the Design Review Committee of the Arrowhead at Vail community, is a certified Biomimicry Specialist and licensed Architect in the state of Colorado.

His other pursuits include fly-fishing, skiing, hiking, and a good game of euchre…, and the list continues to grow. He is married to a wonderfully talented children’s book illustrator, and dotes on his young son.

Ben Marion


From an early age, Ben had a pen in hand and a curiosity for exploring both natural and built environments. Much of his adolescence was spent drawing what he observed, balanced with his passions for cross-country skiing the New England forests and playing soccer as far away as Europe. Like many of us, Ben arrived in Colorado as an adult, following a lifelong passion to further pursue the resort lifestyle. After graduating from the University of Colorado, he practiced with some of the finest architects and builders in the region, creating fine homes and other structures. His broad experience includes California mountain resort homes, as well as mixed-use and commercial structures, peppered with an interesting mix of furniture building and construction. In our studio, Ben is a strong design voice and outstanding project manager, leading by quiet example as he mentors our emerging leaders.

Ben remains passionate about skiing and soccer, coaching both youth sports locally. Travel remains in his blood as he and his family explore the west in their vintage 1967 camper.

Bert Willemse


Bert found a home away from home in the Vail Valley while exploring North America’s most beautiful landscapes on a post-graduation road trip…, from his hometown of Bellvale, New York to Wasilla, Alaska. He had completed his studies at SUNY Buffalo and apprenticed with two well-known firms in New York’s Hudson Valley area before joining our studio. As the son of a general contractor Bert gained practical construction knowledge with hands-on experience in the field. His many professional attributes are exceeded only by his wonderful, collaborative spirit.

Naturally, Bert is an active individual who embraces hiking, biking and skiing in our amazing Colorado mountains.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principal

After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in 1994 and working as an intern for three years at Fujikawa Johnson and Associates in Chicago, Adam packed his van and toured America to determine where he might settle; he found Vail and Shepherd Resources in September of 1997. After growing from intern to project manager to associate, Adam began transitioning into ownership in 2017 and became a principal owner in early 2020. As a dedicated designer, Adam loves collaborating with his fellow architects and interns while managing a busy studio.

His priorities are rooted in sustainability, strong leadership skills, and staff mentoring to uphold the core values of the practice. He is licensed in Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina and serves as the chairman of the Red Sky Ranch Design Review Board. Adam enjoys golf, mountain biking, skiing, music, and any activity involving his daughter Bellalee. Adam has been practicing for a quarter century and looks forward to designing and collaborating for another quarter century; the opportunity to doodle a quick sketch, with the future opportunity of walking through such a doodle fuels his creativity and passion for design.

Adam H. Harrison

NCARB, LEED AP / Principle

As a young artist, Charlotte tailored her pre-architecture undergraduate degree at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, and completed her Master of Architecture at the University of Colorado, Denver. With her fresh eyes, she is an observer, analyst and critic of our processes, and her imagination inspires and contributes to our creativity. Of the partners, Charlotte’s willingness to raise the children fostered Doug’s ability to focus upon the practice.

She is a lifelong resident of Colorado, skied Vail in the early years as a child and remains an excellent bump skier (if the sun is shining). She was an original teammate of the Vail Breakaways, Vail’s first women’s hockey team. Charlotte’s vision includes an amazing gift for seeing, rescuing, restoring and placing cast-off furniture and other elements, giving the pieces valuable, renewed lives.