I often get asked how much it costs to build a home here in the Northwoods. I have had several clients build and I myself built in 2006. These are not meant to be a substitute for working with a builder as they will have far more accurate information.
The first thing you will have to do is buy a lot. The minimum off-water lot that you can legally create right now is 1.5 acres. An off-water lot runs about $15,000. You can get improved lots which may have power and gas already to them and that is worth a lot of money. There are several keys to buying a lot. Access to a road is key and having access to electricity is quite important. Lots smaller than 1.5 acres are not uncommon as these were created below the 1.5 acre became the minimum standard. Lake lots are more expensive and costs can range from $50,000 all the way to $1M. Why the huge price range? Different lakes and lake chains create higher demand. Other factors that affect lake lot value are the size of the lake, the size of the lot, the amount of frontage, the elevation of the frontage, the quality of the frontage and the location of the lot.
Now we are ready to prep the parcel. To prepare the parcel, you normally have to clear off some trees and other vegatation. Typically, the lot is prepped when the basement and foundation are dug. Excavators are quite reasonable here in the Northwoods. The cost to prep a 1 acre lot with a 300′ driveway and put in a basement and foundation for a garage should run under $25,000.
Next, we will need a septic system. There are not a lot of sanitary districts here in the Northwoods and over 85% of the area is served by Private On-site Waste Treatment Systems (POWTS). Surprisingly simple and very effective, septic systems use the existing soils to dissipate effluent. There are several types of systems but the most common are conventional systems, mound systems, and holding tanks. A conventional system is the most common and it consists of a tank (septic tank) made of concrete or fiberglass and a drain field. The effluent flows into the tank where the solids are converted to liquids by bacteria. Once liquified, the effluent flows into the drain field where it is abosrbed into the soils. Wisconsin defines the size of the system by the number of bedrooms in the home, not by the number of bathrooms. A 2 bedroom system is smaller than a 3 bedroom and so forth. The size of the drain field is also defined by the type of soil. Sand is highly desirable as it is more absorbant than are soils that have more clay content. This is part of what a percolation (perc) test is for. Sometimes the tank is physically lower than where the drain field and in these cases, the effluent must be pumped by a lift pump which adds cost and complexity to a septic system.
A 2 bedroom septic system can run as low as $4000 and a 4 bedroom system can run as high as $7000. A good estimate for most cases will be $5000.
In some cases, the soils are not as absorbant or ground water is too close to the bottom of the drain field. Wisconsin statutes require 36″ of separation between the bottom of the drain field and the ground water. This is not unusual with lake lots and in particular, level lake lots. The ground water is often not far under the lake levels. In these cases, a mound system may be necessary. A mound system is a septic system that is located above grade level. Additional soils (sand) is brought in to help dissipate the effluent. A mound system is more costly. Typical costs for a 3 bedroom system would hover around $10,000.
Another possible system is the most simple and it is a holding tank. A holding tank is nothing more than a large tank where septage is stored until it is pumped. There is no drain field. A septic pumper has to come more often to pump out the system. These systems are not that common yet here in the Northwoods but they will be growing in number as regualtions on older systems become tighter. A 2000 gallon system will run in the area of $3000.
We have the lot, the foundation and the septic system. Now we will need a source of water. There are drilled wells and pooint-driven wells. Drilled wells are the most common. They offer higher pressure and flow rates. They are also deeper and more costly. Typical wells are in the area 70′ deep and run in the area of $5,500. Point driven wells are shallower and offer less pressure and flow rates but are cheaper. They will run in the area of $3000.
Now we are finally ready to build! My own experience tells me that the base price for a home is $120/sq ft. (above grade). This is a pretty basic home with hollow core doors, entry level cabinets and windows. The flooring is going to be vinyl and commercial grade carpet. The siding is typically vinyl. $150 sq. ft. is going to buy wood windows, solid wood doors and trim and wood/laminate/tile floors. This home is going to be a much higher quality home with granite/corian/silestone counters and premium cabinets (cherry, aspen, hickory). The siding will typically be cedar, cultured stone or other premium products.
There are log homes and log sided homes. A log sided home is a normal stick built home with half-log siding that gives it the appearance of being a full log home. A log sided home is not that much more expensive than a stick built home. A full log home is beautiful but they are quite expensive to build. A typical full log home will run in the area of $300/sq. ft. Why the big price difference? Log homes take much longer to build The logs themselves should be dried out for years prior to construction and the best way to dry them out is to allow them to dry naturally under a covered roof.
I hope that this helps! The price per square foot is for finished areas above ground. Should you have a walk-out basement (very popular) the price per square foot is less (use 50%).