Construction Methods: The Cost of Traditional, Modern, and Niche

Townhouses, mobile homes, and high-rises are generally what comes to mind when you think of buildings because they are so common in society. However, there are many options to choose from whether it’s constructing a building based on traditional methods (e.g. timber), modern (e.g. steel & concrete), or niche (e.g. adobe).

Each type of building will have different costs in its development:

  • Labor
  • Materials
  • Zoning
  • Transit

Though it’s also important to consider the costs that appear once the building is completed:

  • Regular maintenance
  • Energy consumption
  • Hazard mitigation

Of course let’s not forget there is also the aesthetics, functionality, and desired space. Once you begin to factor in all of these costs and desires you begin to find which of the traditional, modern, or niche-type buildings would best suit your needs.

Let’s take a look at some of the various options for buildings in each of the categories:


Modern designs for buildings drive the price to incredible lows with high value. Prefabricated homes, steel buildings, and IFC’s adhere to standardizations and regulations resulting in lower costs. The ease of installing these types of structures also play a factor in savings due to less intensive labor.

For example, the cost of steel buildings in this construction type has dependencies, such as the fluctuation of the steel market, size of the building, additional need for foundation, and other components like windows and doors. Despite the variances, a steel building is incredibly sturdy (great for geolocations with harsh weather), flexible (many different building types), and quick project time (due to standards in fabrication).

Other options outside of steel like concrete block or prefabricated, mobile buildings/homes have similar pricing tiers based on the needs of the client.

Estimation: ~$25.00 – $30.00 per square foot


Traditional style buildings are typically associated with the construction taking place on-site and aliased as being “stick built” or “site built”. We see these types of buildings less frequently constructed due to their high costs compared to prefabricated options.

Additional costs can begin to add-up due to a number of requirements:

  • Planning & design will come at a cost to hire professionals
  • Variable-grade materials depending on tightness of budget
  • Going beyond the build timeframe thus incurring additional labor costs
  • Additional paperwork and legal requirements that must be handled

It’s quite common to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a townhouse or equivalent building type (e.g. unique offices) due to labor and materials. However, those that want a unique design that holds value and sentiment then a traditional design is the right fit.

Estimation: ~$120.00 – $250.00 per square foot


Those that want to explore new options and go against the grain of traditional and modern design should consider niche designs which could include:

  • Adobe
  • Tiny houses
  • Log cabins

Cabins, for example, can be very inexpensive when working with the right contractor or incredibly expensive depending on what you’d like to build. Cabins that start with a modular base and add on hand-cut timber is a nice in-between. Costs for this type of building can be well within budget ($50,000+) to hundreds of thousands (read the longer breakdown) depending on the complexity.

Estimation: ~$50.00 – $125.00 per square foot

Decision Time

Factor all the pros and cons for each of the building types. Look at the construction finances but go beyond the building costs and couple in the operational expenses. Invest in a great design, ample space, and sturdy materials. Hopefully this article places you one step further to finding the building that’s right for you.

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