This section is from the book "The Construction Of The Small House", by H. Vandervoort Walsh. Also available from Amazon: The construction of the small house.

The problem of financing the small house is a part of the problem of building, and to some extent is a very personal affair, and every prospective owner has his own difficulties and personal solutions. Those who have saved for a number of years enough money to invest in this adventure of home-building are quite simply fixed, and all that they need consider is how large a house they can have for the money saved.

A method was shown in an early chapter by which the approximate cost of a house could be determined when the plans were in the rough. This consisted of studying the houses built in the neighborhood where the new home was to be erected, calculating their cubical contents and dividing this into their total cost, so that their cost per cubic foot could be known. By comparing this result with the figures which the local builders had offered, a fair idea could be obtained of how much per cubic foot the new house would run. A few figures were given for the different types of construction, but nothing certain can be predicted from them, for, as was pointed out, the cost is definitely related to the locality and the time.

Once, however, having arrived at a reasonably correct cost figure for the cubic foot, the question of how big a house is to be had for the money is quickly determined. Divide this cost per cubic foot into the total sum of money which is to be used for building the house, and the allowable number of cubic feet in the new house will be found. If now the average height of the new house, from the cellar to the average height of the roof, is divided into this allowable cubic contents, the allowable ground area for the plan will be known.

For example, suppose the sum that can be invested in the house itself is $10,000, and it is found that the houses in the locality, of similar construction, cost per cubic foot about 35 cents. Dividing 35 cents into $10,000, it is found that a house having approximately 28,570 cubic feet can be constructed. If 8 feet is allowed from cellar floor to level of first floor, 9 feet from first to second floor, and 13 feet from second floor to the average height of the roof, then a total average height for the house will be found to be 30 feet. Dividing this 30 feet into 28,570 cubic feet, it will be found that a floor area of approximately 950 square feet can be had. Now, as the floor area of the plan of any two-story house is determined by the area required for the second floor and not the first, the desired sizes of the various bedrooms should be approximated, and the results added together to see whether they come within the allowable floor area. Continuing this example, suppose that the master bedroom is to be approximately 14 feet by 15 feet, the other three bedrooms approximately 12 feet by 12 feet, the toilet about 7 feet by 10 feet, the hall about 8 feet by 12 feet, then by adding the area of these rooms together it will be quickly found out whether the allowable area has been exceeded.

Master bedroom, 14 feet by 15 feet................... | 210 square feet |

Three other bedrooms, 12 feet by 12 feet............ | 432 " " |

Toilet, 7 feet by 10 feet....................... | . 70 " |

Hall, 8 feet by 12 feet................................. | . 96 " |

Total....................................... | . 808 square feet |

This number of square feet is within the amount allowed, which is 950, but additional area must be added to this for closets, say 3 feet by 4 feet for the closet of the master bedroom, and 3 feet by 3 feet for the closets of the other rooms, and other closets for linen and space for chimneys and the like, making about 60 square feet, which should be left for this part of the plan. This makes the area about 868 square feet, and no allowance has been made for porches or passageways. It is quite evident from this that the number of bedrooms desired, their approximate size, and the size of the toilet and closets is nearly up to the maximum which the limitations of cost will permit. Working with these approximate figures, the plans of the house can be roughly prepared, the area required for the second-floor rooms being used as a basis for the allowable area of the first floor, since it is more than enough, for the second-floor area of a house, as has been said, is always greater than the minimum area for the first floor.

When roughly prepared plans and elevations have been arranged on this basis, the cubage can again be checked, and if it is over the allowed amount, the size should be cut down; if under, increased. The cubical contents of porches may be computed at one-quarter of the cubage of the main portion of the house, but if enclosed with glass they should be estimated at their full cubic contents.

Having thus roughly arrived at the plans and elevations of the house which is within the allowed cubage, a rough outline specification should be prepared in which the essential materials, workmanship, and mechanical equipment are defined. Enough information will then be had from which a rough estimate can be secured from a local contractor, or even the architect may make an estimate, based upon previous examples of other houses. If this rough estimate comes within the allowable figure which is to be spent for construction, then the contract drawings can be safely started, and a reasonable assurance can be had that the cost of the house will not go beyond the amount of money available. As most contractors will give an outside price on any preliminary estimates of this kind, unless radical changes are made in the plans, it can almost surely be the case that the final estimate on the contract documents will be less. However, there are often times when the final figures exceed these preliminary estimates, and one should always be prepared to shrink parts of the building or withdraw some of the finest requirements of the specifications.

But one of the prime essentials in financing any building operation is to be sure that the contract drawings contain everything which is desired in the finished building, and that none or very few changes are made in the building after the contract is let and the building is in process of construction. Alterations from the original plans, after construction work has begun, come under the bugbear title for all architects, "Extras." They always mean waste of money. Likewise, things which were omitted from the plans and specifications, which are later found to be necessary, run up extraordinary bills, and the general impression which most people have that a building operation always costs more in the end than was originally counted upon is due largely to the neglect of these factors. Competent architects make such complete plans and specifications that extras of the "omission type" are avoided, but most small houses are built from plans that are not complete, or prepared by architects who sell their services at such low rates that they cannot afford to take the time to check up the plans carefully. It is right here that the architect has a real business point to give the client, namely, that if he does not pay for carefully prepared plans and specifications in the beginning, he will pay out much more in the end for extras.

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