There is no prospective owner or builder of a home but desires to know of some way of arriving at as near an approximation of its actual cost as it is possible in advance. The problem, difficult enough itself, is complicated by the constantly varying and shifting price of material and labor; as well as their great divergence in cost - especially in material - in the different parts of the country. With the possible exception of California, where labor is excessively high but many materials are cheaper than elsewhere in the country, and such cities as Chicago and New York, where the labor problem is unusually complicated by the labor unions, it is perhaps safe to consider that the prices current in Massachusetts and especially in the vicinity of Boston are at least as high as the average throughout the country. In the South, West and Northwest, most materials are considerably below the prices ruling in that location and, except under exceptional conditions, labor is also generally cheaper and more easily obtainable. Labor is both less skilled and less expensive the further you remove from the larger cities; while material - such as brick or lumber - may of course be obtained at a cheaper price nearer the place where it is made or milled.
* Prices of 1914; present prices much higher but too unstable to put in print.
Besides labor and material, it must be remembered that, throughout the country, the selected location and the individual contractor are factors that may influence considerably the cost of a building. A distant or inaccessible location, far from city, railroad, or water, increases the expense of obtaining material on the ground. The individual contractor figures more when work is plenty and his own concern is carrying along several contracts, than when there is less building, or when it happens that he is completing most of the work upon which he is engaged. In a year when building is very general in any locality, that fact will increase the average cost of building; unless a contractor is discovered who is not sharing in the general prosperity and rush of business. Even in a busy year, it will generrally be less expensive to start a building in the fall than in the spring - provided it is started early enough to complete the mason work before the frost sets in - and so leave the carpenter to carry on the interior finish of the house during the winter months, when there is generally less demand for the services of his trade.
Thus far the individual owner or designer of the house has no control over its cost; but there are many ways - some of which may not be generally known - in which the arrangement of the plan and the treatment of the rooms or the exterior of the dwelling may become quite a factor in determining the comparative cheapness or unnecessary expense of constructing the building.
When making his drawings, every conscientious architect should keep in mind those facts that he knows to affect the expense of a building, for there are many technical points of which it is impossible for the owner himself to be aware, that may exercise a considerable result toward adding or saving expense upon his dwelling. Certain of these may have to be explained to the owner before he will allow of some changes from his first idea which their consideration may necessitate. Others are too many and too involved for him to bother with, but must nevertheless be kept in mind by the architect while he is evolving both plan and design of the building.