Design & Construction

Building Costs

Two valuable resources when contemplating new construction or rehabbing old construction with new materials are the Turner Building Cost Index and the RSMeans Books which include both materials and labor costs. When building, the construction cost index can be more relevant than the interest rate or the inflation rate because construction is a unique category of goods and labor that can be affected more greatly by technological advances, skilled worker availability, and resource depletion differently than other consumer goods and services. In a major project like a building or a complex of buildings unusually large quantities of specific materials are required. The cost of one material could increase or decrease much more rapidly than any other. A construction cost index includes that variability.

Turner Building Cost Index

Turner Building Cost Index was started and is still published by Turner Construction, a 120-year-old international company that completes $12 billion of construction on an average of 1,500 projects annually. One reason I use the Turner Index is that it is readily available online and is compiled by the company that is dependent on it. They have potentially more accurate measurements based on their own actual costs and if they were wrong they would be shooting themselves in the foot.

From the Turner Building Cost Index website:

Turner has prepared the construction cost forecast for more than 80 years. Used widely by the construction industry and Federal and State governments, the building costs and price trends tracked by The Turner Building Cost Index may or may not reflect regional conditions in any given quarter. The Cost Index is determined by several factors considered on a nationwide basis, including labor rates and productivity, material prices and the competitive condition of the marketplace. This index does not necessarily conform to other published indices because others do not generally take all of these factors into account.

But the Turner Index is also focused on large commercial buildings. Another source that is less available but is also more detailed is the series of cost data books from RSMeans, referred to as “Means.”

The Annual Means Costs Books

RS Means Cost Data Books are published by a huge data company that publishes cost data in large annual softcover editions that target specific construction areas: Electrical Costs, Square Foot Costs, Contractor’s Pricing Guide, Mechanical Costs, Green Building Costs, Residential Costs, etc. However, the 2022 Building Construction Costs Book is $392. Some titles are slightly less costly at $253. Unless your local library is serving an area with a large construction industry, it will rarely have a current copy.

The usefulness is probably much greater for anyone working in your neighborhood however because it is much more specific to geographical areas and breaks costs down into hourly rates, unit costs, and estimated time required. If there are other Cohousing communities in the area, it might be possible to share a copy. To compare the relative cost of two upgrades or downgrades you are considering an older version can be just as helpful. The cost of installing a shower compared to replacing the tub will most likely be the same ratio now as 5 or 10 years ago. 


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