Drawing Room Architecture
Buildings can be wonderful things

Architecture and industry tips

How much will my build cost?

Coming in under budget when building or renovating your home is all about planning. The more time and thought you put in at the beginning, the better you project should roll out - especially when it comes to managing building costs.

Preparing a budget

When working with an architect, we’ll walk through your site with you and assess any existing structures. We’ll ask you and your family about your needs and how you want to live in the house, and chat about what’s achievable and affordable. This will help you settle on your desired outcomes - we can then prepare a detailed brief and start working with the builder.

Determining how much you can expect to spend on the build is the most challenging part, but there are some general rules we can use as a starting point.

Build rates per sqm

We use build rates per sqm to estimate a general build price. Here at Drawing Room Architecture, we regularly work with several builders and we have a rough idea of what a build might cost:

  • Renovating an existing house, with structural alterations - $4k-$5k per sqm

  • Renovating an existing house, without structural alterations - $3k-$4k per sqm

  • New build with structural components - $4k-$5k per sqm

  • New build without structural components - $3k per sqm.

When we’re working with new builders, these rates may be different.

Size of build

When the size of your build is under approximately 50 or 60 sqm, we find the overall build rate increases, possibly to $5k or $6k per sqm. This is because some complexities such as wet areas (kitchen, laundry, bathrooms etc) still have the same number of trades and set processes despite the smaller area.

From experience, we see better value for builds over 100sqm.


The level of finish and how much input you want to have on the finer details of the build will affect costs. For example, choosing specific tiles to match a particular style might increase the spend.

Through our experience, we have found materials and finishes that look and work well while also being cost effective. If you’re hoping to keep a check on your spend, we can make sure the finish still meets your style expectations.

Reusing existing structure

This is a common area of budget creep, where money is often spent on things that are unseen. Though we prefer to work with existing structure as much as possible, it does come with additional costs.

This is because existing elements aren’t always straight, plumbed, structurally robust or in line with current building standards.

For example, stripping back existing plaster from a masonry wall weakens the structural integrity of the wall, and so it may need to be replaced with a new stud wall and then replastered. These kinds of costs are often unforeseen and therefore not budgeted for.

Flexibility of design & build

This is a harder concept to quantify. Working with our regular builders, we ask them to consider alternative materials and details to keep the build costs down without sacrificing appearance or performance.

For example, you might want internal timber lining but this comes with a high labour cost when fixing and finishing it. Out builder might instead suggest a panelled timber sheet that could be equally effective but cheaper to fix and finish.

We are always exploring new materials and cataloguing ways to keep a design on track aesthetically and economically. It’s a design approach that values experimentation and collaboration where it can positively affect cost.

Making the hard decisions (Bad Cop)

It’s easy to design a beautiful space - but a beautiful space on a budget is a different thought process and requires some hard truths from time to time. As architects, it’s our job to be honest as well as aspirational. We aspire to achieve a great outcome but we also understand the realities of building costs.

Our job is to identify hidden costs, explain the consequences of them and suggest creative solutions whenever possible. We’ve learnt it’s best to have these conversations upfront when planning - it can save a lot of time and money.

Collaborating with a builder from the beginning

We often collaborate with builders early on in the design stages, which allows us to get estimates on build costs and alternative options. This gives us enough time to have a real effect on the overall cost.

The biggest saving you can make early on is reducing the footprint of the build. After that, making decisions on details, materials and trades to keep the build simple is key.

Staging the build

Building in stages can be an effective way of achieving the best outcome over time. There are a few caveats though.

The cost involved in having tradies come out multiple times must be balanced with care. Plumbing and wiring an area for later work is an effective strategy. Installing things like non-essential joinery down the track can also be effective. Building to lock up an external studio can allow interim use until final completion is achieved.

As with everything else, planning is essential.

Dan Tunley