What is Included in the Square Footage of a Home?

Currently I am looking at building a house as my own contractor. I am still trying to figure out where all of these “PER SQ. FT” prices are coming from and what they mean.

For example, does PRICE PER SQ. FT. include the finished basement under the finished main floor? How about the garage? Does it include septic, water & electric? What do most people include when they figure a basic price per sq. ft.?

I am going to build a ranch style house in NE Indiana that is 1800 sq ft on the main floor and the same size finished basement with an 890 sq ft attached garage. How do I calculate the “ACTUAL” sq. ft.?

Thanks, Brent

Hi Brent,
I see your confusion. It confuses everyone universally and the answers actually vary from locale to locale.

In my Cost to Build a House in Indiana I show the example with an unfinished basement (Total living area 1,647 sq ft) at an approximate 2016 cost to build of $154 per sq ft, and with a finished basement (Total living area 2,778 sq ft) at approximately $97 per sq ft.

If the basement is finished in the same quality as the area above grade and with 2 means of ingress and egress in all habitable areas (excluding baths) then in most locales it can be considered heated living space (area) under roof and the “actual” square footage of the basement is included in the “actual” overall square footage.

For estimating cost, this is always accepted. But, for selling a house the house (if you ever do) you may have to separate the basement square footage from the rest of the house.
A local Realtor can advise you.

Water (well), sewer (septic), and all utilities are always included in the cost per sq. ft., with or without a basement. Garages are always included in the overall cost, but separated out when selling.
Clear as mud, right. Ha, ha.

Here’s another view from a friend and distinguished architect, David Moore

“Hi Brent,

There are 2 separate questions here.

The first question is, “How do you calculate the square footage area of your house?” The answer depends on where you’re located and who you ask: your tax assessor, a Realtor, an architect, or a builder.

To avoid confusion, it’s best to break out each type of area and calculate each type separately. Here’s a sample area calculation from one of our designs at https://www.originalhome.com/.
House Area (SF)
•Finished Floor Area: 2,770
•Garage Area: 788
•Basement Area: 1,344
•Covered Porch Area 217
•Deck Area: 210
The Basement area in this house is unfinished. If some or the entire Basement were finished, the area would be broken out separately.

If someone gives you a total area which is not broken out, ask them what’s included. Most areas are calculated to the face of the exterior wall. Double-height spaces including the top flight of stairs are generally only counted once, and Basement stairs are counted as finished area only if they are finished.

The second question is, “What costs are actually included in a ‘cost per square foot’?”. Again, the answer depends on who you ask and where you’re asking. In a rural area without sewers or city water, site costs vary widely and probably aren’t included in a square foot cost. In a suburban area with small lots and public utilities, site costs may be included.

To be sure you’re comparing apples to apples; always ask for a breakdown of what’s included.”

David Moore, Architect
Original Home Plans, LLC
203.389.8999 (9-5 EST)

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