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Budgeting for your Project


Architectural projects are unique, and it is difficult to generalize or make cost assumptions.  We understand, however, that in order to get started on a project, you will need to figure out how much it might cost.  So, here are some things to consider.

From a financial perspective, a lender would consider a commercial construction loan to include four types of costs—the land cost, the hard costs, the soft costs and a contingency reserve.  These categories can help to organize the budget for your project.  For simplicity, we will define soft construction costs as anything related to the project that you cannot visibly see and these costs are usually incurred prior to construction.


Soft costs include design, engineering, consultants, and government permits and fees.  Hard costs include the labor and materials for the actual construction (the contractor’s bid price).  A contingency reserve should be included (usually around 10% of the hard costs) to cover unforeseen site conditions and change orders.

For a typical commercial or public project, the soft costs will usually range from 6 to 10% of the hard costs.​​

For a typical residential project, the soft costs will usually range from 10 to 16% of the hard costs. 


Differences in percentage are affected by many factors, including:

• new construction vs. remodel

• the age of the building to be remodeled

• the location (especially the governmental jurisdiction)

• site issues (slope, soil conditions, landscaping needs, parking requirements, etc.)

• unique features (historic, LEED-certified, etc.)

• public input (hearings, Environmental Impact Reports, etc.)

In order to start an actual budget for your project, it would be helpful to call a local general contractor (builder) who handles your type of project and ask what construction prices are running per square foot.  Then make an approximation of how many square feet you intend to impact for your project.  Then call your local City (or County) Planning Department for a list of fees in your jurisdiction.


Residential remodel for one of the pioneer sustainabile houses of Woodside.

Download our Estimating Policy with more information about how we estimate costs.

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Contact Us for a free consultation!

Useful Formulas

(Cost per Square Foot) X (Number of Square Feet Under Construction) = Hard Cost Estimate

(Hard Cost Estimate) X (Soft Cost Percentage) = Soft Cost Estimate

(Hard Cost Estimate) X (10%) = Contingency Reserve

Hard Cost Estimate + Soft Cost Estimate + Contingency Reserve + Government Fees = Overall Project Budget

Soft Costs

A partial list - a project may include some or all of the following


Structural Engineer

Mechanical/ Electrical Engineer

Plumbing Engineer

Soils Engineer

Civil Engineer

Title-24 Energy Analysis

Interior Designer

Site Survey

Preliminary Cost Estimator

Property Tax Assessment

CalGreen Consultant

General Contractor

Landscape Architect

Building/ Fire Review & Permit

Plan Check Fee

School fee


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