Innovation is almost always more expensive, at least the first time around. The innovation costs associated with building the research and demonstration house are an investment in Harmony Habitat’s mission to build change.

Though we have put our plans and design together with the help of the generosity and expertise of many who contributed time and value to the process, all of the construction costs including most of the extra costs, are born by our land/home owner partner and Co-Director, Tatha Cornish.

Numerous extra costs above and beyond an average build process, we anticipated. But this build has had more surprise costs than an average build. Some of these are because of the innovation and some because the house it is being built in an unprecedented time in history (2020-2021), with consequences for builders, especially owner builders who cannot pass the price increases on. 

In anticipation of the expected extra costs, our team had planned some project strategic ways to buffer them. However, with the pandemic and building boom, and some exceptional site-and-island-specific challenges, we still ended up with considerable overruns from unpredictable extra costs

The list below does not include the operations costs for volunteer run Harmony Habitat nor any communications related costs for the project.

The expected extra costs

  • Premium prices on non mainstream materials
  • Multiple professional design consultations
  • Multiple phases of 3D drafting
  • Product research time
  • Labour managing site cut lumber
  • Collaboration communication time with suppliers
  • Experimentation time and extra materials and mock ups and ‘re-do’s’
  • Delays waiting for project-specific advisors
  • Delivery charges and one time pricing on some items
  • Extra time requirements for synthesizing and coordinating all technical input digitally and virtually

The unplanned building boom/pandemic costs

  • Start delayed by several months
  • Labour and materials to store/move/clean up long-stored milled and purchased lumber
  • Delays in between stages of build
  • Rising costs for all labour and services
  • Soaring lumber and metal prices – some more than tripling
  • Time spent in ‘Covid line ups’ on supply errands
  • Extra time required due to technical advisors being off site 
  • Multiple extra costs/time related to managing an unplanned winter build (instead of the planned summer build)
  • Much more time and effort required to coordinate products and services from extra busy suppliers and trades people
  • Slower construction with a small work crew by necessity (pandemic)
  • Loss of planned volunteer help and fund-raising/educational hands-on courses

Additional unanticipated costs

  • Challenging hillside site logistics, development costs, and hill related engineered construction costs
  • Redesign to increase value due to financing issues related to the value ratio of a tiny house on a very expensive foundation (see blog May 2021)
  • Extra drafting costs
  • Fee-for-service expense of hiring engineers instead of pro-bono (see below)
  • Fees and higher lumber and hardware costs of engineered foundation and framing (see below)
  • Extra high development, excavating, retaining wall and drainage costs for hillside site

Engineering costs

Structural engineering represented high unplanned costs in both fees and materials. It was deemed essential for the research home project since we wanted an engineer on the team to support agility and innovation in sustainable design.

The engineering firm (Blackwell), offered to engineer the house pro bono to support project goals. However, due to the building boom, to get the work done soon enough, we had to pay hourly fees (though at a very helpful discount).

An economical engineering approach demanded by-the-book generic solutions instead of custom value engineering/ecological engineering. The more conservative approach meant more concrete, metal, and wood than we had anticipated. As a saving grace, after the foundation was built, Anthony Spick (now of Building Alternatives), has generously stepped to help reduce construction costs through value engineering and maximizing the use of on site and low cost materials as we build.

Modelling affordability

It is an understatement to say that this first Eco Healthy Home is not a model of affordability. However affordability remains one of our project’s core priorities. The demonstration build is modelling the essential principles and products for the future mini-home prototype. Following testing and analysis of the demonstration phase, we will apply all of the lessons learned – to the creation of a prototype – and to the planned replication strategies, and collaborations to lower costs.

Going forward

Despite the fortitude and added investment the project has demanded, our core volunteer team and our home owner remain committed to the mission. Through additional borrowing and investment, supports from service and product suppliers, and product and cash donations, we are determined to meet our target goals.