Frame and drywall costs vary regionally. Framing costs depend upon the overall design--single story, multistory, complexity of architectural design--and upon the framing specifications in building plans. Other factors will also affect cost. Will the walls be structural ("sheer") walls? Does the framing incorporate other structural elements? Drywall costs vary less because of design variations, but different drywall specifications will affect cost also.
Regional Differences in Frame Costs
Lumber prices vary within a fairly small range from one region to another. Labor costs vary greatly. Framing jobs also cost less in states with less rigorous code enforcement and more in states with more rigorous code enforcement or with additional regional framing requirements to account for earthquakes, high winds or other natural hazards. As a result of such regional factors, a framing job in Texas might cost less than half as much as a similar framing job in San Francisco.
A Simple Framing Job
Physical characteristics of the frame will greatly affect cost. In general, a one-story house will cost less to frame per square foot than a multistory house; a rectangular house will cost less than a house with curving walls or with walls joined at anything other than right angles. Some house plans call for 2-by-4 framing, others call for 2-by-6 framing, which costs more. Do the plans call for structural, or "sheer," walls? Sheer walls add to the structural rigidity of the house and require closely spaced nailing and more inspection than ordinary framing walls. If the design incorporates off-site fabricated structural elements to add strength, usually specified by your structural engineer and that the framer will install, that also raises costs.
If none of these complications exists, a one-story house in a region with historically low construction labor costs and built with 2-by-4s may cost from $3.50 to $5.50 per square foot as of 2010. Note that framing "square foot" costs almost always refer not to the walls but to the total number of square feet in the floor plan.
A Difficult Framing Job
A custom house in a high-labor cost area will cost substantially more to frame, and might run from $20 per square foot for a relatively uncomplicated job to as much as $50 per square foot for a multistory house with a complex architectural design, curving walls and other structural complications.
Drywall prices tend to vary less than framing prices. A relatively simple drywall job with 1/2-inch domestic drywall in a low labor cost area will run about $1 per square foot of drywall (rather than per square foot of plan). The building codes in many areas require 5/8-inch drywall, which will increase both material costs and labor costs by 10 to 15 percent. Drywalling an architecturally complicated multistory residence in a high labor cost area with 5/8-inch drywall might cost up to two times more than a simple framing job with 1/2-inch drywall.
Other Factors Affecting Costs
If your house project has complete plans detailing exactly what materials and methods must be used for framing and drywalling, this will increase your costs because framers and drywallers know the cheapest way to build, whereas architects and designers often specify more expensive materials and construction methods. Having a general contractor rather than hiring individual subcontractors will also increase costs, usually by more than 15 percent.
What's the Right Price?
With so many factors affecting framing and drywalling costs, and with such wide variations in costs per square foot, how can you possibly know the right price for your project? Competitive bidding will assure you of realistic framing and drywalling prices for your region and based on your particular project. Most books on home building recommend getting at least three bids for every aspect of the job. Some owner-builders get more. Check your bidders' license status, get references, be sure those references include their last few jobs and make a point of calling those references and asking questions about performance.
You can find many different construction calculators online, many of them free. You can use them to very roughly estimate framing and drywalling costs, but don't rely on the information, particularly for high-end homes in high labor cost areas. The calculators attempt to better account for cost differences by dividing construction into economical, mid-range and expensive construction. This provides a reasonable and very approximate starting point, but regional differences and the specifics of your design matter much more than some nominal nationwide cost estimate.
Patrick Gleeson, Ph. D.,
Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.