What are the "Soft Costs" of Construction?

Soft cost for construction and development

Soft cost for construction and development

You may have heard of the term “soft costs” in construction or development but what does that actually mean?

By definition, your soft costs are all your expenses before the shovel can literally hit the ground and start your build. After you have closed on your piece of land (or existing structure for demolition), your soft costs may typically take you a few months. During this stage, you are going through planning, drawings, and getting ready for your permit application. Here is a high level overview of each of these stages in your soft costs (in no particular order):

1) Review your zoning bylaws

Each city will have a zoning bylaw which determines what you can or cannot build in your area. For example, if you are looking to build a duplex but the zoning bylaw is R1 and only allows a single family use, you are not allowed to build a legal duplex. The bylaws are the gold standard and there is no grey area. The bylaws can be quite confusing and if you are not aware of what you need to look for, it is easy to get blindsided with thinking you can build something but in reality you cannot. In addition to the residential use from the zoning bylaws, you will want to take note of items like your lot size (frontage and depth), parking, yard space, and building setbacks. There is actually no financial cost to looking up on the zoning bylaws. If you would like some help with navigating the zoning bylaws, you may want to consider hiring an urban planner, especially if you require slight alterations like a minor variance to fit within the bylaws.

Zoning By-law of St. Catharines

Zoning By-law of St. Catharines

2) Survey

A survey will help you identify exactly where you boundary lines are. Just because there is a physical fence dividing your property and your neighbour, doesn’t actually mean the physical fence is located on the boundary line. You would not want to be in a situation where you start building only to find out you started building on your neighbour’s side-yard and having to start all over again.

3) Grading

Your surveyor will also need to do a grading plan. A grading plan enables rain water or snowmelt to safely divert away from the foundation of your house and into a storm-drain system. Without a grading plan, water may pool inappropriately at your foundation causing structural damage and foundation cracks. The grading plan determines the landscaping of your finished build to divert water safety away using slope swales to direct water to storm-drain systems.

Survey and grading

Survey and grading

4) Architect or BCIN designers

You will need construction drawings to lay down on paper your vision of your new build. Your designer or architect should have a good understanding of the building code. You may not need to decide all the details of your finishing and trims at this stage but you will need to have a solid idea what the structural layout will be. You will get a site plan which is a bird’s-eye view of where your dwelling is going to be, also called the box within a box. Then you will have your actual floor plans. Make sure you have each room or living area labelled. You will also have a set of elevation drawings or what the house looks like from the ground level as it you were standing in front of it. Lastly, you will have a cross section of the house.

Construction Drawings

Construction Drawings

5) Engineering

You will need an engineer to provide you HVAC and truss plans. Not much to be said about this but at this point, you will need your construction drawings in order for your engineers to provide you this. Trust you professionals on this and no need to question them.

6) Development Fees

Now that you’ve completed all the above stages, congratulations! You are also about to pay a hefty development and permit fee when you submit for your permit application.