Blog Post


Efficiently designed dental offices can cost more per SF

February 19, 2018

Depending on who you ask, the cost per square foot (SF) you should expect to pay for your new dental office varies. The only way you will truly know how much your project will cost is after it is designed, built, and completed. Cost per SF is the unit price per SF of finished space – a project’s actual total construction cost divided by total square footage. However, general contractors use “unit pricing” (e.g., cost per lineal foot of cabinetry) to estimate a project’s cost before it is designed. Understanding the difference is significant when deciphering “cost per SF” declarations.Unit pricing is a legitimate method for assigning costs to easily definable projects (e.g., general office, warehouses, Target store finish-outs) where the level of finish, construction methodology, lighting/HVAC infrastructure is “standard grade” or “repeated.” However, applying similar unit prices to dental facilities that have varying complexities – nitrous oxide, multizoned HVAC, multiple lighting needs, differing esthetics within varying square footages – can be deceiving and confusing.You can’t avoid references to cost per SF. You can, however, “qualify” assumptions made to avoid assigning unrealistic cost expectations to your project. Consider these points when calculating Cost per SF.

  • Cabinetry – Purchasing dental furniture eliminates this cost in construction. Building operatory, sterilization, and lab cabinetry raises the cost per SF for the same dental office. Arguably, the total cost for the equipped dental project is typically higher than that of the built-in dental project.
  • Plumbed nitrous oxide – Plumbing nitrous oxide can add $15,000 to $ 20,000 in construction costs. The loss of convenience associated with mobile units for some is worth the savings.
  • HVAC – Most dentists want to solve frustrating heating and cooling issues in their new office. To do so effectively, zoning the distribution of air (static areas – waiting, staff vs. dynamic operative areas) is critical and can add $3 to $5 per SF to a project’s cost beyond one-zoned systems.

Realize that a GC or dental supplier does not want to offer a “cost” that dissuades you from a project. Avoid the “spin” assumption that a low number is reality and a high number is inflated. The fact may be that neither is true. Defining a realistic cost for your project up front is paramount to a satisfactory and successful completion. Get to reality by challenging the “spin.” Reference: Cost per square foot ‘spin’, Jeff Carter, DDS, and Pat Carter, IIDA retrieved from:

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