Skip to Content
View site list

Profile

Pre-Bid Projects

Pre-Bid Projects

Click here for free access to Conceptual and Planning stage projects from across Canada
Economic

A Comparison of Construction Material and Labor Costs for 30 U.S. and Canadian Cities

Alex Carrick
A Comparison of Construction Material and Labor Costs for 30 U.S. and Canadian Cities

RSMeans monitors construction costs in 318 U.S. and Canadian cities. In an earlier Economy at a Glance, I set out total index comparisons for the 20 largest population centers in the U.S. and the 10 biggest in Canada.

This time, for those same 30 cities, the two major sub-components ‒ materials and installation ‒ will be placed in the spotlight. (“Installation” is mainly labor, but it also includes equipment rental.)



Current costs for all the series (Canadian ones included) are expressed relative to a U.S. 30-large-city average in January 1993.

By adopting this methodology, costs can be compared not only over time, but between cities and even between cities in different time frames.

No distinction is made between a U.S. dollar and a Canadian dollar. A simplified example of how this works is as follows. If the square-footage cost of a certain type of building in a city north of the border is 200 in Canadian dollars, while the same structure is 250 in U.S. dollars in a city south of the border, the index value for the former will bear an 80% relationship to the latter.

There is no accounting for the prevailing exchange rate. That’s an extra step one must take to place the analysis for the two buildings in terms of only one currency or the other.

The first feature that stands out from the table is the much smaller variation in material costs than in labor costs.

San Francisco is currently the most expensive city for construction materials in the U.S., but the lowest-cost American metropolis on the list, Atlanta (92.4%), is not that far behind.

There is a similar picture for material costs in Canada. Kitchener (89%) is a modest step down relative to expensive Calgary.

A bustling energy sector in Alberta is propelling Calgary and Edmonton to leadership roles in many of the nation’s most important economic indicators (e.g., high employment growth and low jobless rates). They’ve also acquired frontrunner status in a comparison of upwardly mobile construction material costs.

Installation charges tell a different story. The cost of hiring construction workers in New York is almost three times as great as in Dallas-Fort Worth (38.5%).

Even ritzy San Francisco (84.4%) can provide construction workers at a discount to N.Y.

Los Angeles (68.7%) and San Diego will ring up on-site charges that are only about two-thirds as great.

And Atlanta (44.2%) is less than half as pricey.

The labor-rate gap between cities in Canada is also wider than it is for materials, but to a lesser degree.

Some of the city comparisons are made more complicated by the difficulty in obtaining authoritative information. This is especially true in jurisdictions dominated by non-union work, where there are no postings of negotiated wage settlements.

The average percentage changes for the four sets of numbers also tell a story. Material costs in the U.S. (+3.8% year over year) are rising faster than in Canada (+1.7%).

But labor costs have more of a jump above the border (+2.1%) than below it (+1.7%), although the difference is more of a stride than a leap.

RSMeans Construction Material and Installation Costs – Largest Cities in the U.S. and Canada – April 2014
Each City as Each City as
% of the Most % of the Most
Metropolitan Expensive City Y/Y  Index Metropolitan Expensive City Y/Y  Index
Rank Statistical Area (MSA) Index Value on the

List
Value Change Rank Statistical Area (MSA) Index Value on the

List
Value Change
1 San Francisco, CA (4.5) 235.5 100.0% 3.3% 1 New York, NY 310.9 100.0% 3.5%
2 New York, NY (19.9) 230.1 97.7% 3.3% 2 San Francisco, CA 262.4 84.4% 2.5%
3 Seattle-Tacoma, WA (3.6) 227.6 96.6% 3.5% 3 Chicago, IL 257.7 82.9% 2.3%
4 Boston, MA (4.7) 226.6 96.2% 3.4% 4 Boston, MA 255.3 82.1% 2.0%
5 Washington, DC (5.9) 225.6 95.8% 3.5% 5 Philadelphia, PA 244.7 78.7% 3.0%
6 San Diego, CA (3.2) 224.3 95.2% 4.1% 6 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN 219.7 70.7% 1.1%
7 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN (3.5) 224.0 95.1% 3.6% 7 Los Angeles, CA 213.5 68.7% 2.5%
8 Baltimore, MD (2.8) 223.9 95.1% 4.0% 8 Riverside-San Bernardino, CA 208.0 66.9% 2.3%
9 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX (6.8) 222.3 94.4% 3.4% 9 Detroit, MI 199.3 64.1% 1.4%
10 Philadelphia, PA (6.0) 222.1 94.3% 4.3% 10 San Diego, CA 199.2 64.1% 3.1%
11 Los Angeles, CA (13.1) 221.9 94.2% 2.8% 11 St. Louis, MO 196.2 63.1% 1.0%
12 Chicago, IL (9.5) 221.6 94.1% 4.4% 12 Seattle-Tacoma, WA 190.5 61.3% 1.6%
13 St. Louis, MO (2.8) 221.6 94.1% 3.0% 13 Washington, DC 168.1 54.1% 1.6%
14 Houston, TX (6.3) 221.3 94.0% 4.3% 14 Baltimore, MD 151.4 48.7% 0.6%
15 Phoenix, AZ (4.4) 221.3 94.0% 3.7% 15 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL 145.0 46.6% 0.0%
16 Riverside-San Bernardino, CA (4.4) 221.3 94.0% 4.4% 16 Atlanta, GA 137.3 44.2% 1.1%
17 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL (2.9) 221.3 94.0% 3.8% 17 Phoenix, AZ 136.8 44.0% 1.6%
18 Miami, FL (5.8) 220.7 93.7% 3.9% 18 Miami, FL 135.5 43.6% -0.1%
19 Detroit, MI (4.3) 218.8 92.9% 4.0% 19 Houston, TX 128.5 41.3% 1.9%
20 Atlanta, GA (5.5) 217.5 92.4% 4.2% 20 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 119.7 38.5% 0.4%
Unweighted Average 3.8% Unweighted Average 1.7%
Each City as Each City as
% of the Most % of the Most
Census Expensive City Y/Y  Index Census Expensive City Y/Y  Index
Rank Metropolitan Area (CMA) Index Value on the

List
Value Change Rank Metropolitan Area (CMA) Index Value on the

List
Value Change
1 Calgary, AB (1.3) 276.3 100.0% 2.2% 1 Toronto, ON 185.3 100.0% 2.9%
2 Edmonton, AB (1.2) 276.2 100.0% 2.3% 2 Hamilton, ON 178.8 96.5% 3.2%
3 Winnipeg, MB (0.8) 271.3 98.2% 1.0% 3 Calgary, AB 177.0 95.5% 2.0%
4 Vancouver, BC (2.5) 267.9 97.0% 0.5% 4 Edmonton, AB 177.0 95.5% 2.0%
5 Toronto, ON (5.9) 265.9 96.2% 2.4% 5 Ottawa, ON-QC 173.9 93.8% 3.4%
6 Montreal, QC (4.0) 263.8 95.5% 1.8% 6 Quebec City, QC 173.0 93.4% 1.5%
7 Ottawa, ON-QC (1.3) 263.1 95.2% 1.5% 7 Montreal, QC 172.2 92.9% 1.4%
8 Hamilton, ON (0.8) 261.7 94.7% 1.7% 8 Kitchener, ON 171.8 92.7% 2.8%
9 Quebec City, QC (0.8) 261.2 94.5% 2.2% 9 Vancouver, BC 164.8 88.9% 0.7%
10 Kitchener, ON (0.5) 245.8 89.0% 1.9% 10 Winnipeg, MB 130.6 70.5% 1.4%
Unweighted Average 1.7% Unweighted Average 2.1%
The base index value for every one of the series, Canada included, is the U.S. 30-city average in January 1993.

MSAs and CMAs have the broadest possible city boundaries.

The figure in brackets after the city name is the latest population count in millions of people.
Based on RSMeans’ Construction Cost Indices (CCIs) for each city.

Data source: RSMeans (www.rsmeans.com).

Table: Reed Construction Data.

Recent Comments

comments for this post are closed

You might also like