Renovating an Older House Versus Building a New

Renovation of an older house versus demolition and building a new infill is a question often asked. Distinguishing between good older houses worthwhile upgrading through renovations versus building a new home has important considerations like scope, cost, time, and knowing what you need (versus what you want)…not to mention intangible considerations like energy efficiency, sustainability, the character of the old home and the neighborhood, and the sentimental value of demolishing the old home (one that you may have lived in for many years).

If you’ve ever watched those “house flipping” television shows, you’ve seen how quickly a $20,000 estimated budget can balloon into $50,000 once the work progresses. This isn’t to say that discovering hidden problems inside the guts of a house is a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s important to expose and address those hidden dangers to keep you and your home safe. This also isn’t to say that renovation is the inferior choice to demolition and building a new house; it varies case by case. The key is taking the necessary precautions during the planning phase before the first sledgehammer is swung. Don’t go into the renovation project blindly and hope to stay within budget; it’s just not realistic. Instead of finding surprises during a home renovation project, do a full inspection to check for things like asbestos, mold, cracked foundations, and more.

Some other key considerations in your decision making:

  • Trying to cut corners to save money on a home renovation—particularly when trying to sell the home—can leave you in a sticky situation if the quality isn’t up to code, and you’ll most likely have to pay to have the house repaired to get it up to appropriate building code.
  • Living in the home during a renovation project can be harmful to the health of anyone with allergies or asthma.
  • You can reuse parts of your old house such as timbers for a rustic look using open beams or for the fireplace mantel.
  • Poor planning can lead to expensive renovation costs. If you’re a bad planner and don’t have a significant amount of time to be hands-on with the renovation, a demolition-and-rebuild may be a better option.
  • You’ll almost always have a better warranty on a new home compared to a renovated one.

Whether it’s a renovation or building a new house, cost and time are directly connected to scope (the type and amount of work to be done). Spend the time to develop a written list of items for your needs and wants (make sure you separate these 2 lists). Do your research and develop a comprehensive list, add sketches with dimensions, and describe the types of preferred material (e.g. windows, exterior doors, insulation, heating, lighting, plumbing, flooring, cabinets, countertops, etc.). And get quotes (with references)…minimal two, ideally three.

A pre-demolition/renovation inspection can make the decision much better and save you a ton of money and headaches in the long run.