Is it cheaper to renovate or to build from scratch?


Is it cheaper to renovate or to build from scratch?

Asked by Donald McLean

My home was already renovated to be green so that isn't what im wondering about. I was wondering if a house were to be 2400 sq ft would it be easier to renovate an existing one or to build a new one from scatch? I am in Canada so that makes life a little bit harder for you but there doesn't seem to be a resource for this for a local area.

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Harold Remlinger, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB's picture


As an architect I am asked this question on at least 30% of my projects.

As you can imagine there are many variables which have to be taken into consideration in making this determination and each case is completely different.

I have found it cheaper to renovate if you are maintaining at least 60%-70% of the original structure, finishes and systems of the home.

Consider the quality of the original construction

However a major factor which plays in this calculation is, how well the original home is built, and are the systems in the home up to date.

For example, currently I have a 3,000 sq.ft. home going under extensive renovations which we are maintaining only 75% of the original structure but replacing all of the systems and finishes.

  • According to my opinion of probable cost calculations, to demolish this home and build new would cost at par or fractions less when compared to proceeding as a renovation.
  • So why renovate? By renovating we are diverting thousand of pounds of waste from being placed in landfills, we are disturbing less native vegetation, erosion and adverse effects on an existing stream and flood plane.

A process for deciding whether or not to renovate

To help you determine whether or not to renovate or build new I have outlined for you the process/questions I consider in working with my clients.

  • Is there a drastic change in foot print? Building above is less expensive then building outward.
  • Condition of existing foundation/footing favorable for the renovation or deficient?
  • Reuse of continued use of existing materials and systems?
  • Existing electrical system and mechanical system, is it able to be implemented into the renovation or is it required to be replaced.
  • Site constraints: does the local municipality allow new construction on the lot if an existing home is removed, or does the home have to be considered as a renovation to allow occupancy of that lot?
  • Environmental impact: does the lot allow for access for equipment used to build new with out creating negative impact on the surrounding site as well as neighboring homes and property.

I would recommend that you contact an architect knowledgeable in home renovations and new construction who is local to the construction site to help you determine the feasibility of the project. Keep in mind that this may cost you a few hours of their time but can save you thousands in the long run.

One last item worth mentioning, consider bidding the projectwith a Construction Manager vs. a General Contractor. This approach has the capabilities to reduce your initial costs by 8-10% as well allows you to become more involved with the decision making during construction.