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Renovate or Detonate

Ed Twohey on Apr 21, 2020

The renovation conundrum: Renovate or Detonate ?
When contemplating the cost a renovation, you need to know that there is a basic loss of efficiency compared to building new. Not only are critical conditions like structural connections and service routing not visible before you begin, you are likely to get a high factor of safety built into most estimates. Certainly, if you are only renovating a portion of the structure, it is likely still the best decision, but if you end up renovating the entire home, you could end up paying much more. This is especially true if you are gutting the interior, as well as replacing the entire outside skin of the building, including windows and roofing. Once work begins, any partial renovation project becomes a candidate for much more extensive renovation work throughout the home. The trigger for this event are the three words often heard by owners standing in a partially demolished room: “might as well…."

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you decide to fix it or to start over

1. Does the home have any significance in the area. Is it protected by local ordinance? Any building that represents a desired feature of the neighborhood, is one of a group of significant homes, or has any significant architectural features, could be popular with local residents and cause challenges to eliminate even if legal. 

 2. Is the home non-conforming with the zoning laws that would yield less if rebuilt? Older buildings often pre-date zoning laws, so setbacks from the property lines, driveway locations, and other bulk, height, and density rules may apply differently to a new structure. You may end up with a smaller home or one with very different shape or location on the lot.

3. Do you like the orientation of the existing home or is it unworkable?

4. Do you like how the driveway or front entrance works? Is it on a corner that has a confusing orientation?

5. Are there challenging issues with the incoming electric service or other utility issues that can be resolved with renovation? 

6. Do you like old or slightly quirky features or prefer all like-new amenities? 

7. Are you proposing major structural changes?

8. Are you proposing lowering the basement to gain headroom?

9. Will your work require removing ceilings 

10. Are you considering making attic floors into floor structure ?

11. Are you removing columns, bearing walls, low beams.

12. Are you proposing exterior material changes that modify the wall depth

13. Adding brick or stone to the exterior ( +$ )

14. Are you modifying wall depth at window openings?

15. Will the econonmy of "insert type" replacement windows be inconsistent with the look of the home? 

Thoughtful consideration should be given to these questions so that you head into the project with eyes wide open as to the challenge ahead. Frequently when renovating, the only method to control cost is to make a firm list of what you are not going to do. Scope control can be difficult, but it will define parameters. 

In major renovations, architects and contractors fret over the integrity of old foundations, and the ability to insulate and waterproof to new home standards. This is often unrealistic. Old homes will have old parts that do not perform as well as new ones. The charm of an old home may be worth it, Some things simply can not be re-created. you should always scrutinize however, the economy of saving it, relative to your expectations. In other words, don't expect an old house to be a new one. 

If the Discipline of scope control is not in your team’s skill set, or you insist on new home standards, consider building all new. Your costs and results will be more predictable.