Should You Renovate or Tear Down and Rebuild Your Home?


If you’re looking to make some big changes to your home, a huge gut job and renovation might be warranted. But considering the magnitude of the changes that might be required, sometimes a complete teardown and rebuild might be warranted if the changes are that drastic. The problem is, how do you know if a top-to-bottom renovation is enough, or if a total teardown is the better route?

Of course, this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly and should be made with careful thought considering how in-depth such an endeavor is and the huge costs associated with it.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to choosing between a renovation and a teardown and rebuild.

How Sound is Your Home’s Structure?

If your home is currently on shaky ground, building on top of that probably isn’t a good idea. In this case, a total tear down is probably your best bet. That way you can start with a brand new solid foundation upon which to build.

How can you tell that the structure isn’t sound? For starters, have a look at the walls from the outside. If they don’t appear straight, there’s likely a problem. The foundation walls should be free of cracks and the basement shouldn’t have any moisture issues. The doors and windows should be able to open without difficulty or “sticking.”

When in doubt, getting a structural engineer on site can help you determine if the foundation is in good shape and strong enough to endure a renovation. If not, it might be safer and even more cost-effective to start from scratch.

Find Out What By-Laws and Restrictions Exist in Your Location

Before you take hammer to nail – no matter which route you choose to take – you will ned to find out what types of restrictions your city or town might have on renovations or rebuilds. Every jurisdiction stipulates its own set of unique rules, so you would be well advised to find out what these are before you start planning.

Getting city approval for a total renovation can often be easier and faster as opposed to getting the approvals needed to start from the ground up. In these cases, you could be dealing with just a few weeks to get city approval versus a few months or more. Make sure you speak with local builders and architects to verify if your plans comply with the law.

Is Your Home a Historical Structure?

If your home is really old, it might be subject to specific rules regarding historical structure preservation. Homes that are nearing the 100-year mark need to be handled with care, both when renovating and tearing down. In some cases, you may not even be allowed to tear down the house, depending on what the local jurisdiction dictates.

By the same token, there may be very strict regulations about what you can and cannot do to make any changes to the home through a renovation. The location matters as well: if your home is located in a historic district, you will need to obtain permission from the local or state regulator or commission before you can make that decision.

How Many Changes Need to Be Made to Give You What You Want?

Think about exactly what you need your home to do for you. If the current floor space and layout are adequate, a renovation could be the right choice compared to a teardown and rebuild. Not only that, a rebuild might not be the best option if you already have plenty of unused space in your home that could be put towards reconfiguring the interior.

On the other hand, if your current home completely misses the mark on what you require, a rebuild might be a better alternative. Starting from scratch will allow you to design and build a new home that will suit you and your family better. The only thing holding you back is your imagination.

The Cost Can Be the Deciding Factor

It might make more sense to think that a renovation would be cheaper than a teardown and rebuild. While this is certainly the case in many situations, it’s not always the case in others. The final cost will depend on the extent of the changes that need to be made, and any unpleasant and expensive surprises that could pop up, such as excavation issues with a rebuild or electrical issues with a renovation.

The costs associated with both options vary a great deal. The project can cost as little as $70,000 to rebuild a modest home in a more affordable market up to $500,000 and beyond for more for complex, large-scale projects in more expensive markets. If you can save the foundation and even a couple of walls, you might be able to rebuild under the “renovation” codes which tend to be a little cheaper and a lot easier to obtain compared to teardown and rebuild codes. It could even save you on property taxes.

Either way, you should speak with a contractor and home builder to get an accurate idea of how much it will cost you based on exactly what you want.

The Bottom Line

Cost is obviously a huge factor when it comes to deciding whether to rebuild or renovate. However, you might just find out that a rebuild isn’t necessarily that much more expensive than a major renovation, depending on what’s involved. You also have to consider the local jurisdiction’s rules and regulations, as well as the current condition of your home’s foundation and structure. Only after such considerations are made should you make your decision.