Renovating vs. Building New

Although we’ve built several custom homes in recent years, it’s been awhile since we’ve undertaken a large-scale renovation of an existing house. This may be, in part, because we’re *still* recovering from our last major reno (kidding … sort of).

Don’t get me wrong — it all turned out. The final product came together, and we enjoyed our home for several years. When we were ready to move, a wonderful family fell in love with our place and it sold in several days. But man, it was a lot of work.

The truth is, in some ways renovating can feel like more work than building a house from scratch. There are benefits: you can live in the space for awhile to really determine what you want; you can stage your projects so you’re not making all the decisions (and spending all the budget) at once; and you can leverage the best of what you already have.

However, renovating also means facing some limitations. Here are a few to consider:

Existing Limitations (or, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”)

Because you’re working with an existing structure, to some extent you’re tied to what’s already in place. Structural elements such as load-bearing walls, existing roof lines and current ceiling heights can be changed, but often only at significant cost. In addition, your local government likely has rules about what you can build; depending on where you live, these may include a cap on the square footage of your structure, its height, limitations on auxiliary features such as sheds and pools, and other considerations that can impact your plans. While these rules may also apply to new builds, it can be trickier navigating them when you don’t have complete flexibility over your finished product.

The Unknown

Even if you had a home inspection before you bought, renovating always brings with it an inherent risk of the unknown. Since your inspection didn’t include tearing into walls, it’s virtually impossible to know if you will uncover issues such as mold or shoddy framing until you begin demolition. Depending on the age of your house, you may also run into surprises such as asbestos, lead paint, unsafe wiring, inadequate HVAC or outdated plumbing, all of which will need to be addressed once you begin.

The Hassle

Because you already live in your house, renovating means enduring a barrage of trades in your personal space.  Even with the most respectful of professionals, it can be disruptive and unsettling to have strangers in your home, among your personal things.  Depending on the scope of work, you’ll likely have to move some furniture and household items into storage, empty some cabinets or shelves, and protect valuables.  There will be dust.  There may be mud. There will be unfamiliar people using your bathroom and parking in your driveway. There will be now where did I put that and have you seen my …?  There may be days of eating out and laundromat visits while your rooms get sorted out. None of this is deal-breaking, and a good contractor will help mitigate any issues.  But it is part of the process.

With all of that said …

It’s not all bad news!  Renovating can have tremendous benefits, and the purpose of this post isn’t to talk you out of it; rather, I’m here to help you make informed decisions – because I’ve definitely been the person who gets so excited about the potential that I forget about the rest!

To redeem myself, allow me to leave you with my three favourite things about renovations:

  1. Assuming you love your neighbourhood, renovating means you don’t have to leave. 

  2. In addition to improving your daily life, in most cases home improvements also increase the value of your home.

  3. There is something practically and creatively fulfilling about reimagining a space you already love to make it more attractive, more functional, and a little more like … you.

So, friends, what do you think?  Have I missed anything in the above?  Share in the comments below, and happy planning!

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