Should You Remodel, or Tear Down Your House and Build New?
May 14, 2019
You love your house but you need more space. The idea of tearing it down seems absurd, but you're having a hard time imagining how a remodel would solve all its problems. Do you remodel, or do you tear it down and build something new?
Phew. This is one hell of a hard question. Pretty much no other question triggers the level of emotion this one does. We’ve had a few projects recently where this has become an issue and so I thought I would summarize how we go about helping you make this decision. These points all overlap a bit, but going through them point by point helps to understand the specific concerns behind each factor.
What to consider when deciding to remodel or tear down and build new.
Let’s get this one on the table first. Generally speaking, building a new house is cheaper than doing an extensive whole-house remodel if you’re looking at numerous additions. Where it gets complicated, is when you’re not adding on, or you’re only doing a remodel to most, not all, of the rooms. If we find that a design requires us to touch every room and rip apart the exterior walls to add on, I can nearly guarantee you that from a cost perspective, we should be looking at tearing the house down. That said, if the remodel is more reasonable, tearing down might be complete overkill.
Love of Your Home
Here’s an issue I can’t really weigh in on, but can only help our clients ask, so they can solve the question for themselves. How much do you love your house? Does the thought of seeing it torn down just destroy you? While I know that houses are just a collection of building materials, our clients know that their home is a collection of memories. Be honest with yourself about how important that is and factor it into your decision. It is ok to ignore the “facts” sometimes and follow the heart.
Sometimes a house can be old and yet have no real historical significance. Other times, an old house has tremendous historical value to the neighborhood or community. Understand the history of your house, and factor it into your decision. Historical preservation is something we love here, but we also know there isn’t a cut and dried approach to the problem of remodeling older homes.
Can a Remodel Get You What You Want?
Sometimes you can remodel your home and get something very good, but possibly not great. Maybe your kitchen simply isn’t wide enough to get one that functions for how you live. Understanding the practical limitations of a reasonable remodel is important to see if it is worthwhile to remodel your home or just build new. Many times, we can present you with some reasonable compromises that make remodeling work.
Is Your Home Actually Well-Suited for a Remodel?
This is, quite frankly, the biggest factor that we look at as designers. Some homes are just not suited for remodeling. Maybe it is a tight site with no options to expand, or maybe the house is beautiful, but the spaces are all awkward and nearly impossible to adapt to a modern lifestyle without gutting everything and ripping out the history in the first place. (Or, sometimes, a house is just best left alone and the hard question that comes along is, how do you live in a house that isn’t right for you, or why?)
In a situation like this, we often find that our clients love their location, like (not love) their house, and desperately need a different layout or configuration. Do we tear down a perfectly reasonable house that isn’t suited to their needs at all, and build a fantastic house in its place that perfectly suits their needs and is in a location they love? Or, do they move and hope for the best? In a real estate market as tight as Seattle’s, the reality is that if you find a great location, then you might be better off keeping the lot and building a new house that suits your needs. It is a nuanced and complicated discussion and we’ll help guide you through the questions that come up.
How Sustainable is Either Approach?
Whenever we look at a project, we evaluate how we can improve its sustainable features. Older homes have a lot of embodied energy that has gone into producing the building materials. Resources don’t need to be extracted from the earth because it has already been done. That said, older homes have numerous challenges to make them perform as well as a new home without serious and extensive work. A new house, with proper detailing and specification of appropriate materials, can be incredibly sustainable, healthy, and comfortable to live in. Figuring out what is most important to you, and achieves the best sustainable result, is key to factor into your decision.
So, what do you do?
In the end, there isn’t one obvious silver bullet to this question. Every single project where we have faced this has pros and cons in each of the categories I’ve mentioned. We can work with you to make a decision matrix to help evaluate the factors and make the best decision. You’re never going to make everyone happy but the important thing is to carefully weigh the factors and make the best decision for you and your property.