Renovating. I love the challenge of taking an existing house that isn’t working and transforming it into something that does.
In working with an existing house, its framework and walls creates restrictions that add a great deal of difficulty to such projects. It’s not after all a blank canvas. I see all to often though, how many people get it wrong, their home renovation costs are higher than necessary, and end up with a poor outcome. Don’t let the reality TV shows fool you; renovating is difficult work, which is why I love it. However, today I want to share with you how you can avoid falling into the renovation money pit, I see so many people find themselves in.
The main misconception about renovating is the assumption that since most the house is there, the project will be cheaper. If your changes are only cosmetic then this is true: A coat of paint, new carpets, kitchen and bathroom can greatly transform a house at far less expense than replacing it. However should you start to drastically alter the existing floor plan, your project can and will cost more than to replace the house with a brand new one! It all comes down to your choice of house to work with. Pick the wrong house, one that requires changes so drastic, I question why people bought the house, and what “potential” they saw in it if their plan is to remove most of it? Their mistake is not considering the existing floor plan. To remove one wall is not going to add a massive degree of expense, but start removing several and you are in for a nasty surprise.
A renovation that involves moving many walls, and dramatic changes to its appearance, will on average costs 50% more to complete than building new on an empty site. Why? The removal of existing walls, and supporting the existing structure these walls held, is very delicate and dangerous work. Extra time is needed to be careful not to destroy other adjacent walls, ceilings, features etc. Then added to this is the new build work. The time involved is usually more than to build from scratch.
How does one avoid this added expense? Easy. Seek an architect’s advice first. They will quickly be able to visualize what is involved in the changes you want to make. The secret is to keep as many existing walls as possible. Whilst many rooms will change from their original function, the trick is to consider their size and location carefully, to determine what new tasks they can serve as the size they are. Adding new windows, and architectural features to totally transform those rooms is easy, making them a different size and shape is not. This is the key.
It is also critical to understand that sometimes an existing floor plan is simply, bad: perhaps it faces the wrong direction and has no access to natural light, or is a rabbit warren, to which the best advice an architect will tell you is – Walk away or tear it down, It will save you a fortune. You can’t make a VW beetle into a Porsche. Shame about that…
The story gets more complicated with heritage projects. These are often tired and heavily deteriorated and need major work just to prevent this worsening. As you know, I love these projects, but money loves them too. These are usually the most expensive of renovation projects. If such a project is your dream, then understand they are very costly but what you end up with is something so very special. It’s imperative you speak to an architect before embarking on such a project. Some are much easier than others. See my project below. This is a very cost effective example, where the renovation to the existing old house plus the addition at the rear, is cheaper than replacing it with a new home. Because the original house was sturdy, and has only minor changes being made to it. Computer model images of this project can be seen here, and there is also a video.
Renovations are a wonderful exercise in recycling, and something we should be doing more of. Just make sure you pick a house that has true potential, not perceived potential, to work for you.