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Should I Renovate or Build a New Home?

May 10th, 2023

By Sofia Alonso

5 min read


When it comes to purchasing a new home, there are always tough decisions to make. One of the toughest decisions is whether to renovate an existing home or tear it down and build a completely new one. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately, the choice comes down to your lifestyle, budget, and preferences. 

Our firm, AV Architects + Builders, started with doing renovations over 20 years ago and we now focus solely on new custom homes, but our experience has allowed us to advise our clients on the best option to achieve their dream home goals. 

In this article, we’ll provide insights on the timeline, budget, and design expectations for both options so that you can make the best decision based on your unique needs and preferences .

The best way to determine which option is right for you, is to consider a couple of factors:

  1. Timeline
  2. Budget
  3. Design Expectations


1. Timeline

Renovation Timeline

The average timeline for a standard renovation is about 4 to 6 months. This includes the time it takes to design the renovation, determine material needs, and perform the construction. 

New build Timeline

The average timeline for a new home is about 18 to 24 months. This includes the designing, material selections, permitting, and construction of the project. 


2. Budget

Renovation Budget

The cost of a renovation can vary greatly depending on the scope of your project. The reason for such a wide range of cost is because there are two main types of renovations and they are very different: cosmetic and structural. 

Cosmetic renovations involve making changes to the surface-layer of the home. Structural renovations involve making major changes to the home on a foundational level that require re-engineering the project. 

Cosmetic renovations can cost as low as $1,000 to as high as $500,000 depending on the extent of the changes being made to the existing home. Structural renovations generally start around $100,000 and can be as high as millions of dollars. 

That’s why it’s important to weigh your timeline, budget, and expectations for this project so you don’t end up investing too much time and money into a home that is only a fraction of what you want.  

Read on to learn more about the difference between cosmetic and structural renovations with examples of each. 

When planning your renovation budget, you may also want to think about which pricing model your chosen contractor will use and which you prefer. Read our article about comparing the three main contractor pricing models:

  • Time and Material
  • Cost-Plus
  • Fixed Price

new build Budget

The cost of a new home can also vary depending on the scope of your project and the type of home builder you select. 

When planning your new home project, you will want to research the architects and builders in your area to find the right fit for your project goals. The three main types of home builders are production, semi-custom, and custom. Read more about this topic in our article: Types of Home Builders.

The price range you can expect from each home builder is approximately:

  • Production: $150/Sq.Ft.
  • Semi-Custom: $250/Sq.Ft.
  • Custom: $350/Sq.Ft.

This typically does not include: the cost of purchasing the land or the site costs to prepare the land to build on. 

Read more about the cost of a building on a teardown lot here


3. Design Expectations

This is the factor where most people underestimate themselves because it is more difficult to measure than the other factors like budget and timeline. This factor is about managing your design expectations and your satisfaction with the results. 

A renovation will not transform your existing home into a brand new one. There is a line of balance that we like to refer to when it comes to renovations. 

Many people can easily get caught up in the whirlwind of small renovation projects before they realize their home has been under construction for 5 to 10 years doing a small project every year and the home is still not like the finished product you imagined. 

It’s important to consider what you want your end-result to be and then level those expectations out with your budget and timeline requirements. 


Pro Tip!

Generally speaking: if you want to change more than 50% of your existing home, then tearing it down and building a new one is the better option for you to meet your budget, timeline, and design expectations goals. 

If the changes you want to make in your existing home are less than 50%, then a renovation may be the better option for your situation. 


Two Levels of Renovation: Cosmetic vs Structural

A renovation can vary greatly from project to project. To make it simpler, we like to specify renovations into two groups: cosmetic and structural. 


What is a Cosmetic Renovation?

A cosmetic renovation involves making changes like:

  • Removing cabinets
  • Replacing cabinets
  • Replacing countertops
  • Replacing flooring
  • New wall or ceiling paint
  • Changing some light fixtures
  • Painting the exterior of the house
  • Potentially changing windows, but not changing the size 
    • In a cosmetic renovation, existing windows can be replaced with what are known as “remodeling windows.” These new windows have to be just a touch smaller than the existing windows in order to fit in the existing cut out. If you want to expand the opening of the window, that will change this renovation to a structural project. 


What is a Structural Renovation?

A structural renovation involves making changes like:

  • Turning a half bath into a full bath
  • Converting a bathtub into a shower
  • Adding a second laundry room
  • Moving a sink in the kitchen from wall A to wall B
    • Requires plumbing changes behind the wall
  • Adding a gas fireplace to the living room
    • You would need to run a gas line from outside the house inside behind the walls requiring drywall to be cut
  • Raising a sunken living room
  • Enlarging window and/or door openings
  • Enlarging a bathroom 
  • Raising the ceiling height
  • Moving the location of the stairs
  • Moving the location of the mechanical room
  • Adding built-in storage
  • Updating old electrical wiring to new wiring
    • All wiring is behind the walls, and you are not allowed to just pull it out, an electrical plan will need to be made and drywall cut
  • Add more insulation
  • Swap the location of the kitchen with the dining room
  • Create a bedroom out of an attic
    • You would need to upgrade the existing roof trusses since they were not made to hold the weight of a person

A great example of a structural renovation is our Inside Out Home Project where we:

  • Raised the floors
  • Raised the ceilings
  • Moved a bathroom
  • Enlarged all windows and doors
  • Added new plumbing
  • Upgraded the floor joists and framing to withstand the new weight of the entire main floor now being tile



Read more about this Project

Pro Tip!

If you know a renovation is the best option for you, our advice is to start from the top of your home and work your way down.

This is because when people want to renovate their home, they usually start with the basement since it is generally the cheapest project. This creates a problem if you want to do further renovations on the main or upper level of your home because you will end up having to reopen holes in the floor, aka basement ceiling.

So, either start at the top and work your way down, or start on the main floor, then go upstairs, and leave the basement for last. 

From a lifestyle perspective, we recommend starting with the main floor since that is where you spend most of your time and having it renovated will have the greatest impact on your day-to-day life.


Which Should You Choose?

Deciding whether to renovate an existing home or build a new one depends on your budget, timeline, and design expectations. 

A renovation is generally a faster and more affordable option but has a limited scope. 

Building new offers more flexibility in design, but it requires a longer timeline and a higher budget. 

If you want to change more than 50% of your existing home, then building a new home might be the best option for you to get the most out of your project.  

Meanwhile, if the changes you want to make are less than 50%, a renovation may be the better option for your situation.

Regardless of which option you choose, it is essential to work with a reputable architect and builder to help you achieve your dream home goals.

If you are interested in building your own new home, contact us for a free consultation today!

Contact Us

AV Architects + Builders is a custom home builder specializing in modern home design with the philosophy of Vacation Style Living. That is creating a home that makes you feel like you’re on vacation all year round. 

If you want to read more before reaching out, visit our Learning Center for more articles and resources on modern design and custom home building. 

  • Interested in learning more about how much it costs to build a custom home? Read the cost of building a custom home in 2023 to learn more about the four factors that can impact the price.
  • Finding land is a daunting task to most buyers when starting the home building process, read teardown lot vs vacant land to understand more about which might be right for your project
  • Did you know there are different types of home builders? Read about the three main types of home builders and how to choose the right type for your project. 

9903 Georgetown Pike Suite 201
Great Falls, VA 22066
(703) 865-5065