Raze or Remodel?
Award-winning Seattle architect, Sheri Olson, FAIA, lists ten key considerations when making this important decision.
Low housing inventory in the Seattle-area means that many homeowners can’t go out and buy their dream home. Instead, they’re faced with deciding between razing or remodeling an existing house to create what they desire. There are several considerations to weigh in this decision, from technical and financial to sustainability and design aesthetic. To help with this process, an architect can develop preliminary designs for both a renovation and new construction to determine feasibility and visualize the possibilities.
1. Do existing codes and covenants allow expansion?
Land use codes limit the percentage of a lot that can be developed, put a cap on height and also dictate minimum setbacks from the property line. An architect can research the restrictions on a property, providing information for making a decision.
2. Would it be less expensive to build new?
Fixing a sub-standard foundation or upgrading a structure for a major renovation can cost more than starting from scratch. Relocating major elements—such as kitchens, bathrooms and stairs—can also tip the balance toward starting new.
3. Is it greener to remodel or build new?
There is a significant amount of embodied energy in an existing house. Even if a new house is more energy efficient, it will take decades to overcome the negative carbon impact of new construction.
4. Is the existing house undervalued compared to the neighborhood?
If the houses in your neighborhood are selling for two to three times the value of your home, the economics work for a tear-down.
5. How much of the remodeled home will remain?
If 75% of the existing structure, mechanical systems and finishes will be replaced, it’s probably less expensive and more efficient to build new.
6. Does the existing house have charm that can be enhanced?
The level of detail and craftsmanship of early 20th century homes is expensive to recreate in new construction. If you prefer the feel of older homes, it makes sense to remodel.
7. Is it possible to adjust the layout of an older home so that it allows the flow and openness that match modern lifestyles?
Sometimes something as simple as enlarging an existing opening can transform a home, but some styles (such as split-levels) are going to take a lot of work to overcome the separate levels design.
8. Can the remodel be concentrated in one area?
Building a two-story addition that adds more space on the first floor and a master suite above is more cost effective than renovating spaces throughout a house.
9. Is the house architecturally significant?
Was it designed by a well-known local architect, was it the home of a significant member of the community or is it a local landmark? A house does not need to have official designation to make it worth preserving.
10. If you remodel, will it be the house you would have designed for yourself?
Sometimes the design compromises needed due to existing conditions make even a gut remodel less than ideal. Decide what the top priorities are for you and your family and make sure that a remodel will meet those needs.