Perhaps you recently bought or inherited an older house that needs fixing. Or maybe you’ve outgrown your home but prefer to stay in your current location. Either way, you realise you must renovate or perhaps knock down and rebuild your home.
So how should you go about this transformation? Can you do it with just a few structural changes? Do you need a major extension? Or should you rebuild the entire home from scratch?
Before you make that decision, here are some important considerations.
Renovate or rebuild – what’s the difference?
First, let me be clear about the terms “renovate” and “rebuild” in this article.
Rebuild – also commonly known as “knockdown-rebuild,” this means to completely demolish and remove the existing building and a build brand new home in its place. This could be a custom-designed home or a project home.
Renovate – this means to update, repair, restructure and/or extend the existing home, without knocking it down entirely. Renovations are custom designed as they must respond to the current house. There is a broad range of design quality available in the market.
Both rebuilds and renovations can drastically change your home’s appearance.
However, a renovation can completely transform a home without negatively affecting its structure.
In fact, I recommend not to start with the assumption that your existing home has to be knocked down. Many homes are structurally sound and lend themselves perfectly to a renovation.
Different types of renovation
Most of the confusion about renovations is due to the general use of the term. There are many kinds of renovations you can undertake.
- Cosmetic renovation. Painting walls, re-carpet, grouting bathroom tiles. There is a variety of trades peoples to conduct these different jobs.
- Do-it-yourself minor renovation is also a cosmetic renovation. You will be doing all the work yourself, without hiring a builder or tradesperson. Improvements to your home will be largely cosmetic, with a few minor repairs
- Minor renovation. Your improvement plans are complex and time-consuming, so it is wise to hire a designer and the relevant tradespeople, or a builder with his own contractors or a kitchen company. This renovation may involve replacing your old kitchen or laying timber floorboards. If these renovations are all internal with no changes to any structural walls, external walls, windows or doors, they mostly do not require approvals. There are exceptions!
- Major renovation. Your plans involve structural changes such as extending your home, adding a floor or moving or removing walls, or changing the outside of your home. This will significantly transform your home while utilising your home’s existing structure. For this is the type of renovation you will need to engage a home designer and a registered builder.
All major renovations require State government or local council approval. The role of your chosen home designer will be to provide the design and coordinate documentation required to obtain approvals for your renovation.
How to decide to renovate or knock down and rebuild
Is a major renovation going to realise your ideal home? Do you have to demolish the existing dwelling completely and start from scratch? Does it make sense?
The approach for your home improvement project will be determined by the following:
1. Your home’s current condition
Is your house in good condition? Does it still have structural integrity? Is it in dire need of repairs and special treatment? How far do you need to go with making cosmetic and structural changes? Answering these questions will help firm up your home improvement plans in detail.
Always get a professional to inspect your home and determine what changes or repairs are urgent and essential. They may see additional details about your house’s state that you haven’t noticed. They can also design a plan to address these issues.
Renovate if: Your home has structural integrity.
Even if you find its present floor plan unsuitable to what you need, don’t waste a great existing house. Many creative design options can meet your needs without demolishing a good quality home that can be transformed.
Rebuild if: Your house’s structure or foundation is damaged beyond repair.
In that situation, your only choice is to knock down and start from scratch. Patching it up with a renovation won’t solve any structural problems and could prove more expensive and harmful in the long run.
Your decision will be whether to go with a custom-designed home or a project home. The determining factors will be the topography of the site and access for construction, any restriction on your property (like a Bushfire Prone Area with a high BAL rating), and most of all your budget.
2. Compliance with building regulations
Do your house improvement plans comply with the building and safety regulations in your area?
- Is your house classified as a heritage item?
- Does your current home comply with existing council or construction regulations?
The answers to these questions will determine what you can and cannot do.
Regulations will impact both home renovations as well as rebuild projects. For example, stormwater requirements for a new home are quite stringent compared to a renovation.
Renovate if: A renovation makes the most sense and is also the only option available in a Heritage Conservation Area or for a Heritage Item.
Rebuild if: Local council regulations allow you to do so and you have explored whether a renovation could suit you, or you have found other good reasons to choose this path.
3. The environmental impact
Consider how environmentally friendly your home improvement plans are to be.
Knocking down and rebuilding your old house may seem the most simple option to many people.
Will dumping the debris as landfill help our environment? Apart from the high financial outlay, destroying an entire home is a huge and mostly unnecessary cost for our environment.
If you want to avoid or minimise the wasteful use of landfill, your better option is to reuse and renovate.
Renovating has far less of an environmental impact than a rebuild.
Good building practices are required to achieve a sustainable environment and these decisions start with the designer. Responsible architecture depends on the efficiency of buildings and their carbon footprint.
Therefore, how you carry out a renovation or rebuild will also determine its long-term environmental impact.
This is where professional advice becomes invaluable. An experienced home designer can help you renovate or rebuild incorporating many ways of lowering your home’s carbon footprint. Responsible and sustainable architecture uses passive design strategies. These homes are comfortable to live in and are in harmony with their natural and surrounding environment. Sustainability is one of the major considerations of our time.
A sustainable home is not one that has caused unnecessary destruction of an otherwise perfectly extendable older home.
Good design and good quality equal sustainability! This is because a good design and good quality home will remain standing for a very long time to come. The urge to knock down and rebuild this type of home is easy to resist.
Renovate if: You care about the environment. You don’t want to contribute to our ‘Throwaway society’ and you believe there is the opportunity to incorporate sustainable design into your renovation project.
Rebuild if: Your existing home has significantly deteriorated and is a health hazard. I cannot think of another environment-driven reason to knock down an existing home.
4. Your return on investment (ROI)
Your current house may or may not be your “forever” home. However, it is without question one of your major assets. So, whether you renovate or rebuild, you will want to see whether you will be in a better net position afterwards.
The following questions are a good starting point:
- Shall you make a reasonable financial return from your home improvements when you choose to sell?
- Will your home meet your personal needs?
- Shall the changes to your house sufficiently add to its market value?
- Will the changes you make suit other potential buyers?
- Will the quality of your home be better?
And as mentioned in the previous segment, would demolition and removal of waste costs detract from a rebuild being worthwhile? The quality of construction and materials decades ago was very high for the homes on Sydney’s North Shore. This makes them ideal for renovation and transformation.
When done well, a major renovation will transform your home to look and feel brand new.
Renovate if: You can add significant market resale value to your house through a major renovation. You can improve the quality of the home to suit your needs.
Because a renovation starts with your existing home the completed project has the opportunity to be substantially better than a rebuild, even if the budget is the same.
Rebuild if: There are significant practical difficulties in renovating the existing home. In such a case, it will be easier and better value to start from scratch. However, in truth, there is rarely a financial benefit to knocking down and rebuilding a home if you are discarding structures that can be renovated or repurposed.
The benefits of a transformative renovation
If you review all the deciding factors I listed above, you will notice there are very few circumstances that justify a knockdown-rebuild.
In all my years of experience, I have only been involved with one property that needed to be knocked down. On the contrary, I have always found ways to utilise as much of the underlying structure as possible. (All my past projects, including the ones you’ll find in my project gallery, are transformative, major home renovations.)
In my professional opinion, a renovation is better because:
- There is no reason for you to spend a huge amount of money to knock down and rebuild your house if you can renovate and transform it into the dream house you want more cost-effectively, in a shorter time and with significantly lower environmental impact.
- It makes no sense to do an expensive knockdown-rebuild of your existing home if renovating your home will make it look and feel just as new.
- With a carefully planned renovation, you can expect a greater return on investment for your property in the future. This is because the fundamental quality of your renovated home now has contemporary functionality with light-filled spaces and a custom-designed floor plan for easy living.
Most importantly, hire a professional home designer who has experience in renovating existing homes. Whatever you are planning for your home, the success of your project will depend on the home designer working with.
Get the right home designer
Such a designer can not only meet your aesthetic and lifestyle requirements but also impact your home’s market value. He or she would be familiar with local real estate market trends and give you valuable advice on this aspect. Your designer should be able to guide you to what is actually possible for your property.
One final tip: don’t approach your designer with a brief that says you specifically want to knock down and rebuild your home. Let the professional inspect your home and give you their expert opinion. Be open to options and possibilities.
A good home designer will not only design your dream home but also aim to realise it in the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way possible.
Still wondering about the right choice for you? If you live in Sydney’s north, feel free to give me a call.