New Construction vs Remodeling

Throughout my years as an architect, I have always been asked: Is it better to start a new construction or renovate an existing structure? My response is always the same; there is never a simple answer. There are numerous things to consider prior to making the decision such as (1) the project’s budget; (2) the owner’s vision for the space; and finally, (3) the location and existing building codes. For this blog post, let’s spend some time evaluating these key factors and hopefully share some insights into answering the question.

First off, let’s talk about budgets. Money is certainly the most influential factor in any project. The final decision often comes down to which path makes the most financial sense. 

When looking at a new construction project, it is reasonable to assume that it would cost more than remodeling. You need to factor the complexity of the project. When starting fresh, you are responsible for everything starting with site plans, handling the construction of the structure, the installation of utilities, and finally all the interior/exterior finishes. It is a rather large endeavor with a significant amount of work hours needed.  

When thinking about a remodeling project, you really need to evaluate the current state of the structure and plan for the worst. With any remodeling project, I always factor in the need to update everything to current health and safety codes. It is also smart to plan for the unexpected. You really do not know what you don’t know when starting a remodeling project. I can guarantee this – there will always be at least one surprise.

So which path is more financially responsible? Unfortunately, the answer is not so cut and dry. Historically remodeling projects tend to be less expensive but I have seen some projects (specifically in older buildings) that remodeling just did not make sense and the only path was to start new.

Let’s move to the design phase of a project. It goes without saying that a new construction allows for complete creative control. This opportunity allows our designers to work closely with our clients and bring to life their vision. Starting with a blank canvas and building from the ground up allows for true creative design.  

When walking into a remodeling project, there are already parameters that we need to work within. It is possible to remove walls, install an additional section, or replace piping and rewire electrical, however, you’ll never be able to build your client’s vision from the ground up. The one interesting aspect of a remodeling project is working in unique and uncharacteristic settings that you’ll never have with a new construction. There is something special about remodeling a historical building or repurposing a structure in a completely different way. In those scenarios, there are ways to flex one’s creativity.   

The third and final piece to discuss is the length of the project. When asked about how long a project takes, I would love to say the completion of a project takes as long as it needs to. Clearly, that is not a response clients want to hear though there is truth in that statement. With any project, there should never be shortcuts and every fine detail should be given its full attention. The most common answer on length of time is simple – it’s based on the scope of the project.

For a new construction, the length of the project is often longer simply based on the amount of work that needs to go into the project to properly execute it. Remodeling projects are often the quicker option. Since you are not starting from scratch, the foundation and pre-existing elements typically means you have a working frame to start with. Keep in mind what I mentioned about ‘surprises’. Although a remodeling project should be quicker to accomplish, you are going into a job with a series of unknowns. Any discovery can lead to delays on your initial timeline.

So is it better to renovate an existing structure or start a new construction? I think we’ll all agree that the right answer solely depends on the scope of the project. New construction allows for more control however if the goal is more in line with a ‘refresh’ then remodeling seems to be the right path. Obviously choosing between these options are difficult but realizing the goals and vision of the project will allow for the right decision to be made. 

Case Study

A fantastic example of the work done at Fisher Architecture as it relates to this blog post is the Green Street Housing Office. This project was a historic transformation from an indistinct structure to a conducive sanctuary.

For those not familiar with the building, it is considered a downtown Salisbury staple for almost a century with its two adjoined buildings in the center of town. Since 1928, the building has housed a variety of businesses such as a liquor dispensary, a candy store, and a hotel. When the opportunity came to renovate this iconic building, we eagerly bid for the project and thankfully were awarded the job. Right from the beginning, the owners and I saw eye-to-eye. We wanted to create an open, modern Google-esque space while ensuring the history of the building was showcased.

The overall transformation involved repairing the roof, exposing and painting the structure, repairing and refinishing the hardwood floors, and finding historical replica windows. The end result was a sleek, open floor plan that highlighted the warm original architectural features.

I wanted to highlight this case study because it beautifully sums up everything I mentioned in the blog post. The Green Street Housing Office was a remodel / renovation that allowed us to build upon its history and developed a modern day work space. We went into the project with a clear understanding of budget, timing, and design. Needless to say, the finished product is a showcase piece for us, the owners, and for Downtown Salisbury. 

Before

After

Keith Fisher Headshot

Keith Fisher
AIA, NCARB 
Principal, Licensed Architect
Licensed in MD, DE, PA, VA, DC, NJ, FL

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