Renovate, restore, or remodel: Which is the bigger bang for the buck?

Matthew Grocoff

November 22, 2013

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Remodeling CostsGeneral Remodeling

Are you about to renovate your kitchen? Thinking about remodeling it instead? Maybe you'd rather do a simple restoration project. What's the difference? Most contractors use these terms interchangeably, but there's a big difference between them. There's also a big difference in the cost, added home value, and impact on the environment.

Restoration is the "act of returning the structure to it's former condition." This is common in historic buildings but is also applied in any major improvement project. Repairing holes in the walls, fixing old fixtures or replacing them with replicas of the originals, and removing old carpet and refinishing the wood floors underneath are all examples of what may be involved in a restoration project.

From an environmental and life-cycle perspective, restoration generally uses fewer new resources and may require less energy to complete. Depending on the condition of the home, restoration can be the most cost effective choice. If the house has good bones and needs no major renovations or remodels, the work may just involve making needed repairs, upgrading mechanicals, and removing some finishes and replacing them with new ones.

For example, most of my 1901 home was a restoration project. We kept the original floor plan and didn't build any additions. We removed the asbestos siding and restored the original wood clapboard. On the interior, we removed the drop foam ceilings, the ugly carpet, the linoleum floors, and the formica wall board in the kitchen and bathroom.

Then we refinished the original wood floors, the plaster walls, and the shellac on all the moldings. We wanted to return the house close to its original condition. The majority of our project would be considered a restoration. However, our kitchen and downstairs bath fell under renovation.

Renovation is "the act of renewing." In simple terms it's making a room or entire building look better by fixing what's already there and adding new elements. Again, depending on the condition of the home when the project begins, this is generally more cost effective than remodeling. Many factors will determine whether renovation is more or less costly than restoration.

When we purchased our home, the downstairs bath had been "renovated" sometime in the 1960s. It had an old toilet, a built-in cabinet sink, pink faux-marble formica walls, linoleum floor, a bath tub with no shower, and pink window curtains made from old terry-cloth towels.

60s bathroom

We removed the cabinet sink, toilet, formica, and linoleum. We then added a shower to the bathtub, tiled the bath walls, replaced the toilet, added a pedestal sink, refinished the original heart pine floors, painted the walls, added a bath fan, and added bead board to the walls.

Somewhere between removing the pink shower curtains and adding bath fan, tile, and bead board, the bathroom project went from restoration to renovation. We were no longer just restoring what was there originally, but were instead adding new elements and upgrading the functionality.

Remodeling is "changing the structure or form" of a room or entire building. Once you've started gutting, adding, or removing walls, raising ceilings, or expanding the square footage you've crossed over into remodeling territory.

A remodel is almost always the most expensive route to take and requires the most material resources.

Our upstairs bath was a remodel. Originally, there was no upstairs bath or any plumbing. We did not change the footprint, remove walls or add-on to the exterior of the house. Instead, we took a large room and added a wall, splitting it into two smaller rooms. Everything in this bath addition was new to the house, even if most of the materials were salvaged.

Modern sink and faucet

We added plumbing, heating/cooling ducts, bath fan, tiled shower, tub, sink, toilet, flooring, and bead board wainscoting. Nothing was original and nothing was being renewed so it wasn't a restoration or a renovation. This was a remodel.

Want more information on our restored/renovated/remodeled home to get an even better feel for these terms?

Read my article on Green Kitchen Renovations: http://www.oldhouseweb.com/blog/green-kitchen-renovation-tips/

Read my article on Reusing Old vs. Building New: http://www.oldhouseweb.com/blog/preservation-smackdown-reuse-old-vs-build-new/


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