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Renovation vs New Construction: What to Consider

The choice between renovating an existing building or simply starting from scratch often depends on many different variables. Both options have their advantages and both have difficulties, meaning the best choice is the one that will serve the bigger picture. By comparing the requirements, costs and intended use, the decision becomes a bit more clear.


Solid Starting Points

The best place to start is through initial discussions with everyone involved. Topics that should be on the table include the purpose of the building, the budget, possible issues among the people or teams involved, the amount of time in which the project must be completed and the compromises everyone is willing to make. These won’t be the only discussion points, but they provide a solid start towards making a beneficial decision. Once there is more clarity regarding the project as a whole, the different options can be weighed against each other.

Things to consider with renovation

Renovating an existing building can often be more cost effective and sustainable up front. However, what seems like a more affordable option might not always be the best choice when weighed against long-term goals or other factors. For example:

Possible system upgrades

New building codes are constantly changing, and it’s likely that additional requirements have gone into effect since the time the original building was built. If you choose to renovate, you may be required to bring the entire building up to the current code. This can potentially change the cost, depending on how old or outdated the existing building is, and how much additional work is required to meet current building codes.

Cost – long term & short term

After every angle has been taken into consideration, how much will the renovation cost in the long and short term? More specifically, is it worth the cost compared to simply building from the ground up? This can be difficult to determine since there are so many moving parts. For example, renovating a building while it is in use will have a much different scope of work than renovating a vacant building.


Renovating a retail store in an area where there is no economic growth is a good example of why the location is crucial. Is the building in a location where renovations will actually generate a return on the investment?

Building history & structural integrity

Is this the first time the building will be renovated? What is the lifespan of the original structure? Are accurate records available for past upgrades or renovations? The history of a building speaks a great deal towards how long it will be able to serve a purpose from a physical standpoint, but there is also the possibility that the building has sentimental value for the community. It’s important to take both of these factors into account before making a final decision.

Intended use of the building

Not all renovations are a matter of taking something old and giving it a simple facelift. Some renovations require a complete transformation both inside and out. For example, turning a retail building into a school may require structural reinforcement, upgrades to sewage systems, or other drastic changes. It’s important to do your research on how the intended use will change the requirements of the project.

Potential Hazardous Materials

Asbestos, certain paints and cleaning materials can have a substantial influence on the cost and progress of renovation, given the current laws surrounding these chemicals. If you suddenly find these chemicals in the middle of a renovation, it can cause time delays and rack up additional costs.

New Construction

Building from scratch might be the more costly option, but it comes with several benefits and can be less restrictive than renovating. These include:

Environmental sustainability

Designing and building a new facility from scratch allows for more control over energy consumption. The building materials, floor plans, and electrical and plumbing systems can all be built with energy efficiency in mind, thus reducing energy costs in the long term.

Modern technology

Older buildings are often unequipped for modern technological needs, especially when it comes to electrical systems. One of the advantages of creating a new building is the ability to integrate electric systems with a specific use in mind.

More options

If aesthetics play a larger role in the decision making process, starting fresh might be a better option. Designers and architects are far less restricted when building from scratch.

More efficient layout

It’s much easier to design a building with a specific purpose in mind than to convert a building intended for a different use.  Depending on how drastic the difference in intended uses are, it’s quite possible that renovating an older building could cost more than a new building.

Less Maintenance

New materials combined with construction warranties means your building will likely require less maintenance over a long term period.

Partial Deconstruction

If new construction is too costly and renovating cannot be justified, it may be worth considering partial deconstruction. Essentially, parts of the building that are not worth saving can be demolished and rebuilt, while other sections are simply renovated.

Ultimately there is no one “correct” answer, and the decision will heavily depend on the circumstances. Every situation will have different challenges, and the above mentioned factors are a great starting point to help you and your team reach the best solution.

JBA Consulting Engineers has nearly 50 years of experience in both renovation and new construction projects. If you’re looking for a team of creative and dedicated engineering consultants for your next project, we’d love to help. Call us at (702) 362-9200 to get started.