December 30, 2021

Should I build new or remodel?

I must admit before diving into this blog that I once had the same perception that I imagine many of you do…. remodels are just too messy to be worth dealing with. As a past construction worker turned Architect, I intimately understand the challenges of remodels and the “surprises” they bring. However, the scariest tales don’t always tell an honest story.

The word “remodel” probably brings up two different images in your mind. You either think of the HGTV dream remodel where everything is done quickly, inexpensively, and comes out looking fabulous. Or you may be having remodel-induced anxiety from the horror stories you’ve heard about budgets being blown out of the water, finding hidden secrets in the walls, or uncovering major issues that could halt the project altogether. This may be why building something new seems like the best option in your mind. You just get to start fresh, build exactly what you want, and you can have a fixed timeline and budget. That sounds lovely, but most of the time even new construction isn’t that straightforward.  Luckily, you don’t have to make the decision of whether to remodel or build new alone. Our team is well versed in feasibility studies and cost estimates and we can help get your project off on the right foot before you’ve even purchased a property.

At CWG Architecture + Interiors, a large portion of our business is repeat clients, each doing a combination of new construction as well as remodel projects annually. Working with these clients for many years has given us a chance to compare their new build cost versus their remodel expenses. With this insight, there are many reasons why a remodel is advantageous, maybe even more so than building a new structure. With a well-thought-out design and careful coordination, remodels can save owners time and money while having a space that meets their needs and enhances the surrounding area.

Cost savings aside, there are many other reasons a client may want to pursue a renovation project rather than new construction; historical significance, more environmentally friendly than demolishing the entire building, tight timeline, renting/leasing an existing space, building “character” that doesn’t come with most new construction.

Case Study:

This is just one example of a remodel project that seemed messy and expensive that ended up being a good value for the client and allowed them to be in a prime area of town.

We started with an old 1960’s-era Bank adjacent to a small four-unit strip mall. Two of the units in the strip mall were rented and the tenants planned to stay in place. Our client was utilizing the end unit and would retain its use. Our job was to connect the bank to the strip mall to create one large space for the client’s other business.

Sounds straightforward, however, we find it best to go into remodels fully expecting significant challenges but poised to meet them head-on. Tying together two old buildings and remodeling the existing tenant space was no walk in the park, but it paid dividends in the long run. Here are some things our team overcame during the remodeling process:

  • The sprinkler system was woefully inadequate and needed a total replacement.
  • Large-scale structural reinforcements were required.
  • All new electrical and mechanical services had to be installed.
  • There were issues with ADA and Code compliance.
  • We had to deal with “immovable” items such as a concrete bank vault and drive-up teller, which were getting in the way of the building’s new use.
  • We needed to address energy improvement opportunities.
  • A general “refresh” on a 50-year-old design was important to the client.

This can all sound a bit daunting and most clients would be fearful of the dollar signs ringing up quickly. However, mechanical, electrical, and sprinkler systems are needed in any new, large-scale construction. So, the only added cost for this building was the demolition work. Secondly, we saved a majority of the existing site, all the utility entrances to the site, most of the structural walls, and the existing roof framing, which all adds up to serious dollars on the job.

In the end, the project ended up coming in about $40-45 per square foot less than a comparable new building of the same scale. That’s real money, which far outweighs the additional design time upfront, and the client got the facility they needed in a prime location.

Besides the preservation of existing building elements creating real savings, there’s the long-term impact on the overall area. When one building in an old neighborhood is revitalized into a new, aesthetically pleasing space it spurs adjacent re-development. With some patience, it can help transform old areas into highly desirable parts of town which helps to slow urban sprawl and makes our cities and towns a little nicer.

We hope this blog will inspire you to re-consider a delipidated building, look at the space you’re occupying with a fresh perspective, and maybe even give CWG a call to determine the feasibility of a remodel project you might be considering. In any situation, we’d like to help remove some of the stigmas behind “messy remodels” and realize that with realistic client expectations, a knowledgeable team in place, and proper assessment of the building, that remodels can be a viable way to have a space that fulfills your dreams.

Jason Egeline Headshot

Jason Egeline, CWG Architecture + Interiors Vice President