Old buildings can be extraordinarily beneficial to neighborhoods, cities, residents and developers: they offer charm, solid structure, and distinct personality. But sometimes, if too much time has passed without proper upkeep, old buildings can be unsalvageable. If this is the case, it can be more cost-affordable and community-smart to demolish the building or home and rebuild it from the ground up than it is to renovate.
It can be difficult to know where this line is, though — especially since remodeling and refurbishing can be so successful at combining the perks of old and new. But funneling money into a lost cause is only wasteful if the foundation of a building is already compromised.
Here are six factors to take into consideration when deciding whether a building should be remodeled or demolished.
Consider the history of the building in question. Pre-war buildings are generally very sturdy and amenable to upgrades. Unfortunately, there is no universal rule for how old is too old: it depends more on the quality of the home and the craftsmanship of the builder. A building may have been built badly, or renovated badly, which compromises its quality over time. But generally speaking, the era isn’t alone indicative of the building’s fate.
On the other hand, if the building is a truly historic one, it may be legally protected. In this case, demolition would be explicitly prohibited — and some types of renovation might be as well. Make sure to find out and proceed with care.
The look and feel of a building may also factor into whether it should be renovated or demolished. The old-world charm of antique buildings bring neighborhoods color and character, and attract residents and businesses with this charm. A rebuilt building could certainly have charm, it wouldn’t be quite the same because it wouldn’t reflect the past as acutely.
Keep in mind that certain aesthetics can be kept even if the building needs to be demolished. Deconstruction preserves elements prior to demolish them and reinstated them in the newer version.
Cost is obviously a huge factor in this type of decision. It may seem like demolishing a building and rebuilding an entire new one is costlier, but that isn’t always the case. When renovating a building there are often hidden costs that are only revealed once the process is underway, like mold, leaky pipes, cracked foundations and wiring issues. Addressing these bit by bit can be both costly and time-consuming.
While it’s true that upfront, renovation is cheaper (provided the building is structurally sound), in the long-term costs will probably even out. A renovated building will need more frequent maintenance, whereas a new building will stay in good condition longer and more consistently.
It’s also worth considering that a new building will have a better warranty than an older one.
4. Timing & planning
Both renovation and demolition can be time consuming. For the former, it depends on how much work is truly needed and whether it’s planned out properly. Cutting corners in renovation for the sake of time and money is also a bad idea, as it will end up costing more time and money down the road.
The same goes for rebuilding a house. For the decision to be most effective, the building needs to be built to last: this once more means no cutting corners, and putting in the time. Rebuilding may be simpler for contractors than all the unknowns that come with renovation, so it can in theory be done quickly. But at least when renovating, there is a roof over your head, meaning it can be worked on anytime rather than just weather and season-permitting.
5. Environmental impact
Today’s builders and real estate developers are more environmentally conscious than ever. When it comes to renovation and demolition, both have their benefits. Renovating eschews the huge energy drain of demolition and rebuilding, however, new buildings are more energy efficient than older ones.
In this way, rebuilding may use a lot of energy upfront but make up for it quickly, and perhaps even save in the long run. Renovation isn’t overtly harmful to the environment, but if the original building wasn’t a green one it doesn’t necessarily help either.
6. Building codes
Lastly, in considering the demolition option one must carefully plan to rebuild in accordance with zoning laws. Since the building went up, there may be different regulations that determine the boundary of the property, how large apartment buildings should be, window sizes, etc. There’s several ways to find out, such asking your city or neighborhood council.
If the codes have indeed changed and this interferes with planning, it may be better to renovate, or at least preserve the structure and bones of the original building.
Featured image: Micolo J via Flickr