Q: New construction vs. remodeling; what direction should I take?

I am ready to downsize and am torn between purchasing an old house with great bones and remodeling it versus building from scratch, getting the layout that would work for me, and making it energy efficient. I have been scanning the various housing lists to see what is out there. I have looked at houses, town homes, condos, and vacant lots. However, what I still love best are the bungalow or cottage style houses, but so many times the rooms are too small and remodeling seems so expensive! I want many old-home features, but as long as I can get great cottage-style windows, French doors, and crown moulding, I would probably be happy.

We’ve opened up a new question and answer forum in honor of our 20th year, giving you access to our Studio’s experts. Send us your questions about preservation, restoration, new construction, interior design, sustainable sourcing, or anything else you’re curious about. Please send your enquiries to info@dhdstudio.com. We can’t promise to reply to all questions, but answers will be posted here periodically, so check back frequently! Read below for our answer to a common question we’ve heard a lot from our clients.

A: Regarding the decision about building new vs. remodeling, as you note, this can be a complicated question compounded by various factors.

I don’t think that ultimately you will find that new construction is less expensive than remodeling, and it may prove to be the opposite given what I understand your list of ‘must haves’ to be. Here are a few topics to consider for everyone who is facing this question.

Remodeling
  • You’ve heard me say it, but there is nothing more green than working with an existing building.  The energy expended in getting it built has already happened, while the energy required to build a new house will exceed that of the construction of the older building.
  • The remodeling of an old house ensures its viability into the future, meaning its less likely to be torn down and replaced with something new.
  • You still get what you want within the parameters of context through remodeling.
  • The pricing efforts should be undertaken through a contractor knowledgeable with the building technology of the period.  Remodeling of vintage buildings is more costly than basic new construction.
  • The house undoubtedly will have many of the distinguishing characteristics that you’re looking for already in place—don’t underestimate the cost of these things in today’s market, as they aren’t a part of typical construction today.
  • The house will be in a desirable part of the old city.  Walkable.  Lots in these areas are scarce and expensive.

Here are a few examples of our remodeling projects.

New Build
  • You will have choices about the entire building—and will be able to get things organized and designed how you want.
  • You can get a sustainably-sourced house with the best of today’s technology in energy efficiency. It should be noted that sustainable building techniques are more expensive than today’s standard new construction.
  • The house likely will be located in the larger metro area (not in the city) and not walkable to services. It likely will be located in an area where walking for exercise will be safe and easily accessible. This may mean more car use and necessitate driving to shopping, etc.
  • In many development areas, the owner is required to work with the developers team, including architect and contractor.
  • The cottage features that you desire will come at a greater expense than buying them as part of an existing building where they are extant.

Here are a few examples of our new construction projects.

Consider your wants and your budget. Depending on what you’re looking for, you may have an easier time finding a house in an existing, city neighborhood that will be fun for you to work with. Spend a few minutes looking online at the Twin Cities market for new construction at your price point to see what that amount gets you.

Each situation is different, so be sure to consider all the angles. In our 20 years of practicing architecture, we’ve successfully completed over 300 projects while helping people like you achieve results that met their needs AND their dreams, regardless of whether it was a remodel or new build.