Renovate Old House or Tear it Down and Rebuild?

April 12, 2022
  1. Older houses are no longer up to date
  2. Four arguments for restructuring
  3. Five arguments for demolition and reconstruction
  4. Which is cheaper: renovate or rebuild?
  5. Is demolition and replacement worthwhile?
  6. The importance of building law restrictions
  7. Bathroom and kitchen builders

Do you own an older house, did you inherit your parents' house or do you want to buy a house from the 1950s to the 1980s? In the next few years, many homeowners will sell their old houses because they can no longer maintain the house, they are moving from a large house to a smaller apartment building or their descendants do not want to inherit the house or cannot finance it. Almost two thirds of the houses and flats in Switzerland were built before 1981. Many of these are now so old that they need to be renovated or demolished and replaced by a new building. Various reasons speak in favour of one or the other variant. The decision depends on architectural, structural, building law, emotional, energy and financial considerations.

Older houses are no longer up to date

The building fabric of many houses from the 1950s to the 1980s is rock solid and lasts practically forever. However, older houses often have weak points. For example, a leaky roof, an old electrical system, a weathered façade, windows that no longer close completely, damp in the basement, a heating system that is no longer energy efficient or lead or steel water pipes that should be replaced for health reasons. The components are broken or outdated and do not meet today's requirements for energy efficiency or living comfort. In addition, architectural requirements change over time. Older bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, for example, are often smaller and less bright than modern houses or flats. Of course, walls can be moved or removed, for example to create an open-plan kitchen or a larger bathroom, but structural engineering sets limits. The architecture and floor plan cannot be changed at will.

Houzy Advice

Good to know

In the past, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, problematic building materials were sometimes used, for example roof sealants containing asbestos or cement with formaldehyde or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Such materials must be disposed of properly.

Houzy Hint

Tip

Use our renovation calculator to find out what measurements are due and how much the renovation will approximately cost. Our construction experts will answer all your questions about bathroom or kitchen renovation.

Four arguments for restructuring

  1. If you grew up in the house or raised your children in it, you associate good memories with your home. With a renovation, you preserve this emotional bond.
  2. If you renovate your house gradually, you can spread the renovation expenses over several tax periods, stop the tax progression and live at home during the work.
  3. If you renovate your house, it usually costs less than building a new one. However, hidden damages that you only discover during the renovation can push your bill over the edge.
  4. If you like curvy plants and prefer smaller rooms, you should renovate your home.

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Five arguments for demolition and reconstruction

  1. If load-bearing beams are damaged or water penetrates floors and walls, it is usually cheaper to demolish than to renovate.
  2. If the rooms are too small or the room layout limits you with a kitchen and dining room instead of an open-plan kitchen/living room, you can optimally adapt the room layout to your needs with a new replacement construction.
  3. If you have high energy efficiency requirements, a new building usually costs less than a total energy renovation with roof, screed, façade, windows and heating system.
  4. If you want to live in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, almost only a replacement of a new building is part of the discussion.
  5. If the house is on an underused plot of land, you could build a larger house with more living space or a flat for grandma. With the income from the rent of the flat, you could pay your own running and maintenance costs.

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Which is cheaper: renovate or rebuild?

An old renovated building usually costs less than a new replacement building. As soon as you change the architecture and floor plans or want to bring an old house up to the latest energy standards, the costs of conversion and renovation can rise quickly and sharply. The more extensive the renovation measures, the more worthwhile it is to demolish and build a new replacement building. Two typical examples:

  • If you want to enlarge your bathroom, a structural engineer must assess whether the wall you want to remove is load-bearing. If it is, he or she must calculate the static strength without a load-bearing wall and look for a solution, such as a steel beam that is large enough and strong enough to bear the load of the roof.
  • If the house dates back to the 1950s-70s, little attention has probably been paid to energy efficiency. The insulation is not sufficient because the outer walls are thin, the electric storage heating is inefficient and the large window fronts are only single-glazed. This will be expensive. Especially if the sloping roof is a cold roof, as was common in the past, it should be torn down and rebuilt.

Houzy Advice

Good to know

With new heating, better external insulation and modern, insulated double-glazed windows, you can save about 60% on electricity. Energy efficiency measures are generally cheaper for new buildings than for old ones.

Is demolition and replacement worthwhile?

This question cannot be answered so simply with 'yes' or 'no'. Many minor factors play a role that should be taken into account. From an economic point of view, a new building is worthwhile in 10-20% of cases. However, it can be worthwhile as soon as the renovation costs reach about three quarters of the costs of demolition and new construction. On the one hand, older houses lose value more quickly because they often cannot be brought up to the energy standards of a new building even through a complete renovation. On the other hand, you can plan, design and furnish your new home according to your wishes, whereas with an old renovated building you always have to make small or big compromises. Conclusion: there is no cost limit to the decision - the closer the renovation costs are to the costs of demolition and new construction, the sooner you have to think about a new replacement building.

Houzy Hint

Tipp

Do not forget demolition costs when budgeting for new construction. Construction materials and components must be sorted and disposed of properly.

The importance of building law restrictions

Before deciding whether to renovate or rebuild you should find out about any building regulations. It is possible that new buildings today are subject to different use, building mass or floor area figures, boundary and construction distances or restrictions on length, height or number of floors than in the past. This could affect your conversion or new building plans or throw them off course. That's why you should consult building laws and regulations in good time or ask experts such as a realtor from our partner network who knows all the cantonal regulations and can give you competent consultation.

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Also think about building services when renovating your bathroom or kitchen.

Bathroom and kitchen builders

The two most popular renovation measures for older houses and flats are bathroom and kitchen renovation. If you want to renovate your bathroom and/or kitchen, it is best to hire a sanitation professional or kitchen specialist. In our network of partners you will find experts in your region who will manage the renovation project, plan the measures, assess the costs, monitor compliance and supervise the renovation. With just a few details about the project, the house and the services, you can get a free offer from our verified house builders. The two most popular renovation projects for older houses and flats are bathroom and kitchen renovations. If you want to renovate your bathroom and/or kitchen, it is best to hire a builder. In our network of partners, you will find experts in your region who will manage the renovation project, plan the measures, assess the costs, monitor compliance and control the renovation. With just a few details about the project, the house and the services, you will receive up to three free offers.

Do you own an old house or flat and want to renovate the bathroom or kitchen? With just a few clicks, you can get up to three offers from certified building contractors in your region who will manage the renovation project for you.

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