Building Renovation vs. New Construction: Which is Right for You?

With the healthy economy, more and more companies are looking to upgrade their physical space – be it office, retail, manufacturing or warehousing. Even municipalities and religious institutions are finding they need more modern spaces to accommodate the needs of their respective citizens and congregations. Evaluating the pros and cons of building a new facility vs. renovating (or expanding) an existing one is the first consideration.

Every existing structure comes with its own unique set of circumstances – from location and ease of access to age and condition of the building. Therefore, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Start your evaluation by setting goals and defining parameters for your new space, then take these steps to inform your decision:

Analyze existing building conditions and limitations

Analyzing the existing condition of your building is the first step in the decision to build new or renovate. If the original construction drawings are available, the process becomes less challenging. However, it is often the case with most projects that these documents have ceased to exist. If the original documents are unavailable, ask your architect and builder to do a walk-through and assess the condition of the building, its systems and infrastructure. A design-build team can take measurements and translate them into a plan. This gives you an accurate depiction of your actual space so you can accurately evaluate up-fit potential.

Your design-build team should also analyze the limitations of the existing structure. Is the facility shell in good shape? Will the building infrastructure accommodate a renovation? Is the site suitable for a new structure if expansion is the goal? Are the HVAC, electrical and plumbing services adequate to meet your goals? Can you make the space ADA compliant without great expense? Is the structure easily upgradable to meet current building codes? Can your builder easily incorporate new technologies? These factors will require much discussion, as they will have a significant impact on your budget.

Assess environmental aspects

We strongly recommend doing an environmental assessment, asbestos survey, and lead-based paint survey early in the process when considering a renovation. These steps could reveal issues hidden from view – such as hazardous materials that require remediation – that could pose major challenges once construction begins.

While due diligence is wise during the early stages of planning, there is no way to fully evaluate a building without deconstructing walls. Unexpected costs will arise with most any renovation. Therefore, if you choose to renovate, be sure to allocate a contingency budget to address unforeseen changes.

Strive for optimal energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is a high priority for any building owner looking to renovate or build a new facility. If your building has old windows, old mechanical and electrical systems, or sub-par insulation, it can be costly and challenging to retrofit with more modern, energy efficient systems. If you need to substantially upgrade any of these systems, include in your budget the costs to update them all.

Plan for business operation during construction

Another primary consideration when contemplating renovation is the loss of the use of your facility during the construction process. Your construction team will advise you about the building phases, ways in which you may be able to stay open for operation during construction, and how long your business will be affected.

New construction projects take more time than a typical renovation. Where a new construction project is measured in many months (or even years) from planning to completion, a renovation can usually be measured in just a few months. Reference your original goals when determining whether speed of delivery is a priority for your expansion. If timing is one of the leading criteria, a fit-up may be the way to go.

Choose fit-up or new construction

Ultimately, if all the goals and functionality of the facility can be accomplished by either renovation or new construction, the decision boils down to value. Would a renovation require so much modification that the cost begins to approach that of a newly constructed building? If so, designing and building a new structure that is ideally suited for your functional needs and future growth is often the best option. If, however, there is an appreciable cost benefit to renovation and minimal impact on functionality, an up-fit may be the way to go.

Either way, you can’t go wrong if you select a qualified design-build team with experience in both renovations and new construction. A contractor who does both types of work will give you an objective assessment and help answer the critical questions, providing an excellent beginning to a successful project.