Raze or Renovate

By Nancy Nichols, P.E. | June 2, 2021

“Should we raze or renovate?” is a question we hear often.  Restated- is it more economically feasible to raze and rebuild, or to renovate and improve? The answer also depends on how much of the original structure and its function that you want to retain (or can put up with).

Our recent patient was an 1800’s post and beam farm house with metal roofing and wood clapboard siding.  There was no central heating system nor insulation of consequence.  The structure had been repaired in several areas due to moisture damage (e.g., rear first floor framing and foundation support) and the 1938 hurricane, but needed plenty of more work. Our client hoped to add a one-story in-law apartment and great room addition to the rear.

While degree of deterioration was certainly an issue, the Massachusetts Residential Code also required that for significant renovations like the one planned, the house needed to be brought up to current code.  Current design methodologies allow design snow load reductions for slippery metal roof surfaces and exposure to open/windy landscapes, especially for steeply sloped roofs.  Snow load reductions were taken into consideration when the need for roof framing reinforcements was assessed.  But this was not the determining factor.

A house that sits higher relative to the landscape will be less susceptible to rot from splash back of roof water and allow for ground surface to slope down and away from the house mitigating basement water intrusion. The house sill and 1st floor framing were significantly deteriorated, because the house was too close to the ground.  It was determined that it would be more economical for the house to be jacked/raised for repairs of framing and foundation than to repair/replace while in-place.

The overall estimated cost for a full-scale renovation of the existing was expected to be higher than for razing and rebuilding due to jacking expense, higher labor costs for gutting/demolition, framing repairs/replacements and finishing of out-of-square openings, floors, and ceilings.  The cost of labor for contracted services for the renovation scenario was deemed likely to far exceed material savings for the new construction scenario.  Replacement, however, could never live up to the charm and history of this home.

This was a tough call.  We find antique buildings exciting to renovate.  However, we are more passionate about giving our clients factual advice so they can make informed decisions.

Whether you have an antique farmhouse, a 3-season camp, or other cherished old home, give us a call.  We can provide you with the information you need to determine whether to raze or renovate.

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