Should You Renovate or Remodel?

Lawrence Bonk
Written by Lawrence Bonk
Updated April 11, 2022
Woman remodeling bathroom
Photo: Guido Mieth / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Is it tomato, tomah-to, or are there real differences?

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People often confuse the terms “renovation” and “remodeling,” and it’s easy to see why, as these project types do feature some similarities. They’re actually quite different, however, so if you’re meeting with a professional contractor to go over home-improvement options, you’ll want to make sure you have your definitions straight. Once you understand the differences between the two, it will be easier to decide what kind of eye-popping alterations to make within your home.

If your house could use some TLC, you may be considering undertaking a remodeling or a renovation project. Before you can don your DIY home-improvement gear or hire a pro, you’ll save yourself time and frustration if you understand the difference between “renovate” and “remodel.” 

What Does “Renovating” Mean?

Renovating refers to improving, refreshing, or restoring an existing home with updated, more aesthetically appealing finishes. Installing new flooring, replacing kitchen faucets, and painting bedroom walls are all great renovation examples.

A renovation will update the feel or look of a room but will not change the room’s purpose. A kitchen will remain a kitchen, and a living room will remain a living room. Generally speaking, renovating can be DIY-friendly and a good pick for amateur enthusiasts looking to spruce up a home without putting their whole life on hold.

Pros of Renovating

  • Affordable: Renovating can be an affordable way to update your space without having to take out a second mortgage. Small renovations, like painting the walls, swapping out fixtures, or installing new lighting can make a big impact even when you have a small budget. 

  • DIY-friendly: While not every aspect of a potential renovation project may be DIY-friendly, you generally don’t need the expertise or experience of a pro to undertake minor renovations on your own. 

  • Good ROI: Because renovating tends to have an affordable overall cost, it’s an excellent way to quickly boost your home's value. 

Cons of Renovating

  • Does not correct poor home design: A poorly designed kitchen with a fresh coat of paint is still a poorly designed kitchen. Renovations do not change how functional your space is or correct major structural issues.

What Does “Remodeling” Mean?

Plasterer tools
Photo: EThamPhoto / The Image Bank via Getty Images

Remodeling tends to involve significant functional changes to the design and layout of a home. Reconfiguring a kitchen, building an addition, and expanding a bathroom are all good remodeling examples. A remodel could alter the actual structure of a house and change the purpose of a room, such as turning a guest bedroom into a home office. You may need to remove walls, replace windows, and acquire building permits. In other words, remodeling is better left to professional contractors unless you have some serious time on your hands. 

Pros of Remodeling

  • Can drastically improve your home’s functionality: Remodeling allows you to change the layout and design of your home to ensure every inch of space can be used exactly as you need it to be. 

  • Can increase a home’s lifespan: Remodeling allows you to address structural issues that can increase the long-term integrity of your home. 

  • Allows for pro input: Hiring an architect to design and complete your remodel often means that you’re hiring someone with expertise and experience and pros are generally excited to complete large jobs with lots of room to get creative. 

Cons of Remodeling

  • Can be prohibitively expensive: Remodeling often comes with significant costs that can be prohibitive to many homeowners. 

  • Requires a longer timeline: While your exact timeline will vary depending on your project goals, remodeling is often a process that takes at least several months to complete.

Renovating or Remodeling: Which Should You Do?

As you think about the future of your home and the outcome you desire, you’ll need to consider several factors to determine if a renovation or remodel is the best choice for you. 

Price

Renovating is generally much lower cost than remodeling. If you are lightly renovating a 2,500-square-foot home, you can make a series of high-impact updates such as landscaping, paint, flooring, or countertops for around $15,000. Performing an extensive home remodel comes with some serious dollar signs attached. Make no mistake, it’s a next-level #adulting investment. The cost to remodel multiple rooms in your home averages $47,000.

Lower cost: Renovation

Permitting

It’s unlikely that a home renovation project will require a building permit. You can perform simple renovations, such as putting in new carpeting, without having to contact a local regulatory agency. Some renovation projects, like replacing a roof, may require a building permit or the approval of a community board, though they will be the exception and not the rule.

If you are planning a major remodeling project, though, you will likely have to get building permits and consent from local community boards. It’s common in most parts of the country for a building authority to require a permit whenever a structure is changed. If you’re doing anything with your home’s foundation, walls, ceilings, or roof, your contractor may suggest that you hire an inspector and get the necessary permits. 

Fewer permitting challenges: Renovation 

Timeline

Renovations can take as little as a few days to complete. If you’re painting a room, replacing hardware, or adding new flooring, you can anticipate a relatively quick turnaround from project ideation to completion. 

Remodeling usually takes quite a bit longer than renovations. Many pros have waitlists, materials can be out of stock, and the sort of work that must be done often just takes a significant amount of time. 

Shorter timeline: Renovation

Impact 

If you’re looking to change the look and feel of your home, a renovation may be all you need. If you want to increase functionality or longevity though, you’ll need to invest in a remodel. Remodeling will allow you to shift your layout, create highly functional spaces and ensure that any underlying or structural issues are taken care of. 

Bigger impact: Remodel 

ROI or Resale Value

Believe it or not, renovating can actually offer a better return on investment when compared to a whole-home remodeling project. The relatively inexpensive nature of renovations combined with increased home value makes many renovations worth it. Some projects, like renovating your bathroom, can yield an ROI of 60.1%.

Additionally, the ROI of some home remodeling projects will be slightly lower than what has been reported with renovation projects, due to the high buy-in cost. For example, the ROI on raising your roof falls around 50%.

Better ROI: Renovation

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