Remodeling Guidebook: What homeowners need to know!

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Are you thinking about remodeling your home, but have no idea if your ideas are even feasible? 

Trust me, you are not alone. 

Read on to learn what to expect, where to start, steps for success, remodeling costs, which remodeling projects pay off, and more!

What is remodeling?

remodeling project

The Oxford Dictionary defines remodeling as “to change the structure or form of (something, especially a building) or shape (a figure or object) again or differently. 

When we apply that definition to the building industry, remodeling is really the transformation of an old layout, room style, or structure into something different or updated. 

An example of a popular remodeling project today is creating an open floor plan within a home. Homeowners around the country are removing walls between living rooms and kitchens in order to open up the space and create a modern feel within the home. 

Because the structure and layout have been changed, the project is considered a remodel. 

What is the difference between remodeling & renovation projects?

remodel vs. renovation

In the section above we defined a remodel as an alteration to a floor plan, structure, or room style. The key here is that the overall structure has been changed from what it originally was. 

A renovation, on the other hand, takes a structure and restores it to its original self or “to a good state of repair”. 

When you hear the word “renovation” think of restoring historical buildings to their former glory. The goal is to keep the same layout and “look” that the buildings originally had by making repairs, painting, potentially installing a new roof, etc. Notice how these changes add value to the property, but they aren’t changing the overall structure of the building. 

In contrast, a remodel project will actually alter the structure of the building. An example could be adding a vaulted ceiling to your living room. This project changes the structural layout of the home.

Examples of Remodeling Vs. Renovation Projects

Remodel Renovation
Wall removalRepainting
Open floor concept floor plan Refacing cabinets
Vaulted/raising ceilingsInstalling new hardware
Adding 2nd or 3rd levels in a homeReplacing siding
Installing a kitchen islandReplacing roofing
Adding egress windowsReplacing windows or doors
Turning the attic into a living spaceReplacing flooring 
Adding an apartment over the garageInstalling new light fixtures
Structurally changing the layout of a roomUpdating broken plumbing/HVAC/or other systems

What costs more: renovation or remodeling projects? 

costs of renovations and remodels

Because remodels are typically more involved and can require structural changes to a home, they can be more expensive. 

Removing walls, adding vaulted ceilings, and implementing second or third levels on a home all require help from professionals such as structural engineers, architects, framers, and contractors (just to name a few). On top of this, there will also be building permit and material costs to consider. 

Renovations can vary in cost depending on the size and scope of the project. For example, simply painting your kitchen and adding new hardware to the cabinets is fairly affordable. But, restoring a local historical building may require new roofing, siding, and floors which can become quite spendy once material, labor, and necessary building permit costs are factored in. 

The takeaway?

Both remodeling and renovation projects vary in scope and size. Consider these factors before planning your project: 

  • Size and scope of the intended project
  • Professionals required to complete the project (engineers, architects, designers, etc)
  • Labor costs
  • Material costs
  • Building permit costs 
  • Potential unforseen costs 

What is the difference between a minor remodeling and a major remodeling project? 

Major remodels will actually need a plan from an architect, designer, or in some cases, a contractor. The plan typically includes layouts, dimensions, and construction notes/details. There will also be engineering requirements for your plan.

remodeling project
This remodeling project entails adding rooms to create more space. Because of this, an architectural plan was necessary. 

 Most architects/designers work closely with structural engineers to provide their plans with the appropriate structural load details necessary to ensure a solid structure. If your contractor provided you with the plan, it may be a good idea to have a structural engineer verify that the existing plan will work for your project. 

Some examples of  major remodels are full room addition, floor addition, vaulted or raised ceilings, or other significant structural alteration to the home. 

vaulted ceilings

Minor remodels typically will not require a full plan from an architect, designer, or contractor. However, they may require structural engineering to some degree.

 An example of a minor remodel would be a wall removal. Regardless if you plan to remove the wall yourself or hire a contractor, you will most likely need a structural engineer to determine if the wall is load bearing. 

remodeling project

A structural engineer will perform an inspection, execute calculations/analysis, and generate a report of findings which will state if the wall is load bearing. If the wall is indeed load bearing the homeowner or contractor can request a scope of work to install a beam & column system (which the engineer will need to design) capable of replacing the load bearing wall.

 The contractor or homeowner can use this report and scope of work to obtain a building permit from the city (most cities require a structural engineering report to remove walls). In most scenarios, a scope of work is all the city will require. There are some instances when a city building official will request a drawing from a structural engineer which can mean additional fees. 

To learn more about load bearing walls click here. 

Which remodeling projects pay off?

remodeling a kitchen

First, you must consider why you plan to remodel or renovate? 

Ask yourself:

-Is it for your own pleasure? 

-How long do I intend to live in this home? 

-Is it for a flip project? 

-Am I trying to sell?  

All of these questions will influence the type of remodeling or renovation projects you choose to implement. For example, if you plan to live in your home for another 30 years, you may want to remodel or renovate based upon your own personal preference. 

However, if you are trying to sell, you will want to select remodeling or renovation projects that will catch the eye of potential buyers, but also retain resale value. 

beautiful home

Remodeling, an online construction magazine, has a great tool that compares 22 remodeling projects with the value those projects retain at resale. 

This 2020 Cost vs. Value report says the 5 best remodeling projects are: 

  1. Manufactured Stone Veneer
  2. Garage Door Replacement
  3. Minor Kitchen Remodel
  4. Siding Replacement (Fiber-Cement)
  5. Siding Replacement (Vinyl)

To read more about the best remodeling projects for retained value at resale click here!

Steps to remodel a home: 

Starting a remodeling project can be very overwhelming. However, it can be a very smooth process with the right plan of action. 

steps to remodeling a home

Here are our tips and tricks for a successful remodel: 

  1. Vision & Data Collection: This is the fun part. What type of remodel are you wanting to do? Do you want to knock down a wall and open up the floor plan? Are you planning to strip a bathroom down and start from scratch? Perhaps you want to add a mother-in-law suite. Figure out what you would ideally like to do and write it down on paper. The more detailed the better. 
planning a remodel

Here are a few factors to consider during this process: 

  • Is your project a major or minor remodel? If you aren’t sure, scroll up and read the section on major vs. minor remodels. Knowing this information will help you budget and plan accordingly. 
  • Once you know what type of remodel you want to tackle, do some research to find out what similar projects cost. Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report is  a good resource for this. 
  • What are the most important features of your remodel? Knowing what you are and aren’t willing to sacrifice if it comes down to a budget or space issue is good to know ahead of time. 
  • Are there certain types of materials you would like to include in your remodel? Do some research on the costs and benefits of various materials you may want to include in your project. 
  • Start asking around for some referrals. Working with a reputable contractor will make your life so much easier. If you have a friend who was happy with a contractor’s work, it may save you a lot of research time. 
  • Go to your city’s building department website or make a call to find out exactly what types of building permits will be required for your project. It’s good to know ahead of time what the expectation is. Some projects will require a structural engineer’s stamp of approval prior to obtaining a building permit. All these factors take time and money.
  1. Set your Budget: Now that you have a vision and have some research, it’s time to put a number on what you are willing to spend. Be sure to leave some leeway for unexpected costs. You just don’t know what kinds of surprises will come up. 
remodeling budget
  1. Hire a contractor: It’s time to find a contractor. If you didn’t get a referral, consider hiring a company that has been in business for a long time. A construction company like this is typically old school and has based their practice off of referrals. This speaks volumes about the type of work they do. Communicate openly with your contractor about your project vision & budget. They will be able to provide you with a quote and work within your budget to achieve your vision or something similar.  
  1. Hire an architect (if needed): If your project requires plans (if you aren’t sure, speak with your contractor or call a structural engineer), it’s time to hire an architect. Again, openly communicate with your architect about your vision and budget so they can design a plan that meets your criteria. Be sure they are taking care of the engineering necessary for the plan. If not, you will need to find an engineer to do so. 
working with an architect for a remodeling project
  1. Acquire building permits: If you have hired a contractor, they will typically take care of obtaining the necessary building permits. They should let you know exactly what is required (plans, engineering, etc) for the city to release a building permit. If you need a structural engineering inspection, plan on budgeting $400-$1,500.00 depending upon the scope of the project. That price estimation is simply for an inspection & report, not for engineering requirements for architectural plans.
building permits for a remodeling project
  1. Order materials: Once you have been approved to start building, it’s a good time to get your materials ordered. 
ordering materials for a remodeling project
  1. Start your project: You did it. You made it to the point when actual work starts. Until you’ve done it, most people don’t realize the up front work that goes into a remodeling project. At this point any demolition (wall removals etc) that needs to take place will happen. Then, work behind the walls will begin such as electric, plumbing, heating/AC, insulation, sub floors, etc. Usually the next phase is flooring installs and painting. Once the floors are in, cabinets and bookshelf type structures can be installed, and then finally the finishing touches like hardware, floor sealing, backsplash, counters etc. 
remodeling project in process
  1. ENJOY: Once the finishing touches have been made, it’s time to enjoy the final product. 
finished remodeling project

What remodeling projects require a permit? 

building permits for remodeling project

It’s always a good idea to check your local municipalities building permit regulations. There are many types of projects that require building permits that would surprise you. 

Below is a list of projects that almost always require a building permit (some might shock you, others not). 

building inspection for building permit
  • Retaining walls over 4 ft. tall
  • Fencing installs and repairs
  • Electrical 
  • Plumbing
  • Some HVAC projects (even as simple as installing a new water heater)
  • Remodeling projects (wall removals, adding floors, room additions/conversion, garages, sheds)
  • Any structural changes
  • Re-roofing
  • Adding a porch or deck
  • Demolition of any part of the home 
  • Changes to a home’s piping system

Remember, it’s best to go through the permitting process to avoid future issues. Some municipalities can fine you for failure to obtain a building permit. Worse, if you go to sell a home with un-permitted work, it can be very challenging. 

Is it cheaper to rebuild or remodel?

In order to determine if you should remodel or simply start from scratch, consider these factors. 

home demo
  1. Check local building codes and planning legislation:  Before you spend time researching, find out if your town will even allow you to demo. Depending on the age and historical importance, there’s a chance you won’t be able to start with a clean slate. 
  2. Determine the scope of your potential remodel project: 
remodeling project

If your remodel is significantly altering the structural components of the home to the point where the original home is barely recognizable, it’s worth it to look into a demo. Ultimately, it might be more affordable to go that route because structural changes are not cheap once you factor in labor, engineering costs, materials, etc. 

Regardless, get a professional on site to provide you with some quotes and insight on the potential costs or limiting factors to give you some hard numbers to work with. This meeting will also let you know if your remodel vision is possible or can achieve your ultimate goals of creating space, opening up the floor plan, letting more sunlight into the home, etc. 

homeowner talking with a professional

Side note: It may be beneficial to get a soil test done. This test will be super valuable for understanding foundation/slab requirements for both a remodel or new construction build. You would be shocked at how expensive this part of the project can be if you have poor soils on site. 

  1. Real estate value check: Find out what your home is worth right now and what it would be worth after you invest X amount of dollars into it after the remodel. If this isn’t your forever home and the remodel won’t significantly increase the home’s value, it may not be worth the work.
home value
  1. Look into new construction builds: 
new construction build

Now that you have a better idea of what your remodel may cost you financially and timewise, look into new construction builds. In most scenarios it’s cheaper to build from scratch. This is because contemporary tools and systems allow a new construction build to come together quickly and efficiently. 

To have a better understanding of all the costs involved, get some quotes from a builder that include everything frome demo, excavation requirements, foundation install, engineering/architectural costs, materials, labor, etc. Once you have some quotes together you can compare these to the remodeling quotes. 

  1. Putting a price on sentimental value:
love the home

Remember, ultimately this is your home. If you find that on paper it looks more affordable to simply rebuild, great. However, if your current home has sentimental value, that is valid as well. Be sure to weigh in emotional ties before making a decision. 

How to dispose of remodeling waste?

disposing of remodeling waste

There are plenty of ways to dispose of waste when demolitioning a home (even eco-friendly ones). Here are a few ideas below: 

  1. Donate: There are plenty of organizations that would be happy to take good-condition building materials, appliances, light fixtures, flooring, cabinets etc. Do a local google search in your area to see what is available to you. Some examples could be Goodwill Donation Center, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and BetterFutureMinnesota. 
  2. Recycle: Did you know you can actually recycle remodeling debris? Some companies will pay YOU for the materials…oh and you can use it as a tax write-off. Approximately 85 percent of all construction waste can be recycled.  Click here for a list of recyclable materials organized by zip code. 
  3. Reuse: If there are building materials you can repurpose or reuse, go for it. What a great way to prevent materials from ending up in the dump. 
  4. Trash It: Anything that can’t be donated or recycled can be trashed.There are many options for this. Junk removal companies can pick it up, you can haul debris to a landfill with your own truck and trailer, or you can get a dumpster. Just be aware that not all debris is created equal. Click here for a great resource on what types of materials can be disposed of and where. 

Can remodeling be tax deductible?

Ok, here’s the scoop. Generally, remodeling your home will not give you a tax break unless you are doing 1 of 2 things. 

  1. Installing energy efficient equipment– If you decide to install solar panels or water heaters, wind turbines, or geothermal heat pumps, you may qualify for a tax break. Click here to learn about some of the federal tax break incentives for solar energy.
solar tax breaks
  1. Home remodels for medical purposes- Home improvements or equipment installation paid out of pocket for medical reasons may qualify as a tax break. This may include things like wheelchair ramps or lifts. For a full list of what counts as a medical update, click here
installing a wheelchair ramp

We hope we cleared up some of your questions surrounding the remodeling process. There are so many factors that have to be considered before even starting a project. However, with the proper research and resources, we are confident that you will have a successful project. 

Please reach out to Complete Building Solutions, a structural engineering firm, with any further remodeling questions you may have at 763-544-3355.

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