Here’s The Difference Between a Renovation And a Remodel

If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s that a dream home wasn’t built (or purchased, or designed) in a day. As more and more homeowners are grappling with a competitive real estate market, limited resources, and major material delays, doing anything to improve our homes—or find a new one—can feel like a serious pipe dream.

If you’ve decided to sit tight on your property and put in a little sweat equity to make it the home of your dreams, you’re not alone. According to the 2022 U.S. Houzz & Home Study, 55 percent of homeowners anticipate taking on a renovation this year, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. Here’s the thing, though—while you may be using the terms “renovation” and “remodel” interchangeably, there’s actually a distinct difference between the two when it comes to industry speak, and the more you can decipher what it is you want, the better you’ll be able to communicate with any contractors, architects, and designers you hire.

studio dearborn nashville kitchen renovation

In this Nashville kitchen renovation, Studio Dearborn designer Sarah Roberston relied on well-worn brick and bespoke cabinetry to transform an already functional layout.
Adam Kane Macchia

So, what is considered a renovation?

Plainly speaking, most pros consider a renovation to be cosmetic improvements to a space that don’t involve changing its intended purpose. This could constitute a range of projects, ranging in budget (and impact) both big and small. Take a kitchen for example; a renovation of the space may include things like painting or replacing cabinetry, upgrading the countertops, or even installing new light fixtures. There’s no denying these changes can have a serious impact on how you live in the space—they can even increase your equity in your home. That being said, you are not changing the overall structure of your space, making “renovation” the right identifier for this type of project.


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alison victoria home tour
great room

Designer Alison Victoria transformed this space in a 1880s textile mill in Atlanta into her personal home, complete with a new loft-like layout geared towards modern living.
Robert Peterson / Rustic White I

What is a remodel?

On the flip side, a remodeling project is any venture where you set out to drastically change the overall function or purpose of a space. Whether you’re looking to add a primary bathroom to your bedroom or want to create an open floorplan between your living room, dining room, and kitchen, those are all major structural changes. While there are exceptions, a remodeling project will almost always cost more than a renovation project, thanks in large part to the need for more specialized contractors, permits, and design pros. It may take a bit more planning, but a remodel is often a great way to make a house function better for your needs and infuse it with customizations suited to your lifestyle.

How do I choose between a renovation and remodel?

When deciding whether either type of project is right for you, it’s important to consider what your end goals for your home are. Are you looking to make it more in line with your preferred aesthetics or drag it out of the 80s time warp it seems to be stuck in? Renovate away. Want to add a room for inlaws to spend the weekend or a private space for newly-minted teenagers to hang with friends? A remodel may be more your speed.

Budget is also an important consideration. If a remodel is on your horizon five or more years down the road, there still may be some low-key renovations you can undertake in the meantime (think: new fixtures, upgraded floors) to ensure you love your space in the interim.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: Maybe you’re just in the wrong house for you. Before undertaking a renovation or remodel (or really, sinking any large amount of money into your home), it’s important to have an honest conversation with yourself as to whether the space is worth investing in. “We get people who want to know, ‘Should I invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in this house or not?’” designer Victoria Sass told House Beautiful for our 2021 Renovation Issue. “At some point, it’s not a good investment if what you really want is a different house. It’s like a marriage: Is this the one, or are you trying to make it into something it’ll never be?”

Ready to take the next steps? Whether you’ve decided that a renovation or a remodel is right for your space, your best bet is assembling a trusted team of pros to help you navigate everything from drawing up floorplans to securing permits (which yes, you may still need with a renovation!). Oh, and don’t forget to set aside plenty of inspiration! We’ve got your back with that.

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