To renovate or knock down rebuild (KDR)?

The decision to build is a huge one.  And the question usually starts as a decision on whether to keep the house and renovate it or demolish and start again with a brand new house.

The difference between a Keeper and a Loser

Imagine you are Juliet’s parents, you find out she has fallen in love with Romeo, she looks so happy with him and you think she might do something drastic if things don’t work out the way she plans.

But you also know his parents and he is from THAT family from the other side of town.

Is he a keeper or a loser?

Life throws you many dilemmas, yet the hardest ones revolve around whether to keep or throw away something that is valuable in its own right.

For Juliet’s parent it was a young man who had good bones hidden underneath his Montague exterior, but for many people it is the family home that is layered in value, frustration and sentimentality.

Weighing up the complex factors to decide whether your home is flat-out irretrievable or has good bones hidden under the debris of life will rely on hard logic and some tough financial choices.

To make the decision of whether you should complete a major structural renovation or knock down and rebuild (KDR) will be based on your personal circumstances.

You have to assess each factor and decide what meets your capabilities, budget and your house site.


The experts all agree that it is cheaper to rebuild than it is to renovate.

While this may seem like a paradox, it becomes obvious once you remove sentimentality and consider all the reasons.

A new house, especially a project home, can be built following a formulaic pattern which includes a standardised scheduling program. The builder can use economical materials and buy them cheaper through bulk purchasing.

Conversely, a renovation has to be individually designed and worked around the existing building. The building may have structural problems which may not come to the light until the build has started. The materials will be individually procured and will often be custom-made to match the home’s details and finish. Scheduling also becomes problematic as the builder may need to call in a contractor multiple times as individual rooms are upgraded and walls are pulled down or put up in existing places.

New homes are usually built with the external walls as load bearing; however, older homes may have internal walls as load bearing which means additional labour and materials to support an unwanted wall.

A renovation may also need additional costs as unforeseen problems occur. These will need to be budgeted during the initial stages so that you will be able to cope financially and emotionally with unexpected problems.

Design Impact

The original home’s design will be the major factor in considering whether to keep the house. The house might be a stunning old relic that needs a whole lot of TLC to bring it back to its former majesty or it might have some “good bones” that make it a classic. The original house may also have some intangible quality that makes it essential to keep.

Alternatively, the house may have planning restrictions, such as a heritage listing, that will ensure its longevity or limit the opportunities to modernise the site. Planning restrictions have also gone the other way for home owners who are lucky enough to have a house built bigger than current planning restrictions allow and would prefer to keep the original walls to incorporate the additional space.  

The environment

You do not live in isolation, you live within a community.

Take a walk around your area and have a good look at the homes within a couple of square kilometres.

While your house does not have to be a replica of all those around you, you may want to consider the style of your home especially if you live in an older area with a great deal of character. It might be a better choice of extending into the back of the land or creating a multi-storied dwelling at the rear of the building while keeping the original streetscape.

You may also look around and discover the character of your area is on the cusp of changing, there might be new multiple occupancy dwellings in the area and it may be unwise to spend a great deal of time and energy revitalising an old weekender only to find it is overshadowed by a complex at the end of the build.


It’s not a house it’s a home, a man’s home is his castle.”

Darryl Kerrigan – The Castle

A home is the owner’s castle, and it must reveal the individual demands and needs of the people living in that space at that time.

If you are planning on making major changes to your house then you need to know what your demands for the space are. It is not unusual for a home to include multiple functions, and these could include an office, a significant outdoor area, a workshop, separate family spaces, a display area for artwork or a large storage area.

If you are choosing to renovate then it is important to get a clear idea if your renovated house can include all the options you are looking as sometimes it is impractical to meet all your demands with an existing building and only a new house will provide the lifestyle options you are after.

Thinking green

The adage “Recycle, reduce and reuse” is an important foundation for all environmental decisions.

Pulling down a house may seem an extreme waste of resources in a time when everyone should be considering all their choices on a global scale. Limiting the footprint of a house and reusing existing resources within a home, especially those with charm, can create a positive environmental building landscape while also improving the quality of the home.

Building a new home has an enormous negative impact on the environment as it uses limited resources and increases carbon impact. Even if a new building is 30 per cent more energy efficient than its predecessor it could take between 10 – 80 years to make a neutral carbon impact compared to renovating.


Renovating a home has significant advantages to people on a tight budget and owner builders. The build can be planned to have several stages which is advantageous for those on a budget and for those who want to go it alone.

Renovating like this can be like living in the eye of the storm. You may have intense periods of activity, with a short break to pat yourself on the back for surviving and then all too quickly you will be thrown back in the maelstrom of mayhem.

If you love the busyness of a build, the heavy decision making load or the ability to take control your time and budget then this is the choice for you.

That saying, it is possible to renovate within a specific time frame as long as you are prepared to take a breather if things turn out badly.

While there are many stories of new home schedules being blown out, there is an accepted time frame to build a new home with a builder and that allows you to plan your lifestyle around it.

Should I stay or should I go

Many people undergoing major home renovations are under the pump when it comes to their living budget and want to stay in their family home.

If you are rebuilding the answer is simple, you must leave the site until the builder hands over the keys.

If you are renovating with a builder it is more than likely that you will also have to find alternative accommodation as it will be too dangerous to live in site especially if your renovations includes major structural work to the existing home.

The advantage of being an owner-builder and renovating is that you may be able to get council permission to stay in the home and soak up all the drama of the build. It is exhausting but also incredibly rewarding.

Take Control

Taking control of your build gives you a sense of accomplishment – not only during the building stage and years after the last lick of paint has dried.

As you research your choices, make final decisions and set the wheels in motion you are taking on an enormous challenge which will be filled with excitement and drama.

There are reasons why home renovation and building shows are so popular on television; it is because taking these big steps takes courage, risk, conflict and drama.

No matter which way you choose to develop your project know that you will be taking on an all-consuming passion filled with never-ending decisions, mistakes and achievements.

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