What’s the Difference Between Building Restoration and Renovation?

When it comes to improving an existing structure, it’s easy to confuse a historic restoration with a building renovation. The primary difference between the two is adherence to historic accuracy. Depending on whether your priority is to preserve a building’s historic look and feel or improve it functionally while maintaining its charm, you and your general contractor will decide whether a restoration or renovation is right for you.

What is a historic restoration?

Restoring a building means bringing it back to its original, or at least a previous, appearance. Care will be taken to conceal modern updates like ventilation systems, electrical upgrades, or security improvements. A restored building can still function as a safe, modern space, but efforts to conceal upgrades will be factored into the budget. 

Building restorations also involve repairs to one-of-a-kind features like antique fixtures or stained glass windows. Often, these repairs will cost more than simply replacing with modern, readily available materials. This is a key area to decide if a restoration or a renovation is the right way to go. In some cases, historic materials simply aren’t practical, safe, or allowed by building codes. Lead paint and asbestos insulation, for example, will be replaced with new materials without changing the look of the building. 

What is a building renovation?

Renovation involves updating and improving what’s already in the building. While the overall layout will stay mostly the same, walls will be refreshed with new paint, floors may be switched from tile to hardwood, and lighting fixtures may be replaced with new units. Often in renovations, historic charm is maintained by selecting certain antique elements to retain. This could be a particular stained glass window, a carved banister, or an elegant fireplace mantle. These select features will be largely left alone while everything around them is updated with more modern materials and design elements. 

Choosing a renovation can help you meet functional and budget goals. The result can be a fresh, modern space completed with durable materials designed for commercial building demands. Often when an older building is being converted for use as modern office spaces, renovation is the way to go. Your general contractor can help you build a plan that meets your budget, while identifying key elements of the original structure to retain. With a renovation, you give new life to an aging structure. 

Is a restoration or renovation right for your next construction project?

Speak with a general contractor experienced in both restoration and renovation to decide the right path for your next project. You may find that you want to restore some elements of your building while renovating others. 

Balancing cost, quality, and time is key to achieving the result you want. With over 25 years of experience restoring and renovating buildings in Washington D.C. neighborhoods, we can help you understand your options and get your project started on the right foot with a solid plan.