Renovation vs. Restoration

Renovation vs. Restoration

Renovation and restoration – they both begin with “re” and end with “ation,” so they’re basically the same thing, right? Wrong. When it comes to home construction, few people realize there are major differences between the two. Restoration is a much more delicate process where you want to preserve certain aspects of a home. Renovation typically involves more sledgehammers through plaster – the fun stuff. When it comes to rehabilitating an older home, there are three main differences between Renovation and Restoration:

Restoration costs more

I know, it’s ironic. Essentially, we’re recycling what is already there – It’s supposed to be cheaper, right? Well, what can I say, in a perfect world folks…Here’s the deal: the process is fickle. When contractors have to be careful, the prices go up. Having to navigate odd staircases, narrow doorways, and sharp corners can be a nightmare. Plaster is beautifully temperamental. Original doors are not straight and to re-stain, you have to sand…by hand. Do I love refinishing that original, 500lbs cast-iron clawfoot tub from 1884? You bet I do! It’s stunning. It’s simply not cheap to get it up and down the stairs and around the corner of your charmingly tight-fitted Victorian home. There’s no comparison to Restoration, it is the most rewarding work out there. It just takes time – and you know what time equals.

Renovation is flexible

Restoration is awesome – in a quirky friend kind of way. Besides the cost, the major challenge of Restoration is working with what you’ve got. When you’re restoring, you’re essentially bound to the existing layout which was originally designed to optimally function a century or more ago. Renovation gives you a bit more freedom to change the entirety of the house. This allows for architects and designers to use their artistic freedom to allow for modern functionality with an original flair. When there’s an ability to essentially start from a blank canvas, you are able to make all of your wishes come true.

Renovation is an oxymoron

Restoration may limit your floorplan; however, Renovation limits your flexibility with building code. Cook County and the City of Chicago love their permits. Want to change the facade of a building? Get a permit! Thinking about adding a deck? Get a permit! Need to sneeze? Get a permit!

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome during any rehabilitation is making sure all of your documents are squared away. Diligent contractors will over-prepare and make sure everything is ready by the time an inspector comes. Without a Self-Certification, General Permits in Chicago can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks for approval and individual trade inspections need to be scheduled at least 10 days in advance. If your GC is not organized, inspections alone can quickly/slowly become the bane of your existence. Assuming you’re not living in a historic landmark, Restorations offer a little more leniency from the Code just because you’re not trying to accommodate a new layout.

When thinking about restoration vs. renovation, it usually comes down to passion vs. preference. If you would like to learn more about this topic or others, then please visit my site at!


3 thoughts on “Renovation vs. Restoration

  1. Your blog full of so much great info! I feel your pain about Cook County permits. Ugh. Zoning code. Ugh. We have to put in sprinklers in The Ashland House because the fire department thought it would be a good idea to add those to construction projects that are 50% or more new construction. That is easily at least $12,000 (just for sprinklers! Not including having to upgrade the water line from the street!) extra plus at least $70/mo monitoring by the fire department for the rest of our lives. Honestly, it is a financial barrier of entry to our village. It also prevents people from improving their properties above board. There’re a lot of shenanigans going on in order to circumvent having to get permits, sprinklers and deal with inspectors. Anyway, I know you understand and that is why I am leaving THE LONGEST COMMENT EVER on your blog.
    xo Whitney
    P.S. Are you on Facebook? Let me know and I will like your page. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Omg! Sprinklers, really?! Our city needs to see the forest through the trees – especially with homeowners. Most of us have limited funds for these projects. $30k between two scope items is probably your entire contingency! Your house is looking stunning! Integro Rehab on Facebook (as of Monday actually)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally agree!!! The ironic thing is that the houses that are not up to code are the ones that need sprinklers. LOL. Fire code requires that we also put in access doors to the areas behind the knee walls on the second floor. Our carpenter yesterday was laughing because the last thing the fire fighters are going to do is stop and look for access in the event of a fire. They are going to take an ax to the place, right? We are in River Forest. Just outside of the city but still in poorly run and over-taxed (IMO) Cook County. The best of both worlds! I am off to your Facebook page. Thanks. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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