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Renovate or Rebuild? How Facility Managers Should Decide

Renovate of Rebuild? How Facility Managers Should Decide

As buildings age and technology advances, facility managers and owners get hit with an important question: How can they bring these buildings up-to-date? It's not always easy to answer. Is it better to renovate an existing building, or demolish it and rebuild? Which is more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable? Before making a decision, facility managers should evaluate aging buildings based on several criteria. These include:

1. The building itself.

It's important to evaluate the building itself before anything else. How well has it aged? How well does the building envelope deal with drafts, pests, and moisture? Does the building suffer from major structural issues, or would any improvements be largely cosmetic? If a building has a sound foundation, good bones, and no major issues, renovating may be a better choice than rebuilding.

1. Expense.

Sometimes, renovating an old building is more expensive than demolishing it and starting a new build. This can be especially true if the old building requires extensive pest, mold, rot remediation. This isn't the only expense that needs to be considered, though. Buildings create a lot of ongoing costs -- while the initial expense is one consideration, it's just as important to acknowledge how much it will cost to maintain. If it's less expensive to start from scratch than it is to renovate, rebuilding may be the better choice.

2. Neighborhood and zoning.

The choice to renovate or rebuild may not be entirely up to the facility manager. Zoning laws may impact what can and can't be done with a property. It's also important to remember that, as buildings age, the streets and neighborhoods around them grow and change too. What may have been a natural, easy traffic flow when a building was new may no longer be so decades later. If the parking and surrounding traffic are impeding the building's function, these need to be factored into the decision to renovate or rebuild. Another factor to consider is exactly how old the building is. Very old buildings in a historic district may be considered "contributing resources." This means that the building has been found to add to either the architectural value or structural integrity of the historic area. In that case, renovation may be the only option. If the building is not part of a historic district or is considered a "noncontributing resource," rebuilding may still be allowed.

3. Sustainability.

The most environmentally-friendly buildings are the ones that are already built, even if they aren't using the most cutting-edge green technology. So, if a renovation isn't an option, every effort should be made to repurpose building materials, preserve natural features, and fit into the surrounding landscape with minimal environmental disruption.

4. Occupation and internal traffic flow.

If the building is currently in use, what will happen to the tenants during the renovating or rebuilding process? Will they be able to stay? How will construction impact their use of the building? This can impact how you plan and go about renovating or expanding. Rebuilding is only feasible if there are no tenants, or the tenants can be temporarily relocated without much of an issue.

5. Projected growth.

How well is the building's current footprint working out? Will it need to expand? If so, by how much? Minor expansions call for renovation, but, if those renovations are going to end up doubling the building's size, it may be better to rebuild. Large expansions often end up being just as expensive -- if not more so -- than tearing down and rebuilding. Rebuilding will also ensure that the finished product is aesthetically and structurally consistent.

6. The property size.

In major metropolitan areas, properties often have little horizontal space. If any expansion is going to happen, it has to be upward, not outward. As long as these buildings are structurally sound and have good foundations, a renovation will be more cost-effective and preferable to rebuilding.

The Pros and Cons of Rebuilding

Rebuilding is often a good investment, especially if an existing building is worth less than others in the surrounding area. It's also often far cheaper than repairing damage from pest infestations, fires, mold, or wood rot. Rebuilding also gives facility owners and managers more control over its appearance, which can help with branding. On the other hand, rebuilding is time-consuming. Even if it may be cheaper than renovation in some situations, it's still expensive. It's also only possible when the property can be emptied for the duration of the construction.

The Pros and Cons of Renovating

It's generally cheaper and more environmentally sustainable to renovate than it is to rebuild. Renovating also helps preserve a building's character, and is far less disruptive to occupants. Depending on the extent of the renovation, it may not have much of an impact on the building's day-to-day function at all. Conversely, renovating a building often uncovers problems that may have gone unnoticed for years. It's not uncommon for cosmetic enhancements to turn up leaking plumbing, aging gas fixtures, rotten wood, or faulty wiring. For this reason, it's important to budget extra time and money to cover unforeseen issues. No building is immune to aging. All construction needs some attention as it gets older. After a certain point, rebuilding may look more desirable than renovation. Before making a choice, facility managers should carefully evaluate their building and specific circumstances.

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