Demolition is often cheaper than renovation, but it may not always be the best choice. When deciding whether to demolish an older house and start from scratch or renovate and improve the existing structure, there are several factors to consider. Here are some important considerations:

Considering the costs of each option

Determine whether demolition or renovation is more expensive. If the existing house is in poor structural condition, demolishing and rebuilding may be more cost-effective and less complicated than trying to fix it. Repairing major structural damage, sourcing appropriate materials, and modernising an old house in terms of energy efficiency and overall quality can be expensive and time-consuming. It's important to be prepared for the possibility of uncovering additional problems during the renovation process. However, if you have a strong attachment to the existing house or believe that most of the work needed is cosmetic, a major overhaul can be a rewarding option and can also reduce your environmental footprint.

Overlays affect what you can renovate

If the house is protected by a heritage listing or overlay, you must proceed cautiously. Houses listed on your state or territory's heritage register are legally protected, and any proposed changes will undergo rigorous examination to ensure they do not significantly alter the house's character. Heritage overlays are areas designated by local councils with specific rules regarding changes to existing buildings and construction regulations. Understanding the rules and regulations before planning any modifications is essential, as local councils can strictly enforce them and be painful for non-compliance.

Local authority regulations

Check whether the regulations regarding property boundaries have changed. In some cases, you may not be able to demolish the house and rebuild in the exact same position. The regulations dictating how close to the property boundary you can build may have changed since the original construction. If this is the case, you may need to compromise by retaining parts of the existing structure, such as the facade, curtain walls, or elements of the subfloor, to classify the project as a major renovation rather than a complete rebuild. Consult with the local council, architect, or building designer to explore the possibilities.

You may not need to demolish everything!

If the house is structurally sound, the most significant improvements can be made by updating outdated and impractical elements. A popular improvement is Opening or extending living spaces by removing walls to create a large open-plan area that combines the kitchen, dining, and living areas. Consider replacing existing windows with larger double-glazed or low-e replacements to increase natural light, insulation, and energy efficiency. Designing a large feature window or light well can also enhance the brightness and overall appeal of the living areas. Modernising bathrooms and kitchens is often necessary, and simple updates like new floor coverings, curtains, and plastering or rendering over existing bricks can considerably rejuvenate a home.

Other things to consider

One advantage of renovating instead of demolishing is the possibility of doing it in stages, allowing you to continue living in the house during the process. Don't forget to factor in the cost of alternative living arrangements during the construction or renovation. Additionally, consider salvaging and recycling materials to recover some of the costs associated with demolition or renovation.

By carefully weighing these factors, you can decide whether to demolish or renovate an older house.​

Key Takeaways

When deciding between demolition and renovation for an older house, consider cost, heritage listing or overlay protection, boundary regulations, and what elements to update while keeping the structure sound.


  • Demolition is often cheaper than renovation, but the choice depends on various factors.
  • Consider the cost implications of demolition and renovation; demolishing a structurally compromised house might be more cost-effective.
  • Heritage listings or overlays protect houses; changes must align with regulations to maintain the house's character.
  • Check if boundary regulations have changed since the original construction; compromises may be needed if rules have shifted.
  • If the existing structure is sound, update outdated elements like living spaces, windows, bathrooms, and kitchens.
  • Renovating in stages can be advantageous, allowing you to continue living in the house during the process.
  • Salvaging and recycling materials can help recover costs associated with demolition or renovation.
  • Thoroughly weighing these factors will help decide whether to demolish or renovate an older house.