Renovating an old building or constructing a new: Here's how best to decide!

Refurbish the renovation-needy old building or rather demolish it and construct a beautiful modern cottage? With the search for a home often comes the agony of choice. But when does it actually make sense to invest in the renovation of an old building, and when should you better build from scratch? In this blog post, you will learn which factors you should consider in your decision.


A new building next to a renovated old building

In Switzerland, untouched building land is a rare gem, as elusive as unicorns in city traffic. Most likely, any plot you manage to secure will already have a structure standing on it. Sooner or later, you’ll have to confront the daunting question: should you renovate or start anew?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Renovation could be the way forward, depending on the building’s state and your emotional attachment to it. However, sometimes the building’s condition or the strict modern energy-efficiency standards render renovation impractical, leaving new construction as the only viable option. After all, you wouldn’t consider installing underfloor heating in an igloo, would you?

To help you navigate this tricky terrain, we’ve teamed up with Stefan Müller, Managing Director and owner of Raumtakt GmbH. Together, we’ll highlight all the key factors to ponder, ensuring you sidestep any ‘igloo trap’ and prevent unnecessary demolition of an old home.

Renovating an old building

Breathing new life into an existing building or enhancing its energy efficiency entails upgrading one or more floors to boost both living standards and energy performance. A complete renovation generally makes sense if the building is structurally sound and you think it will continue to appeal to you long term. This type of renovation or energy-efficiency uplift is usually faster and is often (though not always) more cost-effective than knocking down and rebuilding. We delve deeper into this topic in the “Decisive factors” section.

Advantages of renovation

  • You can continue living in your house during the energy retrofit.

  • You can benefit from tax breaks and accumulate grants over time.

  • The unique character of the house is preserved.

  • Your garden and vegetation are minimally disrupted.

  • Renovating a building is often more eco-friendly.

Disadvantages of renovation

  • The resulting energy efficiency might not match that of a new build. As Stefan Müller puts it: “While the CO2 emissions from demolishing for a new build are indeed high, achieving contemporary home technology and energy-efficiency standards is ultimately easier.”

  • Living on a construction site for an extended period or temporarily moving out can be taxing.

  • Unforeseen technical challenges and the financial burdens that come with them can stretch both patience and budget.

Going for a new build

If you’re planning to demolish an existing building and replace it with a new residential building of around the same size, that’s what we call a ‘replacement new build’. This approach generally makes sense if the building is structurally compromised or if it no longer caters to your needs. However, this should only be considered if you’re not in a hurry to move and you have the budget for a substantial investment.

Advantages of a replacement new build

  • You can create a modern architectural style that aligns with your individual needs.

  • You have the freedom to meet current standards in energy efficiency and home technology.

Disadvantages of a replacement new build

  • The project’s duration and cost can’t be spread out over years, potentially impacting your tax scenario negatively.

  • Extra costs for demolition and disposal are incurred.

  • Your current living situation might necessitate a temporary move.

  • Don’t bank on government subsidies unless your new build complies with the Swiss Minergie sustainability certification.

The decisive factors

So, what’s the best path for you personally? We’ve compiled the six most important factors for you to consider:

  1. Building structure
    If your property isn’t structurally sound, renovation isn’t advisable, says expert Stefan Müller: “If the building’s structural integrity is compromised, it must be stripped down for renovation. If that turns out pricier than a replacement new build, the new build becomes a smarter choice.” ‘Stripping down’ refers to replacing non-load-bearing walls, building technology systems, ceiling structures and floor coverings.

  2. Budget & costs
    While renovations of old buildings often cost less than replacement new builds, there are exceptions. Especially if comprehensive energy retrofit measures are needed, total renovation costs could exceed those of a new build. However, the tipping point is a grey area, says Stefan Müller: “Unfortunately, there’s no universal benchmark – it’s very much case by case.” A replacement new build often makes financial sense when the old building is severely run-down.

  3. Legal regulations
    Your property and needs might make legal conditions lean towards a new build or a renovation. Some old buildings were built in accordance with now-outdated regulations. In that case, a replacement new build would have to adhere to the current zoning plan, often implying stricter rules. However, if you choose to renovate, the original building law or zoning plan still applies. Also, remember that all modifications and new builds are subject to the current site ratio, which outlines the total permissible building footprint and height and could potentially disrupt your plans. 

  4. Sustainability
    How much do you value sustainability and what are your long-term sustainability goals? Long-term, a new build might seem more eco-friendly, but you need to consider the entire construction cycle and evaluate individually. For your unique energy-efficiency goals, we recommend a GEAK consultation.

  5. Feasibility of a partial energy retrofit
    Proper planning is critical for phased retrofits. Stefan Müller advises: “Partial renovations like these should be planned to enable future work at any time without undoing previous efforts.” For instance, if you start by renovating the roof externally, check if the roof overhang needs extending for later facade insulation. Missing this step could lead to the masonry overlapping the roof overhang post-insulation. The same holds for window installations when facade insulation is installed in future.

  6. The emotional value of the house
    Financial considerations, while important, shouldn’t be the only priority. Deciding whether to demolish a childhood home can be an emotional roller coaster. Take the time to think about how much money and effort are worth to you and whether preserving a piece of your history would mean more.

Making your decision: step by step

Having considered the key factors, it’s decision time! Here are the crucial steps to follow:

  1. Clarify your needs
    Consider whether the existing property can meet your present and future needs. Does it meet your requirements? Can the building technology cater to your household needs? What are your energy efficiency and sustainability demands?

  2. Have the building structure analysed
    Engage an independent real estate appraiser to analyse the building structure.

  3. Be aware of the relevant legal frameworks
    Reach out to your district or municipal office for advice and always check the land register. Stefan Müller cautions: “Newly registered easements could result in restrictions when building.” For instance, if a proximity or boundary building right has been established.

  4. Analyse the costs
    Prepare a budget and consider a loan or mortgage if necessary.

  5. Check your time resources
    How long are you willing to live amidst renovation? If a temporary move is required during the work, make sure you thoroughly understand the conditions for lease termination.

  6. Check scope for savings and funding programs
    Research grants and tax reliefs in your canton and municipality. For more details, refer to our article on Grants for energy renovations.

  7. Seek specialist help
    Engage architects or building planners to explore possibilities and provide cost estimates. Following this, you can have your building plans drawn up.

  8. Finally – obtain your building permit.
    Then you’re ready to begin!


As our story ends, the specifics of your circumstances, paired with your individual needs, will determine whether a new build or a renovation is the right choice. In essence, it’s about finding a balance: what’s technically feasible, legally allowed, financially sustainable and personally desired.