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Renovation Vs Remodel: What’s the difference

A before and after of kitchen cabinet refacing in my former Chicago condo – technically a renovation project.

Renovation vs remodel: An Overview

Last year, when we completely gutted most of the first floor of our home, I couldn’t decide whether I should be calling our project a renovation or a remodel. That’s despite the fact that I write about interior design, DIY, and home remodeling for a living. In my defense, the terms renovation and remodel are often used interchangeably, and when it comes down to it, they both basically mean “updating a house.” But there are some differences.

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Ultimately, I ended up doing some Googling and decided that our project was a remodel.

I figured that if I had some trouble deciphering the terms, other people might, too, so here we are, with a blog post all about the differences between the terms renovation vs. remodel.

Renovation vs remodel by definition

My home mid-remodel last year. Since we took down walls, this project is considered a remodel.

The dictionary holds the key to the differences between the terms renovation vs. remodel.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word renovation means “to restore to a former better state (as by cleaning, repairing, or rebuilding)”.

Remodel means “to alter the structure of.” (Hence why my project was a remodel, because we took down walls and reconfigured layouts.)

In other words, a renovation consists of mostly cosmetic updates like paint, tile, lighting, etc. While a home remodel includes things like moving walls, expanding rooms, altering floorplans, taking walls down to the studs, etc.

When it comes to the size of the project, a remodel is often larger and costlier, but not always.

You can remodel a bathroom by moving the shower and making room for a double vanity. Or you can renovate it by painting, getting a new shower door and vanity, and replacing the tile floor. Both of those are big projects that’ll drastically alter the look and function of a space. It’s not about the size of the project, it’s about the type of work being done.

What is considered a home renovation?

Wallpaper, new lighting, and paint, like I added in my boys’ room, are all home renovations.

Projects that would be considered home renovation including:

  • Painting walls
  • Replacing a kitchen backsplash and adding new light fixtures
  • Replacing a bathroom vanity and adding beadboard to the walls
  • Refinishing or replacing flooring
  • Replacing light fixtures
  • Replacing windows

You could consider your kitchen newly renovated, for example, if you replaced the countertops, refaced the kitchen cabinets, and added new lighting.

What is considered a home remodel?

Another shot of our remodel.

Remodels involve things like changing floorplans, or gutting entire spaces. I considered our first floor project, that we did last year, a remodel, because we look our a bunch of walls, moved rooms around and basically re-built it from the ground-up.

For example:

  • If you gutted your kitchen, and got new cabinets in a different layout, added an island, and got all new appliances, etc.
  • If you knocked out the walls in your primary suite and reconfigured the layout to make the bathroom larger.

What is considered a home update?

A home update is essentially any of the above done on a smaller scale. So, if you simply painted the walls in your kitchen and got new appliances, you might consider the kitchen “updated” instead of “renovated.”

Renovation vs remodel: Does it matter?

Our remodeled laundry room, in the spot where a bathroom used to be.

If you use the terms renovation vs. remodel interchangeably, does it really matter?

Most likely, no. If you’re writing an email to a contractor, or talking to an interior designer, or looking for a construction loan, you’ll get to the same end point using either term. Industry pros will know what you’re talking about either way, and if they have any doubt, the specifics of your job will give it away.

But, there are a few times you’ll want to use the right term. The biggest instance is for pulling permits in order to do your project.

Any time you alter the structure of a home, i.e. move walls or make a space larger, you usually need to pull a permit from your town or city. When you do a renovation, and you’re just replacing old fixtures or repairing your space, you typically don’t need a permit.

Another time you’d want to understand the difference between a renovation and a remodel is when you’re writing (or reading) a real estate listing. If you list you home, you’ll want to let buyers know about any updates you’ve made to your house as specifically as possible. if you say the kitchen is remodeled, this implies that it has things like new cabinetry or an improved layout, while a renovated kitchen covers things like painted cabinets or a new backsplash.

It’ll help set buyer’s expectations if you use the proper term.

Planning a remodel? Check out my favorite kitchen inspo and bathroom designs.