Building from scratch or rehabilitating a home to make it more sustainable: which option is better?

The health crisis and its social impact continue to affect the demand for housing. As the latest official data show, those interested in acquiring a new property show, after more than a year of pandemic, a growing interest in chalets and efficient homes.

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According to the latest data offered by the General Council of the Official Associations of Real Estate Agents in Spain, the demand for efficient real estate has grown by 30% since the start of the pandemic. If to this statement we add the recent estimates of the College of Registrars and the Bank of Spain – which leave latent the increase in the percentage of the purchase of single-family homes (up to 21% of the total, one of the highest figures in the historical series ) –, it is possible to conclude that efficient single-family properties will gain a greater role in the coming months.

An idea that takes on even more force if one takes into account that, now, thanks to teleworking, the tendency to settle indefinitely in locations with lower population density, where these types of assets are much cheaper, has grown. And, as reflected in the data registered by the INE, between January 2020 and 2021 there has been an increase of 57,000 residents in municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants, and of almost 5,000 in populations of less than 5,000 inhabitants.

But what is the best in these cases? Rehabilitate a home to make it more sustainable or acquire land and build a new one? Both options are loaded with decisions and issues to consider that should be known before deciding on one option or the other. Thus, with the aim of helping during this process, the experts from Sto, a German multinational specialized in the elaboration of elements and constructive solutions, analyze the advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives:

Sustainable rehabilitation, the main focus of the national and European agenda, and of public aid. The refurbishment adds value to the buildings and contributes to the recovery and maintenance of the existing architectural heritage, allowing it to be updated to the quality, efficiency and safety requirements of current regulations. In addition, compared to the construction of a new building, it reduces the negative impact on the environment, since the production of waste and energy consumption is lower. These reasons have led public institutions to implement various economic incentive measures in this regard, aid that can be accessed if a series of requirements are met.

Rehabilitated second-hand properties are better located and increase their value exponentially

Regardless of whether it is a town or a city, older houses or dwellings have a greater chance of being better located. This will also increase its value once refurbished.

More design freedom in new construction

Although in a comprehensive reform there will be many possibilities to capture a certain idea of ​​interior design and architecture, there will also be many more limitations to overcome: orientation of the house, number of holes in the facade (windows), building structure, general facilities (downspouts, ventilation skids, etc.) …

As it is a single-family property, many of these barriers could be overcome, but the time and cost of rehabilitation will increase significantly compared to the construction of a new home, with which there will be total freedom of design, as long as the requirements are complied with. regulations in force.

 Higher sustainable demands in the case of new construction

The CTE’s Basic Energy Saving Document describes the mandatory interventions to be carried out to save energy in new construction buildings and intervention in existing buildings. In this case, and due to the enormous casuistry involved in the case of a property to be rehabilitated, the criteria to be applied have a greater degree of flexibility in the choice of solutions, establishing more lax requirements than those required for new buildings.

With the new construction it will be possible to access stamps such as the Passivhaus

There are a multitude of ‘labels’ or voluntary seals that certify the sustainability of new buildings, such as the Passivhaus, BREEAM or LEED, but there is not so much variety when it comes to rehabilitated buildings due to the difficulty of meeting the demanding criteria required by this type of certificates.

The cost of both options can be similar

Although the original cost is lower in the rehabilitation, converting an old house into an efficient property may involve entering into aspects such as structural changes, replacement of electrical and plumbing installations, change of doors and advantages, application of thermal insulation systems, etc. Therefore, if the reform is very radical, it is possible that the cost of building a property from scratch may even be exceeded.

Building a home requires the prior process of looking for the right land

If you do not have a space to build, you have to take into account that looking for a land to build a private home is not an easy task, having to take into account several preliminary questions: selecting a building land, assessing its possibilities (good access, orientation and pending of the land, if it has the appropriate dimension and subsoil to build, etc.), consult the current urban regulations, look for the appropriate financing to buy the property (bank loan) and to finance the construction of the house (self-promotion mortgage ), etc.

Lower terms in the case of reform

The terms of new construction can double or triple those of a reform. However, in the case of new construction, it is possible to estimate with greater precision the completion date of the process, since to build a house from scratch you will always need an architect, a technical architect and a project. In addition, it must also be borne in mind that numerous unforeseen events may arise during the rehabilitation process that lengthen the deadlines.


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