Learn Your Construction Vocabulary! The Difference Between Renovation, Retrofitting, and New Construction

September 17, 2020

When thinking about starting a new project and hiring a contractor, it is important to know your construction vocabulary. There are many phrases used in modern construction such as renovation, remodel, and retrofit that have similar meanings, but should not be used interchangeably. These terms have unique meanings and considerations and we are going to teach you how to properly use them.




Renovations aim to restore or repair an existing structure. Many people think renovations are synonymous with remodeling, but they are not. A remodel is meant to change an existing structure, while the goal of a renovation is to repair it. Some renovations are subtle, possibly fixing only one part of the whole, and sometimes so substantial, they overlap with remodels.   

Commercial renovations often repair or replace a part of a building that may be outdated or damaged. Commonly, renovations address specific elements that do not meet modern building codes. Renovations are often the more cost-effective alternative to doing a new construction project or a complete remodel. Typically, renovations also add value to the structure or building.




Another type of project similar to remodeling is retrofitting. Where remodeling often focuses on aesthetics, retrofitting is meant to improve the functionality of an older building by adding new technology, equipment, or building systems.   

One of the most common retrofit projects for commercial buildings today is making a building more efficient through updated heating elements, improved windows, or new insulation. As long as technology continues to advance, there will be a robust retrofitting industry. 




New construction projects are very straightforward: constructing a new building or structure from the ground up. This type of project, although simple in terms of definition, is very unique from one project to the next. Most often a new construction project requires working with architects, builders, construction teams, and general contractors, at a minimum. 

Building from scratch may be a more expensive option than renovating but oftentimes a new build is the best option for your specific project.  New construction allows for everything from the newest electrical technology to sustainability considerations. A financial advantage to balance out the higher cost is the fact that, over time, new construction will cost you less in repairs and maintenance. 




At the end of the day, the project you choose will depend on the purpose of the building, your budget, and your goals. When you have a clear vision of what your priorities are, it is easy to decide if a renovation, new construction, or a retrofit is right for you.  


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