A cost breakdown on materials, labor, and permits for your home remodel
(Above) Bathroom remodel in Yardley, PA by Sweeten contractor Stephen. Photo: Joe Alfano
Thanks to the city’s long history, you’ll find a rich mix of historic and modern architecture in Philadelphia, from row homes and trinities, modern properties from every era, and 200-year-old farmhouses. No matter the age of the structure, comparing the renovation costs of what you want to the amount of money you have will always be your first port of call.
The age of your property will, of course, have an impact on your project’s cost. Old wiring and outdated lead pipes may need to be replaced or asbestos, if found, would need to be removed. Other factors that affect cost include your own personal tastes and whether you’re intending to change the layout, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.
Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, has compiled a general guide to costs across Philadelphia, focusing on four renovation categories: kitchen, bathroom, basement, and permits.
Here’s a breakdown of typical starting costs compiled from Sweeten renovations and Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value report.
- Full home renovation: $100—$300 per square foot (psf)
- Low-end kitchen remodel: $25,000—$30,000 for under 100 square feet
- Mid-range kitchen remodel: $335 psf or $67,000
- High-end kitchen remodel: $630 psf or $133,000
- Low-end bathroom remodel: $15,000—$20,000
- Mid-range bathroom remodel: $600 psf or $21,000
- High-end bathroom remodel: $665 psf or $66,500
- Basement remodel: $117 psf or $75,000
Keep in mind that every professional contractor will want to have a detailed conversation and inspection of your home before developing an estimate specific to your needs and wants.
What a home remodel costs per square foot
If you’re embarking on a gut renovation of your home, and “the mechanicals are salvageable like heating, sewer lines, electrical and plumbing,” said Terry, a Sweeten contractor, a gut renovation could cost around $200 psf for a mid-to-high-cost renovation.
One recent project, a $1.5 million renovation of a 1950s farmhouse, pushed closer to the $300 psf. That project had unusual extravagances including a dog wash, canning room, and a greenhouse, he explained.
For Lino, another Sweeten contractor, a renovation in a new home on the lower end—think a Formica kitchen countertop instead of granite, and fixtures from Home Depot—could be as low as $100 psf. But a similar renovation in an old home could be double.
Residential renovation costs have increased on average 5.7% each year between 2013 and 2018. For most contractors, cost increases or decreases in all areas—labor, materials, etc—can fluctuate year to year and even throughout the year (at the moment, new tariffs on Chinese imports are affecting prices for materials). One client of Stephen, a Sweeten contractor, had her pick between two similar quartz countertops. One, from China, came in at around $7,500. The other, not from China, came in $2,000 cheaper. Needless to say, she went for the better value option. To keep up with rapidly changing prices for materials, Stephen checks in on the price for all materials for each job so clients get the latest figures in their quotes.
For Carlos, a Sweeten contractor, the commercial order and insurance required by contractors in the Philly area have increased for his business. On the other hand, the cost of lumber has decreased from about $6 to $5 for a typical two by four, he said.
Costs for a kitchen renovation
- Low-end kitchen: Sweeten kitchen remodels can start at $25,000—$30,000 for under 100 square feet with budget-friendly finishes from retailers such as Home Depot. A kitchen renovation in a small Philadelphia rowhouse using inexpensive materials could come in at as low as $15,000, said Lino. To keep the budget at this level there can be absolutely no layout changes or customization, but you get a perfectly functional kitchen.
Carlos shares one trick to keeping a budget that small: consider a “rip-and-replace” remodel. For cabinets, for example, you’re swapping out a 24-inch cabinet for another 24-inch cabinet. Another important factor is keeping your appliances and sinks in the same locations so there is no need to change plumbing or electrical. Finishes such as flooring, fixtures, and appliances, are a great area to save. And the best place to shop for these items is at big box stores, according to contractor Carlos.
- Mid-range kitchen: An average mid-range kitchen renovation is at $335 psf or $67,000 for the Philadelphia area, according to Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value report. The good news is with expensive areas like New York City pushing up that average, you might find Philly kitchen renovations are a better value. Here’s how to keep the price down:
- High-end kitchen: The Cost vs Value report’s average price of a high-end kitchen of $133,000 or $630 psf. This includes more expensive materials such as stone countertops, an imported tile backsplash, a water filtration system, commercial-grade cooktop, and vent hood, plus a built-in microwave unit.
If you have the budget, high-end renovations can be a creative pursuit. Terry recently completed a project that included a kitchen renovation with a budget “north of $80,000.” The client was a professional chef. Naturally, the ask was for a professional-grade cooktop with a massive hood and a 14-foot kitchen island.
Costs for a bathroom renovation
- Low-end bathroom: Sweeten bathrooms can start at $15,000 to $20,000 for a 5’ x 8’ space with budget-friendly finishes from retailers such as Home Depot. A 5’ x 10’ bathroom on the lower end can come in at about $17,000, according to Stephen. If you’re set on keeping the budget lower than this, Lino warned against perusing expensive materials like Italian tiles lest you fall in love. “A shower fixture could cost $3,000, or you could go to Home Depot and get one for $100,” he said.
For Carlos, the most economical bathroom he has worked on came in under $15,000 using contractor-grade materials such as basic subway tiles, molded vanities, and fiberglass showers. “It goes up from there,” he said.
- A mid-range bathroom: This renovation in Philadelphia will cost on average $21,000, or $600 psf for a 35-square-foot space, according to the Cost vs. Value report. The example project included a recessed medicine cabinet, a standard toilet, solid-surface vanity counter, and a porcelain-on-steel tub.
- High-end bathroom: That same report from Cost vs. Value put a high-end bathroom renovation at $66,500, based on a bathroom expanding from 35 square feet to 100 square feet. It worked out to be $665 psf. Again, Lino said, with a turn-of-last-century bathroom, knob-and-tube wiring (which could be a fire hazard) and lead plumbing might need to be replaced. Demolition can also be more expensive because of the difficulty in dismantling heavy materials installed using old-building techniques.
A recent bathroom renovation that Stephen worked on cost the client $65,000. The features that pushed the price up included an under-mounted tub with air jets, a heated floor, steam shower, custom vanity, and porcelain tiles that looked like marble.
Costs for a basement renovation
An average basement conversion in the Philadelphia area is $75,000, according to the Cost vs. Value report. The project for this size budget includes a 20′ × 30′ room and a 5′ × 8′ bathroom with a shower and a bar area as well as insulation and laminate flooring. This example project works out to $117 psf.
One area that can add a major cost to your basement renovation is the second form of egress, said Lino. If there isn’t already an option such as a window, which is required by law, then adding another way out could push the budget up by $10,000. “You need a means of egress other than going up the stairs and out the front door,” he said.
Terry has worked on some interesting basements over the years.
- A client, clearly an animal lover, required a motion sensor fan to go under the stairs above her pet cat’s litter box. Terry also sourced some reclaimed farm wood to use as accents for the wall. The basement renovation also required a bathroom and a bar area, which meant a heap of electrical and plumbing work.
- One client wanted a full Irish pub including aged wooden details and a backlit mirror with Irish sayings etched into it. It also included a gym in the room next door as well as a bathroom. The project ended up costing $200,000. But a typical basement renovation can come in much lower if you want something basic, such as no bathroom, simple flooring, and walls, and provided no underpinning (additional support for the walls) is needed.
Costs for permits
The cost of permits can vary greatly across Philadelphia. While the city center is typically more costly, the permit costs for smaller jobs can be a bargain with the Ezy permit system, where non-structural jobs that don’t involve things like moving a load-bearing wall might not require architectural plans. These permit applications need only a written narrative of the job.
“You can do a gut renovation and as long as you’re not doing structural work, you can apply through Ezy permit,” Lino explained.
Outside of the city center, the suburbs tend to cost more and be more complicated (not to worry your contractor will typically handle the logistics). Here are some examples:
- In Lower Merion, the first $2,000 in the budget will cost $87.50. From $2,001 up to $50,000 in the budget, you will get charged an additional $15 per $1,000 of planned work. From $50,000 to $300,000 in renovations, the cost is $12 per $1,000. Anything above $300,000 is $5 per $1,000 in the budget.
- In the city neighborhood of Bella Vista, the cost of building permits is linked to your square footage. A residential renovation under 500 square feet will cost $50 for one- and two-family homes and $150 for all others. A structure over 500 square feet in a one- and two-family space will cost $50 plus $40 per additional 100 square feet or any fraction above 500. All other homes cost $150 plus $40 per each additional 100 square feet or any fraction over 500.
To put it all in perspective, depending on the cost of your renovation, permits can be a drop in the ocean, Terry said. For that $1.5 million farmhouse renovation he worked on, the permits cost $7,000 or a tiny 0.4 percent of the budget.
All of these facts and figures are a jumping-off point to begin pulling together an initial budget. Post your project on Sweeten and we’ll match you with vetted Philadelphia general contractors to provide estimates for your renovation, plus we’ll check in with you until project completion.
When Nel’s Bella Vista rowhouse experienced a major fire, she found a Sweeten general contractor to bring her home back to life. Their contractor moved to add a new code-compliant system to the small 100-year-old footprint.
Several homes on the block were also affected by the fire, which limited parking for construction work on an already small street. Deliveries were tough; roof deck and drywall materials needed to be loaded in by hand.
“This is actually our second renovation in 12 months, but our first time using Sweeten,” Nel said. “I can’t tell you how wonderful our Sweeten contractor has been. He took a very stressful situation and guided us through it with ease, and we couldn’t have been happier with how everything has turned out.”
Renovating your home in Philadelphia? Sweeten can help!
Post your project on Sweeten and we’ll match you with multiple vetted general contractors to provide estimates for your renovation. Sweeten also checks in with you until project completion.
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