Here’s how much it costs to renovate your home in the City of Brotherly Love
(Above) Liz’s Sweeten kitchen renovation in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is a mixed bag for renovations. There are picturesque (not to mention very old) rowhomes and trinities, more modern properties from every era, and darling farmhouses pushing 200 years of age.
If you’re renovating anything, comparing the cost of what you want to the amount of money you have will always be your first port of call. In the Philadelphia area, the age of your property will have a big impact on the cost of your project with the potential to have to redo century-old wiring, swap out lead pipes, or remove asbestos in those older buildings. Other factors will include your own personal tastes and whether you’re intending on changing 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. 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.
Cost per square feet
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 per square foot for a mid-to-high-cost renovation. One recent project, a $1.5 million renovation of a 1950s farmhouse, pushed closer to the $300 per square foot. 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 a square foot. But a similar renovation in an old home could be double.
An average mid-range kitchen renovation is at $320 per square foot or $64,000 for the New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas, 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.
A kitchen renovation in a small Philly rowhouse using inexpensive materials could come in at as low as $15,000, said Lino, but a rip-and-replace can easily amount to twice that. One of the tricks to keeping a budget that small is to 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.
Both Terry and Lino typically work on mid-to-high-end renovations around the Main Line area. One of those recent projects for Terry, included a kitchen renovation, was “north of $80,000,” for a professional chef, he said. Naturally, the ask was for a professional-grade cooktop with a massive hood and a 14-foot kitchen island.
A mid-range bathroom renovation in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey will cost on average $20,000, or $570 a square foot 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. 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.
That same report put a high-end bathroom renovation at $63,249, based on a bathroom expanding from 35 square feet to 100 square feet. It worked out to be $630 a square foot. Again, Lino said, with a turn-of-last-century bathroom, knob-and-tube wiring (which could be a fire hazard) might need to be replaced as well as lead plumbing. Demolition can also be more expensive because of the difficulty in dismantling heavy materials installed using old-building techniques.
An average basement conversion in the New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas 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 a square foot.
Terry has worked on some interesting basements over the years. One client wanted a full Irish pub including aged wooden details and a backlit mirror with Irish sayings etched into it. Oh, and it included a gym in the room next door as well as a bathroom. The project ended up costing $200,000. But a typical bathroom 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.
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.
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,” explained Lino.
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). For example, 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 tw0-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 foot 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.
Hopefully, all of these facts and figures give you 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 making parking limited 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.”
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