Retrofit or Rebuild: A Closer Look at the Bottom Line

Any time we blog about retrofits, we’re flooded with questions. We’ve gone into more depth on cost and key issues here.

We know that many people living in older, inefficient homes are torn between whether to renovate or rebuild. We came down firmly on the side of rebuilding passive in our last post, and we’re digging into more of the reasons why in this post.

We also need to remind folks that we don’t do retrofits ourselves, although we always welcome questions. We do handle passive house additions, in addition to our main focus on new house builds. We ship our passive house kits across North America.

What is a retrofit?

We define a retrofit as a renovation. It’s just a reno that is also concerned with house performance and energy efficiency.

If you’ve ever undertaken a home renovation or if you’re a fan of home remodelling programs on HGTV and the like, you’ll know that renovations come with unknowns and surprises that tend to drive up the price.

But just how costly is a renovation compared to a new build? In truth, renovating can cost up to 50% more than new construction:

  • $300 to $350 per sq ft to build a new passive home
  • $450 to $500 per sq ft to renovate / passive retrofit

Keep reading below for more on why renovation or retrofitting costs so much more.

Choosing to rebuild passive

In 2023 we’ve built a new home on the lot where this little house used to stand in Ottawa’s East End. We’ll share more about what replaced this tiny and inefficient home in our next post in this series.

A tiny second world war era home in Ottawa Canada's east end.
This house was demolished recently to make room for a smart new passive home.

Going passive is the very best way to protect your investment.

Renovation costs explained

Beyond the surprise factor in any renovation, which invariably has a way of driving up total cost, there is also the retrofit component.

One challenging factor, especially for anyone with an older heritage home in a dense urban neighbourhood is how to address wall thickness.

To retrofit to passive standard, we have to increase the wall cavity and add in the functional air and vapour barriers.

In older homes, adding on the inside will mean losing precious living space, and adding on the outside can be challenging in a neighbourhood where homes are very close together.

Adding through the exterior also tends to be costly, as it means removal of roof and siding elements.

Going passive on a small urban lot

In 2024, we expect to build a new passive home on this lot in Ottawa’s Alta Vista neighbourhood.

A tiny house in Alta Vista, to be replaced by a new two-storey passive home by EkoBuilt
The existing home is a mid century structure

It often comes down to cost

We often hear that the greenest house is the one that already exists. From the standpoint of embedded carbon, this is true, but it’s also not the whole story.

There is also the very real question of what the home owner can afford, and what will be most sustainable going forward. Sustainability encompasses both green choices in building, but also the significant reduction in utility costs that come with building passive.

Ultimately, the more affordable option for many folks is going to be building new and building for the future. We encourage recycling any elements from the existing home, whether through re-use or by donating them to a place like the ReStore run by Habitat for Humanity (e.g. kitchen cabinets, countertops, etc.).

Again, we don’t handle retrofits ourselves, but we can design and build a custom passive addition for homeowners close to our home base in Ottawa, Canada. For everyone else, we ship our passive house kits across North America.

Looking to figure out the best solution for your home? Ready (or nearly ready) to go passive? Give us a shout!

Leave a Reply