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What’s the difference between cosmetic, partial, and gut renovations?

A gut renovation by Bolster called for the design of a new staircase and a new HVAC system. 

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When you hear the term “gut renovation,” what do you envision? For some, the term may conjure a bare-bones apartment, stripped down to the risers, with exposed wires and pipes.

But would it surprise you to know that not all gut renovations look like you’ve taken all the guts out of the space?

Below, Bolster is discussing the three types of renovation projects homeowners in New York City may embark on, depending on their budget and lifestyle: Cosmetic renovations, partial renovations, and gut renovations.

This cosmetic renovation by Bolster included redoing all of the floors and painting the entire apartment. 

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What is a cosmetic renovation?

A cosmetic renovation is a very light-touch (and typically less expensive) project. The work that goes into this type of upgrade can include touch-ups like painting, decorating, or adding some new shelves for your ever-growing book collection. No plumbing or electric is disturbed, and the layout remains untouched. 

The key here is that a cosmetic renovation requires zero permits. DIY renovators and intrepid homeowners often embark on these sorts of projects with limited input from professionals, since there are no regulatory bodies to dissuade a homeowner from painting his or her bedroom bright orange.

What is a partial renovation?

As the name suggests, a partial renovation is a more involved undertaking. 

Partial renovations often focus on one or two spaces––and more often than not, homeowners choose to upgrade the kitchen. With so many prewar apartments with tiny, cramped kitchens, it’s no surprise that they are often the focal point for many NYC renovation projects. Plus, New Yorkers like to eat, drink, and socialize––and what better place to do that than in a beautiful, spacious kitchen?

Many partial renovations feature appliances upgrades that include (but are not limited to) dishwashers, stoves, and sinks. Typically, the layout of the space remains the same in a partial renovation, but many homeowners may choose to open a non-load-bearing wall or move a few outlets around for a more convenient electrical layout.

Homeowners undertaking a partial renovation are likely to engage professionals to assist with bringing their vision to life and managing permitting processes. Unlike a cosmetic renovation, you can’t partially renovate your NYC apartment without paperwork––you’ll need to file a limited alteration application with the Department of Buildings.

What is a gut renovation?

Gut renovations (Bolster’s bread and butter) require a lot more heavy lifting—both literally and figuratively. Gut renovations typically include a major layout change to the apartment such as building a second bedroom or opening a fairly subdivided space for a roomier layout. 

If you own a NYC loft, chances are that you’ll need to embark on a gut renovation if you want to update the space. Most lofts have illegal components, a result of conversions of manufacturing and warehousing into living spaces during a time without much regulation or oversight.

However, gut renovations can also be smaller in scope and only touch one room of the apartment. For example, the bathroom is often what we call a “swing room,” due to the complexity of the infrastructure required to pipe in hot water and run your toilet, sink, shower, and tub. Adding to the complexity is the rule of “wet over dry” that restricts homeowners from constructing a space with running water over a downstairs neighbor’s dry bedroom or living room. 

NYC Renovation Calculator

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About Bolster's NYC Renovation Calculator: Bolster's Renovation Calculator enables you to easily calculate the estimated cost of a major New York City renovation. All you'll need to know is 1) the scope, complexity, and type of your project, 2) the quality of your desired finishes, and 3) the area being renovated. [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]

About Bolster: Bolster is a New York City design-build firm that delivers a seamless, radically transparent renovation experience--beginning with a line-by-line cost estimate that empowers you to plan your scope, budget, and schedule.

Standard: The quality of the finish is acceptable with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc. 

Mid Range: The quality of the finish is good (grade A) with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc.

High Range: The quality of finish is high (grade AA) and customized with fine finishes and materials being used that can last years, if not a lifetime.

Upscale: The quality of finish is the highest possible (grade AAA) and labor-intensive, with every surface bespoke, new, and beautifully finished.

Low: Simple design, no layout or structural changes, elevator in building.

Medium: Average design, moving of some systems and/or structural changes, no elevator in the building.

High: Complex design, complicated engineering, lots of logistics (e.g. boom lifts, suspended scaffolds, etc.), dangerous working conditions.

Small: Changes to surfaces only (e.g. painting, tiling).

Medium: Small + Changes to the finishes themselves (e.g. removing plaster, replacing flooring etc).

Large: Small + Medium + Changes to the building's infrastructure (e.g. replacing all systems, walls, floor joists etc).

Design & Build: Full architectural services including schematic design, design development, construction drawings and approvals from the DoB and full build services.

Build with some Design: Full build services and some design with minimum compliance.

Build Only: Full build services with no design input (performed by another architect or not required at all).

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Start Your Project With Bolster

If a homeowner wants to swap their bathtub for a standing shower, they will likely need to rip up the pre-existing tile in order to accommodate the change. At that point, you’re down to the risers––thus, one room can earn the project the title of gut renovation. 

While the homeowner is stripping their space down to the risers, many buildings will request that the work include an update to the electrical and plumbing to maintaining the infrastructure of the property. If a homeowner is already that thoroughly “in the weeds,” the homeowner may as well take the extra step to update the inner-workings of their space.

The crucial differentiation between gut renovations and other projects is the permitting requirements involved in such endeavors. For gut renovations, homeowners will need to work with their team of professionals in order to file the appropriate paperwork with the Department of Buildings, secure approval from the building’s co-op or condo board based on the alteration agreement, and, if necessary, liaise with the Landmarks Commission if the property is in a protected and historic building or neighborhood.

The Bolster Smart Renovation Zero-Risk Guarantee

How can a design-build firm guarantee a Zero-Risk renovation?

Bolster has pioneered Smart Renovation. We apply quantitative analysis along with our proprietary technology solution to identify and quantify the performance risk on every renovation project. The result is a personalized strategic approach to each renovation that allows us to absorb 100 percent of the homeowner’s risk. Your home will be beautifully designed, and delivered on-time and on-budget. That is our guarantee.

Smart Renovation & Zero-Risk means that Homeowners are now free to dream.

To start your major home renovation project visit bolster.us

The Bolster Promise video