2020 Cost Guide for a Home Remodel in Philadelphia


The costs to remodel in Philadelphia in 2020, including  kitchen, bath, and whole-home, plus basements

(Above) Remodel by Coatesville-based Sweeten general contractor Brent

Thanks to Philadelphia’s long history, there’s a rich mix of historic and modern architecture, from row homes and trinities, modern properties from every era, and 200-year-old farmhouses. No matter the age of the structure, the first step in calculating the cost to remodel in Philadelphia requires comparing the renovation costs of what you want, to the amount of money you have.

The age of your property will have an impact on the overall costs to remodel in Philadelphia. You may need to replace old wiring and outdated lead pipes, and, if found, asbestos would need to be removed. Other factors to consider are your tastes and whether you plan to change the layout, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.

Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, has compiled a general guide showing the costs to remodel 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: Starting at $75 per square foot (psf)
  • Low-end kitchen remodel: $15,000—$30,000 for under 100 square feet
  • Mid-range kitchen remodel: Starting at $375 psf or $37,500 for a kitchen larger than 100 square feet
  • High-end kitchen remodel:  Starting at $650 psf or $65,000 for a kitchen larger than 100 square feet
  • Low-end bathroom remodel: $15,000—$20,000
  • Mid-range bathroom remodel: Starting at $650 psf or $23,000 for a 5’x7′ bathroom
  • High-end bathroom remodel: Starting at $735 psf or $46,000 for a 7’x9′ bathroom
  • Basement remodel: Starting at $50 psf or $30k for a 600-square-foot basement

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

Sweeten has found that a typical full-home renovation starts at $75 psf. If you’re embarking on a gut renovation of your home, and the mechanicals are salvageable like heating, sewer lines, electrical and plumbing, a gut renovation on a budget could come in at $110 per square foot, according to Sweeten contractor Mario. This could mean choosing materials like a laminate or Formica kitchen countertop instead of granite, and shopping for fixtures from Home Depot. A mid-range gut renovation could be between $150 and $200 psf. Common materials at this price point include porcelain tiles, quartz countertops, and semi-custom cabinets. 

Sweeten general contractor Bobby (Robert) recently completed an extensive $100,000 renovation. The client had found a piece of property they loved, but the house was too small. “We basically built a house around the existing house,” he said. It included adding a garage and an additional living space as well as adding an extension to the back of the house to incorporate a larger kitchen.

When starting a major overhaul of your home, remember these big-ticket items that are often overlooked during budgeting:

  • HVAC: A new HVAC system will likely cost around $8 psf, according to Mario, who gave the example of a $17,000 bill for an HVAC replacement in a 2,200-square-foot house. This impact on cost will be the size of your home and how intricate you want your new system. Increasingly, multi-level homes are moving towards having a thermostat on each floor, which can add a lot to the cost, Mario said.
  • Insulation: New energy codes have upped insulation costs by 25 percent, Mario said. Often, outside walls need to be sprayed with an insulating foam or fiberglass batt placed inside walls.
  • Windows: If you’re replacing windows during your extensive gut remodel, then that will be a big cost. But it could also help you save money on your heating and cooling bills. Higher-end windows could cost up to $400 each with lower-end windows costing $150 apiece. Replacing 10 3’x5′ double-hung windows with something that is insulated and rated low-E will cost around $20,000, according to the Cost Vs Value report from Remodeling magazine.

Note: While Sweeten contractors explore all avenues to stay competitive, the industry is affected by trade. The prices you’re quoted at any given time may not be the same six months or a year from now. Prices on labor and materials fluctuate and this will be reflected in your overall quote.

Philadelphia remodel costs

Costs to renovate a kitchen in Philadelphia

  • Low-end kitchen: Sweeten kitchen remodels can start at $15,000—$30,000 for under 100 square feet with budget-friendly finishes from retailers such as Home Depot. A kitchen renovation using inexpensive materials could come in at as low as $15,000, said Sweeten general contractor Erik. At this price, you get laminate countertops, basic shaker-style cabinets and recess lighting. Tiling needs to come in at $2 psf with a basic subway tile for the backsplash or no backsplash at all. 

One trick to keeping a budget that small: consider a “rip-and-replace” remodel. For cabinets, for example, you’re swapping out a 24″ cabinet for another 24″ cabinet. Another method is keeping your appliances and sinks in the same locations to avoid changing 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. 

  • Mid-range kitchen: An average mid-range kitchen renovation is $375 psf or $37,500 for an average size kitchen in 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. “If you stay away from custom, you can really save a lot of money,” said Mario.
  • High-end kitchen: The Cost vs Value report’s average price of a high-end kitchen of $144,000 for a 200-square-foot kitchen or $720 psf. This includes expensive materials like stone countertops, imported tile backsplash, water filtration systems, commercial-grade cooktops, and vent hoods, plus a built-in microwave unit. A high-end kitchen that Mario recently completed had roller doors (think garage doors) on the custom cabinets that also concealed the fridge as well as a custom spice rack and pot and pan dividers in the cabinets.

Costs to renovate a bathroom in Philadelphia

  • 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 Walmart or Home Depot. Bobby referred to this as a “lipstick” remodel that essentially “refreshes the area,” he said. The layout stays the same, but you swap out old for new, including toilet, vanity, tiling, and fixtures. “We would not move anything as far as plumbing is concerned,” he said.
  •  A mid-range bathroom: This renovation in Philadelphia will cost on average $23,000, or $650 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, a solid-surface vanity counter, and a porcelain-on-steel tub.

A recent bathroom that Sweeten contractor Erik worked on came in at $25,000. It involved taking space from a neighboring room and extending the bathroom by four square feet. This enabled the addition of a washer and dryer. However, it meant a full layout change, adding a lot to the cost. The bathroom had some higher features such as hexagon tiles inside the shower niche, custom shelving and a vanity with a black granite top, which the client purchased themselves to keep the project’s budget down.

  • High-end bathroom: A high-end bathroom renovation at $46,000, based on a 7’ x 9’ bathroom, worked out to be $735 psf. With older homes, bathrooms with 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.

Items such as a rain shower head can send a budget soaring because often they require more water pressure and a larger pipe to funnel that water through, according to Mario. Frameless shower doors, which are very popular can cost $3,000, which is double the price of one with a frame, Mario said.

A master bathroom that Bobby is currently working on has a budget of about $285 psf. This includes a steam shower with a vanity of niches for soap and a special foot niche to make it easier to shave. The bathroom also has a floating vanity with an additional vanity just for makeup. Wall tiles were made from glass and metal, which were difficult to install adding to the overall labor costs for the project.  

Costs to renovate a basement in Philadelphia

Sweeten has found that the average basement conversion in the Philadelphia area is $75,000. The project for this size budget includes a 20′ × 30′  room and a 5′ × 8′ bathroom with a shower and a bar area, plus insulation and laminate flooring. This example project works out to $117 psf. If your basement is already insulated and you’re making mostly cosmetic updates, a starting point could be closer to $50 psf.

One area that can add a major cost to your basement renovation is the second form of egress, which is required by law, other than the doorway and stairs from the main house. If there isn’t already an option like a window, then adding another way out could increase the budget by $10,000, according to Sweeten general contractors.

A basement project that Bobby has in the works, which is part of a bigger, gut renovation, includes an ultra-modern floating bar with the exposed pipes in the ceilings that were painted a matte black to look like an industrial warehouse. There is also a gym area with wall mirrors that resembled a commercial gym. Because the basement was previously finished with drywall, electrical work and flooring, the cost came out to about $60 psf. If those aspects needed to be completed, the cost would have increased another $20 psf. 

Costs for renovation permits in Philadelphia 

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 are processed. These projects don’t involve things like moving a load-bearing wall which would typically require filing architectural plans to get permits. EZY permit applications only need a written narrative of the job.

For larger projects, Bobby usually puts a place marker in the budget for permits until the exact amount is calculated by a town’s building department. These estimates are $750 for a bathroom, $1,000 for a kitchen and $1,500 for a basement. “If the permits are less than the estimate, then we give the client a credit,” said Bobby. “If it is more, then we will require more to cover that.”

Outside of Philly’s city center, the suburbs can cost more and be more complicated. (But don’t 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.

A Rowhouse Remodel in Bella Vista

All of these facts and figures are a starting point for pulling together an initial budget for a Philadelphia renovation. 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.

The fire affected several other nearby homes, which limited parking for construction work on their 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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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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A Vintage-Style Kitchen Remodel by Peg and Awl Marries Old and New


It was a gray waxed canvas tote that first caught my eye thanks to its leather strap made from a World War II gun sling. That was at a trade show several years ago, where Margaux and Walter Kent of Peg and Awl were also showcasing wooden bath trays, “apothecary cabinets”, and rope tree swings, all of which looked as if they had been created by nostalgists with very good taste. “Our work is made from old things found and recovered from misfortune and neglect,” they explain. “When the old eludes us, we use sustainable materials. We started making these items for ourselves and now we make them for everyone.”

Margaux is an artist-jewelry designer-book binder and Walter trained as a woodworker under his father and did time in the U.S. Army in Iraq. They met 12 years ago, just after Margaux had sunk her savings into an 1850s row house in Philadelphia’s not-yet happening Fishtown. Walter moved in a week later, and they’ve collaborating ever since, now accompanied by their sons, Søren, 11, and Silas, 9.

The house was their living quarters, initial work space, and ongoing project—it had been added onto over the years, and the previous owner, a high school shop teacher, “trash picked historic doors and windows considered garbage,” says Margaux. “He used his finds to restore the rooms closer to their former, albeit frankensteined, self.” But the place needed a lot of attention, particularly the kitchen and warren of surrounding spaces. That was tackled in stages over time—and was recently completed just as the family decamped for country living outside of Philadelphia. They still have their workshop in a converted factory in the city, and have held on to the house, which serves as the Peg and Awl “living showroom”—and is available on Airbnb. Join us for a tour of its charmingly new-0ld kitchen.

Photography courtesy of Peg and Awl.

Søren and Silas sit on Joad Chairs from Peg and Awl&#8
Above: Søren and Silas sit on Joad Chairs from Peg and Awl’s just-introduced first furniture collection, all of FSC-certified domestic hardwoods.

The wide-plank pine floor is original to the house, which in the 1920s belonged to a bootlegger (“a barrel that’s still hidden in the basement rafters held the illicit hooch,” says Margaux). The couple’s biggest remodeling move was to take out the two walls separating the dining room from the kitchen and pantry. The kitchen’s concrete and steel truss in the background was introduced to “support the story-and-a-half of brick wall above it.”

&#8
Above: “The kitchen is an encapsulation of our ideas and ideals: sustainability, beauty, industriousness, and continual exploration,” says Walter. “We love the layers of story found in materials and objects from the past and wanted to incorporate them into the room, giving them a new and useful life.”

Case in point: the radiant-heated floor is made of slate chalkboards, “a half-inch thick and super durable and forgiving,” rescued from a derelict school in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. And the 3-by-4-foot butcher’s table was purchased by word of mouth from their local deli owner, who had long ago salvaged it from a neighborhood butcher shop.

  To ready the island for use by guests, Walter topped it with new butcher&#8
Above:  To ready the island for use by guests, Walter topped it with new butcher’s block: “it had been very sway-ey from years of use and cleaning, causing many a good apple to roll and slam to the floor,” says Margaux.

Walter built the kitchen cabinets from salvaged Pennsylvania barn beams: the doors are American chestnut and the countertops are quarter-sawn white oak.

The couple found their 50s enameled cast-iron double sink at a flea market still packaged in its original wood crate. Soap bottles are stored in Peg and Awl&#8
Above: The couple found their 1950s enameled cast-iron double sink at a flea market still packaged in its original wood crate. Soap bottles are stored in Peg and Awl’s blackened maple Apothecary Caddy.
As a counterpoint to the patinated surfaces, they installed industrial-style appliances, including a GE fridge and Ilve gas range. The 3-by-6-inch subway tile is Daltile from a local supplier, but they point out, is also available at Home Depot. &#8
Above: As a counterpoint to the patinated surfaces, they installed industrial-style appliances, including a GE fridge and Ilve gas range. The 3-by-6-inch subway tile is Daltile from a local supplier, but they point out, is also available at Home Depot. “One of the things we love about the kitchen is the marriage of old and new,” says Margaux. “The warmth and coziness of the reclaimed materials—with a not completely known past and a yet-to-be-told future—stand comfortably alongside the modern stainless steel.”

That’s Peg and Awl’s Mess Hall Knife Rack on the wall next to their spice-stocked Apothecary Cabinet, which, they explain, was “historically used to house medications, elixirs, herbs, and the like in the days before drugstores.” Pots and pans hang from old butcher’s hooks found at a flea market.

The microwave and toaster oven, both sourced from Webstaurantstore.com, sit on a cart from Ikea. The hutch next to the fridge is one of Walter&#8
Above: The microwave and toaster oven, both sourced from Webstaurantstore.com, sit on a cart from Ikea. The hutch next to the fridge is one of Walter’s first Peg and Awl creations, made in 2010 of reclaimed oak that came out of a general store in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

“For years I worked with my dad on historic renovations, and we did many, many kitchens” he says. “When it came time to work on our own, we recruited my pops and incorporated so much of what I loved from our projects.”

The breakfast table is Peg and Awls&#8
Above: The breakfast table is Peg and Awls’ new Hawley Table in blackened oak, surrounded by their Joad Chairs and Lewis and Clark Expedition Stool.

As you can imagine, laying the floor was a feat. Walter tells us: “First we had to reinforce the joists from the basement to make sure that they could hold the weight. We ran radiant heat tubing along the whole floor and poured a two-inch cement wet bed on top of that. Then we laid the slate chalkboards; each one weighs around 100 pounds and is about 3-by-5 feet. Getting them level and flush with each other on all four sides took a lot of patience—and a handful of pennies that we used as shims.”

Before

The kitchen was last tackled in the 70s and included a small addition in the back used as the pantry.
Above: The kitchen was last tackled in the 1970s and included a small addition in the back used as the pantry.
Before the walls came down, the pantry, kitchen, and dining area were small separate rooms.
Above: Before the walls came down, the pantry, kitchen, and dining area were small separate rooms.

The Kent Family

Margaux, Walter, Søren, and Silas have recently moved to West Chester,  miles west of Philadelphia, where they&#8
Above: Margaux, Walter, Søren, and Silas have recently moved to West Chester, 25 miles west of Philadelphia, where they’re part of a homeschooling co-op; they’ve dubbed their new place the Five Acre Wood.

Tour the rest of the Peg and Awl House on Airbnb; it sleeps eight and rents for $185 a night.

More kitchens that incorporate old and new:



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A Trinity House Restoration Soars to New Heights


Like a phoenix, this rowhouse rose from the ashes

Trinity rowhouse renovation

“Before and After” photos by Kingston Ko Photography for Sweeten

Today, we’re taking a look at the rebirth of a trinity townhouse in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Center City Philadelphia. The house, built in the style of a trinity, a slim structure that became popular during a population boom in the early 18th century, caught Nel’s eye while she was looking to purchase her first home. Two years later, the house was severely damaged by a fire that ravaged the entire street, resulting in a total gut.

The 1,200-square-foot home has three stories—plus a basement and roof deck with amazing city views—and had to be rebuilt from the studs up. Nel decided to keep the original floor plans intact—the first-floor dining room and kitchen, second-floor living room plus full bath, and third-floor master bedroom and bath—and bring them back to life.

With her renovation plans in mind, she came to Sweeten, a free platform connecting homeowners to vetted general contractors, to restore the house to its former glory and find a new tenant who would love it just as much as she did.

 home renovation Philadelphia

Sweeten: 
What motivated you to purchase this trinity house and what led to the renovation?

Nel: In 2014 I was looking to purchase my first home, and when I saw this house I absolutely fell in love with it. The house is a 100-year-old trinity located in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Center City Philadelphia. I’m not sure if you have seen many trinities, but they are a pretty common home type in Philadelphia where the house is three stories tall and each floor is typically a single room. I met Greg shortly thereafter and the two of us lived in the house up until we got engaged in April 2016. We decided to move out because we were thinking about starting a family and wanted to find a home with a second bedroom.

I was a bit attached to this house and since I work in real estate we decided to try our hand at renting it versus selling it. We found great tenants and everything was going well until the fire last October. The fire destroyed six houses—so basically, the entire block! It was heart-wrenching to watch something I had so many happy memories in be destroyed by fire. But, very fortunately, we have been able to rebuild, which actually has been a funny process because we were able to make some of the upgrades and changes we previously wanted to do when we lived there.

trinity house floor plan

(Above) Example of a trinity floor plan that’s similar in size and layout to Nel’s house

Sweeten: What made you choose the neighborhood back when you were looking to purchase a home?

Nel: The Bella Vista neighborhood is truly one of my favorites in Philadelphia. We have a 100-year-old Italian bakery at the end of our street and so there is always the wonderful smell of something delicious baking in the air. We are also just around the corner from a park with a bocce court, as well as from the 9th Street Italian Market. I love the neighborhood’s vibe and all of the small independent businesses and restaurants that are at our front door.

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Sweeten: What’s your favorite part of the house?

Nel: I think one of my favorite parts, aside from the 360-degree views from the roof deck, is the exposed brick wall. It feels like a piece of history which is really neat.

Sweeten: What it was like working with your general contractor?

Nel: This is actually our second renovation in 12 months, but our first time using Sweeten. 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. Greg and I have actually joked about moving back in!

Sweeten: Now that the house is finished, what are your plans for it?

Nel: We are going to keep it as a rental for now and who knows…maybe someday we will live there again!

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Sweeten: What were the challenges you faced while renovating this trinity house?

Sweeten contractor: It was the amount of work that needed to take place in the small footprint of the house. We needed to add new code-compliant systems to a home that was designed to have a small footprint over 100 years ago! Several homes on the same block that were also damaged in the fire were under construction at the same time, so parking was limited. Material deliveries on the small street were very tough, if not impossible. All of the materials for the roof deck and drywall needed to be loaded in by hand. Also, work on the roof deck was held up due to permits.

Sweeten: What was the damage done by the fire?

Sweeten contractor: The entire home was flooded by the water used to extinguish the rooftop fire. The house was dried out and all damaged organic materials were removed prior to us being hired by a restoration company.

Sweeten: What major work did you and your team tackle during the renovation?

Sweeten contractor: We installed all new electric, some plumbing, a new high-efficiency HVAC, insulation, drywall, and new finishes.

Sweeten: Did you encounter any delays during the process?

Sweeten contractor: Yes, the roof deck had to be designed by a licensed architect—we couldn’t replace what was there under the permit for the interior. The drawings for the roof deck also needed to be completed and reviewed.

Sweeten: The results are simply stunning—all of your hard work has definitely paid off!

Sweeten contractor: Overall, it was a great project, Nel was a wonderful client and we couldn’t have done it without Sweeten making the match. We are very proud of the work we did here and how the home turned out.

Thanks to Nel and her Sweeten general contractor for sharing their story, both the good and the bad, and giving us a look inside this reborn trinity!


TODAY-NEWS


Renovating in Philly? Check out our guide on kitchen renovation costs—and where that money goes.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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