Everything To Know Before Renovating A Townhouse

Planning a townhouse renovation? Make sure to examine the finer points of renovating a townhouse in New York City.

February 15, 2023


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Everything To Know Before Renovating A Townhouse

Townhouse renovations shouldn't be taken lightly. Prepare properly by educating yourself on the essentials of townhouse renovations in NYC.

Table of contents

For over a century, townhouses in New York City have carried an evergreen charm that sets the precedent for interior elegance far beyond The Big Apple. Yet, for all their enduring allure, the dated nature of these properties is only one of the reasons renovating them comes with complexities. 

The following article breaks down the preparatory work required before a townhouse renovation in NYC, legal and logistical considerations to think through, the lifecycle of the renovation and finally mistakes to avoid throughout the process. 

[#legal-preparations]Legal Preparations for Townhouse Renovations[#legal-preparations]

Building, Electrical, and Plumbing Permits from Department Of Building

Navigating through DOB, LPC, and zoning guidelines isn’t light work. If your townhouse renovation includes significant alterations such as structural work, changing occupancy type, exterior work overseen by LPC, or significant alterations to the floor plan then a team consisting of an architect, engineer, and expeditor will be required in order to obtain all relevant approvals and permitting.  

Landmark Applications via Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC)

If your townhouse is designated a landmark or located on a landmark street, a landmark approval from the Landmark Preservation Commission will be required before renovating. Additionally, if designated a landmark, the LPC must also approve all exterior street facing materials and design aesthetics prior to implementation, otherwise an LPC certificate of no effect is obtained.

Top floor stairwell from townhouse renovation in Manhattan. View full renovation before and after.

[#logistical-preparations]Logistical Preparations for Townhouse Renovations[#logistical-preparations]

Contractor Approach  

Beyond finding a contractor that’s properly licensed and insured, knowing the level of offering  provided by your contractor is essential to understanding how much responsibility  you’ll be doing personally on the townhouse renovation. The two most common options are design--build contractors or bid contractors. 

Using a labor-only bid contractor means you’ll likely be managing the renovation, material procurement, securing permits, paying fees, and much more. For larger renovations, a design-build contractor is the optimal choice, as this full-service approach handles home renovations from start to finish, driving all aspects of a project from interior design and architectural planning to building board management and construction. For more information on the two approaches, read Design-Build vs Design-Bid-Build: What’s The Difference? 

Costly Site Conditions

Most townhouses are considerably aged and have a history of inconsistent upkeep. Conditions such as outdated cloth wiring, water damage, asbestos, and at times structural issues are not uncommon., Testing for these items before purchasing and taking on a renovation is crucial to avoiding surprises that lead to delays and cost overruns. Read more about the Common Surprises When Renovating A NYC Apartment

Living Circumstances 

For more comprehensive renovations in NYC, your living situation amidst renovation must be planned for. The disturbance of living in a construction zone can be nerve-wracking even when everything goes according to plan. If possible, find a place to stay or delay your move-in date until the project is finished. Some townhome renovations are more favorable to owners living in one unit while the others are under construction but it is important to discuss feasibility of such accommodations.

Kitchen from townhouse renovation in Manhattan. View the full renovation before and after.

[#renovation-lifecycle]The Townhouse Renovation Lifecycle[#renovation-lifecycle]

Below is the process for a full townhouse renovation, from planning and architectural drawings and design to procurement and construction. As a full-service design-build firm, we guide our clients through all aspects of their renovation from interior design and architectural planning to building board management and construction.

PLANNING & PREP | Architectural Drawing and DOB Filings

Most townhome renovations require architectural plans to be approved by the NYC Dept of Buildings and sometimes the Landmarks Preservation Commission. We take on all architectural planning and filings with our award winning in-house design team and architects.

PLANNING & PREP | Interior Design 

The interior design choices made when renovating townhomes are essential to preserving their heritage while also offering modern sensibility. Couple that fine design balance with added scrutiny from the LPC and the interior design of a townhouse renovation is best serviced with support from an experienced design-build firm who specializes in all styles of residential renovations in NYC

PLANNING & PREP | Permits & Inspections

Asbestos Test

Testing for asbestos in the early planning stages is not only smart planning but often required in order to file architectural plans. As part of this process we plan for any added effort required for removal or see if there are workaround cost saving measures that can leave the asbestos undisturbed. By law, if work disturbs the asbestos, mitigation is required and bringing in an asbestos remediation company for asbestos removal and air quality monitoring is likely needed. However if preliminary tests confirm asbestos won’t be disturbed during the work, we’ll plan to avoid the area and issue altogether.

Electrical Test 

There are two main reasons electrical tests are required before an NYC townhouse renovation. The first is to confirm there’s no cloth wiring, which was common in the 40’s/50’s and will not pass inspection. The second is to ensure the electrical capacity of the townhome can handle the proposed electrical load requirements of the renovation - which isn’t always the case in older buildings. 

Plumbing Inspection

Required if any part of the townhouse renovation will be touching plumbing, such as the kitchen or bathroom.  

PLANNING & PREP | Material Selection + Procurement

The most hands-on aspect of any townhouse renovation is finding materials to bring the chosen interior design style to life. That entails paint color, accent walls, flooring style, mouldings, fixtures, countertops, and more. As a full-service design-build firm we take on the design, sourcing, and procurement of every permanent fixture in your home.

PLANNING & PREP | Design Renders

After materials have been sourced, we create life-like digital renderings of the renovated townhouse. This includes every aspect of the design, down to the cabinet color and hardware. These high-end renderings provide a visual accompaniment to the blueprint that guides construction.


  • Demolition Phase
  • Initial Inspections
  • Framing & Rough Carpentry
  • Electrical & Plumbing
  • Finish Carpentry & Fixtures
  • Final Inspections & Walk-Through

[#renovation-timeline]Townhouse Renovation Timeline[#renovation-timeline]

Each townhouse renovation timeline looks different. On average, clients looking for a multi-room or full renovation can expect timelines similar to these:  

Renovation Timeline | Planning & Prep 

If the townhouse doesn’t require building additional rooms or significantly restructuring the space, the planning process takes approximately 90-120 days.

A common factor that can extend the planning phase is whether proposed renovation takes place in a landmarked building or whether the renovation requires architectural plans. In this scenario, the plans must first be submitted to the building's reviewing architect for approval.  

Renovation Timeline | Construction & Build 

Every townhome renovation is different and the respective timelines are impacted by the scope, site conditions and association rules. Normally, a full multi-story renovation of an average-sized townhouse renovation takes 5-7 months although timelines can vary based on specifics. 

Lower level of townhouse renovation in SoHo. View our Manhattan renovation before and afters.

[#common-mistakes]Common Mistakes Made With Townhouse Renovations[#common-mistakes]

To prevent having work stoppages and ensure proper potential resale value, avoid the following mistakes when renovating a townhouse in NYC:  

Not Pulling Proper Permits

Skipping the permit process due to cost issues or fear of delay can severely impact the resale value of their townhouse. Without a permit, none of the renovations are technically up to code, making the insurance costs significantly higher. Furthermore, additions without a permit are rarely considered during appraisals. 

Prioritizing Cosmetic Updates When Foundational Issues Remain  

A common mistake when considering a home renovation is prioritizing cosmetic updates over foundational needs. By prioritizing the wrong renovations, you could be costing yourself more in the long run. 

Not Exploring The Full Potential of The Property 

Unless the renovation is something minor, hiring a full-service design-build firm or architect ensures you do not leave valuable square footage and property configuration on the table. Many townhomes have unrealized buildable square footage, ceiling heights, and configurations that can significantly improve the space and value of the property. For this reason, working with a firm with the domain expertise and knowhow is key to avoiding such costly mistakes. 


When handled properly, townhouse renovations modernize classic spaces and illuminate the historic heritage of NYC. However, wIthout the proper provisions, your townhouse dream home can easily become a nightmare. To ensure a streamlined result and an aesthetic that never slips out of sync with the architectural prestige, consider a full-service design-build firm like Gallery. We handle townhouse renovations from start to finish, driving all aspects of the process from interior design and architectural planning to building and construction management. Ready to renovate? Learn more about Gallery or contact us today for a consultation.

Marketing Director

Ben Bowdonhttps://www.gallerykbny.com/authors/ben-b

Ben Bowdon is the Marketing Director of Gallery KBNY, a full service design-build firm specializing in the design and interior renovation of apartments, townhomes, and lofts in NYC. For over a decade, Ben has navigated the ever-changing landscape of online marketing, delivering digital strategy solutions for companies of all sizes, until finding a permanent home with Gallery. As lead brand champion and curator, the proud Western Michigan Bronco strives to deliver thoughtful, industry-leading expertise to Gallery’s esteemed clientele via the most seamless omnichannel experience possible.




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