Imagine walking through your front door into a room the size of a cathedral. Tall, gorgeously designed stained glass windows allow endless rays of light to enter. The ceiling soars overhead. The ancient stone walls could tell you stories of the thousands of people who walked, laughed, and prayed within.
This is just a small taste of what it could be like to live in a church. Some people might think it’s a crazy idea, but plenty of others have purchased churches and renovated them into homes.
A quick image search online makes it easy to see why people live in converted churches. Many of these buildings are extraordinary, and you can tell living in them must give the inhabitants a perpetual sense of awe and wonder.
My husband and I almost made this investment ourselves when we shopped for our first home. A 150-year-old church on one acre, complete with a graveyard, was for sale, and with Michigan’s bottomed-out real estate market, it was a steal. We ultimately decided that the cost of updating the church to make it fit for full-time living would be too much. However, many families who have made the leap say it has been an adventure.
If you want to buy and live in a church, consider some potential issues before making the investment.
3 Potential Issues of Renovating a Church into a Home
1. Renovation Costs
The cost to turn a church into a comfortable home will vary depending on the age of the church and the date of the last renovation, as well as the amenities included. For example, many churches already have fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms, and may have an updated office area. Older churches that haven’t had an upgrade, or churches located in small communities, however, might not have these additions. Adding a kitchen and bathroom adds significantly to your renovation costs.
Closely examine the building’s energy efficiency. A stone building keeps your home pleasantly cool in the summer, but can be very costly to heat during the winter months. You might want to add a second heating element, like a wood-burning stove, to offset the costs of your central heat and to make your home more energy efficient. Additionally, the chapel’s high ceilings collect heat, so this room will stay chilly unless you install ceiling fans to push that heat downward.
Details and Decor
The details that make the church beautiful can also be costly. If you have to replace a large stained glass window, you will either have to pay a fortune for a custom stained glass design, or pay for a custom-designed plain window, which will still be expensive.
Restrictions on Changes
You may have to conform to certain restrictions when renovating your home, depending upon the age of the church. In many areas, old churches are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means you may have to jump through some hoops when you want to request permission to make changes to the structure.
Make sure that when you buy an old church, you like the overall structure and design of the building. You may not be allowed to make many changes, so a general appreciation for the bones of the building can allay future disappointments about renovation restrictions.
2. The Layout
Even if the church already has a kitchen and bathroom, the layout of the building will be different than a conventional home. The kitchen might be down a long hall at the back of the building, past the classrooms that you plan to use as bedrooms. The bathroom facilities and the kitchen might be in the basement.
Although many people love the unique layout of churches, for others it turns into a frustrating challenge. In addition, if your home is a former church, you may have a large courtyard or parking lot to maintain. Consider the layout of the building carefully before you buy, to make sure you won’t mind carrying groceries to the back of the building.
Furthermore, the layout can make decorating a church converted into a home a real challenge. For the most part, churches usually consist of one large room. Even experienced designers struggle with creating separate living spaces in this sort of open living plan. The openness of the room and the high ceilings so often found in churches can also make choosing and hanging art difficult.
3. The Graveyard
Many churches come with a graveyard. This means that a portion of your property should be off-limits for kids and pets. You may have to maintain the graveyard, keeping the grass and shrubs trimmed. You might even have people dropping by to visit their interred relatives.
Although some people do not mind the idea of living next to a graveyard, for others it may seem too creepy or entail too much maintenance work. Consider this aspect carefully.
I still dream about living in an old church one day. We occasionally pass the one we almost bought, and I love thinking about what it could be like living in such a space. Although the costs can be steep, living in a unique space is worth it for many people.
Would you consider renovating a church and making it your home?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)