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Would You Live in a Renovated Church Home? – 3 Important Issues

By Heather Levin

churchImagine 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

Included Amenities
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.

Energy Efficiency
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.

church in a field

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.

Final Word

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)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • Bobbi

    I think I could handle it! My sister is actually looking in to this as we speak. :) I am passing your post along to her.

  • Bobbi

    I think I could handle it! My sister is actually looking in to this as we speak. :) I am passing your post along to her.

  • Bobbi

    I think I could handle it! My sister is actually looking in to this as we speak. :) I am passing your post along to her.

  • Guest

    I briefly lived in a 105 year old synagogue that had been empty for over 20 years. Energy efficiency is a HUGE issue! Our building had a huge vaulted ceiling, and if we hadn’t had a geothermal heat unit there would have been no way we could have afforded to heat it.

  • http://decadesagogo.blogspot.com/ Nick

    My best friend has been living in a fab old church in Upstate NY for 2 years now, and says she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. While it needed (and needs) a lot of work, the fun that comes with living in a church just can’t be beat! This summer I’m moving next door into the former parsonage…

    Oh, and just thought I’d mention you only have to worry about restrictions on changes if the church is locally designated- the national register is strictly honorary and doesn’t have any protection or restrictions over historic properties. And even if its locally designated they can almost never control what you do to the interior. (I’m a preservation student)

  • Mil1lil

    This is a great article. It really brings to mind issues which one never thinks about when dreaming of “living in a church.” Well done!

  • Puresalt

    hello, I am from australia,,( there goes another kangaroo!)…I am about to buy a church in country victoria, its a beautiful wooden, simple designed church , I am lucky enough on the same block to have a hall, that is huge with kitchen, so therefore will put the residence, in there…..I was wondering about zoning of churches, and whether anyone had issues with that ?,

  • Patty Carroll

    Yes, we would. We purchased and renovated a Carpenter Gothic 102 year old church in the Pacific Northwest near Portland Oregon. It has over 4000sf, 2 full kitchens and high ceilings. It took 4 years to renovate and we love it.

    • Tyler Robinson

      I have bought a church in Idaho 16,000 sqft however i am having issues with a bank building a mortgage. Did you guys use someone special?

  • St marks church apartment

    I’ve lived in a church for 20 years and brought 3 sons up here. It is full of character with huge ceilings and lots of room. I now share it with others as a portion rented out as an apartment.

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