10 tips before you start

Enlisting professional help will save you money in the long run and help keep you on budget


1 Take a holistic approach
Before jumping into a renovation project, think about what you want to achieve. For example, rather than deciding you need new windows, think about the problem you need to solve. Do you want more light? More heat? Better garden access?

John Martin, director of the home retrofitting company Renova, says you should think holistically, taking into account walls, floors, roofs, windows, doors, electrics, heating and plumbing. “Consider everything and come up with a shopping list,” he says. “You can miss out on an opportunity if you don’t think things through.”

2 Enlist help
“The more professionals you employ to assist you, the better,” says quantity surveyor Patricia Power. “It saves you money in the long run and you know where you stand. The advantage of a quantity surveyor is that they will keep your bills on budget from day one. If you’re stuck on one aspect they will advise you on where you can save elsewhere.”

She says an architect is a must, and you will also need an engineer if you’re moving walls. Under the new building regulations, a registered architect, building surveyor or chartered engineer is required to act as a registered certifier for construction work that extends to more than 40sq m.

3 Take your time with design
While it may be tempting to skip on professional fees, Power recommends sitting down with an architect to help design your project. “They can bring in a whole new dimension and see stuff that you don’t see.”

An architect will also be able to give you a good estimate of cost so you can assess whether your plans are achievable with your budget before you apply for planning permission. “A lot of people get excited and want to get started. I have known people who have got planning but then realise they can’t afford it,” says Power.

4 Check planning permissions
If your renovation project includes an extension of more than 40sq m, you will need to apply for planning permission. Anything under that may qualify for an exemption, but you should double-check before you begin work. Undertaking work without the correct permission could result in a fine or create problems when it comes to selling your house. If in doubt, talk to the planning department of your local authority.

5 Secure financing
Some banks have announced funds to provide loans or mortgage top-ups to people who want to carry out renovation work. If you are taking out a bank loan to fund your project, make sure you include any extra repayments in your budget.

6 Take advantage of incentives
Homeowners may claim up to €4,050 in tax relief on renovations thanks to the Government’s new Home Renovation Initiative. Under the scheme, you are entitled to reclaim the VAT on projects that cost between €5,000 and €30,000 but you must use a builder who is tax compliant. Ask to see their Notification of Determination showing a zero or 20 per cent Relevant Contracts Tax rate.

The Better Energy Homes scheme run by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, provides grants for roof insulation, wall insulation, boiler and heating control upgrades and solar panels.

To avail of the grant, your house must be built before 2006, you must have the grant approved before work commences and the work must be carried out by one of the authority’s registered contractors. Note that a grant will reduce the level of your tax relief under the Home Renovation Initiative.

7 Include the detail
Include as much detail as possible when you go to tender so you can easily compare quotes. “I often see people who have gone out to tender on a drawing and spec basis only and can’t compare builders,” says Power. “It’s very hard to get parity until you’ve done a detailed schedule of work. I put everything in, from floor finishing, painting walls and tiling. Then you can be sure that the cheapest is the cheapest.”

A detailed tender will help you control costs as the project progresses and means you can easily adjust the quote if it is over budget.

8 Approach a selection of builders
When sourcing builders, get a mix of recommendations: a couple from your architect, a couple from your surveyor and a couple from friends.

“If a builder and a surveyor have worked together before then they get to know each other’s pricing,” says Power. Gathering recommendations from different sources will ensure a fair spread of quotes.

Power advises ascertaining whether a builder is genuinely interested in securing the work, by noting whether they ask questions, want to visit the site and send through a full schedule of work.

“If they have taken time to engage with you and show interest in the tender process then they are likely to be interested in the job.”

9 Make sure your builder is compliant
Currently anyone can set up as a builder, so it can be difficult to know if they’re reputable. In order to address this, the Construction Industry Federation is in the process of compiling a register of builders, the Construction Industry Register Ireland. This will provide a searchable database of builders who conform to certain standards and, in theory, raise the quality of construction projects.

Jimmy Healy, a spokesperson for the federation, says that while the register goes live this month, it will take some time to populate. In the meantime, you can ask a few questions to ensure your builder is legitimate. “You should see if they’re VAT registered or ask for a C2 cert. Ask if they have insurances in place, because a lot of them don’t. Ask about their health and safety qualifications.”

10 Be safe and be covered
If you’re using an architect, surveyor or engineer, they should have their own professional indemnity insurance. Builders should be covered for public liability, employer’s insurance and contractor’s all-risk insurance. People carrying out self-builds should consider taking out self-build insurance.

If your project is going to last more than 30 days then you must notify the Health and Safety Authority of the work. Where more than one contractor is on site, you must also appoint a competent project supervisor at both the design and the construction stage to carry out certain safety requirements and prepare a safety file, which you then pass on to anyone carrying out future works.

Make sure your architect, surveyor or engineer is chartered or registered with their professional body. This will ensure they have the right qualifications, undertake continuous professional development and are up to speed with regulations.

The most important professional to get right is the architect. Talk to three or four, talk to their previous clients, and make sure you like the work they have done before.

Whether your architect or someone else manages the project, the interpersonal relationship is vital. Trust your instinct on whether you will work well together. Take your partner or a friend along for a second opinion.

Make sure they have professional indemnity insurance and have the capacity to take on your project with their current workload. Don’t use fees as your only criteria. The cheapest won’t necessarily give you what you want.

Under the building standard regulations (amendments), which came into force on March 1st and apply to any construction project of more than 40sq m, an assigned certifier must carry out inspections at the beginning, during and at the end of the project to certify that everything is on track and to issue certificates of commencement and compliance. Homeowners will need to sign the commencement certificate, appoint a certified builder, appoint a certified professional and notify the building control authority of any changes.

Certified professionals can include architects, building surveyors and civil engineers.