Building that dream island home has just become more affordable. Or has it?

Extra grants to renovate island properties barely offset the additional cost and complexity of remote projects

Anyone considering island life on foot of the Government’s decision to increase the grants available to people renovating derelict properties on the islands off the coast by more than €10,000 should look very closely at the cold hard numbers before making any decision.

Plans to offer more money to homeowners who want to renovate vacant and derelict properties on offshore islands have been widely welcomed but industry experts have warned that the additional money will be needed to meet significantly higher costs associated with the remotest of building work.

Under the new proposals, the maximum grant will be 20 per cent higher for vacant island properties, meaning island dwellers can take advantage of €60,000 compared to €50,000 for vacant mainland properties.

When it comes to derelict properties, the grant will be up to €84,000 compared to €70,000 on the mainland with the changes set to come into effect from July 1st and retrospectively applied to any existing applications.


Gareth Brown is a chartered building surveyor and knows a thing or two about renovating derelict houses in remote areas. “I bought an old, dilapidated farmhouse in Schull and have spent three years refurbishing it,” Brown says.

His project is ongoing and, having gutted the house at the outset, he has focused on making his new home as sustainable and zero carbon as possible.

“I think the main problem we’ve got is that nobody’s going into the building industry and finding builders available to undertake the works is very challenging,” Brown says.

He warns that many people might struggle to overcome the first obstacle which, on the surface, looks pretty straightforward.

“One of the things you’ll need when you’re applying for these grants is a builder’s quote and while it is a good thing that the building industry is absolutely thriving at the moment, they’re just too busy to do quotes,” Brown says.

Then, of course, there is the “geographical remoteness”, which he says is tricky. “Getting hold of somebody who could competently understand all the updated building regulations was a challenge and it will be one for people looking at returning derelict homes on the islands to a habitable state.”

Brown also points to logistical problems and timing problems, particularly when it comes to builder no-shows.

Anyone who has ever done even the most basic of building or renovating in their home – no matter where it is – will be familiar with the sinking sensation when they realise that the builder is not on site and can’t be reached on their mobile.

“It won’t be a case of saying that if a builder is not there now, he will be there in an hour,” Brown says. “They will have to catch a boat out and boats leave at a specific time and they come back at a specific time.”

The cost of a refurbishment will depend on the state of the house in question, and Brown estimates people might be looking at €200,000-€250,000.

“It is expensive but it’s not always the price that is the driving force and for those who are lucky enough to be able to afford it, being able to live in a sustainable low energy house is worth it,” Brown says.

Before anyone considers renovating a derelict house, they might have to buy one.

Shane McDonagh of O’Donnellan & Joyce auctioneers in Galway says that while island homes off the west coast do come on the market occasionally, they tend to be snapped up “pretty quickly”. (Checking online this week there were few to no attractively priced vacant or derelict island properties listed on the main property websites.)

McDonagh recalls one small home on the Aran Islands coming to the market last year with an asking price of €65,000. The property in question ended up selling for about €20,000 more than that. “It was a pretty standard island cottage with two bedrooms and, while it was small, there was a bit of land with it so there was room to extend.”

With a selling price of €85,000 and a renovation cost of €250,000, any would-be island-dweller would end up spending a total of €251,000 on their home, presuming they got the full €84,000 grant.

“Renovation projects are difficult regardless of where they are being done,” says chartered quantity surveyor Nick Taaffe who is renovating an old barber shop on Dún Laoghaire’s main street and turning it into his home. “However, when you have access issues that can make projects even more difficult,” Taaffe says.

“I’ve got a good solid supply chain around me, there are builders, builders merchants, structural steel guys, but as you move into the countryside these buildings become more difficult because you’ve got access issues and access to a supply chain becomes a problem in terms of labour and materials.”

Taaffe points out that materials will have to transit to the site “so your preliminary costs will increase naturally for these projects on the islands”.

“Your labour and material cost will be the same as will your cost per square metre, but you do incur those additional preliminary costs in transporting both labour and material to these locations.

“And some of that material is likely to be heavy because buildings are likely to have structural issues. You’re going to be potentially shipping structural steel, rebars, heavy materials and you won’t have a supply chain of experts on the island so there will be increased transport costs for those guys as well,” Taaffe says.

“It’s really positive and a fantastic amount of money but these are challenging projects. The grant will go further on some buildings than others.”

Taaffe stresses the need for a feasibility grant. “Someone getting involved with these projects needs to understand the costs at the outset. You have to do your due diligence at the start of this project and even more so for an island.”

He has a suggestion that might make things better, or at least cheaper, for those planning on embarking on an island build project.

“It comes down to economies of scale. You’ll get efficiencies where people can do these projects together,” Taaffe explains.

“So, if you have two or three on an island and you form a co-op on and do the projects together that’s where you’re going to get efficiencies. That’s where you get efficient transport and labour costs and can encourage builders to come out to the islands and do several of these projects at the same time.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast