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Thinking of renovating or extending your home? Here’s your to-do list

Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland has published a practical checklist for homeowners about to embark on building works

It’s not an easy time to undertake a home renovation. After a number of years of high demand, plus fast rising materials costs, embarking on an extension or energy upgrade is not for the faint-hearted. And despite the recent dip in consumer sentiment, chartered building surveyor Kevin Hollingsworth concedes that “it’s still a bit hectic” out there.

“For the last 18 months it’s been extremely tricky to obtain building contractors who were available to carry out work,” agrees Claire Irwin, a chartered quantity surveyor and resident quantity surveyor (QS) on RTÉ’s Room to Improve, adding that it was difficult to get three builders to provide a quote.

“It’s getting a bit easier now,” she says, with rising costs pushing some projects to press pause. This means that some contractors are now contacting her to inquire if she has any projects going out to tender.

Hollingsworth agrees that there has been a levelling out of costs of late with prices starting to plateau.


“The cost of materials is not increasing at the same rate,” he says, pointing to additional concerns people have with respect to the cost of living crisis, soaring energy costs and fears of a recession.

“However, those factors are being counterbalanced by people’s desire to increase insulation, install PV cells and install electric chargers etc to make themselves more energy efficient,” he says, adding that there is also still “significant post-Covid pent-up demand”.

Irwin agrees. “I’ve seen the focus shift completely in homeowners. Maybe this time last year, or two years ago, a homeowner would have been very focused on a nice kitchen or an extra en suite or walk in wardrobe. They were putting large sums of money towards that; now the focus has completely changed, and it’s more focused on energy upgrades”.

This means that if you’re waiting for costs to be slashed, you could be waiting. “I don’t see a massive adjustment,” says Hollingsworth.

Given the difficulties, it seems timely that the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) has put together a guide to help households get the most out of their building projects. Published today, it is available free on the SCSI’s website at

In an ideal world, industry specialists advise that you hire a chartered building or quantity surveyor to deal with the issues as they arise. “My key message is that, if you can afford it, you should appoint a professional to act on your behalf,” says Hollingsworth. However, he’s aware that it’s not always financial possible to do that, hence the publication of the guide aimed at helping people engage the services of a building contractor. So what’s in the guide?

Get ready

One of the biggest issues you’ll have to resolve before you undertake your building project is working out whether or not you’ll need planning permission and, if you do need it, starting the process to get it.

Small-scale domestic extensions may not require permission if it is to the rear of the house and does not increase the original floor area by more than 40 sq m (430 sq ft), assuming the house has not been extended before. Remember, however, that if you are also converting your garage, or if it has already been converted, this floor space must be included in the 40 sq m total.

If you want to build in the garden, you can build a garden room up to a maximum size of 25 sq m (269 sq ft), provided you leave 25 sq m of free space in your garden.

And it’s not just planning permission you’ll have to comply with; building regulations are also in place to ensure that designers, specifiers and builders follow standards in construction so as to avoid defects.

Get consent

As well as planning permission, you may need to seek consent from your neighbours, or management company if you live in an apartment, for your building project.

“Early engagement to gauge their opinion is so important, so you can get their views and take them into consideration,” says Hollingsworth.

While a lot of residential development may be exempt from the planning process, and thus in effect you can build regardless of what your neighbour thinks, “you have to live beside these people”, warns Hollingsworth.

Check what grants are available

Given the costs of construction at present, you should be particularly proactive when it comes to defraying these expenses by informing yourself of all available grants.

Given the sharply rising energy costs, improving the energy efficiency of your home is likely to be a priority as part of your upgrade, with insulation, draught proofing, ventilation, heat pumps and heating controls all likely to be on your list. The best place to find out what’s available is the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) (

Remember, if you are carrying out energy upgrade works, and you hope to avail of SEAI grants, ensure that any contractors you hire for the work are SEAI approved.

Depending on where you live, you may find that you are eligible for other grant schemes and incentives such as the Living City Initiative, a tax incentive scheme for Special Regeneration Areas (SRA) in cities like Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford, or the Built Heritage Investment Scheme, which supports small-scale conservation projects.

Work out your budget

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you have a realistic budget, and that the project remains within budget throughout.

If you have the budget for it, a chartered building surveyor can be useful here as they can help you seek prices from a variety of builders, assess those prices with you and help you choose the builder. For larger projects, a chartered quantity surveyor for the build means they will provide detailed estimates and bring focused financial management throughout the project to final completion.

And remember, as all fans of Room to Improve will know, it’s very important to keep a certain sum back as a contingency — even if this is likely to be ultimately absorbed into the overall budget.

“I would like to have about 10 per cent (of project value) in an ideal world, but it varies from project to project,” says Irwin, “I would really encourage people to ensure they have a healthy enough contingency”.

Start negotiating

When it comes to finding a builder, Hollingsworth says it’s always best to go with a personal recommendation — and follow up on it. “Go see the extension and check that it’s all right,” he advises.

Irwin also recommends doing a background check. “A contractor should have no reason not to provide list of references: if they do, it sets off alarm bells”.

Don’t be shy either about getting multiple quotations and remember that VAT is often excluded, so bear this in mind when you’re doing your sums.

In the current environment of fast-changing prices, it might be best to agree on a fixed price contract. While a longer contract, such as one over a year and a half or two years might contain a material variation clause, Hollingsworth says the majority of builders for residential projects should offer fixed price contracts.

Irwin always agrees fixed prices but acknowledges that, in an era of rising prices, these quotes may only be valid for 30 days. She advises people to act quickly and get a contractor appointed as soon as possible so they can go out and buy the necessary materials at current prices.

“It’s not fair or reasonable to drag tender negotiations out for a long period of time,” she says.

Once you come to an agreement with a builder, having a paper trail of the process can be important.

“My advice is never pay in cash and always get a receipt from the builder,” says Hollingsworth, adding that bank transfers provide an auditable trail of what money has been paid over.

It’s also common to hold some money back until the project has been finished. Sometimes the retention might be 10 or 5 per cent, reduced to 2.5 per cent for six months after practical completion. But again, this should be decided upon with the builder. “Everything is a negotiation,” says Hollingsworth.

Panel: Sample questions for builders

Picking a builder is not something that should be undertaken without due consideration. Here are some questions to help you make your decision:

1. How much will it cost? Be sure to get three quotations, and ask for one that is based on a detailed design/scope of works. You should be clear about what is not included within the price, eg floor finishes, wall finishes/painting, kitchen, tiling, footpaths, sewage/water connections.

2. Does the quote include a complete supply and fit contract, including VAT, ie the owner is not responsible for purchasing certain materials?

3. What insurance do the builder have?

4. Is the builder registered with CIRI, the Construction Industry Register of Ireland? (registration gives you confidence that your builder is competent and compliant with relevant statutory requirements)

5. When will the work commence and when will it be completed? Will the builders be working on site each day and what hours do they work? What disruptions are expected during the works, such as water/electricity disconnections?

6. What are the payment terms of the contract? (You should always retain 10 per cent until all works are completed at the end of the build)

7. What references can your builder provide of local work completed?

Source: SCSI

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan is a writer specialising in personal finance and is the Home & Design Editor of The Irish Times