Top 5 tips for home renovations

Kya deLongchamps outlines her top tips when it comes to home renovations, from managing a budget to being clever when it comes to sourcing materials.

Top 5 tips for home renovations

READY to hire in a crack builder, or swing a lump hammer at that internal partition?

There’s a lot to consider if you want that final finish to be level with your dreams.

Here are my top tips to get it right without blowing the bank and liquidising your nerves.

1. Don’t set out to blow all of what you have

This may sound rather kooky, but it’s important to know what you can get for your money, before hurling everything you’ve saved or are entitled to borrow at the project.

You might be pleasantly surprised if you price materials and skills more rigorously.

Yes, there may be a difference in the level of finish, and builders and tradespeople need to know what’s expected.

Get three quotes and don’t expect to grab up the cheapest — personalities, experience, and reputation count for a lot.

Be wary about giving any supplier or service your top number, go for a bracket or make them state their case and then haggle.

There are individuals who will price the job for that hire-purchase S-class Mercedes you are driving.

Just about every improvement project from a new kitchen to a full house renovation demands a contingency fund and if you can run up a spread sheet to manage the money — go to it — 15% is a healthy number.

Trust me — saving money and still getting an A1 result is what make the juices flow for seasoned renovators.

Follow up: go to

(Competition and Consumer Protection Commission) and use their Budget Planner to calculate your incoming, outgoings, and formulate solid goals.

2. Source beyond highstreet ‘bespoke’

Second hand, showroom examples, slight seconds and salvage — the potential to get even greater quality than you expected takes a sense of adventure, some legwork, and ditching the snobbery of the sparkling, bespoke ‘everything stitched in place’ by a five-star team.

If you can find, for example, a run of suitable kitchen units that is big enough for an independent fitter to cut down and re-shuffle, the savings can be astounding.

Obviously don’t furiously hammer that square peg into a round hole — find what you want, not what will do.

Sticking to standard sizings will always undercut made-to-measure if you want a purely commercial product, but the independent supplier and local craftsman should be given their chance to meet your expectations.

Keeping it simple is the key to a kitchen extension. Pic courtesy

Keeping it simple is the key to a kitchen extension. Pic courtesy

Shop where contractors do, passing up retailer DIY chain outlets for the local builder’s merchant and trades’ outlets tucked away in industrial estates for materials, lighting, plumbing, and electrics.

Even with the VAT at 23%, the prices can reach down to wholesale levels.

Follow up: If you have a favourite brand in kitchens or bathrooms, contact their showroom directly about floor-sales of demonstration pieces.

Keep an eye on selling sites.

3. Mix the modestly great with the gorgeous

Combining cheaper and more expensive elements can be just about undetectable —good layout, honest materials, and seamless fitting is what marks out a great kitchen.

A good structurally tough, stable carcass will be largely the same wherever you get it.

Concentrate the money on what you see — doors, drawers, tiling, and counters.

Micro-managing storage pieces can double the price of a unit — see what’s available after-market to fit yourself.

Make quality your baseline as much as possible.

Cheap paint has a weedy pigment content — it’s a false, economy.

Even top tile houses have an area of the floor given over to ends of lines — a few square metres of a large order.

Imagine what you could do with an indulgent feature splash-back in the bathroom at 25% its original RRP?

No money for a huge rug? Have a remnant or great carpet whip-stitched for a fraction of the price.

Easter is a good time to gather materials in DIY suppliers’ sales.

Follow up: Inspirational reading.

Pick up a pile of Selfbuild & Improve (Ireland) magazines at your largest local library and take time to read the features on individual projects.

Most demonstrate clever integration of the bargain and the investment thing in every room.

4. Make a plan and stick, stick, stick

There’s a phrase in every estimate that jangles the nerves of the most granite faced builder and it should rattle you too — provisional costings (PCs).

Whether you are installing a new stair or putting on an entire extension, it’s vital to know what you want and to bring this down as close as possible to the very last bolt, nail and finish.

Homeowners forget that an individual or team often have to tear into the house to do the work and then ‘make good’ the necessary damage.

Wasted time and grey areas soon equal up to added cost, and shredded relationships.

The very worst extremes of woolly planning will be further tortured by white coat syndrome (where the owner gives unasked for ‘advice’ to trades during the project) or worse still, changes the brief from moment to moment.

Don’t spring the fact you are using the Home Renovation Scheme tax credits on your contractor.

Ensure they are on board, and ready to qualify and file the claim.

If you are claiming an SEAI grant, your supplier and installers must be SEAI approved.

You can download a contract template for your home improvement or building project at a number of websites including

Have your lawyer look it over for any serious work.

5. Sweat some equity

It’s important to recognise your talents and your limits when it comes to extensive DIY or more comprehensive renovations.

This might be just filling out the cheque, and keep in mind that your work does not qualify for the HRI scheme as you don’t tax yourself bar the bruising.

Generally for all but the calloused warrior, labour is off the table as hands-on contributions to the struggle.

Where you might get down and dirty from the get-go is cleaning up to the skip and the essential ‘tear down’ — taking out built-in units, carpet, tiles, bathroom ware and removing non structural walls (if services are made safe).

If you want speed things along (don’t hire by the hour, by the way, hire by the job) there’s a lot to be said for having all materials on site and the area clean and clear daily for the tradespeople.

Follow up: DIY: Know-how with show-how (2nd edition) by Julian Cassell and Peter Parham, Doring Kindersley, €37.50 (Easons)

The Home Renovation Incentive Scheme: The Fine Print

The HRI scheme continues until December of this year, but is not suited or necessary to every home improvement adventure, so just what can you claim for in this two-year tax credit incentive, and what’s simply not going to fly?

The Scheme is intended to rake back some of the 13.5% tax paid up to a total spend above €4,405 and under €30,000 before VAT.

The works apply to your primary residence only unless you are a qualifying landlord.

You can only claim for services such as plastering and painting, if the work is carried out by a contractor eligible for the scheme with their RCT rate in order.

It’s the contractor who files with Revenue. All they need from you is your Property Tax ID number. You can find it on your LPT paperwork.

You cannot claim a tax credit under the incentive, as well as claiming and receiving an SEAI Grant, or an insurance settlement,

If you have one contractor who qualifies, and he has sub-contractors under him/her — they will file the financial details of the costs to Revenue.

The rate of VAT recovered by your tax credit is at 13.5% not 23%. Architect’s, engineer’s and surveyor’s fees add a 23% rate and therefore do not qualify.

Holiday homes and the refurb’ of uninhabitable houses does not qualify for the HRI.

Kitchens are a strange area— if you employ a builder who supplies and fits the kitchen, you can claim the 13.5% back, but only if the kitchen itself does not exceed 2/3 of the price of the work.

If you buy a kitchen yourself, the 23% VAT is not redeemable.

More in this section


Did you miss our Virtual Event with Alison O’Connor, Aoife Moore, Clodagh Finn, Derval O’Rourke and Vicky Phelan