The renovations thread


Not sure if there is one of this already, but i thought a thread detailing peoples experiences in buying older houses and then renovating might be useful.

So for example, what you wanted to achieve, what you budgeted, did you go over that budget and if so what was the main driver of that and did something come up that you never envisaged before you started.

also what would you do differently if you were starting again

appreciate any feedback that you can give!


Good idea. I’ll see can I dig up a link to an old thread in which folk said what they would do differently, in hindsight, after having new built / refurbed. A lot of stuff in there to help people avoid overlooking things.

In my experience, reasons for over-budgeting on any project include:

a) not listing every single darn thing you can think of requiring from the get go (and putting some kind of reasonable ball park cost against each item to get an early indication of feasibility)

b) not including contingency for unforeseen items (say a simple 10% added onto to start with, but reducing as you firm up the cost of each budget item)

c) basing feasibility on the cheapest quote. Not getting enough quotes. Not being very specific in your spec so as to get an accurate quote

d) changing your mind, mid-project. Adding things as you go. Extra costs cost disproportionately more

e) Not having buffer items. Items that you can cut out or diminish the quality of in order to redirect budget elsewhere.

f) Not having a budget to start with


My name’s Ixelles and I live on a building site.

Early 1990s house, getting extension to rear which incorporates existing kitchen. Mid-way through now, ergo we gots no kitchen. Well, we have the use of a fridge and cooker at the moment. The living room at the front doubles as a dining room until the job is done so it’s like tiny-apartment living.

The price of everything is higher than I’d have imagined at the get-go. Ignore only calculators that give price/m2 estimates. The time it took to get started - i.e. from calling an architect to having a builder on site - was nearly six months. Shocking. Partly due to slow work by architect in organising the tender but also because there are just fewer contractors willing to bid.

Now that I see all the work involved in foundations, insulation etc it’s easier to understand the costs of doing it right. Just to have so many people and machines around for two months is bound to be expensive, presuming they are paying VAT/taxes.

There was a big gulf in bids - almost 30% - and in the estimated time it would take. We opted for a guy who has his own crew and works locally rather than a guy who uses a lot of sub-contractors and was straight about how hard it is to get skilled people on site when you need them.

Now that things are under way, progress has been pretty swift. Only one unpleasant surprise: the method the builder had planned to use to attach a steel beam is not going to fly with the engineer. The latter wants it bolted in a way that temporarily affects upstairs bedrooms, so that brings added inconvenience and costs. Two additional days on site for three guys plus some extra equipment = around 1k.

Having an architect definitely adds to the cost. You have their fees, a surveyor (at least at the start), an engineer for any steel structures, and then they spec everything to meet the building regs so we’ve got insulated blocks that are twice the price of standard blocks. I hear people scoff when I say how much it’s costing because* they *know a guy who throws up lean-to sunrooms for [my guy’s price minus 40%] but I doubt we’ll regret doing it properly.

At least we’ll have all the documentation and the architectural technician shows up to inspect weekly before authorising any payment. The builder could tell me he’d done X, Y and Z but I’d have a hard time knowing if he was playing straight. Likewise on materials for foundations and flooring. Architect gets photos and or first-hand proof of everything to ensure it meets the standard.


Didn’t TI start one of these threads? Can’t find it though.


Another thing (I’ve learned to own cost) is getting the divide wrong between renovating and ripping out.

I traveled up to County Down to pick up a pair of hardwood doors cheap. But the time taken to make a frame, blank the lock holes and cut out new lock holes and fit the door to the frame ended up costing the same as it would have cost to buy a new unit complete with frame that could have been installed in a jiffy

Or getting architraves and skirtings carefully removed, labelled up, stripped and cut to fit the warmboarded walls. When it’d have been much quicker to rip and dump and fit new stuff - especially when it came to decorating and all the damage to the old had to be filled and repaired.

Or trying to find floorboards to match the thickness and width of those rotten and missing ones. I got new wide plank and ended up with a lovely floor (I used spacers between the planks to give an old gap-between-the-boards look, original boards when fitted would have been butted up tight together but shrink over time to give that characteristic ye olde look). And avoided a series of old nail holes and damage which actually ends up looking quite tatty

Advice should be sought from the builder about where the line should be drawn in the myriad of “period features” you attempt to retain. In future I’ll aim for more rip out and less renovate.


Taking that to its logical conclusion, I often wonder why people spend more to renovate than the cost of knocking and rebuilding from scratch (to a better standard).


It can be a close call. I imagine folk leap in without realizing total cost at the outset and get sucked in.

The downside to a new build is just that …it’s a new build. That adds a whole heap of demand by way of standards - with associated cost / bureaucracy and professional involvement these days which isn’t applicable to a refurb. You can obtain a comfy, cosy and efficient home by way of refurb without achieving current standards (which may or may not be obtained other than on paper)

The key is to be able to spot what is fundamentally sound and what’s crap. I see it all the time around Bray: stuff that’s up a 100 years plus and will stand forever. And stuff that has stood a hundred years and hasn’t a vertical/horizontal surface in it.

There were good and bad builders then too.


Experience gives a perspective on the real cost of building/returning/maintaining a property :slight_smile:


To sum up: taking on a property that needs any kind of significant renovation/extension will either:

  • cost you in money, in terms of farming out all the work to those who will take the stress and worry for you. The benefit is that you can make things your own and play the nicest parts in that process.

  • cost you in terms of personal stress and worry if you decide to run things yourself with a builder. You will hit uncharted territories and find yourself surfing on a mix of ignorance/partial knowledge throughout.

Them’s the options, it seems to me: financial cost vs. psychological/emotional/relational cost.

Walk-in attracts a premium for these reasons.

The last thing I’d do is move in an renovate around me. That is the worst of all worlds.


Renovation Threads


Link to a useful thread from where people speak on that which they’d have done differently in hindsight. A lot of stuff relevant to new build but applicable to a refurb.


Confession: I watch Room to Improve.

In about every second house it starts off with ‘we just want to change a few bits around’ and ends up stripping back the whole house to the bare walls and roof. Often the roof has to be replaced or strengthened even. This seems to cost €200k-€250k.

€220k is the rebuild cost for insurance purposes for my 110sqm 3-bed semi. Why don’t more people just knock and rebuild in Ireland?

I’ve seen it in small-town Germany a bit. Take a draughty 1950s house on its own plot, knock it and start again.


thanks for that


cheers ian!


Yep! Had a similar experience doing up the bathrooms to a modern standard. Didn’t even go wild on tiles or sanitary ware but it still cost a small fortune. The house was fine when we moved in but a bit jaded. Thinking back to some genuine doer-uppers we viewed I can’t imagine how much a proper overhaul must cost.

Room to Improve has some educational value in that the costs run over and there are unforeseen problems and delays with windows etc. but it’s all sewn up in 55 minutes so before you know it everyone is having a laugh at the after-party. Nobody remembers the stress and the costs because the kitchen is beautiful and they have vertical radiators now.


It revolves around how sound the house is to start with. It costs a significant amount of money to “get out of the ground”. That is: dig and lay foundations and rising walls, lay sewerage, lay floor slab. And it costs to build walls, chimney and floor/roof wood structures. And it costs to demolish and dig out what’s there is placing new on old footprint

If the above are reasonably sound then you’re way ahead of a new build (so long as you’re not remodelling the existing base structure beyond economic limits). It doesn’t take that long to rip a building down to core.

A new build is also subject to comparatively onerous input from professionals. Cost and complexity.

The error comes in trying to rework that which is crumbling - but if you simply tear down to solid core then you’re not that different to a new build brought to that state of progression.


Am I the only one who doesn’t like those full-height vertical rads? Yes they free up some horizontal space, but they take away from picture-hanging space. Also if you have a good plumber who calculates the BTUs actually needed in a room you might find a big vertical rad can be far too much for some rooms.


A lot of it seems to be psychological. People keep telling me for example that it’s impossible to knock & rebuild a semi-D, respite the fact that it’s eminently possible, done all over the world, and I watched a terraced house being knocked and rebuilt in SCD over the last year. Irish builders & architects just aren’t used to it as it’s not the norm here.


Not mad on them myself - rads can be ugly at the best of times. if letting the plumber do the calc then he might well be working off the fact that houses in Ireland are poorly insulated. Had a guy spec up a double panel rad for a small bedroom and I overruled for a single panel and smaller overall size due to the insulation going in. Even that’s been cranked down in flow and is virtually never on - what with hot air rising upstairs anyway. In fact, we don’t turn the rads on in any of the bedrooms ever


what are your thoughts about underfloor heating? We are contemplating removing some internal walls to open out the rooms at the back which will give space but I really don’t want to take up too much of the remaining wall space with radiators.