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Top Ten Tips For Home Renovation

1. Enlist a professional

You can’t turn on a television these days without some programme about terrible workmen. Cowboy builders or Bad Builders: Bang to Rights have all of us fearful of letting the professionals in but consider the alternative. Simple DIY projects can spiral out of control, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can do more harm than good. I grew up the child of a ‘DIYER’ and to this day I can’t look at a flat pack without crying.

We had a light switch in the kitchen that we couldn’t turn on for ten years because it would blow all the fuses. What those experiences taught me was (a) Marry an electrician and (b) not be afraid to seek out a professional to do jobs. The key is to do your research. Ask neighbours for recommendations. Speak to previous customers they’ve done work for; some people will even let you pop round for a look at their handy work.

Have people round for quotes and don’t go with the first person you come across. Don’t confuse cheap labour for good labour either. Sometimes it’s worth paying a bit extra for a job to be done properly especially when it comes to housing alterations. You’re allowing a stranger into your home; you want to feel comfortable with them, to be able to ask for what you want and to know they’re going to respect your home.

2. Take the time to consider what you want

It’s very easy to get led by other people whether it’s a family member, friend or professional. So make your own mind up about what it is you want to change about your house before you enlist the help or advice of others. Really consider all your options. If you’re getting new doors in, do you want the light to come through, or do you want to shut the cold out. If you’re having a bigger job done, evaluate all that needs to be done so that you don’t find yourself half way through a job and realising you missed a step. Think of it as a paint by number picture where every addition has an effect. Take into account walls, floors, roofs, windows, doors, electrics, heating and plumbing.

3. Take Planning Permission into account

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.

4. Consider your financial options

Depending on your reasons for renovating, you might be entitled to a grant. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are supported by certain schemes. Those with mobility problems, disabilities and the elderly can be entitled to money to help with the costs of renovating to make their environment more suitable for their needs. Check out your local Citizens advice for information on these grants. Home-owners 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. Some banks are now offering loans or mortgage top-ups for housing renovations and the credit union is an ever reliable option. Make sure to consider the repayment scheme and interest rates when calculating your budget.

5. See a number of workmen

Irish people need to learn to treat picking a workman in the same way they would any other purchase. Shop around. When sourcing a professional, 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 quantity surveyor Patricia Power.

Gathering recommendations from different sources will ensure a fair spread of quotes. She also 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.”

6. Take your time with design

Sometimes it’s worth getting an architect in to go over the finer details with you. Their skills don’t just lie in the design, they can also provide a good estimation of costs and how realistic your budget is. It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning and want to get started straight away before you’ve fully taken the budget into account and this is why so many renovation projects turn into a nightmare situation.

7. Make sure your builder is compliant

At present, 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 went live in March, 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.”

8. Choose the right Professional

Trust your instincts when meeting people for the first time, whether it’s an architect, builder, electrician or surveyor. Only you know if you will work well together. 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.

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.

Home-owners 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.

9. Be specific

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.

10. Be safe and be insured

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.


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