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Dermot Bannon. Ruth Maria Murphy/RTÉ
Room to improve

Dermot Bannon - less focus on 'super cool' homes as people now prioritise comfort and warmth

The Room to Improve host speaks to The Journal ahead of the new TV show season airing tonight.

ARCHITECT DERMOT BANNON has said home renovations need a change of focus – with less thinking about “fancy kitchen islands” and more about retrofitting.

Ahead of the first episode of the 13th season of Room to Improve airing tonight, the show’s presenter said the new season deals with rising prices, Covid construction shutdowns and a desire for more comfortable homes.

Speaking to The Journal, Bannon said home expectations have changed during the pandemic – with people prioritising substance over style. 

“What people would have wanted two years ago is totally different now,” he said. 

“Home offices became really important [along with] utility room storage and as people were spending more and more time in their homes, their brief changed.

“Open-plan living spaces changed as well because obviously people spend a lot of time together in open-plan spaces and might say ‘oh we need a small bit of a divide between rooms’ or ‘we need a small den’ – a tiny room with a couple of armchairs and a desk in it.”

He also said “aesthetics and how things look have become less important to people”.

“It’s how they function,” Bannon said. 

So ‘is your house comfortable and warm’ has become more important for people as opposed to ‘does my house look super cool’.

He added that the pandemic “altered the show in the way that it has for everybody doing a build over the last couple of years with shutdowns”.

“We’ve had rising costs which we had to battle because people have a finite amount of money and so if costs rose in the middle of a build, we had to counteract that by trying to make savings.” 

Saving energy

One way to make a house warmer and more comfortable is through retrofitting – making energy-efficient changes to existing buildings through measures like installing heat pumps, insulation and solar panels. 

Room to Improve has dealt with retrofits in previous seasons, and Bannon said he hopes renovations move on from prioritising an extension or “really fancy kitchen islands” over a heat pump or insulation. 

“I’d never dream of putting an extension onto a house if I hadn’t deep retrofitted the existing house. That’s kind of immoral at this stage,” he said. 

There’s no point in having a really cool extension onto a house and people are freezing in other parts of the house.

The government last week announced an updated retrofitting grant scheme to cover 46-51% of the cost. Other grants are available to cover the full cost for lower income households, but waiting lists can be a factor in the process. 

Some experts have said the plan doesn’t go far enough for lower income households and will not deal with the current cost of living crisis.

Bannon believes the new grants will “shift the mindset of people when it comes to retrofitting their homes”. 

“What I’m hoping is that this will start the conversation as opposed to ‘oh I really want a big island’. And I’m partially responsible for all of that,” he said. 

“We have very poorly built houses from the 1960s, 1950s that do need to be upgraded.

We shouldn’t have people with six cardigans on in their homes, lighting multiple fires and I know there’s older houses where people have a fire lit all day long and have the heat on all day long. There’s no need. 

“Fundamentally in all of this it’s about comfort in your home, and it’s about not wasting energy and it’s about moving our homes away from a reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energies.”

But a deep retrofit is pricey. The government’s new scheme estimated the cost at around €50,000, with half of that covered by grants. 

“The average person doesn’t have €25,000 to do that, so you can do it in a piecemeal fashion [gradually],” Bannon said.

“For most people, if you add up how much it’s going to cost to maybe re-paint a house or do some work you wouldn’t be long getting to €25,000 over a period of maybe 10 years.

So maybe why not borrow the €25,000 to do the deep retrofit and then that’s the house done for the next 10 years, even if it means that you’re not going to be able to buy the new couch and all that but I think this stuff is more important than that.


To achieve the State’s requirement to halve greenhouse gas emissions this decade, buildings need to be decarbonised.

Bannon said he is worried about climate change and sees a lot of “wastage” and “missed opportunities” in home design.

“I see people building houses that are maybe way too big for them,” he said. 

“I just see missed opportunities, that’s what I see all the time,” he said, giving an example of a homeowner prioritising getting a new television instead of installing a heat pump immediately. 

“And then they get the gas boiler and that’s it, now you’re reliant on fossil fuels.”

Rising cost of living 

The cost of living has increased in Ireland recently. Bannon said this crops up in the show when plans need to be altered due to rising prices. 

“This year was really about rising costs and supply of materials and being open to that and changing and changing designs to reflect that,” he said. 

The first episode is very much about that – that costs had not been agreed for some of the items during the build and they had shot through the roof.

“If costs are rising at a time, designs have to change, designs have to become more malleable and people might have started with an expectation that they’ll get a certain amount of bang for their buck and that might change.”

In terms of housing more generally, Bannon believes “the system is broken”. 

“It feels like what’s being delivered as housing units – is it what people need? There’s a lot of buy-to-rent.

“I think there’s something very, very broken in the system for a whole generation of people.”

More in-depth season

There are four episodes in the new season of Room to Improve – focusing on a new-build in Stillorgan, a retrofit and renovation of a home in Thurles, a renovation of a home overlooking the Blessington Lakes in Wicklow and a redesign of a home in Howth hit by pandemic-related construction shutdowns.

Bannon said the new season has been able to go more in-depth with the episodes and feature longer conversations about the houses.

“We’ve had two years since we were on air, so this show was made in a lot more time,” he said.  

“We were on site with some of them and then it was shut down so we got a bit of breathing space and that gives you a chance to think about things and look at things and I’m hoping the show has a bit of a fresher feel.” 

Room to Improve airs Sunday, 20 February at 9.30pm on RTÉ One & RTÉ Player.

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