Renovation Diaries: Sustainability Activist Fionnuala Moran Chats The Highs And Lows Of Buying A Fixer-Upper

Just how hard is renovating in 2022?

As we’re all more than painfully aware, the property ladder is nearly impossible to get a leg up on, so a fixer-upper is the only option for many buyers. But just how hard is renovating in 2022? 

In this new series, we chat with Irish people about the highs and lows of renovating a house. First on our list is presenter and sustainability activist Fionnuala Moran, who’s been living in her terraced house in Dublin for 18 months now with her rapper boyfriend, Rebel Phoenix.

As recycling and reusing as much as possible is so important to her way of life, renovating from a sustainable point of view is at Fionnuala’s core in doing up her terraced house in Dublin 12…

When you got your house, was there much to be done at first?

We put our deposit down in July 2020 and moved in October, before the prices shot up even more! All the skeletal jobs needed doing, the rewire, a new heating system, new windows, and doors to bring it up to a much more modern cozy retrofitted home.

It was an E2 BER home when we bought it. We inherited a really mature garden, brilliant for biodiversity, and a big brick shed, we’re now using that as a gym and music studio.

What was the room you tackled first?

The living room was really what we wanted to do up first, it’s the space we’d spend the most time together in. And then for entertaining guests too! Rebel hated the wallpaper and carpet the most, it’s a house with good vibes and it’s been well loved but it’s very much a ‘70s time capsule, we’ve textured wallpaper everywhere. 

We were scraping the walls for ages! We were so delighted when we ripped away the carpet, there’s a gorgeous hardwood floor underneath, we’re keeping that, and then we’re going to sand it down and varnish it.

What’s the first thing you installed to make your space more sustainable?

One of the great things we were gifted by my parents was a hot composter which not only saves on waste but it makes compost faster. But there are smaller scale things you can do, like mini composters that go indoors, worm bins work also and they produce compost. The skeletal upgrades have great for energy efficiency; draft-proofing the house also keeps heat in and saves money.

Have you had much experience with DIY before this project?

Limited! Rebel is a rapper and has worked as a roofer, I’m definitely more of a project manager. He has been putting in windows to get more natural light in, pulling up carpets. We’re going to be reupholstering my granny’s old chairs to make them really glam for our jungle room, we’ve been looking on Facebook marketplace for bits as well.

Did you have any inspiration before you took on renovating?

My favourite Instagram is ABI Interiors, they’re Australian. I’ve been glued to those YouTube videos, stunning, fresh and clean style. One piece of advice everyone told us and we never listened to was that to live in the place first and learn how each space is used, we were a bit deluded about how long things take and how much it costs!

Do ‘click to renovate’ posts on social media put you under pressure to have the perfect renovation?

I’d be very much into slow and secondhand fashion when it comes to clothes, I definitely notice there’s a creeping trend now of fast furniture, Instagram is pushing new styles of homeware all the time as much as fast fashion. 

Finding your own style and sticking to that, seeing people make brave and bold colour choices is something I really admire – at the end of the day to get to enjoy the place and do it up is a lovely privilege to have.

Are there any other sustainability tips regarding houses and renos you’d advise?

Look at the materials you’re using – concrete is a massive carbon emitter. But hemp concrete is on the rise and it’s much less environmentally damaging. If you’re doing up a bathroom, a low flo toilet and shower is a great way to save water. 

Water butts out your back garden will collect rainwater and it’s hooked up to your gutters, you can then use that saved-up water to water your plants in the longer hotter Summers. Your house plants actually prefer rainwater too! 

Another thing is we’re looking at raised beds you can go to Max Warehouse where you can get repurposed railway sleepers or tiles, we want to do a potting shed in the garden and there are reused sinks there too you can pick up. When we got the rewire done, we replaced incandescent bulbs with LED lights. Then there are the classics like solar panels, insulation is some of the more obvious ones too.

Words by Rebecca Keane.


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