Renovate or Rebuild Recap, Episode 6: Isobel and Dave

Just like that, Renovate or Rebuild is back in NSW and we’re ready to see whether Andy and Deb from Team Renovate can steal the crown from Norm and Jess after Team Rebuild won the previous round.

Andy and Deb make a formidable duo. The comedy king and styling queen have a wealth of experience and plenty of flair. They will go to any lengths to reinvent the past and renovate all the way.

Norm and Jess are legendary Blockheads from 2018 and now radio superstars. With a soft spot for heavy machinery, they will jump at any chance to knock down and rebuild.

Considering a transformation of your own? If you’re exploring options like solar energy to revamp your home, you can get FREE solar quotes from Energy Matters to discover how sustainable solutions can enhance your living space. It’s a step toward a greener, more energy-efficient home.

A Split-Level Home They’ve Simply Outgrown

This week we meet a lovely young family from New Lambton Heights, a suburb 9 kilometres west of Newcastle’s central business district.

Isobel and Dave purchased their home almost 5 years ago. Both grew up in the country but met in Sydney through work and university. It wasn’t long before love blossomed and they moved into a tiny two-bedroom apartment. Once daughter Gracie came along, they decided it was time to look for a more spacious home where they can settle down and raise a family without the Sydney price tag.

The couple has since had a second daughter Georgie, and the whole family loves their Newcastle lifestyle.

Nestled on the beautiful, sun-drenched eastern coastline of New South Wales, just over two hours north of Sydney, Newcastle is a vibrant city bursting with fun things to do for the whole family. The region has experienced its ups and downs, but the local economy is now booming with property prices increasing dramatically in the last few years to a median price of $1.1M.

When Isobel and Dave purchased their property, they liked that it had a bit of personality with its split-level, weatherboard construction. It’s situated in a beautiful cul de sac, offering a quiet and safe place to raise their girls. The yard is lush and green, with ample space for the girls to play

Unfortunately, the house has its drawbacks – namely the layout and flow. The home is built on a tiered block with a double garage underneath the single-storey dwelling. It has three small bedrooms and one bathroom – a real challenge with two little girls! There’s a toilet in the garage but there’s no internal access.

The house also loses points for comfortability and efficiency. The main living area is west-facing, so it’s very hot during summer. In winter the home is susceptible to draughts and also has issues with dampness due to poor ventilation. Isobel and Dave invested in ducted heating and cooling which works great but their energy bills have been through the roof.

Host, James Treble, asked Isobel and Dave what changes they are looking for. They shared they’d love some separate living spaces and to establish an indoor/outdoor flow so they can keep an eye on the kids in the backyard. They’ve settled on a modern coastal style, wanting a bright and airy space with lots of white for Isobel and a splash of colour for Dave. They’re also interested in installing solar panels in an effort to lower their energy bills.

When it comes to whether they’d prefer to renovate or rebuild, the budget is the main consideration – and it’s a modest budget. While they’d love to have a blank canvas and build the perfect house, they also like the challenge of transforming the home within a certain budget.

Isobel and Dave’s Brief:

  • More space and better flow
  • Indoor/outdoor connection
  • Extra bathroom
  • Efficient, comfortable and healthy home
  • Budget: renovation $250,000, rebuild $550,000

Team Renovate: Andy and Deb

As Andy and Deb approached the house, they were impressed with how the house sat into the elevated block. Andy wasn’t too sure about the “off-white” colour, however, saying it reminded him of Donald Trump much to Deb’s bemusement.

Stepping indoors, they immediately felt the warmth of the house and speculated that the orientation is wrong. They noted the house feels small too, particularly the bedrooms. The absence of an ensuite was also an obvious issue.

Deb was horrified after stumbling upon Isobel and Dave’s study/junk room. “They’ve just given up on that room”, she decided.

While they loved the backyard, they acknowledged the house has a “pokey” layout and floorplan. “But you would never knock this down”, exclaimed Andy, followed by an amusing but inspirational speech on the virtues of renovating and saving money while saving the planet.

Team Rebuild: Norm and Jess

“Ugh gross!”

Jess was clearly less than impressed the moment she saw the house.

“I can already tell it’s a rebuild. It looks alright but I hate everything about it”, she exclaimed.

Norm wasn’t convinced, thinking aloud that they might have some trouble getting a rebuild over the line since the house “isn’t actually too bad”.

Jess, however, insisted that the house is terrible, that the orientation is all wrong and will swelter in the summer. She unceremoniously threw Norm’s thong at the house to demonstrate her distaste.

As they walked inside, Jess and Norm decided that the poor orientation of the house would be their winning angle. Like Andy and Deb, they thought the rooms were tiny and we’re equally taken aback by the messy study. Jess said the room reminded her of both Norm’s car and her mindset when she’s hormonal – just everywhere!

They also felt the outdoor area isn’t functional.

After seeing the house they agreed that the house is “unrenovational” and that Team Renovate has got no chance. Knowing that budget could be an issue, they discussed the option of staging the new build.

Design Consultations

Assisting both teams with their design is Martin Bednarczyk, owner of Sydney-based architectural practice Archispectrum.

Martin sat down with both teams to discuss their ideas.

Team Renovate

With a modest budget, Martin suggested that staging the renovation might be the most realistic option. He also advised that, rather than excavate the block the team could instead elevate the building up to the height of the block to bring everything into the one space.

Team Rebuild

Martin was open to the pavilion staging idea that Team Rebuild presented but wanted them to consider the typography of the block. He suggested that, although it’s a rebuild, they should consider retaining the existing garage as it’s structurally sound and in the right location. He said they can knock down the rest of the house and rebuild from there.

Designs: Ideas and Inspiration

While Martin worked on the designs, the teams and homeowners visited a number of incredible properties for further inspiration.

Norm and Jess took Isobel and Dave to see a “postage stamp” house in Freshwater Sydney that proves that a small house can still excel when it comes to style and function.

The house has been built on a small 20sqm block of land. Similar to Isobel and Dave’s block, it’s also a bit awkwardly shaped. Despite being hot outside, the interior of the home is cool without air conditioning thanks to the innovative Deceunick uPVC windows and doors by Ultimate Windows that provide excellent thermal insulation.

Despite being small, the house feels big and spacious with high ceilings. The smart design takes advantage of every inch of space while still allowing a backyard.

Meanwhile, Roshan Ramnarain from Energy Matters took Andy and Deb to meet with Charles McGlinchey from SENEC Australia to have a look at a solar battery solution. Here, Roshan and Charles explained how solar batteries are the perfect complement to a solar power system, providing energy security during power outages. Solar batteries work by storing excess energy generated from your solar panels for use during blackouts or when the sun isn’t shining.

The SENEC B3 Hybrid is an all-in-one system, with a solar inverter and batteries in the one box. All you need to do is add solar panels, and you’re ready to go.

Knowing that the budget is tight, Andy and Deb asked Roshan how they might accommodate the cost of the solar solution for Isobel and Dave. Roshan suggested that they consider Payright‘s “buy now, pay later” finance option available through many of Energy Matter’s solar partners. Payright allows customers to pay for their solar system in convenient bite-size installments.

Solar and battery system calculator

Norm and Jess bought Isobel and Dave to Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches to visit a house that excels in seamless outdoor/indoor living with an incredible backyard and pool area. The stunning house cleverly uses insulated Bondor SolarSpan roof panels to achieve year-round climate control.

Lastly, Andy and Deb visited a house in Turramurra that’s undergone a massive transformation. Homeowner Ian explained that the house was a 1960s project home with poor thermal insulation and a concrete tile roof. The house would regularly reach upwards of 40 degrees celsius until Ian replaced the original windows with uPVC windows. This made a world of difference, providing much-needed thermal insulation.

Property Appraisal

James met with Thomas Hook from Walkom Real Estate to discuss the property market in Newcastle and his thoughts on Isobel and Dave’s house. Thomas explained that the greater Newcastle region has experienced a big uptick in property prices, particularly since COVID. He continued, saying he’s seen a lot of families moving to Newcastle from metropolitan areas and making a new life there.

He suggested that Isobel and Dave should invest as much a $500,000 to get their dream home and raise their kids there for the next 10 years. In that time he believes the capital value will outgrow the investment.

Final Designs

Team Renovate Design Highlights

  • Budget conscious approach, staged the works to control expenditure. Included everything in Isobel and Dave’s brief in stage 1 budget, with optional extras in the second stage.
  • Transformed look of existing home, creating a modern play on the traditional house silhouette of two walls and centre-pitched roof with new site addition achieving a dramatic architectural design
  • Starting from lower existing part of the home, retained the original garage which was already a great size
  • Subfloor to the front of the block provides structure for new split-level layout above
  • New set of internal stairs leads up through the centre of the home to new light-filled entry foyer which is the main link to each of the living and sleeping zones
  • To rear of home is new master suite with two large separate built-ins and ensuite
  • Large living area located to front of the block enjoying the height of the second set of raked ceilings
  • Generous kitchen and butler’s pantry to the rear of the home. Large island benchtop with plenty of space to entertain
  • Set of extra high bi-fold doors open home to new covered alfresco and pool area with soaring ceilings allowing both light and airflow
  • Pared back interior of the home has soft, less-contrasting palette of natural timbers and clean white walls
  • Maintains functional elements and materials of existing home
  • 7.2 star energy rating

Stage 1 estimated cost: $248,000

Stage 2 estimated cost: $407,000

Total estimated cost: $655,000

Team Rebuild Design Highlights

  • Sleek, low-profile design that includes an interesting mix of roof design
  • Stunning façade fits the width of the block and features large banks of glass and natural timber decorative screens
  • Kept small section of existing home garage
  • Main floor features pavilion-style layout that separates living and sleeping zones by positioning a large pool and entertaining area right in the middle of the block
  • Statement design cleverly considers the direction of the sun ensuring entertaining space will be filled with light for most of the year, extending swimming months
  • Located above garage and family room is the new open plan living and dining space with a large kitchen positioned to the rear of the home
  • Set of bi-fold splashback windows allow plenty of natural light and airflow to enter the home
  • New master suite with impressive amount of storage and large ensuite that creates a hotel experience
  • Windows on three sides of bedroom links with the beautiful pool
  • Polished concrete floors provide highly durable and beautiful finish with great thermal properties
  • Solar energy system
  • Energy rating 7.3 stars
  • Two-stage construction process

Stage 1 estimated cost: $301,000

Stage 2 estimated cost: $475,000

Total estimated cost: $776,000


Due to COVID restrictions, this episode’s design reveals and judging were held via video conference.

The two different solutions were judged by an expert panel on style, sustainability, and cost. The judges are real estate expert, Thomas Hook, building and property expert, Natalee Bowen, and interior designer, James Treble. Each judge will give a final score out of 10.

Ultimately the decision will come down to Isobel and Dave — will they renovate or rebuild? Their decision will add an additional two points to the final tally.

Team Renovate

Thomas: Said it has amazing street presence and that first impression sells homes. Liked that pool was on northern side and there’s still a yard for kids to play in. Another big plus was the downstairs office. Score: 9/10

James: Thought it looked completely unrecognisable from existing home. Likes how flipping the house deals with the temperature issues. Thought high pitch of roof is beautiful and how it blocks the western sun but allows light to come in through the north. Noted only three bedrooms but that’s acceptable with only two children. Loved the massive space opening to the pool and the mixture of finishes. Score: 9.5/10

Natalee: Wowed by modern, Hamptons coastal feel of the design. Loved the open plan, indoor/outdoor layout. Though staging was thoughtful and mindful of client’s brief. Score: 9.5/10

Total Score: 28/30

Team Rebuild

Thomas: Liked the big floorplan and the centrally located pool, but thought the lack of yard space would not appeal to families moving to the area. also didn’t like how the living area is on the south side rather than north side of the home. Score: 8/10

James: Noted how every bit of yard space is taken up on the long and narrow site. More high-scale and sophisticated design than Team Renovate, appealing to an older clientele. Agreed with Thomas that living should be on the north side of the home. Liked the overall design otherwise. Score: 9/10

Natalee: Thinks pavillion living is a throw-back to the 80s when we all wanted to live in Bali and this is a modern take on that. Liked the staging of the build, but thought the final design exceeded the budget quite significantly. Score 8.5/10

Total Score: 25.5/30

Final Decision: Renovate or Rebuild?

Team Renovate’s design has a clear lead, unanimously getting the nod of approval from the judges. Still, the final decision comes down to Isobel and Dave – will they choose to renovate or rebuild?

Isobel started by saying that they were overwhelmed and blown away by both teams’ amazing designs.

While they thought Team Rebuild’s design is beautiful, they just aren’t sure whether it suits their taste and style.

They love how Team Renovate’s design is north-facing and the pitch of the roofs. Love how there’s still an element of the existing design with the weatherboards.

“It’s lovely”, Isobel gushed. Dave agreed, saying it’s a stunning house and he’s “Team Renovate”.

Andy and Deb with thrilled with the result, saying they feel lucky and honoured to have been chosen.

They can’t wait to see the transformation and neither can we!

Congratulations to both teams, who did an incredible job achieving a more comfortable, spacious, energy-efficient, and healthy home design.

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