Renovate or Rebuild

A new kind of lifestyle reality television program premiered on YouTube today, Tuesday 28 May 2019. Normally this isn’t our patch, but Renovate or Rebuild is a home improvement show with a difference.

Hosted by environmental scientist and Gardening Australia presenter Dr Josh Byrne and using behavioural science insights from the CRC for Low Carbon Living, Renovate or Rebuild aims to get “the masses” thinking positively about incorporating more sustainable elements into their homes. Channel 9 is considering picking up a full series of the program.

The first of a series of 30 minute episodes set to follow the same format featured a Sydney family looking to improve their living situation. They enlist the help of two teams to advise on possibilities for the upgrade: one advocating for renovation, the other for a rebuild. 

Ultimately it will be the family that decides, but the winner will always be a more comfortable, efficient and sustainable home. 

Language is key to mass appeal – the word “sustainability” is never uttered

Green star ratings systems and passive house technologies are employed throughout the episode, but not a single piece of energy or environmental related jargon is uttered.

This is a considered choice.

According to extensive research by the CRCLCL, dense sustainability terms tend to put the wider population off. 

“When you think of energy efficient homes, you expect a bit of straw or a few spiders or something,” ex-Block star and member of Team Rebuild Jess said in the episode.

Instead, terms such as “healthy” and “comfortable” pepper the script.

“We would love to go from zero to utopia,” James McGregor, chief sustainability innovator and partner to the show said at the launch, “but we can’t.

We need to “stop lecturing and giving out fact sheets,” Mr Mcgregor explained, and start to sell people, “what they need by giving them what they want”. 

The two teams vying for the win are headed by ex-The Block duos Michael and Carlene (Team Renovate) and Norm and Jess (Team Rebuild).

A balancing act

Dr Byrne expressed this as a concern when he initially signed on to do the film. He said he was “fearful of getting involved” if it were to go so light on the sustainability angle while using the “very ugly TV model” it employs. 

However, the research out of CRCLCL points to the familiarity of the format and language used helping to get the average viewer excited about products and change in the industry that is good for both them and the environment.

It’s the “me factor” that resonates with people most, Dr Byrne concluded.

An emotion provoker that drives the audience to where the rational brain kicks in”

The goal is for the accessible language used and the enthusiasm brought by the hosts to get audience members emotionally invested, prompting them to head to the show’s website or social media to learn more.

In this way the program acts as “the emotion provoker,” eliciting impact that drives the audience to the website “where the rational brain kicks in”.

Dr Byrne says that the benefits of sustainability focused design and technology has already been demonstrated to industry and within academia.

“The problem has been that we’re just not hitting the mass audience.

“This project is all about trying to align the good design and good technology thinkings for better performing buildings… with people’s wants and needs,” Mr Byrne says.

Renovate or Rebuild is funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

The pilot episode of Renovate or Rebuild is available to watch on YouTube. Discussions are underway with Channel 9 regarding a full series on 9Life.

“But before we progress those discussions,” Mr McGregor added, “we want to finish the social science research to validate that the show and supporting website do actually change consumers attitudes and desires for sustainable housing options. 

“We need to achieve that objective first and foremost.”

Join the Conversation


Your email address will not be published.

  1. This approach and topic is a fantastic twist on something that is a recognised formula for TV success. Please don’t let Channel 9 dumb it down. And can we please encourage rebuilds that avoid slab on ground and go back to landscape considerations in design and preservation of trees on a block.

  2. The only bit missing from this conversation are the renos done because the original design doesn’t allow for getting older. Much landfill could be avoided if we had universal design principles applied across all new housing. It will be interesting to see if the upcoming ABCB RIS on this topic of “accessible” housing (that’s their term) will actually bring about the small tweaks in design that will avoid costly renos for all of us. And it is NOT ABOUT GRABRAILS EVERYWHERE! If you see ugly then it’s a very poor design!

  3. I am sick of shows which cater for the well to do.

    I would love to be able to afford a renovation as our house is falling apart.

    I am currently unemployed (I am getting a small portion of my 2006 wage as I am on workers Compensation)and additionally have major health expenses which are only going to increase with the Liberal government.

    If the program goes ahead, could you include small projects, as not everyone has that sort of money to renovate or rebuild and extend an entire house.

    Why don’t you come to my house and meet our chooks.

  4. Having been involved in many many workshops that led to the development of this show I think it is great. I am really surprised however, given the budget of the knockdown or rebuild that the client would not want to be more informed about the initiatives that are making their home more healthy and more cost effective to run. From my experience I feel we have moved on from sustainability as a word that describes a house built of hale bales and that generally people are more educated about the impact of building on the environment. It was certainly alot better than the Block and alot of fun.

  5. This show has the potential to create wide scale change. Opening the every day consumers mind to different options when renovating/rebuilding. It will get people thinking about not only cost saving but also the benefits of low carbon living, in an organic way.

  6. A fantastic initiative. The number of times I hear from my Green Living Builders that I’d love to do more but my client’s not interested.

  7. This has the potential to change the whole new housing and renovation market. I urge everyone to get behind this and give it as much support as possible to help it get to air.