Hi Owner Builder Course Students,
We are working on an update to each of our resources that we make available free to our owner builder students.
Some of these resources are custom built by us, others are copied from the various state or territory regulatory bodies and are provided to make access simpler and more efficient.
With all of the third party resources we provide access to, they come with the rider that our owner builder course students must check and verify they are the latest and current versions that presents the most up to date information.
Recently there have been some changes to Home Warranty Insurance and this is always a very contentious issue so we look forward to being able to provide an update to this very soon.
In respect to our custom built templates, registers, schedules etc, we realise they are getting a bit long in the tooth and intend to refresh the look and feel of each of these items in the coming few months.
Each resource will be supported by a video tutorial which will guide our owner builder students through the process of using the forms and applying them practically.
The Queensland Building and Construction Commission has a range of contracts which cover every type of project or undertaking that an owner builder may reasonably expect to be involved with. We are working on a set of supporting video tutorials to help our owner builders understand the use of the contracts, which contract to select and how to administer works using the contract as the basis of a management system.
As we have included in previous posts, the QBCC contracts are specifically drawn for works in Queensland. This does not in our opinion render them not applicable to any other state or territory.
Owner Builder course students in New South Wales should consult the website of the Department of Fair Trading to look for the differences and apply them to the use of the contract forms.
That's all for now, but as always,
Owner Builders and Contracts
I know we harp on about it, but as an owner builder, you have the same responsibilities and obligations as a registered builder.
This is true across all areas of owner building, including your responsibilities and obligations in respect to the relevant legislation that covers building contracts in your state and territory.
Queensland, through the QBCC, has possibly the most comprehensive range of standard contracts that may be downloaded free from their website and are available for use on all building projects including those of owner builders.
In this blog, I will discuss the legislative requirements as they apply to owner builders in Queensland, however, the general information is reasonably consistent across both New South Wales and Queensland. For the specific requirements that affect your project in each state and territory, owner builders should visit the website of their relevant governing authority.
All building works should be the subject of a contract, be it written or verbal. For works valued at over $3,300 in Queensland the works must be covered by a written contract.
The applicable legislation will outline the elements which are mandatory for a contract to be valid and the will specify the dollar amount that will require a written contract.
It is important to note that the dollar amount as specified includes the cost of labour and materials.
The QBCC and the relevant legislation, further provide information through fact sheets which outline the responsibilities of each party to a contract that covers domestic building works.
A good place for owner builders to start is the QBCC produced Consumer Building Guide. This document is a mandatory item to be provided to a client, (by the contractor), where the value of works is $20,000 or more.
The guide is to be signed as an acknowledgement that the contractor has provided the client information on the rights and responsibilities of each party. It includes important information on:
Cooling Off Periods
QBCC Licence Requirements
QLD Home Warranty Insurance
Deposit and Progress Payments
Building Approvals and Inspections
Dispute Prevention and Resolution
Extensions of Time
Practical Completion and Handover
Again, while there are differences across the states and territories, owner builders can get a good understanding of consumer law and protections as it applies in the building industry from this document.
The QBCC has made available to its contractors (including owner builders) a range of documents which if applied correctly, effectively and with a degree of discipline, form the basis of contract management for a small domestic construction works that would be typical of an owner builder project in any state or territory.
I would strongly recommend that our owner builder students visit the QBCC website and download each of those documents or forms which may be applicable to their site and works.
The documents include registers for project participants (contractors, suppliers, consultants etc), Prime Cost Schedules, and allows for the establishing of a relationship between the forms provided and other contract elements including working drawings or specifications.
Abacus Training are happy to discuss these valuable project tools and intend on developing a series of videos that show their correct use and application as they could relate to an owner builder project.
Any questions, drop me an email or leave a comment on this blog post.
Best Regards, and Happy Building,
Why is it important that owner builders can read a set of plans?
This is a question that is often asked of me by owner builder course students.
It is a fair question. It is reasonable to assume that as the owner builder, you will simply manage the project. This is in many cases true, but a basic understanding of your project and an ability to 'decode' the information contained on a set of plans will certainly enhance the owner builder experience.
Remember, a set of plans is a graphical representation of your requirements and your expectations. They are in effect, the manual of instructions that guide your contractors to turn your dreams into a reality.
Plans are a communications tool, a well drawn set of plans accurately conveys the message in a way which is understood and readily interpreted by each contractor or supplier who is required to 'decode' the presented information.
The way this is achieved is by using a common language that is understood and easily recognised by those skilled in the building and construction trades. We use symbology, conventions, abbreviations and terminology which are consistent and provide the reader with the tools and information to achieve the project outcomes.
Our course provides the owner builder the opportunity to develop these skills. Important skills and knowledge that equip the owner builder in their role as a Principal Contractor to engage effectively in that communications process.
To me, there is not a more important knowledge for the owner builder to be able to demonstrate than a thorough understanding of the plans and specifications that are the 'instructions' for completing their project.
In developing this knowledge, we start by identifying the types of drawings you are working with. Are the specifications of the project included in the drawings themselves or are the drawings supported by a detailed specifications document in text form? For complex constructions or construction that moves away from conventional domestic building techniques, it is almost impossible to include enough detail on the drawings alone.
In the owner builder course, our NSW and QLD students are introduced to the various symbols, abbreviations and conventions that are used on a typical set of plans. We discuss the appropriate use of scales and how to interpret drawing version numbers and document control.
If you were discussing the internal doors on your project with a potential supplier, could you easily describe them individually? Could you use the numbering and naming convention? Could you tell on which side they were hung, which way they swing, the width and height or general construction? On a well detailed set of plans, this information is available and can be readily interpreted by anyone with access to the 'code'.
I cannot stress enough the importance of an owner builder being fully aware of the detail included in their plans and specifications and the value in being able to talk the talk with your suppliers and contractors in a way that they easily relate to.
Of course their is also the great benefit of being able to demonstrate your knowledge and stand your ground in the event that there is a dispute in respect to the information taken from the plans.
Individual interpretation will always play a part, but by sticking to convention and using a common language through industry standard terminology, you can minimise this issue.
In future posts, we will consider in more detail, the typical drawings used in a domestic construction project and their use by the owner builder.
Till then ....
Estimating for Owner Builders
Our New South Wales and Queensland Owner Builder course students are introduced to the basics of estimating and costing at a level which is relevant and appropriate to a typical owner builder project.
Estimating is different to preparing a quotation and for the owner builder, there are several basic principles that need to be understood.
At the most sophisticated level and arguably the most accurate estimates are produced by quantity surveyors. These tertiary qualified professionals generally produce and work from a Bill of Quantities that in theory considered each and every component of the project down to the last nut, bolt, nail or other fixing. They consider the project at a micro task level and assign a value based on the three project parameters of time, scope and quality.
For most owner builder projects, this will not be required and you should have a basic understanding of how to 'predict' project costs.
In estimating at project level, we can attack the costing in one of several ways.
Firstly, the owner builder may choose to base their estimate on a square meter rate.
You will still need to know the quality you wish to achieve and what your project expectations are. For example you need to establish is your project high end, mid range or have only budget inclusions? From here we can use recognised rates to establish the likely build cost of the dwelling.
Remember however, everyone is different, has different needs and very different expectations. Be realistic and do not underestimate costs as this will ultimately result in cost overruns or cash flow (project funding) issues.
To put this in some perspective, consider a high end house, it may not be unreasonable to spend $300 per square meter on floor tiles whereas a more general rate may be 60 to 70 dollar per square meter. Appliances, fixtures and fitments are another area where costs can vary considerably. A set of taps could be $100.00 or as much as $1200.00 and upwards. A stove top could be $300.00 or $3000.00, so know yours and your family's expectations.
Your square meter rate will also vary for a low set as against a high set.
For the sake of providing an example, when considering a low set house using normal construction techniques such as tile roof, slab on ground, timber frame cavity brick built in a capital city will typically have a build cost of 800 to 1200 dollars per square meter for a standard level of finishes. A house of the same construction type with high end finishes could be anywhere from $1500 to $2500.00 per square meter but of course the sky is the limit.
So at 1200 per square meter, a typical 240 square meter house could be budgeted at around 288,000 dollars.
When considering your owner builder development, there a couple of rules of thumb you should be familiar with. Possibly the most important of these is the value of the construction when compared against the value of the land. In order not to over capitalise, you generally would not build a house that was significantly more expensive than the cost of the land. So a block worth $500,000 would normally support a $500,000 build cost.
Conversely, using the rules of thumb and standard rates, you can get an idea of the size of home you should consider for any given land portion.
In the example above, a $500,000 block would warrant a 416 square meter home with a build cost of $1200 per square meter.
In our owner builder course we go into far more detail and introduce our students to worked examples of costing and producing estimates.
In future blogs we will consider several other methods and techniques that owner builders can use to determine likely costs for their projects or specific scopes of work.
Owner Builders and the Wow Factor!
Whilst owner builders are not in the business of building and they are expected (legislated) to live in the home for a given period of time (normal between 5 and 7 years), they still need to be considerate of getting the wow factor into their design.
Our NSW and QLD owner builder course students often ask me what's the biggest selling feature in any home?
Apart from the old saying location, location, location, it is without a doubt bathrooms and kitchens which provide the greatest opportunity to wow any potential buyer.
Owner Builders whilst restricted in their opportunity to sell in the short term need to look at long term capital gains. This should also be considered when renovating or extending.
Today, we are a nation that places enormous value on our climate and access to open spaces. Thoughtful attention to al fresco areas can pay big dividends in the ultimate sale of a property. Think about how the indoor and outdoor spaces connect and their use ability across the range of weather conditions your particular site will encounter across the seasons.
Owner Builders who include design elements that allow open spaces in the home to be used year round normally see greater capital gain and realise higher prices on resale. Outdoor kitchens, heating, lighting, cooling and shades or weather covering are all important in getting that true wow factor in your owner builder project.
When it comes to kitchens, don't skimp in this area. Think about the usability and flow of the kitchen, placement of appliances to work spaces and how the area works with the adjacent living spaces.
More and more the trend is towards open plan living in contemporary design, but if you have a heritage or traditional theme this may not be appropriate.
Quality appliances, modern splash back treatments and the accentuation of natural timbers and light can really make a kitchen pop.
Have you got room for a butlers pantry?
Does the space fit your own family needs?
Do you need/want formal and informal dining options?
All of these questions require consideration when you are planning your owner builder project.
With bathrooms and powder rooms, the more the merrier. It is true that the more bathrooms, ensuites, powder rooms and wet areas add true value to any property.
Use quality fittings, the best you can afford and look for inspiration in tile showrooms, trade journals and design magazines.
The big sellers in bathrooms are certainly frameless glass treatments, double showers, rainwater head shower roses, free standing baths double basins.
Consider lighting and ventilation of these areas and where possible maximise the views form any bathroom or ensuite without compromising privacy.
While you are planning your owner builder project, we always suggest that you start a portfolio or scrapbook of ideas you like and things you see. Visit display homes and building display centers, but be mindful of copyright issues.
The design phase of any project can be incredibly rewarding, and this is especially so for owner builders. There is nothing quite like being able to sit back and say, "I designed that!"
Keep an eye out for our next owner builder blog post and in the meanwhile ...
Owner Builder Safe Work Method Statements
Owner builders need to understand that as previously discussed, as the Principal Contractor, they are totally responsible for the safety of their owner builder project site.
One of the responsibilities is the requirement to sight all Safe Work Method Statements that relate to High Risk Activities undertaken on the site.
A Safe Work Method Statement is a control document which identifies the hazards and risks associated with the tasks associated with the High Risk Activity. Further the owner builder needs to be aware that the SWMS details the controls which are to be put in place and how the works are to be carried out to ensure the risk management principle of As Low As Reasonably Practical (ALARP) is maintained.
The document (SWMS) is generally prepared by the contractor performing the works.
The owner builders responsibility is to ensure the required SWMS are in place, recorded and retained on site and available to all affected persons working on or visiting the site.
The owner builders obligation does not stop there. Once the SWMS are collected and retained, it is then necessary to ensure the specified controls and methods of work are complied with. If not, it is the Owner Builders responsibility to ensure affected works are stopped immediately, the area made safe and not re commenced until the appropriate controls are put in place.
It is important to understand that a SWMS is not the same as a task specific detail such as a Job Safety Analysis or a Safe Operating Procedure. It is rather, a tool to allow the owner builder or person responsible for the work site to monitor the control measures.
A SWMS must identify the High risk Activity, specify the associated hazards and risks, describe the control measures or mitigators to be implemented and how they are to be monitored and reviewed.
Whilst generic SWMS are useful and can even be used to assist in identifying hazards and risk, it is important for the owner builder to ensure they are relevant and specific enough to cover the works as they are to be carried out.
In respect to maintaining the SWMS records, legislation requires the SWMS to be on site or in a place that they may be quickly retrieved. Electronic copies are acceptable.
In upcoming blogs, we will discuss the methods owner builders can use to identify hazards and risks on their projects and how to decide on appropriate controls that need to be implemented.
Abacus Training provides it's owner builder students with templates which can be used to form the basis of a SWMS, this helps in reviewing contractor produced SWMS to check for completeness and appropriateness of controls.
Remember, safety is everyone's responsibility but as the owner builder and therefore the Principal Contractor, the buck stops with you.
Owner Builders and Design
One area that is often overlooked and certainly not required from an Owner Builder Course perspective is the area of design.
Whilst a true design course will take several semesters of study, considerable research and a large amount of experience through exposure, owner builders, as relative novices can still contribute significantly to the design of their project.
After all, no one knows your requirements, the needs of your family and likes and dislikes better than you.
In many cases you will have lived in a house that has features your like or do not like, things that work for you and you family and things that do not. You will have seen house that have the features you want and designs that are pleasing to your eye.
This of course is the best place to start. We suggest to each of our owner builder students that you keep a diary or portfolio of thins that you see and like. These images could come from your travels, flicking through magazines, visiting display villages etc.
Even with all my experience I still keep a portfolio of new designs, trends, contemporary design elements, current colour pallets and finishes.
Owner Builders who are armed with this information, have it recorded in an efficient manner and know their own mind are well placed to start discussions with their Building Design professional. Remember, this could be an architect or a qualified building designer, largely dependent on the type, size and complexity of construction.
Whilst this information is important, it still an absolute must that owner builders try to develop a grasp of design, even at a fundamental level.
Whilst not mandatory, our owner builder courses provide our students access to important information that allows them to develop basic understanding, knowledge and skills in the area of design.
An understanding of basic design criteria is explained and we cover important areas of developing a layout which considers energy efficiency, (thermal, electrical and acoustic) as well as the general feel and composition of rooms which flow, interconnect and provide areas which accommodate the needs of the occupants.
Our owner builder students will be introduced to the requirements of compliance with covenants and local legislation including setbacks, land coverage ratios and building height restrictions.
I am posting this blog to get our students thing about design and the impact on their owner builder projects.
As we continue with the series of blogs, we will cover the areas of design in more detail with each individual post covering a specific topic.
I encourage you to enter into the discussions and post about your owner individual owner builder experience.
Remember, for our NSW Owner Builder students, the communications unit of competency requires you to participate in the forums or the blog topic posts.
Whilst this is a completion requirement, it is also a great way to engage with your fellow owner builder students and share experiences that are relevant to your projects.
Happy Owner Building,
We have just reviewed each of the additional resources we provide free of charge to our owner builder students and have realised it is 7 years since some of them have been revised.
As a result of this discovery and our commitment to making the owner builder course the best it can be, we are going to revise and update each of the resources over the coming months.
The resources as they currently stand are still extremely valuable to our owner builder course students and may be accessed at:
Of particular use are the Project Management Systems and the Safety Management System. They are both .exe files and unfortunately do not work on mac based systems. We will fix this in the updated versions.
For our owner builder students who are PC users, they are accessed by downloading the .exe file and saving to your computer. You will need the following serial numbers to access the content:
HIH001 for the Project Management System and
0001 for the Safety Management System
In addition to theses resources, there are several tutorials which are also .exe files. They take the owner builder student through how to use the various forms in the Project Management Systems.
In updating these resources, we will also include access to sample specifications typically used for an owner builder domestic construction project and online tutorial videos on completing a Safe Work Method Statements and how to implement an effective Safety Management System for your owner builder project.
Of course you can email our staff with any of your questions, and we will try to develop an answer that will become available as a resource for all of our owner builder course students.
Take care out there, keep your owner builder site safe, and
Rick Heaton is a Building and Construction Industry professional with formal tertiary qualifications in management and training.