Owner Builders and Sustainability
Following on from my recent post about Owner Builders and the importance of considering solar power, I thought I would throw a few more ideas to consider in respect to sustainability.
Owner Builders need to consider two specific areas of sustainability and conservation, one when they are building their project, and in the design phase.
Design considerations will including how you position your dwelling on the block to capture breezes or to make the most of other site characteristics to minimise your energy footprint.
Double glazed windows are great for reducing energy loss in the house and owner builders will also benefit from the acoustic benefits they bring. I am living in an apartment Monday to Friday on a busy Melbourne suburb with traffic and trams at the front door.
There is a rooftop bar across the road, and without the double glazing, the unit would be impossible to live in.
Consider the size of your eaves, in Queensland of course the wider the better to shade the house and minimise the impact of the harsh Northern sun, certainly not as necessary in Victoria.
The installation of water tanks is of course a huge benefit to the owner builder in terms of the money they can save on water rates with them rising year on year. Also, it is extremely important to the environment, and water will likely become a, more and more scarce commodity in the coming years.
It is interesting that councils have done a 360 degree loop on water tanks in residential suburbs and go from banning to mandating through the inevitable cycle.
During the construction phase you can look at water saving initiatives and encourage all your contractors to minimise waste. Use recyclable products, refuse single use plastics on site, do simple things like encourage keep cups and discourage bottled waters.
Owner builders need to be considerate of their local environment and other residents that may be affected by the works that are being undertaken.
They are all little things but they all add up and they all make sense.
I am not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but everything I have mentioned in this post can be done quite easily and I do believe that every little bit will help.
Happy Owner Building,
Owner Builders and Solar Power
Over the last few months, several of my owner builder students have been asking what I know about solar.
Fact is, I actually do know a little, having recently installed a 6.5 kilowatt system at my own home.
6.5 kilowatts is 24 panels and the single inverter which sits nicely on my West North West facing roof.
Owner builders need to consider several things if they are looking to install solar.
Firstly, as an owner builder, you are not legally allowed to do any of the works associated with the installation of your solar system, unless of course you are a licensed electrician with solar accreditation. That should be obvious.
The second thing is deciding what size system will best suit your needs. Thee is some confusion out there generally as to how big a system you can install, with many owner builders thinking that 6.5 kilowatts is the maximum for a single residential property. Fact is you can go bigger but they need to be separate systems.
My son has two systems, that means two inverters and around 48 panel to generate the level of power that he wanted to achieve. He is a licensed electrician and does run a solar installation company, so he did have a slight advantage.
Other factors that should be considered are how and when you use your electricity, what your exposure to sunlight is and what type of roof you have.
How an owner builder will use their electricity is important, particularly because the rebates given these days is far lees than in previous years, so your aim should be to use as much of the electricity that you produce. Retail prices of between 25 to 40 cents per kWh are typical and sales back to the grid will yield you around 16 cents.
If your place is electrically ‘noisy’ through the day, then it makes sense to generate and use as much as you can during daylight hours. We advise our owner builders to run pool pumps, washing machines and dishwasher during peak production times to get the best out of their systems.
The ideal orientation is close to North for these latitudes and the angle of installation can be optimised by matching the latitude so for someone in Cairns they would set the panel pitch at around 17 degrees, 27 degrees for Brisbane and 38 degrees for Melbourne. Owner Builders should check that this is correct, because it may be old thinking and the technology has come so far that it may not still be relevant. That’s the way it was taught to me anyway! (Fraser?).
In any case there are other factors like shade from trees and obstructions that will affect exposure and hence production.
Owner Builders need to be aware that not all panels are equal and that a cheap system may be a nasty system and not provide the same output as a good quality set up.
Of course, the question most often asked is how much will I save?
Well it depends on all the factors I have mentioned above but as a guide, and by my owner experience, the 6.5 kWh system that I have installed has reduced my power bills by around 70%. This is inclusive of a 28% discount I got by changing suppliers at the same time.
So, owner builders need to shop around and get the best deal not only from the installation companies but also through revisiting their retail supplier.
Hope this demystifies solar installation to some extent.
Best Regards and Happy Owner Building
Making the most of your site
OK, I will admit it, I am a bit of a design nazi!!.
I love good design, but more passionately, poor design or lack of consideration and sympathy for the environment disappoints and frustrates me more than any other area of the building profession.
I recently viewed an award winning apartment in Melbourne and to say it was a design disgrace is an understatement.
Where developers push the boundaries (no pun intended) to maximise the use of available land and airspace, they drive architects, planners and designers to decisions that are seldom aligned with the end user.
By end user, I am talking about the owner occupiers, the pennants and the community at large.
The unit I was asked to evaluate, had several glaring design elements which were certainly not considerate of the liveability of the space or of general traffic flow around the floorplan.
Who designs a bedroom where once furnished with typical contemporary furnishings, it is not possible to useably place a bedside table at either side of a queen bed. Where the introduction of a single bedside table makes the built in robes inaccessible.
But the issues don't stop there.
The master bedroom is built back from the building facade, with natural light and ventilation achieved through the 4 meter by 1 meter hallway to nowhere. This 4 square meters of valuable floor space is provided as access to the master bedroom window. Quite bizarre.
The list goes on and on. Finishes in the unit are reasonable and again are touted as being designed by an award winning interior designer. God help us!
Flooring is timber in the living space with carpeted bedrooms and tiled wet areas, pretty standard, but the flooring used is of such poor quality, that it is all but unusable. Installing furniture and normal cleaning result in damage and marking of the finishes which will be a renters nightmare and an owners money pit.
Built in wardrobes are a high point of the apartment being of good quality and functional design, however other area of cabinetry leave a lot to be desired. The laundry recess see a standard 600 mm space for the installation of a washing machine, but the intrusion of the hinges remove the ability to install the machine without dismantling the doors.
Finally, the kitchen sink is a single tub farm style sink which are all the rage. Please take my advice and spend some time considering the practicality of these fixtures. They look great and are extremely functional if you want to clean large items such as BBQ grills, but be aware, it takes about 5 liters of water just to get coverage across the base of the large cross section sink, just to wash a few pieces of flatware and cutlery. Not at all eco friendly, and with many units now basing utitlity charges on hot water usage, very hard on the hip pocket.
There are some redeeming features of this inner city dwelling, but overall I could not rate it as a successful, innovative or intelligent use of space.
As owner builders, plan carefully and discuss your requirements with your architects of design professional. Be considerate of the impact on the environment, the use of natural features and the footprint you will create. Use wind, slope orientation to your advantage and leverage naturally occurring conditions to achieve the best outcomes for your family and the community.
Being an owner builder is a privilege, and you have the opportunity to create something quite special and unique.
Please choose carefully.
Best Regards and Happy Building,
I have just recently had a question from one of our owner builder students in respect to their rights when it cones to water ingress from an adjoing property.
The law and your rights vary slightly from state to state, but the overall approach is reasonably consistent.
Owner Builders need to be aware that council will only act under local legislation when there is a breach in the building code and the design is such that is creates a nuisance to adjoining properties.
Following is an extract from the Queensland Local Government legisaltion. Basically, where design codes and building laws have been follwed, run off water issues and resultatnt disputes or litigation become a civil matter;
Council can also respond to complaints relating to nuisances and flooding as a result of illegal or incorrectly constructed building and structures.
Water flow problems caused by the natural lay of the land, or from overland flow, are a civil matter. If you have an issue with any of the following, you should first speak to your neighbour:
Disputes resolutionIf you wish to formally manage discussions, you may also consider contacting the Disputes Resolution Centre. The centre offers free advice and mediation services and can be contacted on 07 3239 6007.
I hope this helps our owner builder students to better understand their legal rights and responsibilities in respect to rainwater and groundwater run off issues.
Thanks and Best Reagrds,
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 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,
Rick Heaton is a Building and Construction Industry professional with formal tertiary qualifications in management and training.