June 20th, 2019
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,
I am getting a lot of questions from our owner builders asking why they can no longer complete the White Card course (General Safety induction Training) online.
That is a question that you would need to ask WorkSafe.
To be quite honest, I know the answer...
There were simply too many RTO's out there not doing the right thing by owner builder students or anyone else need to do the training. There were many offerings of 'shonky' course which did not provide the fundamental thing required of a training course. They simply did not transfer knowledge. They were only interested in your money.
It is very sad that operators out there exist and that they make it impossible for the good operators to complete. Not only is it sad, but it is incredibly worrying when the knowledge and skills that need to be transferred to a student are for the sole purpose of keeping them safe. Achieving genuine transfer of knowledge through online learning is not easy. It takes a skilled and experienced course writer to author a course and set assignments, task and questions that truly allow the candidate to demonstrate competence.
Over the years we developed a great system for achieving this and expended an enormous amount of effort and resources to make certain not only our students (owner builders and others) got value for money and truly developed skills and knowledge that would help to keep them safe in a construction workplace. Importantly, as the vast majority of our students were owner builders, we contextualised the course over the years to ensure it had even more relevance to them in their role as Persons in Control of A Business Undertaking (PCBU) or as a Principal Contractor.
An owner builder has the added responsibility to ensure eveyone employed on their sites remain safe and have access to appropriate facilities. Further, they are responsible for ensuring each of the contractors engaged on the owner builder site that is undertaking a High Risk Construction Activity, is doing so under the provisions of a Safe Work Method Statement or similar.
All that said, the rest of the states have not yet followed suit, even though Work Health and Safety legislation is supposed to be harmonised across the states and territories.
So,guess what? Those same RTO's who did not do the right thing by their previous students, continue to wrought the system by offering the White Card online and issuing a Western Australian card. (they have the least stringent requirements in respect to ID and record keeping).
Hopefully, sanity will prevail at some time soon and we will be able to compete again in this very competitive market.
Sales even for our owner builder courses have dropped off considerably because we can non longer offer a package deal.
Is that fair? Probably not, but we will continue to only offer a quality product to our students, so if you can get to our offices, we are more than happy to offer the course face to face.
Best Regards and Happy Owner Building
Owner Builders Blog
Are owner builders entitled to builders or trade discounts?
I get asked this a lot by many of my owner builder course students.
When I respond, I always think of a famous quote;
“you get what you negotiate, not what you deserve!”
I guess that goes for owner builders as well. Simple truth is, that with the advent of the mega hardware stores Like Bunnings, the volume they sell and the deals they can source through their buyer dictate the price point that the are able to offer any of their products.
So, does that mean that owner builders should just accept what they are offered at full retail?
No, you always need to ask. I have many a good friend who has been very successful in a variety of areas and the one common theme is that they always buy well.
Then, how can owner builders make get the best price out of their suppliers and contractors.
It takes work and organisation. To get a great deal out of your hardware supplier, the most successful approach is to do exactly what a savvy professional builder or contractor would do. Have the suppliers compete for your business and have them quote on a job lot.
Show them you are serious, go to the suppliers trade department with a well compiled and organised set of tender documents. Specify exactly what it is you want to purchase, provide, quantities, product and model numbers, profiles and colours. Let them know you are seeking offers from other suppliers, make them work for your business.
Making the supplier want to be your provider of goods, is the best way to get a good deal, but make certain you know exactly what it is you want before you present the tender documents to them. Understand that each supplier may have different products they will offer, so be sure you understand your own mind. What is negotiable what is not and what represents a suitable alternative.
Remember that this does not just work with suppliers, you need to do the same work with the selection of trade contractors for your owner builder project.
Always seek three quotes and make certain the tender documents include specifications and work instructions that give you the best opportunity to receive quotations that can be compared like for like and that they are based on exactly what you have specified and that they meet your expectations.
Sounds easy? Well, it’s not. Like all areas of owner building, the best way to ensure success is to be disciplined and organised.
Good luck with your owner builder project.
June 13th, 2019
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
Hello to all our owner builder students and welcome to the latest blog.
Professional Relationships with Owner Builders
We do not often consider the relationship owner builders have with their professional advisers. That is, the consultants they work with through the course of their owner builder projects.
Just to be signing off the same hymn sheet, when we talk about professionals, we are referring to those service providers who have will generally have the qualifications and authority to sign off or certify building elements or design features.
They include engineers, architects or building designers, certifiers, surveyors, lawyers and town planners. The size, scope and complexity of your project, will normally determine the level of involvement you have with these contracted services.
Once upon a time, I would confidently say that owner builders had a very limited exposure to each of these consultants in that generally, most projects would be of traditional design using common building practices and construction techniques.
More and more though, owner builders are becoming more adventurous and confident in tackling complex projects with sometimes extreme design features that require considerable reliance on engineering design and supervision to ensure both structural integrity and compliance.
Even in the electrical space, more and more residential dwellings are including smart wiring, heating, cooling and automation features that require complex design and specialist installation.
It is these designs, features and inclusions which truly individualise a build and make a home ‘fit for purpose’, satisfying the needs of todays mobile and connected families.
I recently had the opportunity to advise a client and oversee the build of an owner built dwelling on the Gold Cost Hinterland that ended up being a 3.4 million dollar build. The water features alone were something else with waterfalls and fountains feeding a mineral salt spa. All very impressive if not indulgent. The sustainability feature though were what really made the home a work of art and a technological masterpiece.
Solar panels, inverters and battery banks are just the start of it. Couple this to soft start electric pool pumps, rainwater harvesting, heat pumps and LED lighting, this property truly attempts to minimise its impact and environmental impact.
This is just one example of how the owner builder market is maturing, with some projects meeting or exceeding the outcomes that would be expected of quality signature custom homes.
It is all well and truly within the reach and capability of owner builders who use all the resources available to them, including reliable and qualified consultants.
Happy owner building,
Owner Builder by Design
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,
Owner Builders in 2019
It is always an interesting year for business when there is a Federal Election.
Unlike almost any other event, a Federal election has the effect of putting the brakes on the economy and particularly building activities.
We have noticed a real slow down in owner builder courses being completed, and talking to some of our competitors, we are not alone.
There has been a general easing of the housing market, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, with even Brisbane coming off by about 4 to 5 %.
However, we all know what happens, whoever gets in, the building and housing industries will fire up again, but we are not expecting it to be with the same level of activity as seen in 2017/18.
There have also been some changes in the course requirements, not specifically owner builder course, but certainly for the White Card or General Safety Induction Training. No longer can this training be completed online.
Whilst we believe we offered a good course that provided real skills and knowledge, we understand the reasoning beyond the move and of course have now removed our online offering from our website.
Interestingly, most things go in cycles, and we are seeing an increase in the number of owner builder students wanting to complete the course face to face. The online course is absolutely complete and full of great information and activities that have been successfully preparing our owner builder students to complete their projects for over 20 years.
The face to face course does offer advantages.
One on one training provides the opportunity to ask questions and resolve issues on the spot. Further, we encourage our students to bring in their plans and have them reviewed by our qualified building staff.
As well, we find it is a great way to introduce our owner builder students to the many resources we have tailored to owner builder specifically.
It is a little more expensive, but more and more of our students are letting us know the cost is worth it.
Our training facility in Ormeau, is conveniently located on the Gold Coast corridor smack bang in between Brisbane and Surfers Paradise and is easily accessible just off the M1.
We are offering the face to face course by appointment and on scheduled Saturdays.
Contact us for more information and course costs.
Happy Owner Building,
A question we quite often get asked is;
“what happens if I have a change of circumstance that significantly affects my ability or desire to complete my owner builder project?”
In Queensland, the QBCC has provision to allow you to either:
Change, replace or surrender your owner builder permit
If your project scope changes, for example, the value or description of the works, you must advise the new details by completing an Application to Amend an Existing Owner Builder Permit form (PDF).
You will need to provide details of the change, reason for the change and make a declaration that states the information you provided it true and correct.
If you misplace your paperwork and need to replace your owner builder permit, you will be required to lodge the Owner Builder Replacement Permit form (PDF) and pay the replacement fee.
Make certain you have recorded your Owner Builder Permit number as this will be helpful in quickly organising a new/replacement permit.
Surrender your owner builder permit
If you feel you need to surrender your owner builder permit, you can do this by writing to the QBCC. The most common reasons for surrendering an Owner Builder Permit is that you have decided to engage a Licensed Contractor to complete the works indicated on your permit. It is important to understand, that once surrendered, you can’t perform any more owner builder work on the property.
To surrender your permit you must complete the Application to Surrender an Owner Builder Permit form (PDF).
The point at which you surrender your permit, will determine the status of your construction in respect to Home Warranty Insurance and the requirement to place a notification (Warning) on any subsequent contract of sale.
The following summarises your owner builder responsibilities and obligations if you surrender you permit before or after signing with the Licensed Contractor.
Surrendering an owner builder permit after work has started?
The QBCC will not cover any work you did under the permit under the Queensland Home Warranty insurance scheme. This includes any work done by a licensed contractor.
Your property title will still have a notification about the permit for 7 years.
Surrender an owner builder permit before work starts?
Should you decide to engage a licensed contractor to complete the works that were subject of an owner builder permit, you must surrender the permit before you sign a contract.
You will also need to provide proof of having cancelled your building approval (written confirmation by your Building Certifier or PCA).
Once this is received by the QBCC you can request to have the title notification removed only where you surrendered the permit.
The other circumstance where you can surrender your owner builder permit without having restrictions placed on your title are should you not obtain building approval. You will be required to provide a current council search, or a letter confirming 'current land status' from your solicitor.
I hope this helps cover and adequately answer the questions in respect to surrendering, replacing or changing your owner builder permit in Queensland.
Best Regards and Happy Owner Building,
Demystifying the White Card
Another Day, Another Blog !!!
Someone asked me the other day why we try to do a blog as often as we can.
Simple reason is, we like to share information with our owner builder students, to ensure they have the best learning experience and have accesses to the latest information that is available.
It does not always work, at times we get so caught up in the day to day business matters and RTO compliance works, that we just do not get time.
This time of year though, student numbers can get a bit slow so it makes sense to catch up on the latest owner builder news and make the information available to our owner builders.
I just had an email from one of our students and again, the question came up about whether the White Card is mandatory for owner builders.
The answer is simple.
As an owner builder you will be considered the Principal Contractor and the person in control of the site.
That means you are absolutely responsible for the WHS and OHS matters on your site.
The confusion comes about because the requirement is covered under different legislation and not referred to in the building code other than talking about the requirement to complete General Safety Induction Training.
The White Card is the resultant document from the completion of this training and is satisfied by successfully undertaking CPCCCOHS1001 Work Safely in the Construction Industry.
For our NSW Owner Builder students, Services NSW make it very clear, without the White Card (and you must present the physical card) you will not be granted your owner builder permit.
In Queensland, the QBCC have not placed this pre requisite, which causes confusion, but let me assure you the legislation applies equally in QLD and it does in NSW and owner builders must have completed General Safety Induction Training to comply.
Recently the requirements changed in respect to the assessment for the White Card and I will cover that in another post.
Best Regards and Happy Owner Building
Rick Heaton is a Building and Construction Industry professional with formal tertiary qualifications in management and training.