Category Archives: The very beginning

Getting the BASIX right

Let’s talk about BASIX- the Building Sustainability Index.

Implemented by the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, BASIX applies to all residential dwellings and is an important consideration in the development application process in NSW. The index is a kind of benchmark measure for water, energy and thermal comfort levels in homes. By creating an index, the government can also set targets for new homes meet.  We can call this target a minimum performance level. The idea is that we can all reduce the amount of water and energy we use.

The targets are expressed as a percentage of the NSW’s current average consumption.

At the moment, the average NSW house uses 90,340 litres of drinking water per person per year. That’s enough water to fill your stylish Caroma Newbury bath about 368 times. If that doesn’t seem like much, remember you have to multiply it by the amount of people living in your house. Oh, and that’s just the water you’re using at home.

For energy, NSW houses are using about 3,292 kg of CO2 per person per year. If you think that number seems tiny, remember that it’s only the part of your CO2 impact that you make at home. Driving your car, energy you consume while at work or anywhere else isn’t counted. Overall, the average Australian creates about 30 t of CO2 per year. The average world citizen only creates about 7 t, so we still have some way to go.

The percentage reduction you have to make to meet your target depends on where you live. For water, anyone building in Sydney will be asked to meet a target reduction of 40%. So, my dwelling would need to be designed in such a way that each person that lives there will be able to reduce their water consumption to 54,204 litres per year (90,340 less 40%).

For energy in Sydney the target is also 40%. The thermal comfort has no reduction target but can greatly influence your score for energy. For example, you could easily solve the problem of how to keep your house cool in summer by installing an air conditioner, but that would raise your energy consumption.

For us, at Bunya, the developer has insisted that we should do more. All the new homes at Bunya are to meet BASIX 50 for water, BASIX 65 for energy and BASIX 40 compliance for thermal comfort.

So how on earth are we going to do that?

Well, like this:

BASIX

For water we can think about:

  • how much landscaping we have and what kind of plants we use
  • choosing fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen with higher water efficiencies
  • using an alternative water source such as a rainwater tank, stormwater tank, greywater system or private dam

For energy we can:

  • choose a more energy efficient hot water system
  • install ceiling fans instead of air conditioning
  • choose an energy efficient heating system
  • improve the way hot air and steam leaves the house by installing exhaust fans in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry
  • use windows or skylights to provide natural light
  • choose energy efficient lights
  • install an alternate energy source such as photovoltaic systems
  • install a clothes drying line
  • ensure the fridge is well ventilated

For thermal comfort we can:

  • use materials with good thermal efficiency
  • install insulation
  • use performance glazing
  • provide cross ventilation
  • shade windows that receive hot summer sun

Some of these options are more plausible than others, depending on your house design. For example, using brick instead of cladding will work favourably for thermal comfort but having a flat brick wall is not considered aesthetically pleasing by the design review panel. So, we have to make a lot of compromises. You can find out more about BASIX here

I’ll let you know which things we end up going with.

In the meantime, this cartoon nicely sums up the idea.

010311-passive-house-cartoon-higher-res

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Not so standard essentials

Once you’ve worked out what does come standard you start to see what doesn’t. There are definitely some extra things you might want to consider getting a quote for.

Imagine yourself in each room. Imagine how you’ll use the room, where you will put furniture and how you’ll move around in the space.

Get a measuring tape out. Measure how big rooms and windows are. Compare it to other rooms. Measure hallways, shower spaces and the garage. Measure your car- will it fit in the garage with enough room to open the doors?

functional office

What about…

  • Flyscreens. Often these don’t come standard but you may have already paid for some if you’ve had to take any measures for bushfire protection. If you’re having those really pretty stacking doors that open your living space up to your alfresco you might also consider the reality of a balmy summer night – MOZZIES.
  • Power points. Are there enough? Are they in practical locations? For example, having your only kitchen power point positioned directly above your kitchen sink might not be as practical as it looks. The power point in the bedrooms will probably be on the same wall you put the bed head (so you could have a bedside lamp or electric blanket) but will you need another one that you don’t have to go under/behind the bed to access? It may sound stupid but check that a power point has been provided in locations such as behind the fridge and microwave too.
  • Fridge space. Fridges come in lots of different sizes- check how big yours actually is. If you’re planning on buying a new one then you should have a look around and get an idea of how much space they take up. If you haven’t been fridge shopping in a while you’ll notice they are gigantic these days. You will probably need at least 1000 mm. Make sure you check with the builder that the 1000 mm is actually 1000 mm of empty space- not 1000 mm minus the width of the two pieces of melamine or wall either side of it! Oh, and while you’re at it make sure that there is a cold tap connection if you have a fridge that needs the water cooler/ice machine to be connected to a tap.
  • Microwave space. Is there a good spot for your microwave? Will it fit? Is it positioned too high/too low? Can you reach inside the microwave to get your big bowl of hot soup out without burning yourself? Will small kids be able to open it and burn themselves? Will it be easy to replace the microwave if it breaks?
  • Privacy locks. Do you want to be able to lock the bathroom door?
  • Driveway. The driveway and the driveway set back are probably not included. They can be expensive if you’re house is positioned a fair way back from the road. You’re going to want something there- when the builders are finished it’s probably going to look like mud. Don’t forget the path to the front door.
  • Clothesline. That’s one of those things you don’t think about until you have a load of wet washing and nowhere to stick it.
  • Garage space. How big is it, really? Will your car fit in there with the doors open? Are you planning on using it for extra storage? Is there enough space for that?
  • Broom cupboard. Will you need a full sized cupboard to store long things like brooms and mops? Where are you planning on storing the vacuum cleaner?
  • Laundry chute. How fun would that be? And practical, of course. Unfortunately they can also be expensive.
  • Letterbox. Letterboxes are usually considered part of the landscaping so your builder probably doesn’t think they are standard or one of the essentials. But, your post man might disagree. Oh, and they are definitely not a cheap as you think they are.
  • Fences. Eventually, you’ll need to find a way to stop your neighbour’s naked children from swinging from your clothesline.
  • Lighting. Is there enough? All those display houses are lit up like Christmas trees but I bet your plans only have one light fixture placed in the middle of each room. Discuss this in your electricity appointment. If you’re building a single storey house it might be easy enough to install more lights later because you should be able to get into the roof space. But, the ground floor of your two storey house might be a bit harder to access! Also, what about outside lights?
  • Light switches. I have lived in two rental houses now where the bathroom light switch is outside the bathroom. While this is great for some practical jokes, it starts to get really annoying really fast. Also, having a two way light switch for the light above your stair case is a great idea. That way you can turn your light on, walk up the stairs and then turn it off.
  • Shower doors. The door itself is standard (hopefully!), but how does it open? I have seen some really strange ways of getting into a shower. Not all of them suit all body types. You shouldn’t have to climb over your loo to be able to get into your shower or something stupid like that. Go to a display house and actually get in the shower similar to what you’re getting to see how big it is (please keep your clothes on- you’re going to look like an idiot enough as it is). Can you bend over to pick up the soap you’ve dropped? Can you lift your arms to wash your hair? Maybe you should try the bath while you’re there!
  • Space for a chest freezer. Will you want an extra freezer or fridge? Where will you put it?
  • Under stairs cupboard. The space under the stairs has amazing storage potential. Usually, all you will need is for them to put a little door in for you.
  • Gas bayonet point outside for the BBQ. Say goodbye to gas bottles and running out of gas half way through cooking. An outdoor power point would be useful too.
  • Linen cupboard. Both the rental places we have lived in have had nowhere to store linen. Amazingly frustrating.

The list goes on. Check out my Pinterest board for some more. Anyone got any other ideas?

All the essentials

While we wait for the plans to be drawn I’m going through my lists and checking them twice. We’ll only get one “free” shot at changes to the plans after they’re drawn, so I’m trying to make sure we’ve thought of everything. This list is doomed to fail because “everything” will definitely have changed by the time the house is built and hindsight kicks in! But, here we go anyway. First, let’s cover what we get as standard.

At the moment, Wisdom Homes has two “collections” of house plans. There is the Smart Collection and the Prestige Collection. The Smart Collection has the more affordable base prices and generally includes smaller houses suited to lot frontages between 10 and 13.5m. The exception is the Cornerstone 26 which, as the name suggests, is designed to suit a corner block with 15m frontages. There is a brochure for each house plan and on the back of that is a list of the standard inclusions. Plus, with the Smart Collection you’ll receive the Smart Essentials Package of inclusions that are provided at no extra charge. When I say no extra charge I mean you’re paying for it somewhere, they just aren’t going to point out where. Similarly, the Prestige Collection has a Prestige Essentials Package, which is slightly plusher.

In case you’re curious, here is a merged list of the standard inclusions and the smart essentials that we will receive with the Cornerstone 26, as at the time we requested the tender (18 May 2013). A fair few of the items are being advertised as smart essential upgrades but they were already included in the standard inclusions list. I’ve put an asterisk (*) next to the ones that really were an upgrade of sorts. I’ve left out the daggy ones like “contemporary kitchen design” – you know, opposed to a design from 1852.

As well as these, we also signed up for two promotional upgrades: a fully ducted air conditioner for $5,990 (valued at $14,990) and a free roof upgrade to either Colorbond or the Bristile Prestige range flat profile shingle roof tiles (we went for the roof tiles but have umed and ahhed about this since).

Termite protection

  • termite treatment system to BCA requirements
  • Blue Hyne T2 termite resistant timber frames *
  • Reticulated termite treatment system to the perimeter of the home *

Bricks

  • extensive brick selection from builders ‘Inclusive’ range
  • brickwork above garage doors *
  • off white mortar to brickwork *

Floor coverings

  • ceramic tiles to the entry, foyer, kitchen, dining and leisure room from the builder’s standard range tile allowance (25$/m2) (I had to ask if they missed out bathroom tiles on purpose- apparently they do actually include those!)
  • 50/50 wool blend carpet to remainder of the home (excluding wet areas)

Concrete

  • class ‘M’ concrete slab
  • concrete to front porch including ceramic tiles over ($25/m2 tile allowance)

Roof

  • Bristile flat profile ‘Classic’ range roof tiles in lieu of traditional range roof tiles *
  • 22.5 degree roof pitch *
  • 450 mm wide eaves including eaves soffit lining
  • Colorbond fascia and gutter *
  • fire retardant sarking to underside of roof tiles *
  • upgrade of ceiling insulation to R3.5 (from R3.0) *
  • whirlybird roof ventilator for better cooling and efficiency *
  • Colorbond fascia and gutter

Garage

  • plasterboard lined interior to garage *
  • single skin brickwork
  • auto garage door opener including 2 x transmitter units and wall switch *
  • sectional overhead Colorbond garage door *

Windows

  • aluminium sliding windows throughout
  • keyed window and external door locks throughout *

Other exterior items

  • 3 x exterior garden taps *
  • Trend aluminium stacker door to outdoor leisure area *
  • upgrade of wall insulation to R2.0 (from R1.5) *
  • decorative slimline corrugated steel above ground 3000 litre rain water tank in lieu of plastic *

Ceilings/cornice

  • 2440mm high ceilings throughout with 90mm cove cornice
  • decorative “tempo” cornices to ground floor living areas, master suite and ensuite *
  • decorative half splayed 90mm high skirting boards and 67mm wide architraves *

Electrical

  • general power points throughout room as per electrical diagram
  • direct wired smoke detectors with battery backup as per plans
  • rangehood exhaust fan to kitchen (externally ducted)
  • combination fan-light-heater to bathroom and ensuite
  • exhaust fan to fully enclosed WC (no window)
  • standard bayonet type lighting throughout
  • security alarm system including LCD code pad *
  • slimline Clipsal double power points and switches throughout *
  • 2 x television points to your preferred location *
  • 2 x telephone points to your preferred location *

Natural gas

  • natural gas provision to cooktop and hot water system
  • gas bayonet point to living area *

Hot water

  • gas hot water unit (no controllers)
  • 5 star rated gas instantaneous hot water system *
  • recess box for gas instantaneous hot water system *

Doors and door furniture

  • Hume VERV range 820 x 2040mm front door (in lieu of 4 panel with glazed sidelights, paint finish) *
  • Gainsborough tri-lock lever entrance set to front door *
  • fully glazed laundry door with timber surround, paint finish
  • standard lock set to laundry
  • flush panel hollow core internal dors, paint finish
  • designer Gainsbourough Lianna internal door lever handles *
  • bar handles to kitchen pantry, linen and robe doors in lieu of knobs *
  • door stops to internal access doors
  • keyed lock to external sliding doors

Kitchen and kitchen appliances

  • Essastone benchtop to kitchen (20mm thick – standard range) in lieu of laminated benchtop *
  • decorative glass splashback to kitchen (in lieu of standard tiles) *
  • laminated overhead kitchen cupboards to both sides of rangehood including bulkhead over *
  • Blanco double bowl stainless steel sink (Model BTIPO8S) *
  • laminated overhead cupboard above fridge space *
  • set of pot drawers *
  • designer Caroma Quatro mixer tap to kitchen sink *
  • laminated doors and end panels including squareform
  • white melamine lined interior
  • designer metal handles from an extensive builders collection
  • melamine timbergrain shelving to pantry (in lieu of standard wire shelving) *
  • Blanco 900mm stainless steel freestanding cooker (Model FD9045WX) *
  • Blanco feature 900mm wide stainless steel rangehood (MODEl BRCE90X) *
  • Blanco stainless steel dishwasher (Model DWF6XP) *

Bathroom

  • semi-frameless shower screens to showers *
  • designer vitreous china toilet suites with square style cistern and soft close seats *
  • stylish counter mounted or semi recessed vanity basins (subject to design) *
  • designer floating vanity units with laminated squareform tops
  • decorative tiled shower niches to all shower recesses *
  • polished edge frameless mirrors to bathroom and ensuites
  • stylish Caroma Quatro mizer tap sets to all vanity basins *
  • Caroma Quarto bath and shower mixer sets to all bathrooms *
  • Caroma Quatro handheld shower and rail kits to all shower recesses *
  • feature towel rails and accessories to bathrooms and ensuite
  • Stylus Newbury bath *
  • chrome fore wastes to wet areas *
  • chrome push plugs to vanity basins *
  • 3 in 1 fan light heater to bathrooms
  • tiling to bath area and shower recess from builders standard range
  • skirting tiles to bathroom, ensuite and WC from builders standard range
  • floor tiles to bathroom, ensuite and WC from builders standard range

Landry

  • 45 litre stainless steel laundry tub with white metal cabinet (freestanding)
  • mixer tap *
  • hot and cold washing machine taps with screw hose fittings
  • skirting tiles to laundry from builders standard range
  • floor tiles to laundry from builders standard range

other internal features

  • ventilated wire type shelving systems to linen and robes
  • Taubmans three coat paint system to walls throughout in lieu of two coat system * (one colour only to walls, doors, skirting boards and architraves)
  • flat acrylic paint to all ceilings in ceiling white only
  • gloss enamel paint to interior timber and doors
  • acrylic finish to exterior timber and metal work
  • down pipes, meter box and infills painted to blend with brickwork
  • designer stair upgrade to stainless steel bar balusters and squared handrail * (in lieu of decorative iron with timber handrail)

All the standard site costs, fees, approvals, scaffolding, cleaning, insurance and warranty are also included.

Batteries? Probably not.

Where did my BAL come from?

You should be aware of the fact that your new house will have to comply with various Australian Standards if you ever want to receive an occupation certificate allowing you to live in it.

In 2011, the Building Code of Australia was packaged together with the Plumbing Code of Australia and is now known as the National Construction Code. This hefty document sets out minimum standards for all building and plumbing installations right across Australia. The aim is to regulate the health, safety and amenity of buildings. As such, the codes are revised every so often to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest know how.

I’m sure you can remember that in late January and February 2009, a series of devastating bushfires swept through parts of Victoria and many people lost their lives and homes. After the dust had settled, the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was set up with the task to investigate the cause and make recommendations. In the end they made 67 recommendations, one of which was directed at the Building Code of Australia. This resulted in some changes being made to Australian Standard: 3959 Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas 2009 (AS3959).

AS3959 now includes a requirement that all new or modified buildings reduce the risk of ignition from ember attack.

To do this, sites are assessed and assigned a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL). Each level corresponds to a particular level of risk. The standard also sets out what you would then need to do to mitigate or reduce that risk to an acceptable level. There are 6 BAL ratings. You can read all about them here.

Capture

 

Most likely, your local council will have assigned a BAL rating to the site before you’ve purchased it. It’s probably in your land sales contract, but you could always ask the developer or your council directly for it.

For most of us, what we really want to know is how much is it going to cost? Well, depending on your BAL rating, the size of your house and your builder the answer could be a lot. Our land sales contract says our lot is a BAL 40. We were quoted $24 000 to make the two story house comply.

The problem we have is that the numbers aren’t adding up. Just looking at the site, I think a BAL 40 seems a bit extreme. There are some trees, but I wouldn’t say we were living next door to a forest or anything! I’ve since discovered that your BAL rating is often assigned to the whole development, not your individual lot, sometimes even before it has been cleared for subdivision. Suddenly, I want a second opinion!

So, after a bit of a google, I found an independent assessor who is happy to go to our site, have a look around and give us his/her opinion on what the BAL rating should be. If it’s good news, we can pay a second fee and they will prepare a formal report to go with the development application. Hopefully, in the long run it will save us some dollars. We are expecting to hear back from them this week, so I’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

If you’re interested in how the BAL rating is assigned, or would like to give it a go yourself, you can download the BAL Risk Assessment Application Kit.

Tender presentation

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the word “presentation”, I think of a room of people in boring clothes trying to stay attentive to a poorly formatted PowerPoint presentation that has way too many words in it, and not enough pictures.

Hold that thought. Now, replace the PowerPoint screen with a printed document. Got it? Yep,  congratulations! You’re at the tender presentation.

You walk in, sit down on one side of the table with the sales person on the other, and they proceed to read the tender document to you. Ours is 9 pages long and has 69 clauses.

boring-presentation-300x300

If your sales people have been good to you up to this point, there should be nothing in the tender that you don’t already know about. The document sets out what is included in the base price of your house, what is an additional charge or provisional allowance, and what is to be done by the owner of the property (you). It will also include “note only” clauses which are clauses the builder has put in to cover themselves for any unforeseen changes. An example of this is that the tender is subject to developer approval- if the council wants you to change something then you will pay for it, not the builder.

Most importantly, it should provide you with the initial estimate of the build price. As it is not the final estimate, you can probably expect it to go up before your construction starts.

Since the sales person is so kindly reading out all the clauses to you, you may as well ask questions if you have any.

Things to make sure you’re aware of:

  • who (either you or the builder) is responsible for what? For example, if there are trees to be removed who will be doing it? Who will pay the water and electricity bills during construction?
  • who will pay the council fees or bonds? Usually, the builder will pay “standard” fees for development approvals but the owner will pay any other fees.
  • is the tender inclusive of GST?
  • does the builder allow you to bring in your own tradespeople to do work during the build? (Probably not but you should be aware before you try it!)
  • does the builder allow you to visit site for inspections? If so, how often?
  • if you’re asked to pay a deposit for the next stage of the process then make sure its in line with what they are legally allowed to ask for. Check out NSW Fair Trading for information on that.
  • are all the “standard inclusions” in there? This may include any promotional packages or upgrades you have accepted.

Our tender was pretty straight forward. The builder has not had access to the site, so we know the tender could change once all the soil testing and surveying is done. The builder should be upfront about anything that may change the price.

For those interested in timing- our tender was presented 19 working days after we requested it, which is within the 4 weeks we were told to expect by the sales people.

The loophole

So, if you do happen to be in the situation where you have:

a)  your land contract in your hands, and

b)  you, like us, just realised you have been fooled because you didn’t realise you needed a build contract signed too,

there is one loophole you might want to try before you give up and resort to consoling yourself with a litre of ice-cream.

Try for an extension on your exchange of contracts date.

You need to do this before you’ve exchanged contracts. To do this you will need to get your conveyancer/solicitor to write to the developer (using the contact details on the front page of your contract) asking for an extension on the exchange. You will need to provide reasons for your extension. Some reasons could be (obviously, they won’t apply to everyone):

  • you’ve been unable to get a tender within the four weeks allocated and therefore do not have accurate information to provide to the bank for financing (it’s pretty common for a builder to take longer than four weeks to provide a tender). This is an especially good reason if you have selected one of the four preferred builders at Bunya and they haven’t been able to come through with the tender on time.
  •  if you have a corner block there are no design panel pre-approved designs from any of the preferred four builders. This may mean you can’t get a tender for your build on time.
  • if your land is unregistered you probably don’t have access to the block of land yet for any kind of independent assessments that may affect your final build price (this may include access for the builder to assess site contours, access for an independent bushfire report, access for independent soil testing… the list goes on!).

If I were you, I would ask for slightly more time than you need as you probably won’t get the amount of time you request. Be reasonable.

The benefit of gaining an extension for us has meant that we will be able to get a tender for the build price, therefore knowing if we can afford to pay for it all, before we’ve put down the 5% deposit on the land at exchange. 5% = a lot of money for us. It also means that settlement, in turn, will be delayed as the 60 days only starts from exchanging contracts. This means that we might just scrape in (if everything goes to plan) on having our build contract signed before settlement and we won’t need to pay interest to the developer for delaying settlement. Again, interest = a lot of money.

A caution: don’t get muddled up here and try to extend your settlement date after you’ve exchanged contracts because I doubt very much the developer will even consider it. You need to extend the exchange, not the settlement.

Hope that helps someone!

If you have any other good reasons for an extension and you’d like to share them please leave a reply.

Loopholes

How to buy at Bunya

Bunya is the name given to a new estate under construction in Western Sydney. Its located in the suburb of Bungarribee and the semi circle shaped development spans out off Doonside road. 

A nice little website, Bunya Living, has been put together by the developer. It includes some information about the land available, a map of the master plan and the all important information about how to buy at Bunya.

We read all the information keenly, but figured the lovely how to buy at Bunya guide was just that, a guide. We had planned to purchase a block of land and then pay some of it off while we thought about what kind of house we would like to build on it.

So, we lined up with everyone else to put down our reservation fee on a block and then we waited for the contract to arrive before we made any further decisions. The land is unregistered so we figured we had plenty of time.

But, when the contract did arrive we were shocked to see that to settle on the block of land you must prove to the developers that you have a contract to build on the land already signed.

Now, lets assume you receive your contract on day 1. The contracts must be exchanged no more than 30 days later and you need to pay a 5% deposit on the land. The count down to settlement (and the final payment) then starts and you get 60 days for that. So, a total of 90 days. Most builders take around the same amount of time, if not longer, to get to a stage where contracts can be signed. So in order have your build contract signed before settlement on the block of land… a miracle will be in order.

So, lesson one is this: the “guide” for how to by at Bunya is not just a guide.

To really ensure you keep the sleepless nights to a minimum you need to be ahead of the guide. If you can, getting a tender for a house plan before you reserve your block would probably be the best way forward. But since you don’t know which block you’ll get or if you’ll even get one at all- good luck with that!

In the beginning…

Hello!

We’re building a house and inviting you along for the journey.

This is the first time we’ve done this. Both building a house and writing a blog are new to us so we’re learning along the way.

Why are we building a house? Because we think its the right time for us and we’re sick of being renters. But why on earth would you build? Because we’re first home owners and we’ve been loured by the temptation of the first home owners grant. Of course we could have just brought off the plan or a brand new completed house to get the grant. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Why write a blog? Because when we were just starting out and trying to find information about how to build a house we discovered there isn’t a lot of information out there. We’ve decided to help fill the gap by writing about what we’ve learnt. Hopefully it will help someone else too.

Bird - Where Did He Learn to Do That

Enjoy!