[AMA] - I'm a Builder (Part 1)

Have had a few people contact me on Oz bargain asking for advice from a builder, so I thought there may be a need for some pro bono. So here goes, a conditional [AMA] to do with being a builder in Sydney.

The conditions are;

  • I will answer everything I can without giving up my personal details
  • Be patient and give me time to respond
  • Can only respond to items posted this weekend, if there is not a lot of interest I may continue
  • These are just my opinions
  • Sydney is very different to interstate cities

A bit of history;

  • I am a builder
  • Worked for 15 years
  • New south wales
  • Have built major projects all the way through to bathroom renovations
  • I'm not on the tools, I can be, but I just manage so I can build quicker
  • Not a building god and am still learning a lot about compliance (weak spot)
  • Construction is an extremely diverse industry
  • It is a difficult job but I love it

Edit: 9.51pm 24.05.20 - Hi All, thank you for your questions. I will probably take a temporary hiatus and only respond to questions posted this weekend as noted above. I have changed the title of this thread to (Part 1) because I intend to do a (Part 2) AMA as well. Hopefully in the coming couple of months. I would extend this (AMA) however I unfortunately have a very busy couple of weeks ahead and just like this weekend if I have a bit of a lul period after that I will do another AMA in a new thread.

Comments

  • Be patient and give me time to respond

    You must be new to AMA ;)

    Do you think the culture of builders is generally poor when it comes to building g a quality home? Are too many builders interested in profit only and quality takes a back seat?

    • You must be new to AMA

      I was feeling the pressure as I clicked post lol

      Do you think the culture of builders is generally poor when it comes to building g a quality home?

      Yes I do believe the culture is poor, due to two main reasons and others but I'll list two.

      1. A lack of non construction peoples understanding of the construction processes and builders taking advantage of that lack of understanding.

      2. Systemic issues in our policy. For example, to become a licenced builder you have to have certain qualifications and experience which don't necessarily align with good business practice and this results in a lower quality of service to the end user. A carpenter who has built house frames can get a licence where as a double degree finance and civil engineer designing shopping centres cannot. This reduces the availability of talent to enter that industry and puts a ceiling on the level of quality you can get from builders.

      Are too many builders interested in profit only and quality takes a back seat?

      Yes, but not in the way you think. There are surprisingly low margins in the construction industry. I think that ties into the desperation for profit making and making concessions. for example; under resourcing a project to make more money, but having less eyes and resources checking things means a lower quality building.

  • Do you ever walk past buildings, look at them and think “how the (fropanity) did they get away with that?”

    • All the time. Some of the Sydney apartment blocks are horrendous in their detailing and alignments. I.e. balconies out of alignment, exposed pipes, quality of finishes. You can see so many things where you just shake your head and think, they clearly forgot about that and put it in after, or they only did that to save money etc.

      • is exposed pipes in basements ok though/?i see it quite often

        • Yes, these areas are considered to be back of house so there is not a lot of architectural consideration given to this besides ensuring head height clearance that is useful for the clients and also compliance to the standards. From a developers point of view, they have a limit on how high their building can go, the higher it can go the more money they make, they do not want to waste height space on making basement areas look nice by concealing pipework, ac duct, fire sprinklers etc. if they do, they will have to put in a ceiling and the basement gets higher making the apartments above get lower.

    • +1 vote

      This townhouse for example, with this view from the masterbedroom and this
      one from the balcony
      . Someone paid $780k for this 2 bedroom townhouse in 2018.

      • That first one, ouch

        • +1 vote

          It's the same townhouse. View from the masterbedroom downstairs is the watertank and view from the balcony upstairs is the parking lot for the nearby train station. The trains run every 8 mins on that line.

      • The balcony view indeed seems to have a Berry and a Plant lol

      • LOL … It's insane.

        • +1 vote

          What's even more insane is that they decided to build the living areas upstairs to make the most of that carpark view.

          • @DisabledUser102420: Is it bad that, after seeing so many shoeboxes, the house actually seems somewhat…reasonable? :P

            •  

              @Banana: You must be from Sydney? Lol.

              Front of the house.

              • @DisabledUser102420: You have a lot of info on this house… Did you sell it or buy it? haha

                • +1 vote

                  @aaronaldo: Neither. We lived a couple of streets away. The area was a predominantly single-storey family homes built on larger blocks, with huge backyards, fruits trees and swimming pools.It was quite idyllic and had a village feel to it.That grey monstrosity was an eyesore.You could tell that was the way it was going to go with more and more townhouses being built, changing the character of the area. There was a lot emphasis at the time as to the airbnb potential of those townhouses. So we sold and moved away.

          • @DisabledUser102420: this type of dwellings is called "reverse living", which is quite popular in many areas in VIC as well, a lot of Councils against this type of dwellings though. The reason for a living area on first floor, as it is much easier to provide a small balcony upstairs, rather than a proper Secluded Private Open Space on Ground Floor to comply with the regulations, also this layout allows to fit more dwelling on the lot. Source, I had been working as a building designer for quite a few years.

  • Sydney? North, South, East or West?

  • How many builders take shortcuts that sacrifice quality for profit?

    • I'm not sure how many, but I would say there are more good builders than bad, the bad builders just get the limelight. It is not easy to take shortcuts because on a lot of jobs you have external parties to the project who have liability if you do something wrong - for example an engineer designing a slab would want to make sure the builder is following his design otherwise you can get cracking or failure etc.

      I think it is less about short cuts and more about poor decision making & lack of experience. I.e. foundations are something that you just do not take chances on. You double and triple check your work along with getting a second opinion. But even for a builder it is a mystical area of study and a lot of builders can get it wrong resulting in major issues. Generally resolved by just getting a second opinion from someone more experienced.

  • as a builder, do you take offence when people pay only a deposit and the rest when the job is done? ( I find it implies a untrustworthy job will be done hence the structure, so wondering if the builder feels the same way)

    • I don't, but on the same note this method of payment would only apply to smaller jobs such as bathroom refurbishments and kitchens, it is not feasible for larger jobs because the outlay is too much. When you are building a house, office, shop, high rise. Builders and clients agree on a progress payment structure (where the job is broken up into financial segments and you pay as you go) after the builder has completed one segment. For example, site setup $10k, slab $20k, framing $40k etc. etc.

      • Don't forget the bank guarantees and the retention sum on most large contracts like AS4000

    • Try making a full upfront payment and see if the builder shows up to start! Not likely. That's why there are contracts in place that stipulate payment terms.

    • because builders dont go bust, why the hell would you pay up front. some builders keep accepting deposits whilst insovlent and have no intention of even starting your place

  • Why are you builder and not a project manager?

    • I have been both on smaller projects, but on larger projects I just manage trades and work for a project manager or client. There is a very fine line between the two, a project managers responsibility revolves mainly around contract management, I prefer to deal with all facets of construction along with problem solving, then contract management only if I have to.

      • Spot on response, aspects of contract management that associate with project management is highly underrated and could end up very costly if you don't know what you're doing.

  • Has the current COVID-19 Pandemic affected business?

    • Yes, people are loosing their jobs in droves, it's actually quite sad. Subcontractors are hunting work aggressively, clients are withholding projects. But I only believe that COVID was the straw that broke the camels back. The market was undergoing a big down turn from late last year as was bound to come down, just accelerated by COVID.

      • Unsustainable growth

      • +4 votes

        Don't you dare talking down the property ponzi scheme, property bulls might get offended!
        Starayaaas different, property will only go up! haha

        • +3 votes

          So long as global population continues to rise, housing prices will continue to rise.

          It's really that simple.

          • @DisabledUser41709: Covid has done nothing to slow prices here. In my area, they've continued to rise.

            I just looked at 2 places a few steps from my house as an investment and they're looking for $4.4M and $4.6M for 4br.

      • Shouldn't be long before Fed/state governments give out huge $$$ boosting incentives. They always do. Seems tradies are a well protected lot. I hear they are promoting that $50K new home bonus. Give it 6 months before all new developments cost $50K+ more.

        • Hope not, sometimes you can't plug a sinking ship. Also you can't grow from a peak, better to let prices drop so another growth cycle can come after.

  • What advice would you give to someone with no knowledge of construction but who wants to build their own home in the future?

    What housing styles/trends do you like?

    What's your general opinion on a knockdown/rebuild vs buying something semi decent and renovating it?

    Thanks is advanced!

    • What advice would you give to someone with no knowledge of construction but who wants to build their own home in the future?

      I would first assess why you want to build your own home and what I mean by that is; Is it because you want something that you just cannot get from the market? Getting a better price? Learning and future career? That will really assist in determining whether it is right for you. For example if it is learning, great I would do it because you may only ever build one house in your life, if it is price I would not recommend because it takes experience to cut cost and some people just price too well.

      What housing styles/trends do you like?

      I like a few different kinds I'll give a few examples.

      For an outside - I really like the American red brick Georgian style mansions. I have only ever seen one in person but I feel like those houses have a story to tell.

      For the inside - Modern, industrial with a splash of vibrant colouring. This might sound weird but think of a lounge room grey stoney tiles, white walls and ceilings, big white windows, black lights, square set cornice and square set windows, with a few in your face vibrant coloured decorative pieces like a purple chaise sofa next to a black one and an orange vase on a black coffee table

      What's your general opinion on a knockdown/rebuild vs buying something semi decent and renovating it?

      Open to both it comes down to the individual. Sometimes it is just based on location and cost i.e. inner city knockdown rebuild is just too cost prohibitive for a normal person. But a knockdown rebuild is always easier.

      • Thanks a lot for the comprehensive answers, appreciate it mate!

        • No problem

          • @TheBilly: "cost i.e. inner city knockdown rebuild is just too cost prohibitive for a normal person"
            why does a city knockdown rebuild cost more? isn't just labor and materials?

            • @selphie: No, a custom build will be needed, to suit the small block types in those areas (Sydney) and there are a lot more factors involved - older materials and potential asbestos, council conditions, development fees. Project home builders are catered towards outer suburban land development blocks and get the price competitiveness from wash and repeat designs.

  • Thanks for doing this.

    All up, what would be the price range for a knockdown and rebuild including compliance stuff etc?

    Ball park: IE: $250k for a single etc


    As a builder, do you ever think about doing the whole buy an existing house, knock down and subdivide etc?

    Noticed a lot of builders doing this in my area recently.

    • Thanks for doing this.

      No problem.

      All up, what would be the price range for a knockdown and rebuild including compliance stuff etc?

      It all depends on the size of the house and there are some compliance things that you cannot know about until you start your design. But in Sydney for a single storey house in a new land development, I would do a safe budget estimate of about $1,700 per m2. You will get a very nice but not over the top 4 bed 2 bath single storey house. This is slightly on the cheaper end of the middle though so you will have to shop around a bit. Add another $10k to $20k for the knockdown and clearing of the block.

      As a builder, do you ever think about doing the whole buy an existing house, knock down and subdivide etc?

      I would love too but I cannot afford too at this stage. In this economic climate development lending is very difficult and even as a builder you would have to have to invest a lot of capital up front, at best the bank will give a 60% LVR and there is a big maybe over that.

  • I'm a Builder

    Is your name Bob?

  • What's your opinion on these newly built luxury high rise type apartments? What issues do you see (if any)?

    My family friend bought a 2 bedroom place for $600k with the intention to sell in 5-10 years and buy a house…but my gut feeling says the value won't appreciate and if anything, the value of the place will fall.

    • What's your opinion on these newly built luxury high rise type apartments? What issues do you see (if any)?

      Strata Laws - I don't feel like the laws were ready for the level of a construction boom that Australia has seen in the last decade. Where there are problems in the construction the home owners are left footing the bill. The projects were pushed through the system but the aftermath was not catered for.

      Warranty - The big development lobby in Australia (think Meriton, CBRE, Stockland, Mirvac) etc. have ensured that there is no effective warranty structure in place for their developments and the policy makers are ok with this due to the financial power of those companies. With detached single dwelling houses, a builder has to be licenced and registered under the home building compensation fund and in some cases, has to take a deed against their personal assets to secure the warranty on the houses they build for other people. This does not apply to anything 4 storeys or above which is the main market of the big developers.

      My family friend bought a 2 bedroom place for $600k with the intention to sell in 5-10 years and buy a house…but my gut feeling says the value won't appreciate and if anything, the value of the place will fall.

      I am not too familiar with the economics of the property market, I just have my own opinions like anyone else and I don't believe there is any real experts out there, gut feel is the best way to put it. A few things to consider are you don't loose until you sell. If your loan is principal and interest you pay off a bit of that property every month. There will always be a demand for shelter the demand is just low at the moment. Also 5 - 10 years is a very long time and is difficult to predict just sit tight if you can afford it.

      • Good question and great answer.
        The apartment boom in NSW is incredible, the supply of cranes to Sydney apparently was a warning bell.

      • man, don't tell people the truth about apartments. Leaving the people with brains with less of an opportunity of snapping up a cheap house.

    • Apartments don't appreciate they are for cashflow.

      If you bought it as an investment you get depreciation which cushions some of the hurt.

      Problem with apartments is there is always new stock being offered therefore forcing prices of existing apartments down unless you have a very unique apartment.

      • Yeah I see what you're saying. I feel like buying these brand new apartments popping up are like buying a new car - once you drive it out of the dealership the value instantly drops. I asked because I ws wondering if OP had some insights on it.

        • +2 votes

          You are right. I was living in Meriton apartments since 2015, and moved like 3 times. With each move, the unit size was smaller and the quality was worse. When I wanted to buy a unit to live in (my own preference, understand zero in house maintenance), they've offered me 94 square meters unit for $920K. Cheapest materials used, tiny bedrooms, etc.

  • Specific to your bathroom reno experience, Why does every place I've ever rented not have enough [email protected]%£ing towel rails in the bathroom?!

    • Simple fix to add more towel rails … doesn't take a builder, engineer etc for that!

      • Yes YouTube will have plenty of DiY examples. Make sure you use a tile drill bit though and when screwing the wall plug don't go too tight so you can avoid cracking the tile.

    • Sorry I'm not sure, maybe a lack of wall space side by side. If you go over under the wet towel will just sit over another wet towel… This is an easy fix. Get say a 7mm wall tile drill bit and a 6mm wall plug and screw it in - preferably on the wall furthest from your shower and toilet so you don't hit anything.

    • If all you need is a simple towel rail on tiles, the cheap Bunnings suction cup ones do a surprisingly good job as long as the tiles are clean when you put it on.

      Had mine on the wall for nearly 4 years, sure you can't do chin-ups on it but it still feels bolted to the wall, since all it does is hold towels. Get one with a silicone ring on the suction cups and those are even better.

  • Theres been a big boom in Granny Flats.

    Do you think the government will allow people to build a granny flat bigger than 60sqm? 60sqm just seems so tight!

    • Oh man. I recently visited a friend who is renting a tiny granny flat. It was a steel double garage. Still had the roller doors on the outside and lined inside. Access is mostly from a gate to a large park. Car is parked on the street.

      There were 4 distinct areas within the "flat".

      The living area. You entered from here. Enough for a two seat futon, a bit of floor space and flat screen and small person table.

      The "bedroom". What was weird is that the only window the bedroom had was in the internal wall between the living room. They sleep on the floor on "futon".

      Kitchen. Tiny. Manageable.

      Bathroom/Laundry. Shower only +toilet.

      Sure it could be worse but I just had to shake my head at what the LL, considers to be acceptably habitable, was getting away with.

      • I have built a truckers shed and done a granny flat conversion. The end result was better than some apartments I have rented !

    • I'm not sure on the future, but very recently the government introduced affordable housing laws which increased things such as density and floor space ratios. They may increase the size of a granny flat in the near future but I don't believe they will ever allow it to be a separate title.

      • @TheBilly - Dang, thats so annoying. If they actually allowed it to be a separate titled i reckon it would solve some housing issues as parents can gift their kids some land to build a place!

        Also, can i please ask- Approximately how much do you think it would cost to convert an external laundry/toliet (3m x 3.6m) to a bathroom (shower, toilet and basin/hidden laundry)? Also, would i need council approval?

        THANKS SO MUCH X

        • There is no reason you can’t apply to separately title a granny flat section. It’s just a subdivision of the lot. They put the granny flat rules in place to make it easier to put a granny flat in, not to bike another house.

          • @Euphemistic: Two different types of titles - Torrens and strata and they have lot size restrictions. If you exceed the lot size restriction and build a granny flat then yes you can separately title it "theoretically" but it is a big waste of money, because you are putting a granny flat on a duplex or two house block and paying a premium for that privilege. Example in Sydney in some councils you can granny flat a 450m2 block but you cannot separately title until you go over 750m2. It does not make financial sense to pay the premium for 300 m2 more, to only then construct a 60m2 granny flat. You would use this opportunity to build a separate house or knockdown and put a duplex.

  • What are the rules both from a law and ethical perspective for taking things from the skips on build sites? Like I do woodwork and use off cuts for various things and often walk past sites with the bins and think, geez thats a waste, but not sure if its aboveboard to take some

    • Generally speaking if you go on a construction site unauthorised it will be considered trespassing. Most workers on a construction site have a white card and are generally inducted (a short safety presentation which advises them what they can and cannot do). You can always try and ask the site manager but I think you would have more luck on a smaller project than you will a big commercial job, likewise try and catch them after 2pm as the mornings are extremely hectic and you might get shut down by a stressed under the pump manager. The other thing to consider is climbing in and out of construction bins is not very safe so if you got hurt in this process it is a very big liability for them and the person that let you will most likely loose their job on the spot.

      Most things do not get wasted, for example I have managed a multi million dollar commercial project where we had a metal recycling bin, paper recycling bin, food waste bin and general construction bin. Metal and paper go to recycles, food waste goes to the tip and the general construction bin gets taken to a rubbish sorting facility, where they dump and sift through the various items for re-use. These bin suppliers usually provide us with waste recycling reports as well, advising us how much is being re-used versus being sent to waste.

  • I am thinking of adding an ensuite to my single story home on a flat block. Nothing too big. Would not be looking to re-pitch the roof.

    Any ideas on a rough price range?

    • It is really difficult to throw a figure at because I will need to see it. But I am assuming you currently don't have any plumbing or floor wastes in this new en suite location so you are effectively building a bathroom from scratch. This can set you back up to $20k. The slab will need to be cut to run new floor wastes, you will need to construct new walls or rip down the tiles and sheeting on existing walls to run water, after this you are constructing a new bathroom from waterproofing all the way to shower screen and taps etc.

  • I have so many questions sorry….

    How long do you provide (or have to provide) warranty for on new homes? Structural vs non structural?

    What do you like most about your job? Having dealt with with a lot of trades over the years I can see a real enjoyment of the social aspect of working on building sites, so I wonder if the “blokey culture” is a real draw for many? Very similar to the blokey culture of a mine site.

    Do you work with the same chippy/sparky each time? How’s this work do you have a pool of them to use?

    Do you employ anyone directly or is it all sub contractors you work with?

    Do you have to advertise beyond sticking a sign on the front fence of a build site? How do you find jobs? Is it mostly from recommendations from architects or construction companies?

    Do you do builds for the big companies like Metricon or just individual homes via architects? What are the pros and cons?

    Do you ever look at plans and scratch your head thinking “WTF is the architect doing, that won’t work”?

    • I have so many questions sorry….

      That's ok, this is why I am doing this

      How long do you provide (or have to provide) warranty for on new homes? Structural vs non structural?

      Structural warranty is 6 years (nsw)
      Non structural is 2 years (nsw)
      Not sure if this varies from state to state as I am only familiar with NSW

      What do you like most about your job?

      I like that there is a building standing at the end of a project, you can visually see your efforts come to life. As opposed to say a different industry where you may produce reports or advice, you are still producing a product it is just different to say a house, office, school, high rise etc.

      Having dealt with with a lot of trades over the years I can see a real enjoyment of the social aspect of working on building sites, so I wonder if the “blokey culture” is a real draw for many? Very similar to the blokey culture of a mine site.

      It is definitely blokey, I wouldn't say that drew me to the industry but it is helpful but it also has it's draw backs. Positives are being in that environment as a manager there are some extremely stressful periods (think staying awake at night for days at a time from stress and anxiety). As a result when you are working at this heightened level of anxiety the soft social formalities that you would normally find in an office don't apply, and allow you to just focus on getting the job done with little emotional correctness.

      The downside is, there is A LOT of immaturity and stupidity you have to deal with. I have had people threaten me like we are in the school yard, there are also a lot of egos which come from the immaturity.

      Do you work with the same chippy/sparky each time?

      No, it depends on a variety of factors such as price and availability

      How’s this work do you have a pool of them to use?

      Yes, I have a database on hundreds, sometimes you need a certain trade to estimate their portion of the work before you quote your client, so in this instance I just go back to the trade who quoted originally if I win the job.

      Do you employ anyone directly or is it all sub contractors you work with?

      All subcontractors, I am too small at the moment, I employ some family members casually for administrative tasks. I have worked for companies with hundreds of workers also I don't think I will ever become that as that requires a different kind of person or group of people.

      Do you have to advertise beyond sticking a sign on the front fence of a build site?

      Yes, mainly word of mouth and mainly because I am a small business with lower marketing budgets and not a prominent name

      How do you find jobs?

      Mainly word of mouth
      Online sources also

      Is it mostly from recommendations from architects or construction companies?

      Mainly family and friends and some architects. A lot of people come to me at the I want to build a house but I have not done anything and do not know anything phase. So I take them through the whole process (getting finance, establishing a budget, designing, then building).

      Do you do builds for the big companies like Metricon or just individual homes via architects? What are the pros and cons?

      I have project managed for big companies but that essentially becomes a job and I do not do that currently, so while you contract to them you are still working like an employee. Working for yourself will be just like any other business, you go out find the work and then carry it out. Also I do not work as a tradesman, I just manage projects so I'm not putting up the frames I am engaging a carpenter.

      Do you ever look at plans and scratch your head thinking “WTF is the architect doing, that won’t work”?

      All the time, I can list multiple examples. Door openings in hallways wider than the walls to the hallway, ceilings higher than the services inside it, walls and columns not aligning in a high rise, windows set at concrete slab height, structural walls with no footing. Unfortunately because designers are service based they price their jobs on a fee that is set on time spent on the project, so they do their best and let the builder take care of the rest. Likewise they do not see things onsite as much as the builder does - an architect may visit once every few months if that.

      • Wow awesome replies thanks.

        Yes, mainly word of mouth and mainly because I am a small business with lower marketing budgets and not a prominent name

        So how many jobs would you do a year? Roughly? And how many would you have on the go at the same time?

        A lot of people come to me at the I want to build a house but I have not done anything and do not know anything phase. So I take them through the whole process (getting finance, establishing a budget, designing, then building).

        Do you work for any old architect that clients choose or have some regulars you send people to? And do you get involved in any of the design if clients come to you first making suggestions or leave that up to the architect so you can avoid responsiobility of design issues, after the build is finished?

        When something stupid in the design comes up and you call the architect, do you ever argue about the design or is there some sort of rank pulled where builder always wins because builder is the one building it? Or are most discussions with architects very smooth negotiations when it comes to issues discoverewd once build has commenced?

        • So how many jobs would you do a year? Roughly? And how many would you have on the go at the same time?

          I'm limited to 8 residential at a time on my licences conditions, I would only have 2-3 at a time concurrent and 2-3 being worked on from a design stage. A lot of my work starts from the grass roots as I cannot compete with big builders with display homes with walk in customers. I have to take word of mouth clients who may not have even purchased a block yet and it could take 6-12 months before they are starting to design.

          Commercial work is unlimited, but with that I am restricted by how much cash flow I can afford. For example one job completed for a multi national company was 20% up front 80% one week after completion - I knew they would pay so that was not a risk however that is a lot of money to fork out as a new business. Commercial payment terms are very different, you do the work and then get paid as opposed to residential where you get paid then you start.

          Do you work for any old architect that clients choose or have some regulars you send people to?

          Both, I'm not too picky at the moment.

          do you get involved in any of the design if clients come to you first making suggestions or leave that up to the architect so you can avoid responsibility of design issues, after the build is finished?

          I prefer to get involved with client from day one ahead of an architect so I can guide them based on circumstance. Builders and Architects are two different fields, architects take the idea and put it on paper. Only a really experienced architect or the builder can guage feasibility. In residential there are not a lot of design issues if you are doing things correctly and involved in the process so I'm not concerned about responsibility. It's just like managing a subcontractor, you catch them early and talk it through and mostly the problems resolve themselves ahead of time.

          When something stupid in the design comes up and you call the architect, do you ever argue about the design or is there some sort of rank pulled where builder always wins because builder is the one building it? Or are most discussions with architects very smooth negotiations when it comes to issues discovered once build has commenced?

          Depends on the nature of engagement and issue. For example if you are working for a client with their own architect there can be disputes in responsibility. If you are engaging the architect then this is much less. In recent years I have noticed a big shift in the commercial construction industry with the implementation of design and construct contracts, where the builder is responsible for engaging the architect and engineers. I believe this is effective because architects have a talent and that is making layouts and colouring work in real life just from looking at it on a screen (imagination) but builders are resourceful planners and coordinators and that is what you need to complete projects.

  • Thanks for doing this.
    I am confused on regulation. When do you need a permit?
    I am planning to build a pergola with blinds to cover a spa. Is a permit required? I tried to get a quote but builder asked me if I want to get a permit as most people don't. I pretty much said if I need one, sure. If I don't need one of course no. So which way is it?

    I asked one of my friends who had similar things done years ago but in a bigger scale and he said he didn't need to get a permit when the house is more than 7 years old. I have never heard of that, is that true?

    Can you submit your own drawing for simple build like this? I heard that's acceptable?

    Other unrelated question: how can you tell which wall in a detached dwelling/house is structural? I watch all these tv programmes and people just seem to be randomly taking out any walls inside and I always thought there must be some walls that you simply can't touch?

    • Thanks for doing this.

      No worries

      I am confused on regulation. When do you need a permit? I am planning to build a pergola with blinds to cover a spa. Is a permit required? I tried to get a quote but builder asked me if I want to get a permit as most people don't. I pretty much said if I need one, sure. If I don't need one of course no. So which way is it?

      You need a permit to build a pergola, what requires a permit can generally be determined by contacting your local council. HOWEVER. A pergola is one of those items that is so small in nature and has little impact to the surrounding amenity that most people would just overlook it and not go ahead with the permit. Likewise even councils do not fully enforce these items, I have had experience helping somebody obtain council approval after purchasing a house that had unapproved renovations.

      I asked one of my friends who had similar things done years ago but in a bigger scale and he said he didn't need to get a permit when the house is more than 7 years old. I have never heard of that, is that true?

      As above, you do but it is not very big or high risk that it would warrant to go through so much paperwork.

      Can you submit your own drawing for simple build like this? I heard that's acceptable?

      Yes, call council they can give you criteria on what they want on the drawing and you can even do it by hand as long as it has all the information.

      Other unrelated question: how can you tell which wall in a detached dwelling/house is structural? I watch all these tv programmes and people just seem to be randomly taking out any walls inside and I always thought there must be some walls that you simply can't touch?

      Standard Australian houses run on a frame and truss system. The truss is the V shape that spans the width of the house. That V is supported on the outer walls only. All the internal walls sit a little bit under the bottom of the truss and thus are not load bearing (supporting the roof). These internal walls tie back to the truss but that is only for their support and rigidity, not to support the truss. Trusses have a maximum span though so they can only go so wide, if they reach their limit you will generally have a load bearing wall under it but in most standard houses you will not hit your limit, I have only hit the limit on a commercial project which was much wider than a house.

      • Don’t forget there is exempt development. It covers things like pergolas, carports etc as long as it meets the guidelines. A smallish pergola within the permitted building area in a backyard probably doesn’t need consent in NSW

        https://www.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/development-assessment...

      • Thanks for your detailed reply. Just curious what the max span is actually?
        I am hoping that there is an easy way to tell by inspecting from roof space.

        • i think you can look up websites for truss manufacturer's like Pryda and they will tell you max spans for things like roof trusses, floor trusses etc. just make sure you're looking up the correct truss type and geometry.

          https://www.pryda.com.au/

          P.S. i'd be hesitant to check a span table and go crazy knocking out walls if you think the spans are sufficient, there are many factors involved in checking load-bearing nature of walls. youtube has a bunch of videos on this topic, be sure to do your research and engage a professional for a 2nd opinion if you're not sure.

    • Just to add on to the question of how to tell which wall you can knock down, OP only mentioned a roof frame system using a truss system which only makes the outer walls load bearing.

      There's also the system of a conventional roof (most common in older houses) where the roof load struts onto internal walls making them load bearing. To identify if it's safe to knock the wall down you would have to crawl into the roof space and identify that there are no struts supporting the roof load on the wall that you wish to knockdown.
      It's highly recommended to engage a professional when undertaking tasks such as knocking down walls.

      • Thank you, yes that's correct there are others. Newer houses are typically trussed, inner city older houses have different types of framing.

  • Hello. Thanks for doing an AMA!

    I have a house on a slope, which has a small garage at street-level, then further back & up the hill is the house (about 7m from street and maybe 4m elevation) which is 1.5 levels (1 room on "ground" floor, and rest of rooms & kitchen, lviing, etc 1 floor up). House is a 1920's "californian bungalow" in Syd inner-west.

    What i really want to do is to demolish the tiny old garage and build a big garage (at least double of triple) all the way across the frontage, which is 15m. Need to leave 2m i guess for the staircase up to house. The "roof" i'd like to have a flat-tiled area which would create a "fore-court" area in front of the house.
    The ground itself it rocky/cliff-type ground.

    My questions are:

    • Would you know what a ball-park cost to do this would be, including excavating out the cliff-type rocky terrace.
    • Are there any regulations i should be aware of regarding how big a garage can be and how much frontage it can take? I currently have a 1-car-wide driveway from street to current garage, but would like to make it the length of new garage. My neighbour on one side has a double-garage taking up most of his frontage.
    • What difficulties might there be digging out close to house foundations? How close could one safely get? I'd like the garage to be as deep as possible.

    thanks so much!

    • Would you know what a ball-park cost to do this would be, including excavating out the cliff-type rocky terrace.

      Unfortunately it will be very difficult to throw a figure at something like this without looking at it in person. Without sounding discouraging it does not sound like a straight forward task, my recommendation would be to commence the approval process i.e. talking to a builder to start the design process and apply to council etc. When it comes to finicky things like this only prepared plans would enable somebody to put a figure against it. But by the sounds of it it will not be under $50k.

      Are there any regulations i should be aware of regarding how big a garage can be and how much frontage it can take? I currently have a 1-car-wide driveway from street to current garage, but would like to make it the length of new garage. My neighbour on one side has a double-garage taking up most of his frontage.

      All councils have a document called a development control plan which outlines these kinds of restrictions. Generally speaking it would be safe to say that you will be able to get a similar width to what your neighbours have however if you want to go more, the plan will have to be reviewed. Also one thing to note that within the DCP there are amendments applicable to certain areas of that council - they may have an overarching development control plan but then a sub plan that might be something like the "shady hollow heritage protection zone in strathfield council development control plan amendment" etc.

      What difficulties might there be digging out close to house foundations? How close could one safely get? I'd like the garage to be as deep as possible.

      I would typically engage a structural engineer in this process to determine what kind of shoring will need to be done so you can cut back into the hillside without undermining your own house above it (shoring is a type of structural support that will contain the house while you build around it). It can definitely be done but once again it is one of those things that require a proper review.

      • great, thanks a lot for the answers!
        My own guesstimate (based on nothing at all) was that it'd cost around $200k all up.. so if you think that perhaps it'd be a bit less then thats good news.

  • Cheers for doing the AMA!

    My questions (if not answered already)
    1) What made you go into the trade?
    2) Did you enter as a chippie or a different way?
    3) Have you taken on apprentices in the past, adult apprentices are of particular interest and your experiences
    4) How is the body holding up now, anything you regret not doing when you were on the tools?
    5) Brands of tools you recommend

    • 1) What made you go into the trade?

      Generally family plus I tried a few other careers before this and then ended up back in construction.

      2) Did you enter as a chippie or a different way?

      Different, project management at uni and then labouring and I worked my way up. I always wanted to do my own thing though, so I chose the university route. Not to say being a chippie won't work but I felt university would keep me well rounded.

      3) Have you taken on apprentices in the past, adult apprentices are of particular interest and your experiences

      Not adult, have taken on young apprentices. Can tell within a week whether they have it or not. In regards to being an adult apprentice, if you want to be a carpenter I would recommend going the apprentice route so you can physically learn the ropes - how to frame, how to hang doors. If you want to run your own business go to university and do construction you will get basic education in business as well. I went the uni labouring route and did everything as opposed to just carpentry. I can operate machinery, plaster, paint, carpentry, framing, roofing. I know enough of everything to get by, but I'm a master of none because I always wanted to start a business in which I would sub contract and manage.

      4) How is the body holding up now, anything you regret not doing when you were on the tools?

      Body is ok, But I knew the physical labour was not for me. I still get back strains and have to do regular stretching to ease tension every now and again. I probably regret not doing more concreting and tiling. Sometimes for a small job you just can't get the subcontractor support and this is really hard to do and get done nicely. Most of the other items I can do to a good standard if a subby let's me down tiling and concreting I cannot.

      5) Brands of tools you recommend

      No preference, I would probably recommend talking to a day to day carpenter but most of my colleagues use Hilti, Milwaukee etc.

  • Thanks for doing the AMA!
    My questions are all COVID related:

    1) if clients are withholding projects as you mentioned above, do you see a movement in prices? What about the housing market in general?

    2) has the shutdown affected supply of materials? I assume steel and fixtures are harder to come by.

    3) are projects getting blown out now on price and schedule?

    4) if you were an owner ready to build, why would you go ahead with the build now, considering the risks? (If you could afford to wait 6,12,18 months)

    Cheers, DT

    • 1) if clients are withholding projects as you mentioned above, do you see a movement in prices? What about the housing market in general?

      It's really hard to predict. Sorry I cannot definitely answer this question. However one thing I do say is when you buy a property it is typically a long term decision 10-30 years and the market can do alot in that time. For example we may see a 10%-20% drop now buy a 100% increase in the next 2 decades. Likewise I believe good property in a good location will remaim reasonably firm in price.

      As for construction I think marketing strategies will change and I have seen alot of it already. But I dont beliwve prices will drop dramatically. For example you have home builders saying $50k worth of upgrades for free, when in fact alot of this stuff didnt cost them $50k to begin with.

      2) has the shutdown affected supply of materials? I assume steel and fixtures are harder to come by.

      Very little in my experience. The products are getting manufactured it is the supply chain affected I.e. delivery times are increasing. So we just plan for that.

      3) are projects getting blown out now on price and schedule?

      No, a live project is still operating. In Australia the government encouraged the continuation of construction during the lockdowns so if anything we ramped up and are building faster.

      4) if you were an owner ready to build, why would you go ahead with the build now, considering the risks? (If you could afford to wait 6,12,18 months)

      It could be a number of reasons everyone's circumstance is different. If you can afford it why not hold off, however I would not anticipate more than a 10% drop in the construction cost, you will have to balance that off against what other options you had planned in lieu. For example, a client is building now because they had an empty block and no house on it. An empty block returns them no income and an empty block (dont quote me) cannot be negative geared in the same way a house can. So it made sense for them to go ahead with the build irrespective of the climate.