When building a small and compact home, Kirsten turned to Undercover Architect for support and guidance.
Kirsten consciously decided to build a small home, based on compact home design and has found great support in Undercover Architect’s HOME Method.
Listen as Kirsten’s talks about how valuable the program is for her and how she feels that it was money well spent to access this help in her project (when compared to the cost of the mistakes she could’ve had without Amelia’s guidance).
Kirsten is a member of HOME Method.
Hi, my name is Kristen Pitot. I’m originally from South Africa. But we’ve been living in Sydney for 20 years and we recently bought a piece of land down south, in a small town called Moruyah, which is just, beautiful small town of 7,000 residents. We built a house in South Africa 20 years ago, but we had an architect friend who helped us along and did a lot of the grunt work. This is the first time we’re building in Australia, and so it’s a very different experience.
What type of project are you planning?
So our project is a small home. And people sometimes laugh when I tell them just how small. It’s not a tiny house, it’s not a house that can sort of all get folded away at night. But it is a very compact house. The square metre, which is going to be about 78 square metres. And it will have a bedroom and a small room, which is an office / slash guest room / study.
And we’re going this way because we’re on a tight budget and we also have no need for excess space, um, just more cleaning, more heating or cooling, all of those things. So we’re looking forward to having a compact space.
It’s a completely new build. The little block of land is untouched, and it’s got a lot of lovely native trees on it. And we still see kangaroos crossing it, and echidna. and a lot of birds, a lot of bird life. So we’re doing everything we can to not disrupt that property too much. The house is going to be on footings so that we don’t have to excavate into the land and turn over the soil and have as little in the way of concrete flooring as possible.
What were you concerned about before starting your new build journey?
Okay. So um, for whatever reason, I haven’t ever felt worried about the project. I’m not frightened. I’m not anxious. I don’t lie awake at night worrying. But on the other hand, so my partner and I are designing the house because it is a small house. There’s not a lot to design.
So we’ve designed the floor plan, but we sent it to a draftsman. And one night I woke up and I suddenly realised that we had designed the roof in such a way, we originally thought we’d have solar panels, so we thought the solar panels would sit here with the sun shining on, and then we realised that because we’ve got a lot of trees on the northern boundary, we weren’t going to get a lot of benefit from solar panels.
So we had decided to do solar panels. But we forgot to send it to the draftsman. And he drew up a building that was going to get no sunlight because the roof was at that angle. And I woke up the next morning and I thought, we’ve actually gone through this process, we spent a fair bit of money with the draftsman. And he’d never mentioned to us that there was going to be a huge problem.
So we took, we took the plans off him, we redesigned it, and we lifted the roof up at that angle so that we get a lot of the, we get as much as the northern, the winter sun as possible. And that in summer, we don’t get too much.
At that moment, I realised that we were being quite naive. And that we could have, we could have actually built that house, and then sat in that house going, I can’t believe we put the roof on back to front.
And I’d been subscribed to Amelia’s email for some time. And I used to just sort of check, check the headings, but not really take it any further. And then she sent an email out saying that she was going to be delivering a Q & A session on how to choose a builder. And so I tuned in that day.
I was really impressed by the breadth of advice that she gave, and how she responded to the questions that She gave a lot of very topical and relevant information.
And then I started to look a bit further and I saw how much information she had provided about every step of the building process. And I just thought it would be very worthwhile to sign up with Amelia to feel like we had somebody who was, was looking after us a little bit. Because that was a shock.
I realised that, you know, we’re not children, nobody was going to pick us up if we fell over. Nobody was there to hold our hand. And we were going in with blinkers on.
So that’s when we signed up with Amelia. And we started following her regular weekly feedback sessions. We were able to submit our own new design for her very personal feedback.
She’s very generous with her information, she doesn’t skint. She tells you everything she knows. And I think she knows everything. She has a really amazing amount of knowledge. And if she doesn’t know something, she will make a note of it and she will get back to you.
So she also has this Facebook page where you can post your questions. And she will go to the ends of the earth to find answers and to keep you informed with the latest availability of things. So for example, I decided I didn’t want to use a fire, a wood fired heater, due to the carbon emissions. And I mentioned that online and Amelia helped me source a whole lot of different options. So it’s been really great just to feel like she’s, you know, she’s looking out for us.
I think, I don’t know what it’s like around the rest of the world, but in Australia, a lot of homes have been built without the input of an architect. You can go straight to a draftsperson. And you can also become an owner builder and design your own house. And as I said, we decided to design our own little place because it is quite small and simple. But we just, you know, we didn’t have the benefit of the experience and sort of stylistic input of an architect. And that’s where it was almost like when we, when we, when we hooked up with Amelia, it was like we had our own architect as a bonus, which was terrific.
How have you benefited from doing Undercover Architect’s courses?
Well, I wasn’t, I wasn’t initially worried about the time it would take because there was no timeframe. We’re still a few years from retiring and needing to move into our place. So it didn’t matter. However, with shutdown, the Australian Government, the Federal Government, offered a subsidy to support the construction industry. Which is a very healthy $25,000. And, but you have to have signed your building contract by the 31st of December. And so suddenly, time has become very important.
And so this, this was another thing that was really helpful about Amelia, is that she gave me the confidence to consider myself the project manager about building. And, and also not, you know, not to be frightened of expecting the, the, the contractors or design team to, to meet deadlines and to not meet deadlines only, but also to say when they would have done, completed certain tasks.
So because of Amelia’s advice, directly due to Amelia’s advice, I am able to say in every email or every conversation, ‘when can we expect to have this by?’
And again, thanks to Amelia, I put together a spreadsheet, it’s not a Gantt chart, that’s fancy, but just a basic Excel spreadsheet with a timeline on it, which I repeatedly sent off to our draftsperson.
We’ve got a lovely man called Trevor King, who is a conservation designer. So he’s helping us with the overall look of the place. We’ve also got a man who’s helping us with some of the aspects around emissions and passive house design called Dick Clarke … So Dick, Trevor and our draftsperson, Mike Callahan, I call them the three wise men, and I send them the time line constantly, just to remind them that we need to have everything done by the 31st of December.
And I also said to them, look, if that’s unrealistic, let me know. But they’ve agreed that that’s realistic, so I feel comfortable to keep pushing them to remind them that we need to stick to those, those timeframes.
Did you consider joining any other course out there?
I didn’t ever come across other courses. There was no competition. I mean, it was just Amelia coming into my inbox. So the name Undercover Architect was really, really cute. I love her byline, your ally, you know. So I never realised, and this is part of the naivety as I mentioned earlier, I never realised that we needed somebody.
I didn’t think of doing courses because I didn’t think we needed courses. It was only after we made that, almost made that massive mistake with the roof, and that’s, it struck me that a bit of help would be good.
And it just so happened that Amelia was, was there. And so we got lucky.
What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?
Um, I signed up for the paid course because I saw the value of everything else that Amelia was offering. So I said, as I mentioned earlier, I listened to the session she did on How To Find a Good Builder and What To Expect From a Builder, and because that was so well done, and then I started searching and, and listening to a couple of the podcasts.
And, you know, there were a couple of free downloads that she, she sends out as well. And they all just, they were chatty, they were personable, they were accessible. And so they, they made me confident that paying money to be a part of her course was, was going to be good value.
And, again, because we almost made such a huge mistake, that would have been, we would have regretted it forever. I just weighed up.
I said the cost of the course, you know, compared to what is the cost of making this huge mistake, it would be money well spent.
What are you doing differently because of this Undercover Architect course?
The first thing we did differently. Amelia suggested that in our particular situation where we, we have a property which is considered, BAL Flame Zone, which is a very high rating in the bushfire attack level. It means that we’re very vulnerable to bushfire attack. And Amelia suggested that we have a bushfire consultant on board. And that we should also bring together a team of people who could advise us. So that was the first thing we did.
She, in another one of her podcasts, was an interview with that man that I mentioned earlier, Dick Clarke, who is an expert in Passivhaus design. He is a highly awarded Passivhaus designer. And so we contacted Dick, and Dick helped us connect with Trevor King, who is the conservation designer. And Trevor helped us connect with Mike Callahan, who is a very experienced draftsman. And so we’ve got this group, this, this golden triangle of people to help us.
So it didn’t have to just be us and a company, you know, just trying to deal and talk to each other. And, and I think because these group of people that Amelia had kind of, had made connections with, they had the same kind of thinking as Amelia. So all three of them believe in, in a lot of communication, you know.
With the first draftsperson we had didn’t actually consider that we needed the builders, who were going to supply us with quotes, needed to know what our budget was. That was remarkable to me. So we got a, we got a quote back, which was double what we could afford.
But from the start, Dick, Trevor and Mike all had the same kind of philosophy as Amelia, which is just talk about these things, work them out, make sure everybody is thinking the same, the same way. So that was one thing that was very different.
Another thing as I mentioned before, what Amelia said, just gave me the confidence to feel like, not like, I’m an employer and you need to do what I want, but that I am contracting you for service and therefore I can be very clear about what our needs are and what we want.
And before that, I was always just really polite, and you know, oh, whatever you think’s best. And I guess it’s a little bit of a feminine trait.
Did you have a favourite part of the Undercover Architect course?
Amelia has given us very helpful information. Just simple things like, what different people do along the line. What their responsibilities are, and whether or not you need to have that person as part of a team or not. So she’s demystified the whole architect, builder, draftsperson processes. She’s made it all quite accessible.
I think the best thing is knowing that there is this font of information. That there’s a Facebook page where not only can we ask Amelia for advice and information, but we can also bounce off each other and make use of each other’s experience.I guess in a, in a nutshell, I’d say, it’s just been really helpful to know you’re not alone. But there’s Amelia and this whole community of people all doing the same thing, asking the same questions, and able to help with the answers.
What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?
And well, I know what I’d say, because I have a couple of friends that are renovating. Nobody’s actually building like us, but I have like two, three friends at work who are renovating and I have told them, just sign up with Amelia, because it will really make such a difference for their project.