Building a Cost Effective Home | Undercover Architect Member Review

When building a cost effective home, Julia turned to Undercover Architect for support and guidance.

And even though Julia is a landscape architect, she found great additional value in Undercover Architect’s HOME Method course. 

With Amelia Lee’s support she created the design brief, a functional and fantastic floor plan, and oversaw construction of a beautifully finished, cost effective new home.

Julia is a member of HOME Method and Home Design Masterclass. 

My name’s Julia van der Meer. I am a single mom and I have two teenage boys. And we live on the Sunshine Coast, which is in Queensland, in Australia. 

And I am a Landscape Architect. So I don’t think Amelia knows. I’m stealth mode. 

I didn’t let her know just because I just wanted to learn new things and not have any input. I just wanted to be open to what Amelia had to suggest. 

And so I came across Amelia, probably on social media, and I just thought she sounded wonderful. 

So I enrolled in the first class, and then after that, I purchased a property, another property on the Sunshine Coast, for the, which I thought I’d develop as an Airbnb property. So just something to like, rent out, rent it out. And then in… and then I decided… so I did up some plans with a building designer. Then I decided that we thought we’d actually move, live there. 

So I knew that I had to design the house really well. Just to make sure everything was right to make sure we were using the site well. 

That we, it was going to be cost effective, and that we weren’t going to come across any problems during the build and sort of have regrets that we didn’t do a design that we’d love.

So even though obviously I have the background and I knew about orientation, all the aspects that Amelia talks about a lot. Orientation and, and levels, and light, and space, all that sort of those design principles, there was a lot to learn. 

So I picked up so much from doing Amelia’s course it was just excellent.

Can you share some more about your project?

Originally, well, there’s a, there’s a shack on the property at the moment. It’s just over 600 square metres. And council here allows you to have, to put on a second dwelling, a studio. 

So I was going to renovate the existing one and add a smaller studio. And then, but now I have, because it wasn’t structurally sound my builder came and had a look at it. We’ve actually, it’s just been demolished right now. actually. It started, the demolition started a couple of days ago and we’re actually building from scratch but keeping the same… to have my second studio, or have the studio there, the second dwelling, I’ve had to keep the footprint of the original house. Which is good, yeah. 

So it’s small. It’s a small build, it’s not large. I’ll have the nice guest house at the back, and I was really interested in having nice finishes which Amelia kept in mind and really helped me with. And it was, yeah, we wrote the brief at the start and she made sure I stuck with it through the whole design process, yeah.

What concerns did you have before you started?

Well, from a construction point of view and being a female dealing with, you know, builders and all the different tradesmen, and I think Amelia talks about that sometimes when she was early on dealing with building, how do I say it, yeah, people on building sites. 

I just wanted to not feel intimidated. To feel like I knew… had… I was confident going to the build, that was important to me. Knowing that I knew why I had made certain decisions. Why we have chosen to design the house a certain way, and just just to be able to manage the build a bit myself. 

What did you do differently because of what you learned?

Well, Amelia just has such a great knowledge with her, and her resources are amazing in terms of finishes. Just some things you don’t think of. 

I think one of the first modules in our masterclass was even just looking at the driveway. The first thing you should do is sort of look at your driveway levels and work from your curb in. Which I knew about, but that just sort of reminded me that’s one of the first design elements you should look at. I didn’t know a lot about finishes. 

Orientation was the really big thing that Amelia spoke about a lot, and it’s the most important, she thinks. And I sort of, most design, the most important aspect of designing your house, getting your living areas on the facing the right way. Your windows, you know, your larger windows on the right side. 

So I had done an early design, and I thought it was, I worked with a building designer, I thought it was pretty good. 

But then once Amelia… I had VIP Reviews (available as a Member Upgrade in HOME Method), so I couldn’t recommend, recommend that more highly! Having a VIP. She sort of did three or four reviews for me. And they were just so great. And just watching her sketch the design, and on the video, in front of your eyes was just amazing. She’s remarkable. Her knowledge, and it just all makes sense. When she’s designing it for you, that’s great.

It’s an investment though. It’s a great investment because I figure if you can save … if you get caught out in the building stage and you realise you’ve forgotten something where you want to change windows or walls, that’s when it gets really expensive. 

Whereas, if you can get it all right in the early, in the design stage, it’s wonderful. 

And Amelia even had us putting in our furniture, existing furniture, future furniture, we had to think about what furniture we wanted in each room and made sure the design fit in all those elements. So it’s wonderful.

What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?

Well I had had some quotes. Building designers are really expensive. I’ve had a couple of quotes for building designers for my project, and they’re, it can be up to $20,000. $18,000 to $20,000, some of the quotes I got. 

So, I just think now with online, Amelia was just so accessible, it was just so easy. I was doing it during COVID, when we had the original, the initial lockdown in Australia. So it was wonderful because we could still do, get through all our resources and talk to Amelia online. And if there was something we didn’t know about, in our discussion, we have all our questions on Facebook, and she would refer us to one of her podcasts or another resource. 

So we just, it was just so easy to refer to those and listen to those, and then come back to the course. So I think it was a great option. 

These days, also, because you can kind of do the course anywhere, wherever you are, anywhere in Australia. You can be in a remote town, you can be … and I just did at my own pace too, which was great. Whenever I had time. If I was sitting waiting, picking up the kids from school, I’d listen to one of the modules. 

So it’s just a great way to do it at your own pace, I think. 

What did you particularly enjoy about the Undercover Architect course?

Just the attention to detail, I think was great. 

With the course, she just outlined in the modules and all the specifics, like every room. What the dimensions, what dimensions you need to say, for a bedroom, what you need to allow for a bed for the, for the side tables. Space to get around all the furniture. 

All those details were just fantastic. They were so specific, the resources were just amazing. 

And even with, say the kitchen, all the things these days that you can include in the kitchen. She just sort of outlined all those possibilities. So we’re not having to do the research ourselves. 

And she would always have links to the, to further information. So we could read on about that. So definitely all the attention to detail was, was great, yeah.

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

Probably stress, because now I have confidence that I’m going out into the world with Amelia’s blessing. And of course, money. Because everyone always, always, goes over budget I think. 

But having put in all the groundwork, resolved everything during the design, early design stages, with Amelia, I think will, will mean that the build will be on, more so on budget, yes.

Did you have a favourite part of the Undercover Architect course?

Okay. Um, I love the Facebook group. I don’t spend a lot of time on social media normally, but the group was great. Because everyone was really supportive.So that was good. And I just think the VIP reviews were just fantastic. Really, really just so exciting, to get them and to listen to Amelia’s feedback and wonderful ideas. 

And you realise that everyone’s, everyone’s got their own challenges with their site, with their budget, with where they’re at. So, I don’t think anyone should feel intimidated joining, because everyone’s at their own stage or in the journey. 

And Amelia addresses everyone individually, to help them where they’re at.

What would you say to others who are thinking of joining?

It was a great course and the return on investment I think, is definitely worth it. Although I haven’t done my build yet, but just the way my plans have been resolved. 

And I just think it, it avoids the problem of getting into your build and realising you’ve forgotten things, you’ve made mistakes, perhaps you haven’t just thought about certain elements like that, and that you really cover this. 

Which is, you know, things like orientation and light and designing your site well. 

The personal approach that Amelia offers is just wonderful.

Is there anything else that you think people should know?

I’m just going to say thank you, Amelia, for offering such a wonderful course. And her team was great. I always found they were easy, easy to communicate with, they got back to us really quickly. And they just supported us really well throughout the course. So thank you.

Julia has since finished her home. You can see images of her beautifully finished home here >>> SEAVIEW TERRACE

Top Tips for Kitchen Design

Getting it right in your kitchen design is important so you create a space that’s functional and feels great.

Mistakes can be expensive to rectify, and so avoiding them is worthwhile! Learn more with these top tips.

Many renovation projects get started because the kitchen needs updating and upgrading.

And in a new build, the kitchen is often a big area of focus too.

Kitchens are what I call a ‘cost intensive’ area of your project. With joinery, appliances, fixtures, benchtops, splashbacks and lighting, they can absorb a lot of your project budget.

Here’s 3 tips for your kitchen design.

#1 Your kitchen probably doesn’t need to be as big as you think it does

Kitchens have really grown and grown over the past decade or so, and they’re seen as an expression of luxury in a project (which is strange given it’s such a functional zone – you’d think luxury would actually mean not having a kitchen, and having someone else making your meals everyday!)

I recall doing kitchens in multi-million dollar homes about 15 years ago. They didn’t have butler’s pantries, and a 2.7m island was really generous.

If you’re struggling with stretching your budget, or getting your floor plan to fit the kitchen you’re dreaming of, please know a compact kitchen can be super functional, and look great too. (I’ve got this blog on how to design a compact kitchen >>> How to Design a Small Kitchen)

Be intentional with what you’ll be storing in your kitchen, and how you use your kitchen. Design cupboard and drawer space to meet your identified needs. Don’t create space for space’s sake.

An appliance cupboard can be a good alternative to a full butlers’ pantry. Pantry depth works best at 300mm (not 600mm).

#2 Benchtops are changing in kitchen design

Reconstituted stone has been THE benchtop material of choice for a long time in Australia.

I remember, when travelling to the USA a few years ago, how surprising it was to discover that natural stone benchtops were similarly priced to reconstituted stone – because here, reconstituted stone has really cornered the market as ‘the’ durable benchtop choice.

However, with changes to the required work practices in the industry, problem with safe cutting of the material, plus potential bans being discussed, many are considering what alternatives are available. The good news is there are a lot.

Options include:

Metal benchtop options include stainless steel and also Zinc – in fact Joost Bakker used Zinc in the Future Food Systems project at Fed Square.Timber has been a tried and tested option, with alternatives such as bamboo.There’s also materials such as polished concrete often being used now, plus compact products such as Dekton.And you can also check out recycled glass benchtop, such as Betta Stone, or PaperRock, both of which are great, sustainable choices.I’ve seen some great tiled benchtops too, and large format porcelain is also a lovely option.

Your benchtop will be a big investment, and it’s also the ‘coalface’ of punishment in your kitchen. If you want to put hot things on it, you cook with spices like turmeric, these things will factor into your choice.

So, get a big sample and test it. Put some substances on it (like soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, turmeric, coca cola, coffee, red wine) and leave them for a while – even 24 hours. Test how well they clean off.

#3 Choose function over fashion in your kitchen design

I’ve seen kitchens that look beautiful, and yet they’d be so frustrating to work in, cook in, and share with others during peak times in your home.

Some things to consider:

Don’t exceed 1,200mm between the island and back bench, as it gets awkward to navigateConsider grime, dust and how easily you’ll clean things like open shelving, exposed rangehoods, and exposed tops of cupboardsThink about how you cook, store food, wash up and prep meals. Don’t tuck things away in hard-to-reach areas simply to hide them from guests so the kitchen looks ‘presentable’, because the lack of convenience and accessibility will frustrate you in your everyday useKeep the island free of services if possible, so it acts as a fantastic prep space, and is multi-functional as a casual dining, homework, and gathering zoneIf you end up with corner joinery, design it well, so you don’t end up with frustrating dump zones in your below-bench storage

Lastly – my biggest tip is this:Design your kitchen at a detail level at the start of your design phase.

Some of the biggest problems I see with kitchen design is because a floor plan has been done without true consideration of the kitchen itself. It’s simply had a space ‘allocated’ for the kitchen, without much thought about how the kitchen will fit. Because then you can find, you won’t fit the kitchen layout you want, or get a kitchen design to work in your floor plan.

Make early decisions about the general layout you’d prefer, the types of appliances, and even things like whether you’d like a wall oven or under-bench oven (because they generate different situations with bench-space and full height cupboard arrangements).

My Kitchen Design Challenge is a great little mini-course that shares loads of tips, mistakes to avoid, and layout how-to’s.

I’ve seen (and experienced first hand) just how transformative it is for family life to have a kitchen that you enjoy being in, and that works well for you and your family.

Kitchens come in so many different shapes and sizes – so take the time to think carefully about what you want for your kitchen.

One tip I gave a member of my online program is to travel with a tape measure, so when you see a kitchen you like (in another house or display) you can measure exactly how its been sized and designed.

If anyone looks weirdly at you …

Just tell them Undercover Architect told you to do it

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that.

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you.

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

Don’t use your architect or building designer to advise on project cost

Your architect or building designer is not the best source of project cost information.

If you want to deliver your home on budget, then read on.

A while ago, I was a panel member on a presentation hosted by Architeam, a membership organisation for Australian architects.

The subject of the presentation was Cost Planning, and the panel included an architect (Nicola Dovey), a Quantity Surveyor (Holly Phillips), builder Duayne Pearce (DPearce Constructions and my business partner in Live Life Build), and me!

It was a chunky discussion – three hours in total – and it could have gone on for longer.

I wanted to share my main take-away with you, and probably not something I’ve said this bluntly before.

If you want to deliver your new home or renovation on budget, you need a costing professional from the beginning on your project – and that is unlikely to be your designer or your architect.

Most homeowners enter their project journey thinking “I want to get the house I want for the budget I want to spend on it”.

Time can be linked in there too – so, that same sentence, with “by this date”, put at the end of it.

However, the money part – the cost – it’s always front and centre.

You’ll hear people in the industry asking you to not make it all about the money. Don’t choose the lowest quote you get. Don’t choose a designer or builder based on price alone.

But … when it’s your mortgage, or life savings, it’s very hard for it to not be all about the money. And that’s very, very understandable.

This is why cost should be, and often is, part of the project discussion so early.

It’s why professionals ask you straight away “what is your budget?”

And it’s why I share so much information about setting and sticking to your budget, so you keep it part of the conversation the whole way through.

The big challenge here is that homeowners are often looking in the wrong place for this cost information.

It’s essential for you, as a homeowner, to get assistance from a costing professional that helps you understand cost from the outset. And then enables you to manage your expectations, your decisions, and your direction, within a framework of realistic cost input.

And that is unlikely to be your designer or your architect.

Why doesn’t your designer understand cost? Isn’t that part of their job?

Well, some do. If they’ve been designing and building homes like yours, for several years, and have been collecting data on those projects to establish what is driving the finished costs, then they’ll definitely be in a better position to help you at the start.

However, there is so much that goes into the cost of building and renovating, that unless that architect is physically purchasing the items and paying for the labour required to make your home a reality, it will be very difficult for them to know accurately.

The best a designer or architect can usually give is a square metre rate suggestion.

However, it’s important that you interrogate how their square metre rate has been established, how recently it’s been updated, and what level of finish it relates to.

If you’re confident that it can be relied upon, then use it to set the maximum floor area / footprint of the home at early concept design stage.

(And remember what that maximum area is, and know that if you’re exceeding it, you’re most likely exceeding your budget too.)

Then, get better, more informed help. Get a costing professional involved.

This can be a Quantity Surveyor (QS), Building Estimator (BE), or Builder.

Someone who is regularly involved in the pricing and process of residential construction – either through collection of industry data (such as a QS or BE) or physically doing the work themselves (such as a builder).

Which Costing Professional should you choose? Well, it depends on the type of input you want.

Do you just want someone to tell you the cost of the drawings and specifications you have?

And reprice it once, or at different stages of the project?

Or do you want someone to tell you the cost, plus tell you how you can save money and what you need to change?

Your architect or designer may be able to help to a point, depending on their level of experience.

However, they’ll probably be speaking more generally about it (as in, “this could be cheaper” or “based on square metre rates, you’ll save $30,000 by eliminating that room”). 

If your architect or designer is also someone who works collaboratively with other professionals right from the start (such as builders and structural engineers), they may be able to tap into that help early to assist with identifying general cost savings.

A QS will be able to do this, but it will also relate to how they work.

QS’s are great with data, and can often help you understand what projects of different standards in your area are costing, and they can get involved very early on to drive some decisions around home size, material selections and other specifications, etc. 

And then they can be involved throughout the design phase to provide confirmation of that information as you go, providing cost reports at milestones, for example. 

However, because they’re not builders or designers, their suggestions for cost savings are often related to alternate selections (materials, fixtures etc), or changes to overall area.

A builder will definitely be able to do this, especially when working with you and your designer collaboratively.

And they’ll be able to assist with identifying areas you can target to make cost savings, construction methodologies to use to save time or money, redesign that can be done in structure, material selections, roof design, services infrastructure, site access, etc, to help with managing your budget.

If you haven’t listened to the recent podcast episodes on the PAC Process, or Paid As Consultant Process, I really encourage you to do so. 

They’ll take you through the collaborative process of paying a builder to come on board, as a consultant, during your design phase, where they can provide input on cost and buildability.

By the way, you can find those episodes here:

Episode 201 | The WHY of the PAC ProcessEpisode 202 | The WHAT of the PAC ProcessEpisode 203 | PAC Process: The DesignerEpisode 204 | PAC Process: The BuilderEpisode 205 | PAC Process: The Client

Most homeowners wait too long to get accurate cost feedback on their future home.

‘Value management’ at that point is limited, because you have sunk costs in the drawings, professional fees, and it can be demoralising once you’ve become attached emotionally to the future home you’ve been creating. 

Making change is reduced to reselections of finishes and fixtures, which usually only achieves small savings. 

Bigger changes can involve redesign, which can be expensive and time consuming.

Instead, get value management happening earlier. 

And then involve a costing professional who is at the coalface of residential construction costs, to assist you from the start.

Don’t want to do the PAC Process, or hire a QS early in your project?

Then, at the very least, get a QS or Building Estimator report done before you go to tender to a selection of builders.

A QS report can cost around $2,000 – $3,000, which may seem like a chunk of money before you’re about to get a bunch of free quotes from builders.

However, using a QS will give you a detailed scope of your project, and help with identifying potential budget overruns (before you waste a lot of builders’ time).

It can also highlight where you need to resolve things more fully in your selections (because their costing has had to make assumptions), and what might be sucking money in your project (because they can discuss how it compares to projects like yours).

Don’t solely rely on your designer or architect to be your costing professional throughout your project.

And don’t solely rely on competing, tendering builders who are seeing your drawings for the very first time, to tell you what your project will cost.

Build in a better safety net with the right expertise, so you can get more certainty about cost along the way.

I hope you found that helpful

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. 

You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

A Brisbane Home Renovation | Undercover Architect Member Review

Kobie, with her husband, undertook a Brisbane home renovation of their Queenslander, transforming it into their ideal family home.

Even though she’d never renovated before, she and her husband were able to prepare for their project, and learn what they needed to know. 

Through choosing the right team, and being guided through the decision making process with confidence, she was able to achieve the home transformation she dreamed of.

Listen as Kobie shares her experience of getting ready for Brisbane home renovation, and how Undercover Architect helped her feel more confident and in control of her project.

Kobie is a member of HOME Method.

My name is Kobie. My husband and I bought our house, a Queenslander, many years ago now, but we always had plans to renovate it but we didn’t know what that looked like. We discovered Amelia’s podcast in May 2017 and we were part of her Reno Roadmap program (now known as HOME Method) by that August. And Amelia gave us the confidence to speak to builders really early on and we got a lot of great ideas. 

A year later in June 2018, we engaged an architect and we took our time, we did lots of iterations in the design. And in October 2019, we started building. So we renovated our Queenslander and just in the middle of COVID, the project finished and we got to move back in. So we’ve been back here in the house for over six months now and we’re loving the changes that we made.

What are you doing differently because of what you learned?

We lifted up a single story Queenslander and we brought the living area and the kitchen downstairs underneath it, and turned the whole of upstairs into, into bedrooms and made an open plan living area underneath for the garage. So we went from a three bedroom, one bathroom house, to three bedroom, three and a half bathroom, two living area. 

So it was really good to be able to, to bring on an architect at the very beginning and say ‘this is actually what we want to achieve’. And not say ‘we want three and a half bathrooms and three bedrooms, but we want to live in this way’. 

And so framing it in that way meant we got the most potential out of our architect to use their creativity to come up with how we could use our space. And we did get some surprises that we were not expecting but are very grateful that have been incorporated in the build.

What were you concerned about before starting your new build journey?

Neither my husband nor I had done any construction before. That’s not the industry we work in. But we both wanted to be involved in the process. 

So we really enjoyed how Amelia enabled us to confidently talk to the different trades we had involved, and get the people on board our team that not only matched our design vision, but also our communication style.I think our biggest struggle was decision making, and how much we needed to do. And Amelia’s tools really helped with us being able to front end load some of our decision making, so that we weren’t doing it while the project was happening. And we wouldn’t have to have those time pressures. 

So we were able to have much of our decision making prepared beforehand and present that to the builder, even during the quoting process. Which made the whole process a lot easier for us. There were still lots of decisions, but most of them we’d already been able to make ahead of time. 

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

Yeah, um, I don’t actually remember how I came across the podcast. But it was definitely early days when it was season one or two. And I was hooked. And I was waiting for the next episode to come out. And we started off with, you know, the aspect of the house being north facing and I was like, okay, so these are the things that we need to incorporate into our design. 

And I really, I really got attracted to Amelia’s energy, and also being a female in a male dominated industry. And that really struck a chord with me, as similar to my line of work. 

And so I thought, no, this is, this is a woman that’s out to empower other women. And that really resonated with me. 

So when I read about the Reno Roadmap (now HOME Method), I thought, no, this is exactly the toolkit that I would like beside me to do my project rather than going in blind, or finding checklists on random websites. I thought this, if this is guided.

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

I think we were very lucky with our builder, that due to the way we selected the builder, we had this great communication style. So I think that a lot of our future possible problems were alleviated because we chose the right builder. But we did that because we knew what questions we needed to ask from the onset. 

So I think getting the right people into the team was really, really important. And Amelia stressed that a lot. And I’m grateful she did.

Did you consider joining any other course out there?

I had seen other courses around. A lot of them were more focused on the design aspect and less on the technical and less on the actual construction. 

I think the other thing that attracted me to her course was that she did do it from a perspective of actually getting a builder in rather than doing a lot of the work yourself. And we weren’t, we were never in the position to do any of the work ourselves. We’re not DIY’ers. 

So I think the course was attractive to us that it really met the intentions of our build, and what we were hoping to achieve.

Why did you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?

Yeah. I didn’t want… I did the paid course because I didn’t want to get led by the builder. I also wanted to have some independence and be able to make suggestions to change how we were doing things if that was necessary. 

I also was attracted to Amelia’s course because of the structure. It was very systematic in how it was laid out and the topics that she covered. There are a lot of parallels to the podcast, but that extra bit of information I found really valuable. 

And it saved me time that I didn’t have to go trawling through the internet and find things, whether they were relevant or not to my job, to my, my build.

What do you enjoy most about the Undercover Architect courses?

Um, yeah, it’s been a while. But I think the, the part of the course that added the most value to me, would have been the Facebook group. And it being a small group where you actually got to know the other people that are doing the course quite well. 

And you post your progress and ask open queries to the group as well of, ‘how did you overcome this?’ Or, ‘did you know you had to do this this far ahead?’ 

And it was just this added wealth of information that, yeah, I think from like minded people going through it as you’re going through it. So that was, that was something I don’t think money could buy. That everybody was speaking the same language, pointing to the similar sections in the, in the course material, and saying, ‘how did you, how did you do this? How did you do this?’ 

And it was, it was really good. I do miss it now that we’re not part of it anymore. I do, I did enjoy paying it forward as well into the group. 

What did you do differently because of what you learned?

Yeah, definitely. Um, there was a couple of design changes we did make. Specifically some skylights we’ve put into our kitchen, and they puzzled us, on how to align them and how to get them working the best as we could in that situation. 

And yeah, I posted the post into the Facebook group, and yeah, Amelia took the time to respond. And in our kitchen now we have Amelia’s design for our skylights, which is kind of special. 

Having an architect, yeah, on hand, to answer some of those specific design questions. When, yeah, our design had been finalised by our architects, so we were no longer, yeah, in communication with them per se, or it was going to cost us extra to go back to them. And just asking for a different opinion, which was, yeah, which was great.

Yeah, I think we were very open with our builders, saying that we wanted to be abreast of everything that was happening on site. That we didn’t have the technical skills, that we were using Amelia, in fact, as a medium to kind of translate and overcome some of that barrier. And they were really receptive of that as well. 

We also did Amelia’s Manage Your Build course (which is inside HOME Method), and that even stepped through some of those details a little bit more. So we got to the framing stage and we, okay, we need to keep an eye out for this, and this, and this is coming up ahead. 

So we knew, or we could anticipate what our builder was about to ask us next. So having that, that insider knowledge was really helpful.

What was the best thing about being an Undercover Architect course member?

I think, um, I think the best thing is that we got through the project. We’re at the other end. We’ve… We’re living in a beautiful house now. And we didn’t have any major drama and I think that was, that was the best outcome. Being able to be prepared and, and having a plan. 

So I think all the preparation that we, that we did, thanks to Amelia, really helped us know where we were headed. 

So we had all the answers for the builder ahead. He could pre-order everything as COVID was coming through. So we didn’t have any supply issues. So I yeah, I think the success is that we had a really great project. We were able to track through our budget, and yeah, come in on time, and yeah, be living here now.

What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?

The renovation project is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. And that all the interior design options can come after you’ve got the bones set. And investing into how you build your house and create those foundations is really important. And Amelia can really help with that. 

Yeah, I think the soft furnishings is still a work in progress in our house and I’ve got years to perfect that. But my layout, and my windows and doors and my flooring is all exactly how I want it for the next 25 or 30 years. So I’m really happy with that.

Is there anything else you would like to share about the course?

Yeah, I’m really grateful to Amelia. Like I was, we were lucky enough to meet her at a design expo and in town when she came up to. So that was really lovely as well, to actually say thank you to, to her face. So doesn’t feel as stalkerish as you know, watching Instagram videos. 

So now I’m very grateful to Amelia and it’s a great service that she’s provided and I hope many more, yeah, get to live through the great experience.

Doing a New Build for a Family of 5 | Undercover Architect Member Review

Doing a new build for a family of 5 can be a big undertaking. So how do you get properly prepared?

Listen to Elizabeth explain what she’s done to get it right.

In this video, Elizabeth tells us about her new build journey, what she’s specifically learned, and the help she’s been able to access through her membership in Undercover Architect’s online courses.

Elizabeth is a member of HOME Method and Interior Design 101.

Hi, my name is Elizabeth. I live in Castle Hill, in Sydney, in Australia. I have a husband and three boys who I share my house with, my home. My oldest son has just turned 17, then we have a 14 year old, and an 11 year old. They are very energetic. Very much into their sport, football and baseball, like everything. So we have a steady procession of muddy football boots, and cleats, and soccer balls, and baseball bats, and uniforms traipsing through the house. 

We also have two very, very energetic labradoodles, standard labradoodles, who are nuts who live with us and in the house. And we share the house with our six budgies who live in a very big cage in our family room. 

So by trade, I’m a chartered accountant, but I haven’t really done a whole lot of standard accounting work. Probably more on the management accounting type space and consulting type work. And I’m just working part time these days.

What prompted you to undertake this project?

So we’re, where we live, we’ve been living in a house for about 21 and a half years. And we actually really like it. It’s a great area, it’s really nice, family friendly. We’re in a large block about 957 square metres. And we really like our home. 

But fortunately, unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, they’ve built a brand new metro station just near us. And part of that means is that the whole area has been redesigned, and the developers are moving in and buying up all the land and knocking down all the houses and building apartments. So we have to move. 

So, so that’s a positive because we will, you know, get a good price for our house. Better than we would have, had we just sold it normally. So that’s what’s probably given us the push to do it. As to why we want to build, because I mean, we could just go out and buy a house. 

But I’ve always wanted to build a house, ever since I was a little kid. So my favourite toy was Lego, I was always building Lego houses. And I used to draw floor plans for those houses. And I had an adult dolls house, a big one that my uncle made me and I used to renovate that on a regular basis and add extra rooms and divide rooms and build furniture. So that’s why we decided that we’re going to build.

What challenges were you worried about before you started?

Probably my two biggest concerns were/are where to start in the sense of, I do, I love houses, and I love lots of different styles. And I’ll see something, oh, I want that, oh, I want that, oh, I want that. And wanting everything and realising we can’t have everything. One, because you can’t have everything. But two, it would just look awful. It was, it was a mismatch. So trying to narrow down the choices I guess, that was one thing. 

And probably the other biggest issue is, I’m getting agreement between what I want and what my husband wants. I don’t want any nuclear fallouts over this house. 

I don’t know that budget has been a big issue yet. Um, I mean, I know building is, how long is a piece of string, and you can always build to a budget. And being an accountant, I’m quite comfortable with money and putting in place a very strict budget to follow, and tracking it and that sort of thing. So from that perspective, I’m probably a little less concerned that I might otherwise have been.

I’m conscious of not wanting to over capitalise, there’s definitely that concern there. And perhaps the concern about that in the pursuit of getting exactly what I want, and maybe not actually having the opportunity to build again, and this is like the one chance to get it right. That I would potentially go to that over capitalising stage. And I don’t really want to do that either. So that is a concern and a consideration.

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

I know I came across her on another site, Lunchbox Architect. So I don’t know how I came across Lunchbox Architect, but he sends out an email most days just featuring your house. And he must have referenced, and he did reference somewhere in there, Undercover Architect. 

And I went, oh, that sounds interesting. And sort of followed the links through and stumbled across the podcast and that’s where it began.

Why did you decide to join the Undercover Architect course?

I had actually considered doing it alone, and had been sort of toying with the idea of whether I really need to go down the path of getting an architect, or whether I should get to see the building designer, or even just go straight to a builder and just do my own design. 

I knew what I wanted. So I could just tell it to the builder and say build this. So that was definitely in my mind. But I’ve totally changed my mind now that I’ve listened to the podcast, I realised how much I really don’t know. 

I love Grand Designs. I love all the home renovations. And, you know, if I think about it, you know. I read home magazines. I can put a pencil to paper and sketch that. But I think it’d be very arrogant of me to think that I can actually put together a perfectly functioning, well formed home, without the six year degree that goes with it and the wealth of professional experience. 

You know, it’s like I, you know, if I read the St. John’s ambulance handbook, you know, the first aid book, and you know, watch E.R, no one would come to me for advice on a heart surgery or something like that. 

So I kind of think, you know, it’s the same thing with a house. It’s a big investment. It’s my home. I need to get it right.

Why did you choose to do a paid course over the free resources?

I think building a house to home is such a big deal for me. I think while there is a wealth of information in the podcast, absolutely, and all the add-on notes that she provides. I guess, two things. 

One, I think there was a lot more information to be gained by doing the course, and I saw it as an investment in the house. So it’s definitely worth every cent that it cost. 

And I just think it was part of the cost of building the house properly. And I was fascinated by it. I just want to know more. It’s become a bit of a hobby. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.

What have you learned because of this Undercover Architect course?

Absolutely, I now definitely would not do it on my own. I now know exactly, what I don’t know exactly. I now know what I don’t know. And there’s a lot that I don’t know. And I think the biggest thing is really understanding the importance of orientation. 

So given I’ve always liked houses, I’ve always sketched floor plans, and I had in my mind how exactly how I want my house to look. And then I looked at it in the light of the things that Amelia explained about orientations and solar, your solar gain. 

And I realised that I would never have built a good house. I had all my orientations wrong. 

And the other thing that she’s really made me question, is why I would want certain rooms in my house. And what size, and what the purpose of rooms are. 

So that’s been very valuable, just that thinking about what it is I want and why I want it, and how I want it to relate to each other. So that’s a big takeaway I’ve taken from the course.

Has it been worthwhile doing Undercover Architect courses?

It’s been very handy actually. Well, to start with, there are some people I didn’t know that I needed. Like, I have no idea we need such things as a structural engineer, for example. And quantity surveyors. I didn’t actually know that they factored into the whole process either. So that’s been very educational. 

And I’ve really appreciate, the, Amelia’s point about bringing in a builder early on. To make sure that you get the design that is buildable as well. 

And then any cost limitations are considered in the build structure, as opposed to this beautiful design, falling in love with it, sending it to a builder who goes, yeah, I can’t build that. Or, I can build that, but that’s going to cost you an extra $500,000 to do it that way. If I do this, and you know, and then you’ve got to reset. 

So I’ve really come to appreciate her thought that you really need that builder involved up front. 

And because we’re still in the process of finalising the sale of our house before we can actually move on, I’m using this time now to speak to a few architects to get an idea of who I want to work with. 

And from the knowledge I’ve gained from Amelia, that’s helped me with questions to ask. 

And certainly in the information I got from her, I was able to put together that design brief. So I’ve been able to go to the architect with my brief. And I think we’ve been able to start the conversations further down the track than otherwise. 

So we haven’t sort of been, they haven’t had to try and extract information out of me and me sit there go, I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about that. Because I have thought about a lot of that. And I think that’s been very beneficial.

Have Undercover Architect’s courses armed you with more confidence, especially as a woman?

Absolutely, absolutely. A classic example. Years ago, I designed a cabinet to go on our wall in our kitchen. I knew exactly what I wanted, I had measured it all out. I went off to the timber place and said, this is what I’d like. 

And the guy asked me some questions and I answered them. And he said, we can’t do this, you can’t do that. And I said, well yes I can, here it is. He said, “you know what sweetie, why don’t you come back on the weekend and bring your husband with you”. And if I could have found a different supplier, I would have, but there wasn’t. 

So on the weekend I came back, he turned to my husband and started asking him the questions. He said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, speak to her, she’s the one who knows what she wants”. 

So I really appreciated the knowledge that I have gained from Amelia because in understanding some of the technical aspects and the terminology, I think I can speak more confidently. So I won’t find myself in the situation with the builder, turning to my husband and saying, right, can you answer this? And it’s like well,” it’s me, I designed this, or I’m the one who’s leading this. Talk to me. Don’t talk to him, talk to me”. So yeah, absolutely. Understanding the process, understanding where the process goes, the terminology in some of the issues has definitely given me a lot more confidence.

We went to a display home not far from us. So there’s this, so there’s this standard display home near us but there’s this other area which has got just builders. So not the big project companies. 

And we went in there and I was asking the questions, no eye contact with me, all to my husband. He had a brochure to give to us, I put my hand out and he handed it straight to my husband. 

And we walked out and he said to me, what is it? What did you do to him? And I was like, I don’t know. You know what, I would never ever go to work, I would never put him on. And they had by far the nicest house there. 

And at the time I was sort of thinking well, maybe we would go with one of them as a builder, but there’s no way I would do it because he just absolutely dismissed me. 

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

Yeah, it looks like at this stage of the design, it’s just me having done my sketches in my brief which I, which I sent a copy to Amelia and I’ve sent to these are the three architects I’ve spoken to so far. And the feedback on it is, actually I’m quite chuffed as it’s quite a positive one. 

One of the architects said, look, you’re 50% there and I can see what you’re trying to achieve through that. 

The benefit of having Amelia’s input is that there are now things that aren’t in that design that otherwise would have been without her. 

So I guess the two sides of that is you know, another architect may have brought me to that realisation but I might have had my heart and head more fixed on what I’d put on paper without having had Amelia explain, or challenge the thinking of what it is that you do want. 

I do like to come to my own decisions and not be told what I can and can’t do. 

So the benefit is that in helping focus the thinking, I’ve now gone forward with something that is more realistic and would not cost as much because it’s not going to be as big and contain things I don’t need.

Did you have a favourite part of the Undercover Architect course?

I think everything really has been the importance of getting that orientation right. And what a significant influence that can have on how comfortable the house feels, how light and airy. 

And sustainability is a massive thing for me as well. So I really want the house to be as sustainable as possible. And getting that orientation right is the biggest thing you can do to get that right. So that’s probably my favourite thing. 

And, and I like it, because it is something that really is so simple. And that the answer is in the elegance of the design. And the planning. Yes, I really, that one really resonated with me. 

And a quote that she used was, it costs just as much to build a wall in the right place at the wrong place. 

So, again, that reinforces the importance of getting your orientation right, and the design right. And then the rest of the house follows. And you get that beautiful environment that you’re hoping for.

What would you say to others who are thinking of joining?

I would say it is worth every cent. I mean, a house is going to cost you a significant amount of money. And the cost of doing her courses is such a small, it’s less than a percent of the cost of building the house. And I think the knowledge you gain to give you the confidence to build the family home that you want and to be able to engage the professionals that you need. And to get your design right, I think it’s worth every cent to make that investment. 

And I think if you challenge your thinking and take on board the lessons that she has, then I think you’re more likely to end up with the house that you want to live for. That is a better result, and therefore worth every cent as well.

I mean, I think my parting thing would be as well … 

You know, Amelia is obviously very, very experienced. And she explains things so beautifully. So even though you don’t have a background in architecture, or construction or engineering, you walk away from listening to her speak and going yeah, I understand that, and I can see how I would apply that. 

And she explains it in such a friendly, warm way. She’s not patronising. She’s very friendly, and welcoming and fun. 

So it’s actually really enjoyable. And the little story she tells, she makes it very relatable. 

And yeah, I think that’s actually another real benefit of doing the courses with her because it is relatable and fun. So you want to do it.

Renovating a Queenslander home | Undercover Architect Member Review

Carla is renovating a Queenslander home in Brisbane.

Having renovated before, and not having a great experience of it, Carla wanted to be better prepared, and avoid creating a design which would be over budget.

Listen as Carla shares her experience of getting ready for renovating a Queenslander, and how Undercover Architect has helped her feel more confident and in control of her project.

Carla is a member of the HOME Method.

My name is Carla. And I live in Brisbane, in Queensland, in Australia. And I live in a kind of house called an old Queenslander, which means that it was built from timber some time, early-ish to middle of the last century. 

And now I’m in a position where I really need to renovate it, because it’s getting rundown, it’s in need of repair. And the way in which the house was built then, isn’t quite compatible with the way that people want to live now. So I’d like to update it as well and make it fit our local climate a bit better.

What were you concerned about before starting your new build journey?

Well, embarking on a major renovation project is a bit daunting. I have previously done some renovations about 25 years ago, now. And for that job, I had some plans drawn up by an architect. I had a budget, I stated my budget, I then got quotes from some builders, which came in at much, much higher than my budget. 

So then I had to redo the plans, it delayed the whole project. And I’m very wary of repeating that process. 

So this time around, I want to understand the process a lot better, and to be able to make decisions that are a lot more informed with greater competence. And I think the course that I did with Undercover Architect has certainly equipped me to do that.

What have you learned from the Undercover Architect courses?

I have now retired, and I spend a lot of time at home, which just makes me more aware of changes that I wanted to make. 

And the thing that I had been most concerned about, is that I was basically ignorant of a lot of processes and if I blindly engage a professional in order to save time, there’s a very high risk that I could end up with something that I didn’t really want in the first place. 

So the most important thing for me has been to learn enough to actually gain some control of my own project and gain the confidence to know where to look for help.

How did you first discover Undercover Architect?

Well, that was several years ago now. And it’s a little bit difficult to remember. But basically, it was through cruising around the web, looking for information and following up leads. 

And at some point, I came across, perhaps some of Amelia’s podcasts, that probably led me to the website. And I took it from there.

Where are you now with your renovation?

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. Partly because I had some health problems in between and dropped the project for about a year. But I am about to get quotes from building designers and builders. 

I figured out the whole group of different professionals that I need to get to, get to where I need to get them to work in a team based approach with each other and with me. So I’m hoping to get started with the actual renovations sometime during the year, next year.

Did you consider joining any other course out there?

No, because I, because I have had some previous experience, and I was actually looking for options with designers and builders, but I knew that I really wanted to learn more. And so about that stage, I came across the Undercover Architect.

What made you decide to join the Undercover Architect online courses?

Doing the course was actually a time saving solution for me. I think you invest money at the beginning in order to save you time in the longer term. And to avoid the pitfalls that are going to cost both time and money for things that otherwise you would just never expect. It’s a great collection of information which leads to other information and the more you learn, the more you know how to search for information as well. 

So yes, it opens up avenues for information as well as collecting a lot of useful things in one place. 

Another thing that I have learnt through the process and through seeing the stories of other people who’ve been involved, is that these major projects rarely run smoothly and rarely happen within the original timeframe. 

So I’ve also learned that it is a good idea to spend that time at the beginning, in the planning in order to try to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible once you seriously begin.

What are you doing differently because of this Undercover Architect course?

Yes, I’ve certainly gained a lot more confidence and certainty in the idea that I want to get my builder and my designer working together. I’m also considering the landscape around the house before I work on the house itself. 

And I’ve, I’ve also done a lot more preliminary work than I would have otherwise, for example, getting a proper site plan drawn up, before I do anything else.

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

Simply by being a lot better prepared than I had been previously. And also by throwing up lots of things that I should consider, which I have considered now. 

Whereas if the project had just gotten going without me being more informed, then they may have been decisions that I would have to, they’d surprise me. And I’d have to make them within a day or two, and be totally unprepared. 

So yeah, I just thought much more about all the dimensions that are going to be involved in this project.

How have you benefited from doing Undercover Architect’s courses?

So it’s, so the stage that I’m at is that I’m getting the brief together. And I have a short list of designers and builders, who I am about to start discussions with. So I’m not quite at the kind of stage that you’re talking about yet.

What is the best thing about the Undercover Architect course?

Well, I have a lot more confidence now that I will end up living somewhere which will be suiting me for the future.

What would you say to others thinking of joining this Undercover Architect course?

Well, I’d say that you should certainly consider it seriously. Because putting in the time now will be helpful in the long term. 

I think that Amelia does a wonderful job in putting out a range of publicly accessible web material as well as doing her paid courses. And I think those two things complement each other very well.

Victoria Owner Builders Important

When building these are the main complaints and defects, that were found by the Victorian Building Authority during its review of Victoria’s Building Regulations.

12.5% of new residential properties reported defective work of some kind, average cost of around $5,000 found from Defective building work research.

The main complaint is building work in adjoining properties. This could be your neighbour; complaining about your project, where your project or where your home renovation is situated on the block and damage to their property.

The study also found most buildings with defects had more than one with the most significant defects being water & footings defects.

Interestingly, windows and doors (16%) plastering (9%) and Brickwork/Masonry (8%) are also highlighted.

If you are an Owner Builder and about to commence your project, please be aware of the above issues, if you sell and provide warranty to the purchaser as then these defects are the ones you need to be aware of when supervising the trades.

Ensure you keep your neighbours aware of your plans so there isnt a surprise that you are building and that you’re committed to protecting their home.

Keep the lines of communication open, with neighbours, also your subbies and suppliers so that no shortcuts are taken that would affect your neighbours property.

P.S If you are a W.A Owner Builder or VIC Owner Builder, the defects and complaints noted in the above article you also need to be aware of, as if you sell and require Warranty insurance, then these are the main areas that you need to monitor.

The same if you are a NSW, TAS, QLD Owner Builder or a S.A Owner Builder and live in your home you want nothing to go wrong or affect the amenity of your home. Be Aware!!

The post Victoria Owner Builders Important appeared first on Australian Owner Builders.

Square Metre Rates: What are they and how can you use them?

What are square metre rates for building or renovating? 

And how can you use them to determine your costs? Read more here.

“What’s the square metre rate?”

Square metre rates. They’re the place that so many people begin their projects – both inside the industry and outside of it (as homeowners / clients).

And yet, they can be such a dicey way of commencing your project, and provide such huge misinformation, so there’s some things to be aware of.

Why do we start with square metre rates?

Well, projects need to begin somewhere. And it seems simple enough to understand that if a square metre rate is, say $2,500, and our budget is $500,000, then our budget should accommodate 200m2 of home for that.

And that gives us somewhere to start – not only with the design, but in discussion with professionals about fees, and briefs, and looking at ideas of what a 200m2 home would look like.

But what is that square metre rate based on?

One of the trickiest things with square metre rates is knowing exactly what they include, and what they represent.

I recently saw a designer’s fee proposal that outlined a budget analysis for their client. It had a base square metre rate for the home. Then, they added fixed amounts for cost-intensive areas such as kitchen joinery, bathroom fitout, built-in storage. Then they added GST and a contingency.

And the square metre rate almost doubled.

When you speak to volume builders, they’ll usually have quite a low square metre rate, but it doesn’t include floor finishes, light fittings, or any external works such as driveways, landscaping or fencing (which can sometimes increase the square metre rate by 1.5 – 2X).

Speak to custom builders, and their square metre rate is likely to include all of those things.

Unless you understand (with some transparency) exactly what the square metre rate covers and includes, it can be a deceptive source of costing information.

Who is giving you the square metre rate?

The source of the square metre rate can also create some problems. So, you need to ask some questions to determine the reliability of it.

If it’s from your architect or designer…

How have they established that square metre rate? If it’s from their previous projects, do they know what the final sum on the job was (not just the contract rate or quoted amount at the beginning?) Is the square metre rate for jobs similar to yours, and is it recent information?

If it’s from your builder …

See above regarding what it includes. And is their square metre rate averaged over their range of projects? Or, can they show you a similar project to yours, and advise the square metre rate based on current prices.

Inside my other business, Live Life Build, we actually teach builders to create Project Sheets at the end their completed jobs. This is where they revisit what the job cost, vs what they should have charged for it to cover their overheads and profit, and create a document outlining the job type, site type, general finishes and standard of project, with a square metre rate (showing what it includes). That way, they have something to physically compare your project to (that you can look at and agree on), and benchmark the square metre rate you’re going to use.

If it’s a Quantity Surveyor …

Is it for projects like yours, built by builders who have similar business model to the type of builder you plan to work with? Some QS guides available online are really representative of the volume builder projects, and if you plan to do a full custom build, they won’t be relevant for you.

If it’s your own research …

Again, you really need to understand what the square metre rate includes. Be honest about the kind of project you want to do, and what impact that has on your level of specification and finish. Speak to professionals working on similar types of projects. Ideally, establish a square metre rate for the home itself, and then separate out chunks of your budget to cover landscaping, fencing, and external works.

So, you’ve done a lot of work to establish a relevant square metre rate?

If your project does include works to the exterior of your property, including items like driveways, external paths, landscaping, fencing and even a pool, separate out fixed estimates for this bundles of work, and take those out of of your overall budget.

And if the budget you’re discussing is ALL the money you have, then ensure you also deduct any professional fees and approval costs you’ll need to cover.

And then, you should have the budget allowance for the house itself. Divide that by your square metre rate, and you’ll get an approximate allowance for the number of square metres you’re working with.

However, remember your square metre rate is still is only a starting point.

Because your specific square metre rate can vary based on:

The size of your home, and if the square metre rate is being amortised over a smaller footprint that still includes cost intensive areas such as bathrooms, kitchen, etcAny unknowns on your propertyIf you plan to increase cost intensive areas (such as an ensuite for every bedroom or a larger kitchen, etc)

Remember that, with renovating, your square metre rate will often be higher than if you’re building new.

This is infuriating for most people planning a renovation. It’s why I use and teach the ‘bolt-on’ renovation strategy, so as to replicate new build efficiencies and capitalise on them to bring down the overall cost / m2.

And if you’re renovating, you’ll need to allocate the square metre rate over any part of the existing home you’re renovating or refurbishing.

If you start cooking your square metre rate right at the beginning of your project, and only allow a lower square metre rate for the works to the existing home, you’ll probably find you run into budget problems down the track. Work on an existing house (even small work) can be labour intensive, and cost intensive as a result.

If you’ve used your square metre rate to identify a number of square metres in floor area to work with … then stick to it.

I’ve seen a lot of clients – and designers for that matter – be given an indication of the size home they should be building or renovating, and then go ahead and design a bigger home.

Or they’ll start breaking down areas into different types of construction (say, garage, outdoor area, etc) to lower the square metre rate on those areas, and try and adjust the total estimated cost overall.

It can give a lot of false information, especially if it’s happening without builder input, or early in your project.

If you’re cooking your square metre rate over your home size and arrangement to try to meet your budget at this point, you’re likely to run into trouble as you start developing the design, and working out your materials, fixtures and finishes.

Your starting budget needs to be as accurate as it can be – but know that the accuracy will be limited at this point

I know it can be incredibly frustrating to be starting a project with ranges of estimates, and an inability to know straight away what your budget will get you. The need for iteration, testing and firming up decisions is a necessary part of your project journey.

And if you’re also pushing the envelope of your home’s size, the inclusions, and the style and overall design, that can push the original budget estimates too.

In my experience, it’s rare that a homeowner fully restrains themselves.

Every client I’ve worked with has always wanted more, and stretched their budget, figured out ways to find more money, waited until they had more money (or more equity in their home) or staged works to get what they wanted.

And they all started with a “this is all the money we really have” conversation too.

And even though I’d always be militant about juggling the budget and design, and showing options to meet the original budget, curbing selections and ideas to keep things on track, the client would usually spend more across the build. Because, we always want more.

If you are starting with square metre rates, then do your very best to understand what they represent, choose a square metre rate that’s relevant to your project wishes and wants, and then let it establish the ground rules to kick things off.

Don’t let square metre rates be the only way you cost the design though. Get better quality pricing input as the design develops, and work to increase the accuracy of your estimates as you go.

It’s going to be natural to discuss things in square metre rates.

Just know it’s only a starting point, but if it’s the starting point that professional fees, home size and project strategy are being set on, then try to make those square metre rates as relevant as possible.

Inside the HOME Method, I talk about other ways to set your budget at the early stage of your project.

And there’s also great information about setting and sticking to your budget inside the mini-course “Set + Stick to Your Budget”.

If you’d like to get started on your renovation or new build project, my Get Started Guide is a fantastic resource to help you do just that. 

It will teach you the first steps any project needs to take, whatever your dreams, location or budget, and whoever you’re working with. Learn more about it here >>> GET STARTED GUIDE

And, if you’d especially like to get started on your home design, then the mini-course ‘Happy Home Design’ will help you. You’ll learn more about what decisions really matter in happy home design, and how you can design a home that is functional, fantastic and feel-good >>> HAPPY HOME DESIGN

Building a Passive Solar New Home | Undercover Architect Member Review

Rowena, together with her husband, has been designing and building a passive solar new home.

Hear about Rowena’s experience of building a passive solar new home with the expert guidance of Amelia Lee from Undercover Architect, through her membership in the Undercover Architect online program.

We’re located just outside Armidale, which is in northern New South Wales. We’re on a 120 acre block, which is obviously quite large. And because of the new bushfire regulations that have come into Australia, we were slightly limited on where we were actually going to start our house. 

We’ve been planning on building for about 10 years or so, and this is actually our third site to build on. So I’ve gone through the planning quite a bit and because I designed the house myself, with a bit of help from my husband. And we’re a passive solar off-the-grid home. I don’t have any background in that, I was just interested in it, and also my dad built one of the first sort of passive solar type homes in Canberra a long, long time ago. And just having that light come in, and the warmth, you know, that’s something that we’ve really missed. 

So I’ve harnessed all my project management skills from my work experience. I’ve got a science background, and I’ve worked a lot at universities and done a lot of project management. And so I thought, well, I think I can do it. But we were quite stressed about the whole process because we’ve never built before. And even though I’m quite resourceful and competent, you know, it’s the unknown. 

Yeah, so anyway, we’ve moved around a little bit in the last four or five years, and then we moved back to Armidale, where we’d lived previously for about 16 years. And we found a lovely block, just outside town, about 10 minutes from town, and a reasonably level site where, you know, we’re able to really take full advantage of the northerly aspect. Because Armidale is quite a cold environment during winter, it’s got the full four seasons, so we had to design, what I chose to design, for the winter. But also the summers have been getting hotter, so we incorporated a few additional things to take account of that. But that’s the sort of background it’s been 10 years in the making. But the actual design and build process was actually quite short for a house, so we were really pleased about that.

What made you decide to build off-the-grid?

Yeah, my husband and I are both environmentalists, and we’ve got that science background, and we wanted it to have a lighter footprint. And we thought, yep, let’s see if we can do it. And it just so happened that this block didn’t have any power to it, it didn’t have any water to it. So we were able to start from scratch, and design. So with the help of a solar designer, I designed the solar system and the battery system as well. And, you know, we had to do a full electrical audit. And yeah, the whole idea was so that we had lower bills, we could live a bit lighter off the earth, and also this area gets lots of thunderstorms. And being off the grid, we don’t have to worry anymore about having blackouts. And you know, we just, it’s very comfortable. 

What concerns did you have before you started?

Well, the main concern was, not having been through the build process before, how would we know if the builder was actually constructing the house well? And how do we communicate with the builder? How do we ensure that we’re running on schedule and budget? Those sorts of things. And when we’d been looking at building down the coast, I’d gone through a process of interviewing different builders. But you know, it still left me a bit wanting. I still wasn’t quite sure. And then when I was in Canberra, some other Master Builders actually were having a sort of information night, which I went along to. And that was really useful because it gave me lots of tips about, you know, the building process, how to go about thinking about it, and sort of debunk some of the myths about building. 

And that sort of encouraged me to do a little bit more research. And in the process of doing that, I discovered the Undercover Architect website and Amelia’s fantastic work. 

I think it’s fairly normal that if you haven’t approached anything or done anything before, you’re going to have a fair amount, or you know, of anxiety, because, you know, this is the biggest financial investment that we’ve made. And so there’s a lot riding on it. 

And also you want the house, you know, for us it was going to be our one and only home because we’re in our early 50s, and we were looking for a house that we could live in for the next 20 to 30 years. So you know there was that sort of pressure plus also the pressure about, well how do you know if you’re going to be diddled on the contract? Or is this a fair price? Are you keeping to the schedule? How would I know, you know, the steps of the build to go through? And you know, the contract, what should I be looking for? And you know, with all the different materials, how will I know if they’re going to work well together? 

You know, there’s just endless, endless … I think one of the things that I would say about building is it is just endless decision making. 

And being a researcher, I guess I just went into sort of normal-mode about, well okay, if I don’t know about something, what can I find to inform me and educate me a bit better, so then I will feel a little bit more comfortable about the process. 

And my husband, while he’s fantastic in his field of work, he doesn’t know anything about building, and for him it was even more scary, because he just, you know, it was totally unknown. And, you know, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. 

So we just sort of started searching and also talking to other people about their experiences, and whether they knew of a good builder and all that sort of stuff. So we, I guess we canvassed fairly widely and started reading some books and things like that. And because we’ve been thinking about passive solar and off the grid, we knew we didn’t want a conventional builder that was just going to want to build a project home. 

We needed someone that was going to be interested in doing the project. And that we would be able to communicate well with, so that if there were choices that had to be made, they would understand why we were making them. And then just to have a builder, who was really interested in doing something a little bit different from the norm. 

I guess we were hoping that we could build and be in the house within about a year, to a year and a half. But we didn’t know exactly how long it was going to take. But we wanted a builder that was just going to be focused on our job. They weren’t going to be going off and doing two other jobs and you know, we were being fitted in and all that sort of stuff. 

Yeah, so I guess some people might have a bit more relaxed attitude towards the build, but my husband and I are both quite methodical and organised. And we wanted to find a builder who had a similar approach to building, as we did too when we do other sorts of projects. And find one that would be able to work with us. 

Like probably a lot of people, we’ve watched a lot of Grand Design episodes. And my husband and I would just be groaning, you know, when they wouldn’t set a schedule, or they had to find money, or they decided they changed something at the last minute, or you know. 

And what we decided to do was to have our plan already, and not make any changes. Or if we were going to make any changes, they were going to be minimal. So they weren’t going to impact on the schedule for windows, or framing, or interiors, plastering, you know, those sorts of things. 

So I had the design, probably about three months before we actually started going into the official design phase. And during that period, my husband and I reviewed the design and we had a look at it. And we thought that, you know, we’re fine with it. So we’ve just, we basically stuck to that. And that was another thing that, you know, made it a lot easier and the builder appreciated it. 

Why did you decide to join the Undercover Architect course?

Yeah, well, as I said earlier, I decided to try and inform and educate myself a bit more about the building process. And we’ve done renovations, and we’d had a few issues with that. And so I started looking around for books, magazines, reading, anything I could find, you know, in front of me really, that I thought would assist me in learning about the building process. And the New South Wales Government has some useful information under Fair Trading and then the Master Builders do. And I thought, well, I really want something a bit more from the client’s side of things. You know, something that explained in more detail about the process and would give. 

Because the other thing that I also had in the back of my mind, being a woman, was whether or not all the tradees, and the subbies, and whatever, were actually going to respect my role there as the project manager, and the designer, and the client all in one. So I really wanted to make sure that I knew, you know, the different steps and what was happening. And then if I didn’t know, I knew where to go to find out that information. 

And so I started, you know, trawling the internet and just looking around and I found, eventually found, this Undercover Architect website and I had a bit of a scroll through it and saw the program for the Manage Your Build, and just sort of had a bit of a look and had a bit of a think. It actually, I didn’t do it straightaway. I took a little while to have a think about it, and then I thought, well, no, actually, that’s probably going to be the most useful. And even if it only saves us money in two or three areas, it’s still a great investment, you know. Because just reducing the financial cost and reducing the stress and worry about a build. So I thought, well yeah, just go ahead and do it. And so that’s sort of how I found it really, just trawling the internet. 

We were very fortunate both, I think, because we prepared and in our choice of builder and his team, and he had a fantastic team. And there was so much respect on site for me, and for my husband as the clients. But also in the preparation that I had done in the organisation, they could see that I was ready for this build. And I knew what we wanted, and I would be able to make the decisions quite quickly. And that if there was anything I didn’t know, I’d get back to them. 

So part of it was also just establishing a relationship with a builder and his team. And them to understand how, you know, I like to operate. And for me to recognise that any holdups on my side would actually hold the build up. So we, you know, we were quite clear about that sort of stuff. 

And then I’m, you know, I knew I didn’t know a lot about it. So I had quite a few discussions with our builder. And, yeah, you know, we didn’t have any problems, really. So it was, you know, I said to the builder afterwards, you know, it was much less stressful than I anticipated. I mean, it was still stressful. But it could have been a whole lot worse, I think. Yeah, and it is an important point. 

And I would have to say that after the build finished in, you know, a few weeks after we moved in, I did say to my husband, and also some friends, I felt like being around more feminine energy. I’d had enough of the male energy for a while. Even though they were lovely, you know, it was just, yeah, just different. 

Well, I think part of it was because I’d spent quite a bit of time having a look to see what was out there. And, I couldn’t find anything really other than an Amelia’s course. And I thought about the cost of it and then I had a bit of a look through the modules. 

And I thought about, well, other courses that I’ve done which might have been a craft course, or, you know, learning something else like a computer software program or something like that, and I thought, well, actually, it is a really good investment. 

You know, it was like a miniscule amount of the total budget. But it just made such a difference in terms of the budget coming in on time. Like we moved in a day after the scheduled finish date. So, you know, we were really, really pleased with that. 

And we, while we weren’t on budget, all the choices that we made to increase the budget, were our choice. They weren’t imposed necessarily by the builder. We did have a few small things, but you know, it just made such a difference. And it just gave me so much more confidence when I was liaising with so many different people in the industry about all the different aspects. I mean, all the tradies in town, you know, all the hardware stores, all that sort of stuff, they get to know you during the course of a build, because you’re going in there talking about all that sorts of stuff. 

And I think that was the other thing, that I wanted to have some ownership in the build. I didn’t want to just, you know, okay, here’s the design, hand it over to a builder and say, right, off you go. You know, I wanted to be part of the process. And I thought that Amelia’s Undercover Architect course would allow me to do that. And as I said, you know, I thought, well that’s a really small investment, for a huge amount of knowledge. So for me, it was well worth it. 

What did you do differently because of what you’ve learned?

Oh, you know, it just, it trickled through the whole build really. Site meetings, recording site meetings, making sure we had them regularly, and that we had follow up action happening. When we were laying the slab, just knowing what to expect, and even before that, being able to look through the contract with a builder. All the information that Amelia had there, and to be able to go through it page by page, to look for the things that, you know, I needed to look for. 

And to be able to negotiate and liaise with the builder about that, so that you knew exactly what was happening. What would be the situation, if the build went over time. What would be the situation if we had variations, so that then, you know, obviously going to be in writing, which we did have a few of, but yeah, it really just went all the way through the build. 

And it meant that, you know, the builder was also confident that I knew what was going on, and he wasn’t going to have to come and you know, harang me for information. He knew that I was wanting to do that as well. 

And you know, part of the information in Amelia’s thing is about setting up a communication rapport with the builder, getting the builder on site early. And that’s what we did. 

So I interviewed a couple of builders in the Armidale area and talked to Andrew Williams, from Adder Constructions, who became our builder. And really was quite open with him about what we were trying to achieve and could he be involved in the design process? And the reason for that was, so that if the formal building designer and I came up with an idea, we could check with Andrew about whether that was going to work or not, or whether it was going to cost a lot or, you know, was there a better way to do something. 

So you know, and it also meant that he knew what was happening on the build before we’d actually really started. And so it just made everything so much easier. And he had the contacts for the certifiers, and the engineers, and all that sort of stuff. So we didn’t actually need to go through a whole development approval process, we had a complying development. And so we didn’t have any of the waiting time, which meant we could get straight onto laying the slab before winter, which then meant that the build progressed a lot quicker. 

So look, there’s just so many things. Just knowing what to look for when the framings done. Knowing what to look for when the plasterings done. How to do an electrical plan, which I’d done before, but you know, it really helped me think about the lighting and what we wanted for this new one. And just, you know, it’s just endless, really, you know. There’s just so much in the course. And you can, depending on what type of build you’re doing, you can hone in on yours and your aspects that you’re interested in. 

And I think one of the other things that I wanted to mention is that some people have said, well, they don’t have six weeks to do the course. Well, neither did I. And I didn’t do it all at once. 

I started with the first module, and then the second one, and then we got to a certain phase where I had a bit of free time, so then I did the next one. And I did it sort of as the build progressed, but slightly ahead so that I wouldn’t sort of be surprised too much. 

So, you know, and it doesn’t actually take a lot of time. And I just think it’s, you know, just invaluable investment when you’re building your own home. 

Did the Undercover Architect course save you drama + stress?

Well, it was interesting, because I added up that during the build, we had drought, bushfires, snow, high wind, transport failures, COVID-19, and then huge rainfalls. You know, so we went through the whole canvas of things, but I think there was still less drama and less stress most definitely, then if I hadn’t discovered Undercover Architect. 

It just gave me so much confidence to be part of the build. And, you know, the builder said, you know, he wished everyone had done it, because it just made his job a whole lot easier as well. And it saved us money all over the place. 

So yeah, we still had, you know, our usual dramas and some things you just wouldn’t expect at all just happened. And you know, you just can’t plan for those things. You just have to roll with them. But yeah, definitely much less stressful. 

What was the best thing about being an Undercover Architect course member?

I think it’s just having access to that insider knowledge, and that it’s presented in such an easily accessible format, that you can understand it and apply it straight away. There’s just so much useful information in there. 

Because I just found it fantastic.

And I couldn’t recommend it more highly because I really think it’s incredibly valuable for people that are doing their own builds.

Waking up to wet windows? What to know about condensation in homes

Are you waking up to wet windows? Condensation in homes can be a big issue, even when you can’t see it.

It can be avoided though. Learn more about what you need to know, and what you can do, here.

The topic of Condensation is getting a lot of discussion at the moment in the industry. At the time of writing this blog, there’s potential changes coming in the National Construction Code in 2021 (for NCC2022) related to Condensation, although it’s unknown exactly what they’ll be (drafts are out for comment at the moment).

However, as I’ve learned (from Andy Russell from the Proctor Group, who is doing a lot of education in this space), Condensation has been discussed as a negative factor for buildings and occupant health for many, many years (Andy brought up some information shared by the Australian Standards Board back in 1992, and some industry literature from the 1930s!)

It’s estimated that over 40% of buildings (including homes) in Australia are impacted by condensation.

It occurs because cold air can’t carry as much moisture as warm air, and when you get moisture levels that are too high meeting temperatures in building fabric that are too low, or there’s an uncontrolled flow of water vapour moving from a source to a region of cold temperature (like the shower steam meeting the bathroom mirror) then condensation can occur.

When this happens in your home, it’s often when it’s cold outside, and warmer (and more humid) inside, and you’re seeing condensation form on the inside of your windows.

You’ll be seeing it on your windows (because they’re non-porous and can’t absorb water), but it can also be happening inside the walls of your home, and in the roof space as well.

Best case scenario is that you have the correct construction, with the required barriers in your walls and roof space, and adequate ventilation to prevent the condensation, or enable this moisture to quickly dry out or drain away.

Worst case scenario, the moisture is being absorbed into your insulation, timber framing, or other building fabric, and not drying out … where it can then cause mould and general deterioration to your home (and potentially your health as well).

Given over 40% of buildings are dealing with this, you’re most likely very familiar with it. And it’s not limited to cold climates. Condensation is an issue for any climate and location.

So, how do you avoid condensation in your future home?

In Canada in the 1980s, and then New Zealand in the 1990s, leaky buildings became a huge issue in the property industry, with buildings unable to withstand weather conditions. There were large financial ramifications, and big moves were made in building codes to improve the situation.

As part of this, they developed the 4Ds of Weathertightness, and they’re a great framework for any project. The 4Ds are:

#1 Deflection

This is about how your home sheds water, through the design of the roof, the use of eaves, and gutters etc. Aim to design these things so you keep water off the walls of your home, as it will help you reduce the chance of water penetrating your home’s exterior (because cladding may not be completely waterproof). Ensure good flashings over windows etc.

#2 Drainage

Promote water to move away from the home, plus ensure conditions around the home don’t enable water to sit close to walls and foundations.Cavities are included in your wall construction to provide space for water to drain behind cladding (and staying outside of your home’s interior). Vapour membranes and wall wraps prevent water from soaking your insulation or internal lining.

#3 Drying

Cavities in wall construction also provide an air gap that provides ventilation to evaporate water, or dry out any building elements that have absorbed water. Ventilation in roof spaces through vents in a controlled way (not whirlybirds) helps roof spaces dry and manages heat load to the home overall.

#4 Durability

Choose materials and products that are fit for purpose for the climate you’re building in and will last.

(You can read more about leaky buildings and the 4Ds in New Zealand here.)

In addition to keeping the weather out of our home, we also need to be aware that the various activities in the home can create a lot of humidity in our interiors.

We need to give that humidity a chance to dry out, otherwise it will be absorbed as vapour into our building envelope, potentially become condensation and make the inside of our walls wet.

It’s all ok if it can evaporate once in the wall cavity, or we can adequately ventilate or dehumidify our interiors. However, if you have a foil sarking on your walls that doesn’t allow vapour to escape from the interior, you could have some issues.

The volume building industry does not pay a lot of attention to condensation and its risks, such as dust mites and mould growth.

However, there are many people in our population dealing with chronic health conditions that are often dramatically improved or eliminated when their living environment is dryer and healthier.

There are houses all over Australia still being (legally) built without sarking on the roof, before metal roofing goes on. Look into those roof spaces of a morning, and you’ll see water dripping off the underside of the metal roof onto the ceiling insulation within the roof space.

Low pitch roofs that (due to the minimisation of space within them) don’t have adequate ventilation, and condensation can be a big issue in these instances if they haven’t been properly detailed.

We’re creating homes that are more airtight (which is actually good when done right).

It’s just that it’s happening in combination with a range of other factors. The increase in insulation, our huge use of air conditioning, lack of dehumidification, and not utilising natural ventilation: We’re living in big eskies, and not giving our homes the chance to dry out.

The wording of the National Construction Code provides some loop holes, and a lot of people just simply don’t understand the impact of their decisions or detailing (including industry professionals).

There are, however, many designers, architects and builders out there, who are very serious about this. And there’s products available that can seriously improve your home’s ability to minimise condensation risks as well.

Where can you get more information about Condensation?

Well, condensation is a big topic, but the 2019 “Condensation in Buildings Handbook” by the Australian Building Codes Board is an awesome place to start if you’re super keen to learn more.

A word of warning: it is a big read, but a worthwhile resource to get some nitty gritty info.

At the very least, check out the Design, Construction and Occupant Checklist information at the end of it.

You can then use it as a framework for discussions with your architect or designer and builder.

And you can work with your designer / architect and builder to check that all specifications are fit for purpose, and meet manufacturers’ requirements in how you intend to use them. And, then detail those selections (with product names / brands etc) in your specifications so that substitutions don’t occur during your build.

I will say this: it’s clear from the research I’ve been doing how important it is to choose your team well, to work with them very closely, and to be informed so you get the best outcome for your future home.

And, even before COVID, we were spending 80-90% of our time indoors. Now, that time is mostly in our homes (as opposed to our workplaces).

Condensation can seriously impact the health of our homes, and our health and well-being too.

Creating a healthy home that has a great quality indoor air environment, can dry out when it gets damp and minimises the impact of condensation, will support your health and well-being long-term.

And it will help with the durability of your home long-term too.

If you want some other resources for creating a healthy home, here’s some podcast episodes that may help …

Episode #100 | Healthy Interiors: Creating your low tox home | Interview with Melissa Wittig, Interior DesignerEpisode #206 | How to Choose Greener Building Materials, with Druce DaveyEpisode #96 | An Introduction to Building Biology | Interview with Narelle McDonald, Healthy Living SpacesEpisode #129 | How to create a healthy home | Interview with Kate Hamblet, Balanced ArchitectureEpisode #129 | Designing a sustainable new home or renovation | Interview with Kyle Macht, Macht ArchitectureEpisode #130 | A room by room guide to a healthy home | Interview with Kate Hamblet, Balanced ArchitectureEpisode #105 | What is Passive House (or Passivhaus)? | Interview with Daniel Kress of Smart Plus Homes

That was a long read, but I hope you found that helpful

If you’d like to learn how to choose the right builder, and learn how the specific checks to do, and questions to ask, when interviewing builders for your project >>> CHOOSE YOUR BUILDER

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