Getting Started

Getting started

Before you even think about a visit to an architect or building designer, there are lots of things to consider.  The following will help you get started.

Build for the future

Most people build for the present.  But it’s a good idea to think about what your life will look like in five to ten years’ time.  It might save you the cost and hassle of having to rebuild or move house down the line. Questions to ask yourself or your partner:

  • Do you expect to have kids or grow your family?  Kids come with lots of space requirements. You might need more bedrooms, a rumpus room, separate break-out areas, storage for toys and equipment, a bathtub, or space for a larger refrigerator.
  • Are your kids young?  You might want your children’s rooms close to your bedroom. But as they get older, they (and you) might want their rooms further away.
  • Consider how your priorities might change.  Do you need the spaces in your home to be flexible?   The functions of each room might change over time.  For example: a nursery might change into a playroom then a home office and eventually a home gym.
  • Will you work from home?  Perhaps you’ll need a separate study or home office in a quiet part of the house.
  • Are your kids older?  If they will be moving out or going away to uni soon, you might want to rethink the five-bedroom mansion.  Flexible spaces can also help with this transition.
  • Do you have parents or friends who visit?  How long do they visit for and would you like it to be longer?  If you enjoy hosting guests, perhaps consider a separate guest area.
  • Will you be caring for your parents or grandparents in the future?  You might need to reduce stairs and plan for accessible bathrooms and amenities.  Or you might need a separate granny flat.
  • Are you planning on reselling in the near future?  Don’t overcapitalise. Avoid gold taps and elaborate chandeliers.  Use neutral finishes and think about attracting a generic buyer.
  • Is this your forever house?  It may be worthwhile to invest more money.  Also, avoid trendy materials and fixtures that will date.  Consider how your home will age and how you will age with it.   Make sure your design allows space for modifications like an elevator, a stairlift, lever handles and taps instead of knobs, and safety modifications such as grab bars.  If possible, avoid a combined shower/bath as baths can be dangerous for people with mobility issues.

Live in your property before renovating

You might really want to fix your house as quickly as possible.  But if you can, it’s a good idea to live in your house for at least a year before starting any major building or renovations.  This way, you’ll be able to experience the house in each of the seasons and get to know the good and bad points.  For example, things like air flow, noise levels, sunlight, sense of space, and views can change with the seasons.  This will give you a real understanding of the aspects of the house you like best, and those you want to improve.  After a year in your house, you might realise you want a sitting room to capture the beautiful late afternoon winter sunshine; or you might want to orient the house to block the view of the traffic lights.

Must-haves & nice-to-haves

Think about the things you want in your home.  Make a list and then mark the items as must-haves, nice-to-haves, and can-live-without.  Here’s some suggestions for your new home.

  • Bedrooms:  the number of bedrooms and guest bedrooms.
  • Bathrooms:  the number of bathrooms, the number of bathrooms for each floor.
  • The type of bathrooms you need:  ensuite bathrooms, Jack and Jill bathrooms, shared bathrooms, guest bathrooms, powder rooms, outdoor bathrooms.
  • The types of kitchens you need:  galley kitchen, U-kitchen, one-wall kitchen, L shaped kitchen, island bench kitchen, butler’s kitchen, commercial kitchen (if you plan to use caterers) and additions like a separate walk-in pantry or breakfast bench.
  • Living spaces:  family room, dining room, combined or separate living room, combined or separate TV area.
  • Break-out spaces:  rumpus room, music room, library, home gym, extra storage for the gym equipment, home theatre.
  • Levels:  how many?  Do you want to build underground such as for a cellar?
  • Storage amount:  walk-in robes and storage cupboards.
  • Storage type:  will you have built-in storage or will you buy storage furniture?
  • Energy system:  do you want to stick to the required 6-star energy rating?  Would you like to go further with double glazing, water tanks, grey water system, solar panels, solar hot water, solar batteries, charging station for an electric car?
  • Type of heating and cooling systems:  hydronic, evaporative, or split, in-floor.  Consider the type and level of insulation for both temperature and sound, including floor, roof, ceiling, in-wall, and external walls.
  • Outdoor living:  BBQ area, decked area, pergola, outdoor room, outdoor storage.
  • Garage:  how big should your garage be?  Will you have a car stacker?  Will it be open, doored, or covered?
  • Garage storage:  will the garage double as a workshop?  Will it provide general storage or storage for bikes?
  • Outdoor leisure:  swimming pool, plunge pool, spa, sauna, tennis court, basketball court, trampoline.
  • Landscaping:  garden types, lawn types, garden bed landscaping, automatic watering system, location for veggie garden, compost, worm farm.
  • Home automation:  remote-operated lights, windows, blinds, garage doors, other doors.
  • NBN:  where to best locate your NBN and other internet equipment.
  • Internal Internet:  fully cabled to each room or a single router with a WIFI repeater
  • Security:  security gate, fencing height, security door, camera surveillance, security bars and locks to windows, alarm system, door entry using security tags or blue tooth from your phone.

The look and feel

Start to think about how you want your house to feel.  It can be helpful to write down your ideas or start a vision board, scrapbook, folder of saved images, or a Pinterest board.  Start to collect pictures of houses, kitchens etc that you could imagine yourself living in or any spaces that reflect the look and feel you want.   Inspiration can come from anywhere – perhaps there’s a house in a movie that has the exact windows you’re after.  A picture is worth a thousand words and will be really helpful for the architect or building designer.

Here are some themes to start you off:

  • The minimalist, modern look
  • The warehouse look
  • The futuristic look
  • The retro look
  • The rustic look
  • The beach house look

Or you could take inspiration from other cultures or time periods.  Think about:

  • Japanese influence:  natural timbers, screens and sliding doors, muted lighting.
  • Italian Tuscan influence:  travertine, terra-cotta tiles, textured wall finishes, a rustic kitchen.
  • Georgian influence:  a grand, symmetrical façade, arches and columns, high ceilings, dormer windows.
  • A period house:  if you have a period house, like Victorian, Federation, Edwardian, The Queenslander, California bungalow, Art deco, Post war brick veneer, think about if you want to keep that period architecture or change it.

Or you could even think about it holistically and try to curate a ‘feel’.  If the house already has a certain look or feel, consider how you’ll build upon it or how easily it will shift it to another look or feel.  Consider how you might:

  • Create a homely feel with small intimate rooms, low ceilings, fireplaces, rugs and carpets.
  • Create a calm feel with warm colours and textures.
  • Create a private, secluded feel with sound-proofing, small screened windows and indirect light.
  • Create an energetic, bright feel with high ceilings, large windows, direct sunlight, bright colours and shiny surfaces.
  • Create an informal, family feel, with an open plan kitchen-living-dining area, mezzanine bedrooms, and no formal entrance.
  • Create a classic feel, with a separate formal entrance, parquetry floors, plush carpets, timber panelling, living and entertaining rooms, and a library.

Road test your ideas

The next step is to give your ideas a road test.  Invite an architect or building designer to walk through your house to discuss what you want to do.  Most will be willing to do this for free as it might turn into a job later.   Some might charge a small fee.  Either way, don’t ask for a written report.  At this stage, all you need is a walk through, and to understand if your ideas are doable.

An architect or building designer will pick up things you might have missed and may offer new ideas.  Also, you can discuss planning and building regulations and understand what is possible from a regulatory point of view.
An architect or building designer may be able to tell you generally if your house is structurally sound enough to support certain renovations like demolishing walls, adding a level, or using heavy building materials.   Architects might go onto your roof, inside your roof and look under your floors to check the foundations and the weight-bearing walls.  If your property is in the inner city, they can advise on if you’ll need to support or treat the neighbouring boundary walls.  It’s always better to discover these things sooner rather than later.   It’s not a fun surprise to find out your old walls need underpinning halfway through your build.

Can I build what I want?

Are you allowed to build three storeys, add a new driveway, move the council tree, cut down the old oak tree, and paint your heritage cottage a different colour?  It’s a big maybe.  One of the mistakes people when building or renovating is assuming they can do whatever they want on their property.

Unfortunately, you can’t always build what you want.  There are regulations that govern what you can and can’t build. Regulations are varied based on your council district and can be quite complicated.  Usually, your architect or building designer will help guide you.  There are two sets of rules and regulations you’ll need to follow.  These include planning regulations and building regulations. Read our article on ‘Planning and building regulations’ to find out more.

Have a realistic timeline

Be prepared and realistic about the time it takes to finish a building job from start to finish.  Building usually takes much longer than expected.  Think about how flexible your deadlines are. If you have a deadline in mind, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case the deadline is moved out.

Here’s a timeline of an average build.  Compare this to your timeline expectations (our timeline is coming soon)

Your budget

Your budget is how much you can afford to spend.  A cost estimate is how much your build will cost.  Knowing both will answer the big question: can you afford to pay for the build?  There’s no point going to an architect or designer asking them to design a three-bedroom reno and extension if you only have $150,000 to spend.  Having an idea of the costs beforehand and deciding on your budget will save you heartache and financial embarrassment later on.

We can’t help you with your budget, that’s between you and your bank.  But we can tell you how to do a rough cost estimate.  You can get a rough cost estimate using the Archicentre Australia’s free, useful cost guide here.  It gives a cost range per square meter and for wet areas (including bathroom, kitchen, laundry).

For example: if you wanted to renovate four bedrooms (each at 3m x 4m), add a new family/dining room (10m x 8m), a new kitchen (2.5m x 5m), two new bathrooms (each at 2m x 3m) and a new laundry (2m x 3m), then the building work would cost about $293,350 if you use the cheapest labour and materials, or about $657,250 if you use expensive labour and materials (see example).  Then add additional costs like white goods, consultant’s fees, permit fees, and other costs (our ‘other costs and fees’ spreadsheet is coming soon).

Remember this is only a rough idea of the cost.  You won’t get a firm idea until much later in the process, at the documentation stage.

Disclaimer:  The information in this article is general advice only, and should be used as a general guide only, and not relied on for decision making purposes.  Every building and renovation project is different, so before acting on the information in this article you should consider its appropriateness to your specific project.  For guidance around your specific building or renovation project, seek assistance from a building consultant such as a qualified architect or building designer.