To help your next project run smoothly!

New and old brickwork

When the builder is doing a renovation or addition where some new brickwork has to match the existing brickwork, make sure that the builder prepares a sample mortar to be the same colour as the existing (otherwise the new bits of brickwork may stand out like a sore thumb because the mortar is not matching) (John).

Add your own clauses

Have a liquidated damages clause in case of problems (Peter).


We hope your building process is a smooth one. If, however, you find yourself in dispute with your builder, and you cannot resolve the dispute yourself, then the Domestic Building Dispute Resolution Victoria (DBDRB) may be able to help. The DBDRB offers free advice and conciliation for domestic building disputes. For more information, follow this web link or contact the BACV on 1300 55 75 59 (between 9:00am and 5:00pm). You now are required to go through DBDRV as a first step to resolving your differences before applying to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)

Get it all in writing

Have everything in writing; disagreement, agreements, allowances, options etc (Albert).

Read and negotiate

Read the contract and negotiate the terms. Do not automatically accept their terms (Ivo).

Read your contract

Read your contract and be aware of exactly what is in the contract. For example, if you do not specify that the builder is to remove all rubbish, then the builder might not keep the site clean and leave it up to you to keep the site clean (Trini Ley).

Mind the gap

Think about the space between decking boards – too small and possum poo will get stuck, too large and keys etc will fall through! (Colleen).

Why you need spacing

The reason you have the gap is so the boards can expand and contract. The gap also depends on the type of timber because some timbers expand/contract more than others, and the width of the timber (typically wider boards expand more). If the boards are too close then when the timber expands, the timber will lift off the bearers. Having said all that, the minimum space is usually 5mm (Tony – builder).

Paint all edges

Paint (or varnish) all sides of the doors, even the tops and the bottoms of the doors, otherwise the doors may eventually swell. If you don’t specify this, painters usually leave these bits unpainted, and you won’t know about it until there is a problem (Mary).

Independent Inspector

When building our new home I wish I had known that we could have employed an Independent Building Inspector (someone who will inspect each stage of the building process). We did hire one at Stage 3 – a godsend (Sue).

Hire an Independent Building Inspector to check your builder’s work. They know the tricks and are worth the money (Cath Proud).

Chipboard in wet areas?

Avoid chipboard panels (mellamine) in any areas exposed to water or steam, eg drawers near a dishwasher (it eventually swells). If you do use chipboard, make sure it is HMR (highly moisture resistant) which has green flecks in it. This type lasts better if exposed to water or steam (John).

Full depth drawers

We have a 70cm deep benchtop. We assumed the drawers below would also be nearly 70cm deep, but the kitchen people installed ‘standard’ depth drawers of 50cm. If you have deeper cabinets and you want to use all the storage space, then request ‘full depth’ drawers (Mary).

Internal measurements

Pay attention to the ‘internal’ measurements of your cupboards. Often when you see a measurement on a plan (eg 50cm wide) you can end up having only 45cm or less of internal space because of the width of the carcass. So make sure your plans show the internal measurements as well as the overall measurements (Lorenzo).

Joinery carcass

Here is a standard note you can add to the joinery plans to make sure the carcass finish is good:

‘Internal carcass, 19mm white melamine with a 1mm ABS edge. Ensure internal carcass is not visible from the outside, (so there are no gaps between the drawers or doors through which you see the white carcass). All fixings and joins to be fully concealed, and no visible screw caps. Pre drill all holes for adjustable shelving at 3cm intervals. All adjustable shelving 25mm (or however thick you want the shelving) thick white melamine with a 1mm ABS edge’ (Mary).

Two pack finish

If you want a two pack finish to your cupboards, drawers or shelves, be clear about which parts will be two packed. Unless you specify in writing ‘all sides’ to be two paked, you might end up with only the front surface being two paked, and not the sides and backs. The same applies to vinyl wrap (Mary).

Love my bench space

Have two and a half meters of uninterrupted bench space rather than many small areas. I was so glad my cousin gave me this advice (Mary).

Where to put the bins

Locate a pull-out draw for the bins under your food preparation area. Chop, chop, chop then open the drawer and sweep the scraps in. The top drawer for scraps, the bottom drawer for recyclables. This was definitely the best tip a friend gave me for my kitchen (Mary).

Use marble wisely

Marble is beautiful and expensive. It is a soft and porous stone. Which means, in high use areas it does not stay beautiful for long. The marble can get easily damaged, stained and dirty in areas like the bench top, bathroom, shower and toilet floor. It takes a professional cleaner and polisher to bring it back to looking good. Granite is a much harder and less porous stone and better for these areas. Use the marble on the low traffic areas (Mary).

What you need beneath the paving

Think about what you might need to run under your drive, paving or foot path. You might need to run electrical for out door lighting, gas for outdoor BBQ, water for an automated watering system. So think about running industrial strength tubing under your paving. If you don’t, it’s too late once the paving is done and trying to get the services under the paving will be a hell of a job and cost much, much more (Cath Proud).

Be patient

You are going to make some mistakes, it will take longer than what the builder said, and it will take longer than what you hoped for. You cannot prepare or know everything and you will be much wiser after the project (Paul).

Choosing items for the builder

Once you start building you have to have all the decisions made for the builder. If you have not made the decisions then you can leave it up to the builder to make the decisions for you, but then the builder might choose the cheapest option. If I had known that all these decisions need to be made then I would have spent more time beforehand preparing and making the decisions (kitchen drawer handles, kitchen cupboard handles, door handles, door hinges, light switches, paint colours, make a list). If you don’t have all the things selected beforehand it can hold up the process and it could be your fault that the building was delayed (Colleen).

We selected all our appliances and fittings, bath, handles ahead of time. The builder priced the job on the basis that we would supply all these items. This meant that we spent the time and chose all these things before the building started, and there was no wasted time between us and the builder over these matters (Trini Ley).

As a rule you should always be aware of the time and cost to your building project, if you are unprepared it will delay and affect the cost of your project. Most important is to know the products and white goods you are looking to purchase and plan ahead. Purchase and pass all details with measurements to your cabinet/kitchen expert. Try not to make any changes during construction, as this will affect you with extra costs. (Adelia).

Consider the pre-build time

People usually underestimate the pre-build time. They think that once they contact a builder the construction should start a month or two after. The time it takes, however, is usually much longer. To finish the tendering, get your permits and plans 100% ready, sign contracts with the builder etc, takes on average about 6 months (Tony – builder).

Making decisions

As the owner, your heart strings are attached to the job, and you can get worried about making the ‘right’ decision. Because of this, owners often take months to make a simple decision (eg the paint colour), which delays the project. Think about it, today it might really matter to you, but in a year or two it won’t really matter. My tip is, don’t worry, just decide, get the house done, and get living! (Enio – builder).

Keep an eye on the progress

Keep an eye on the work. Make sure that you go there every day or every second day, in the early morning or at the end of the day, to check that the expected job is done. If you see something that needs attention, don’t wait, tell the builder straight away (Regina).

Think twice about box gutters

Box gutters look really great because the guttering is hidden. The problem is, however, that you have to constantly clean them to avoid build up of leaves etc. Normal gutters overflow down the external wall. Box gutters overflow into the roofspace, then through the plaster ceiling etc – which happened at our house (Mary)!

Do it on the cheap?

If the builder says “I can do the project really cheaply for you” be careful. Something done cheaply will likely come with trade-offs (David).

Go for the middle quote

If you get five or more quotes you might accept the cheapest quote thinking that you will save money. The builder, however, might later try to make money by charging you for every little ‘variation’. I’d always go for the middle quote (Duncan – builder).

Having a contact

We are very fortunate to have a contact in the timber industry. So, our builder told us what timber was needed and we ordered the timber direct to get a discount. We never expected this, but because the builder was not paying directly for the timber, he didnt pay as much attention and ordered far too much. This meant that we had lots of timber left over, including 4 massive beams, and it ended up costing us more!

Here is my tip to get around this. Ask the builder to buy the items from your supplier (you don’t have to explain why, you can always say you’d rather give the business to a friend, neighbour, family). Then the builder is responsible for the order, and later the supplier can pass the discount on to you (Geoff).

Penny-wise, pound-foolish

Don’t try and save $1 by doing things yourself, it usually ends up costing more. You might want to reuse old windows or old doors. If there is any problem, however, like rotting wood or a crooked door, you will probably end up paying more to solve the problem (Warren – builder).

Thanks to our community for submitting some great tips! Do you have anything to add?

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