Home Construction Tips

What are the steps to building your house?

You have chosen a builder, purchased land that has now titled, you have chosen a house design, and you are now ready to build a new home. However, this exciting process can sometimes be complicated and differs slightly with each builder. There are also potential factors that could delay your process. Making sure that you remain informed about what should be expected through the building process will reduce stress and worry.

If you haven’t built a new home before – make sure you check out this step by step guide to the building process, also consider the common mistakes people make when building a new home. Looking for the best home constructions? Look no further! Hitch Property Constructions has the ultimate list of home designs for you to choose from.

Tips in building a new home

Home Construction Tips

Choose a home design

There are many options for building your home, from house and land packages and project homes to custom-built properties or DIY kit homes. Each has its own benefits, disadvantages and costs, so it’s important to work out where you want to build, what you can afford and which option best suits your needs.

Find your land

If you’re not rebuilding on your existing block, make sure your building design is compatible with the land you want to buy. This can have a significant impact on building costs, so it’s a good idea to hire an expert to inspect the site before you commit to buying the land or building design.

Choose a builder

It’s important to spend time finding the right builder for your project. Make sure the contract they provide covers everything and agree to a timeline for completion. You should also get the preparation of plans agreement, home indemnity insurance, the building contract and contract variations agreement checked out by a solicitor or conveyancer before signing anything.

Before you get to the stage of choosing a builder, your research and design process will have yielded finished design documents to put out for tender by builders.

Two common ways to choose a builder are:

  • choose a preferred builder and invite them to prepare a quotation or ‘tender’ (and seek an alternative quotation to ensure competitive pricing)
  • call open or selective tenders from a range of builders and choose based on price.

Each method delivers a builder and a quotation, but one emphasises the best price and the other, preferred builder. In either case, note in your tender documents that you are ‘not obliged to accept the lowest or any tender’.

A designer generally helps choose builders to tender for a project, based on recommendations and past experience. Advertised open tenders deliver variable outcomes and often exclude smaller specialist builders who do not have time to tender for multiple projects.

Your choice of builder is almost as critical as your choice of designer.

The principal role of a builder is to coordinate the building works as a project manager. This role includes supervising and coordinating each trade; sourcing, quantifying and coordinating the delivery of materials; and, most importantly, quality-assuring the entire process.

Builders and tradespeople are understandably risk-averse and tend to manage risk by using tried and proven materials and practices. Sustainable outcomes often require the use of innovative materials and practices. To avoid problems later, ensure each builder is made aware of your commitment to a sustainable home when they are invited to tender.

Sourcing certified environmentally preferred materials (see Materials) at competitive rates and supervising tradespeople to ensure materials are correctly installed requires a builder who is prepared to ‘go the extra step’. Choose a builder who is both trained in and committed to delivering sustainable outcomes. Familiarise yourself with environmental certification systems to inform your own decision or agreement.

Both Master Builders Australia (MBA) and the Housing Industry Association (HIA) train builders in sustainable practices. Choosing a builder with this training from their website listings is a good first step but does not guarantee delivery of best practice outcomes. References from satisfied clients are an effective quality assurance method. Both MBA and HIA run sustainability awards programs, and the lists of past winners on their websites also provide a good indication of ability. Check out our extensive range of home designs at Hitch Constructions.

Committed builders:

  • carefully implement sustainability features as specified in the design
  • source and use recycled or reused materials
  • access environmentally certified materials and ensure they are ordered with adequate lead times
  • separate waste streams on site
  • instruct and even back charge subcontractors who fail to use environmentally preferred practices
  • ensure that glues, resins, paints and finishes are indoor air quality friendly
  • conserve on-site biodiversity
  • install and maintain sediment control barriers.

Several certification schemes can independently certify products and services as environmentally sustainable. Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that runs the internationally recognised Environmental Choice Australia Ecolabelling Program. Green Tick® is based on a life cycle assessment (LCA) of the effects of an operation down its supply chain.

Apply for a home loan

Staying on top of your finances is key to the successful construction of your home. Work out how much it’s likely to cost and make sure you have your home loan in place before you begin.

Find out how much deposit you’ll need to pay and get your solicitor or conveyancer to check your contract and see how progress payments will be determined.

Before you apply for a home loan, make sure you consider additional costs such as stamp duty, legal fees and costs associated with your loan.

You may also like to consider applying for a construction loan, which gives you access to money progressively as you complete different stages of construction.

Tender documents and contracts

In projects being tendered by more than one builder, tender documents must clearly identify any sustainability practices or materials certification requirements that are different from business as usual. Attach schedules to the tender documents that tenderers are required to sign.

Allaying builder concerns about the unfamiliar aspects of sustainable practice can reduce the amount they allow for unknown contingencies.

Contingency sums

Areas of unknown risk can be accommodated through contingency sums or allowances that can be called on to cover unexpected costs. They are often used to cover unexpected subsoil and foundation related costs; increasingly, they are being used to provide flexibility in choosing innovative sustainable technologies and practices.

Prime cost schedules

Another way to overcome risk aversion on the part of the builder is to ‘nominate’ subcontractors to supply and install innovative technologies and provide the builder with a ‘schedule of allowances’ (or ‘prime cost schedule’) to include in the tender.

Many designers choose and specify the exact make and model of important or high-cost items such as windows and doors, solar hot water systems, smart metering and energy control systems, and on-site renewable energy generation. You or your designer can have these items quoted by preferred suppliers and nominated in the contract as prime cost schedule items to avoid substitution of inappropriate or substandard products by competitive tenderers.

Preferred subcontractors

You can also nominate preferred subcontractors if you know a local green plumber, electrician or painter who is reliable and professional. Many builders have preferred subcontractors so negotiate this option carefully.

Lump-sum versus cost plus

Choose between ‘fixed price/lump sum’ or ‘cost plus’. These decisions are usually made before calling tenders, but revisions may be negotiated with the chosen builder before contracts are signed. Lump-sum tenders and contracts are generally effective at capping the budget but can encourage cost-cutting that can compromise sustainable outcomes.

In cost-plus scenarios, the builder nominates a percentage addition to materials costs for ordering and scheduling and hourly rates for the builder and trades. These contracts require high levels of trust between owner and builder. While allowing the owner more control over expenditure decisions, they reduce builder responsibility for cost overruns. This can force cost-cutting and loss of important sustainable features (e.g. photovoltaic arrays) as the budget is exhausted.

For tight budgets, fixed-price contracts are generally preferable. If cost-plus is used, quarantine budget allowances for sustainable features.

Contracts

Standard home building contracts are available from many sources including lending authorities and industry peak bodies. They form the basis of your legally binding agreement with your builder and any dispute resolution.

Choose a contract that strikes a reasonable balance between your needs and those of your builder. Clear dispute resolution provisions and nominated independent arbitrators are essential. Annex the builder’s tender, the council approved plans and specifications, certified engineering details and any schedules (prime cost, contingency sums or nominated suppliers/contractors) to the contract.

Once you’ve agreed to the costs, review the contract carefully with your solicitor or conveyancer. Many common building mistakes are due to errors in the contract, so make sure you feel confident in signing the documents as making changes down the track can be costly.

You should also check the laws and council requirements in your local area to see if your contract complies with these standards, and make sure your builder is responsible for securing building licences and permits from the relevant authorities.

You may like to get insurance before construction begins, to protect your land, the new property and the safety of people visiting the site.

Have your solicitor and designer review your contract before signing.

Indicate sustainability requirements on specifications and include penalties for substituting inferior materials and products.

Tendering tips to ensure environmentally preferred outcomes

Drawings and specifications form part of the contract documentation. Ensure they indicate sustainability requirements and include penalties for the substitution of inferior materials and products.

Consider nominating important, high-cost items such as windows in a prime cost schedule to avoid substitution by competitive tenderers.

Clearly describe sustainable methods or materials that are not yet standard building practice and include advice on how to implement or source them.

Include unambiguous instructions that prevent changes or substitution without approval by you or your designer.

Ask tendering builders to check tender documents for sustainability compliance risks and note or allow for any contingencies in their tender.

Ask builders to recommend alternative solutions that suit their trades and supply chains while delivering equal or improved environmental outcomes.

Consider the use of contracts that link payment to the achievement of specified environmental outcomes (e.g. details of environmentally certified materials, window and glazing specifications, and reuse or recycling details).

Develop a schedule of reusable materials (if you’re renovating or demolishing an existing house) and negotiate their reuse with your builder.

Owner building

Some consumers choose to manage their projects as owner builders. Unless you are experienced in housing construction, are fully conversant with local building practices and supply chains, and have sound working relationships with local trades, this option is fraught with risk.

Sustainable construction often requires tradespeople to adopt new practices and materials, and this can be very difficult for an inexperienced owner-builder to negotiate.

Monitor the build

It’s important to stay involved at every stage of construction, so you can choose the design elements and make sure it stays on time and budget.

You may like to keep a diary to record important details of the project in a writing, such as discussions with the builder, updates on progress, weather, copies of letters and notices as well as photos of the site throughout the project.

If you don’t feel confident managing the contractor or tradespeople building your home, you can hire an independent building consultant to monitor the construction on your behalf.

Many opportunities to achieve best practice sustainable outcomes are lost during construction. This is often due to a lack of understanding of environmentally sound principles and practices by builders and tradespeople, or ineffective certification. At HP Constructions, we have the best home constructions selection to make your house a dream come true.

Supervision

Your builder is frequently called on to make decisions about materials and procedures that vary from those nominated in the plans and specifications due to trade preferences or unavailability of preferred materials. Builders refer these (often urgent) decisions to a supervisor for verification if one is nominated. If not, they may make expeditious but less sustainable choices.

Well-informed advice from experienced professionals can quality-assure decision making and ensure environmentally preferred choices.

Professional advice or project management by a committed highly informed individual or company is critical to quality-assure the decision-making process and recommend environmentally preferred alternatives such as those discussed throughout Your Home.

Many designers offer a supervision service as part of their fee structure. Architects in some states are prevented from offering project management services. If you adopt this role as owner, consult competent advisers or consultants to verify your decisions.

Project management or supervision adds substantial professional indemnity risk to a designer’s insurance profile, so many designers prefer a less formal advisory role. You should sight a project management endorsement on a current professional indemnity policy before formally appointing a supervisor or project manager.

Certification

Inspection and certification of your project at critical stages is required by law to confirm that it is built in accordance with the approved plans, specifications, relevant Australian Standards, Building Code of Australia and council regulations, to ensure structural integrity, health, safety and amenity.

These inspections can identify and rectify problems or omissions before they are built-in. Reported instances of inadequate certification of sustainability compliance in several jurisdictions indicate that this important aspect is sometimes overlooked. If you are concerned, seek immediate advice from your designer or building sustainability assessor (see The design process).

Many private certifiers offer specialised environmental certification. Contact the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (https://aibs.com.au) for more advice.

Complete the handover

Around a week after practical completion of the house, you should be ready to collect the keys, make any final payments and move in. You should receive a copy of all relevant warranties and certificates as per your contract. Make sure you have the builder’s written authority that the building is completed and safe to move into.

Sometimes the best design and construction innovation can be wasted because the concepts aren’t communicated to the owner at handover. Ask your designer and builder for an owner’s manual. If you are a practitioner, give your client detailed instructions on how to operate and maintain the home at handover. If you sell your home, make sure the new owners have a copy.

An owner’s manual or operation guide covers:

  • summer and winter operation settings and day-night routines for:
    • operating and maintaining heating and cooling appliances
    • opening/closing curtains and windows
    • operating ventilation systems (cross and stack)
    • operating shading systems
    • operating roof space ventilator
  • cleaning of solar appliances
  • termite barriers and inspection schedule
  • operating guides for water harvesting and treatment systems
  • isolation valves for services (gas, electricity and water)
  • hot water system sacrificial anode replacement date
  • hot water system pressure relief valve checks
  • painting intervals
  • appropriate cleaning products for all surfaces and finishes
  • landscape maintenance requirements.

Take care to avoid these pitfalls.

Common causes of disappointment or dispute emerge from choosing the wrong designer or builder, or both.

Budget overruns can arise from circumstances within or beyond your control:

  • preliminary cost overruns (e.g. council fees, design, geotechnical report, engineering design and certification, surveyor fees)
  • site challenges (unforeseen site difficulties)
  • weather
  • materials unavailability
  • not ‘nailing’ the details (e.g. materials selection or indoor air-quality friendly finishes)
  • Receiving/accepting poor advice (particularly from suppliers and inexperienced tradespeople) when urgent decisions need to be made.

Very few new design/build projects fit within the client’s timeline expectations due to:

  • council delays
  • lengthy design processes — particularly when many changes are made
  • delays finding an available builder
  • weather and builder related delays
  • tradespeople shortages
  • availability and delivery of sustainable technologies that are outside the builder’s normal supply chain.

Negotiating reasonable, equitable compromises may be beyond your capabilities.

  • Under-performance can be due to design, construction or operation:
  • Thermal performance may not deliver to expectations, commonly because of poor operation, poor sealing, failure to close or open windows, inadequate or faulty insulation, inadequate shading, and use of inappropriate glass. A building sustainability assessor can advise on these matters.

If energy consumption is higher than expected, monitor consumption of individual appliances, and install smart metering or energy management systems. The behaviour of one individual in a household can often unknowingly account for excessive energy use.

Finally, be prepared for some things to go wrong. Maybe they could’ve been avoided, and maybe they couldn’t. Just remember, how you choose to react to these problems or manage them is up to you. Approach any mishaps with a calm and clear mind and keep the big picture – your dream home – in view. Hopefully, all the hard work will have been worth it.

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