Monthly Archives: September 2016

Is your home have bush fire compliant?

The dry winds in NSW 2013, and the subsequent Blue Mountains disasters have boasted the discussion of poor bush fire compliant homes once more.

For new homes current legislation does a pretty good job of forcing Australians to better withstand a bush fire attack. But what about renovations?

Currently there is no legislation enforcing property owners to upgrade their existing homes to comply with current Bushfire Attack Level’s (BAL). There is only one minor measure in place that only quietly mentions that a homeowner has a property located in a bush fire prone area.

When a property is sold the vendor is required by law to organise a Sales Contract. Within this Sales Contract is a Section 149 Planning Certificate. Within this document it mentions if your property is in a bush fire prone area or not. It does not state the Bushfire Attack Level or if the current dwelling comply’s with current bush fire legislation.

The seller of any property is not legally required to ensure their property meets current bush fire construction standards.

Ensuring your home is bush fire compliant

When selling or buying a property you can find out if your property is bush fire compliant or not by doing a little research. Here is what you should do:

1. Engage council

Engage your local council and ask them to prepare a Building Certificate. The certificate will outline if your home complies with current building standards, and will go into a little detail about bush fire compliance.

If you need further details about bush fire compliance you can engage a private certifier or your local council.

2. Certifiers

  • Council – There are some council’s that can provide a specialist consulting service – assessing bush fire construction compliance. Gosford City Council for example provides a consulting service under their Streamline Group. This is a paid service where a report can be prepared outlining what you need to do to ensure your house complies with your particular Busfire Attack Level.
  • Private – There are some private certifiers that also offer a similar service as above.

3. Bush Fire Consultant

Specialist bush fire consultants are a great resource if you have a high level bush fire prone property.

As a home owner, the choice is yours, as to whether you bring your home in-line with current bush fire construction levels or not. Getting your home to comply with current standards can be a costly exercise but not always. Making the recommended changes could be as simple as replacing timber fascias with Colorbond, but if your house is entirely clad with timber it could be a very costly venture.

Home design and construction process in Five steps

Starting the process of building a new home? Read this article to get an overview of the processes involved. Note that although the processes are constantly changing, the drawing production process and council preparation process remains relatively unchanged over time.

Step 1. The initial consultation

At this first meeting the architect/building designer (designer) and you the client will discuss all your thoughts in relation to the design of your house or development beg. size, types of spaces how you anticipate these spaces will feel, etc.

Service fees and what they include will also be discussed at this time and a fee proposal as well as a Client Brief and a contract will be sent to your after the meeting. There are services available which can assist you in design and construction costing if you find you need support in this area.

Step 2. Site Analysis

The building designer/architect will analyse your site verbally and/or provide a written report (if you can not be present) and discuss with you the restrictions and assets of your property. This portion of the service is not only valuable to people that have already purchased a property but also to people that are in the process of buying and that have not yet exchanged contracts, as we can discuss issues such as sun orientation versus street face versus outside living and how these factors affect greatly on the quality of living for that particular property. The analysis will also consider such things as wind direction, tree shadowing and many other factors that seem to go unnoticed when purchasing property.

Step 3. Initial Design

The Initial Design process includes council and other government body research as well as the study of your requirements – where sketch design drawings are produced and discussed with you prior to developing the design. See Designing Your Own Home for further information on this stage. The drawings produced at this stage are minimal but should include all floor plans and some elevations or a three dimensional rendering of the proposed building.

Step 4. Developed Design

This stage sees your sketch design drawings developed into a house you should be very happy with – if not you will need to discuss further changes with your designer – most designers allow 2 major sessions of changes in their contract. Once you are happy with the design your drawings will be developed to working drawings that will have loads of information on them including notes and dimensions.

Step 5. Working Drawings

During this stage detailed drawings will be produced that will be used for your council Development Application (DA) as well as for construction. You may also need to produce other reports with your DA to council such as a Statement of Environmental Effects, BASIX Report, Waste Management Report, Site Analysis Plans, Geotechnical Report, Landscape Plan, Flora and Fauna Report and Fire Report – check with your local council.

This BASIX and Statement of Environmental Effects

Drawings are only a small portion of what councils in Australia require to enable them to give consent to your development application, building permit or building licence. Reports such as Statement of Environmental Effects, BASIX (in NSW), waste management reports, geotechnical reports, landscaping plans and more may need to be lodged with your plans. To determine exactly what is required by your local council you will need to contact them directly or visit their web site.

What is the BASIX report?

BASIX is the acronym for “Building Sustainability Index”. Since October 2006 all development applications lodged in NSW for new homes, renovations and additions valued over $100,000 must contain a BASIX certificate. Applications for installing a pool or spa must also include a BASIX certificate. The BASIX certificate pledges the homeowner to water and energy saving commitments that must be verified by an accredited certifier before an Occupation Certificate is issued.

BASIX – Renovation case study

Paul and Jenny’s home is located in Umina on the Central Coast one hour from Sydney. The dwelling is a small 3 bedroom home with only one living space. It is the owner’s intention to make an addition to the home as well as improve the functionality of the existing plan. The construction type will consist of a timber roof, wall and floor structure and it will be supported on brick piers and clad in weatherboards and “colorbond” roof sheeting.

Paul and Jenny are making the following energy and water saving commitments:

  • Window and door overhangs have been increased from 600mm to 900mm providing maximum sun coverage in the summer and maximum sun penetration in the winter
  • Large windows and doors have been added on the North and East to keep living areas warm in winter. Note: Windows sizes on the south and west should be kept to a minimum size to reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer
  • Insulation has been added to all roof areas and external walls of the new addition. Note: the higher the insulation’s “R” value the warmer you will be in winter and the cooler you will be in summer
  • Energy saving light fittings and globes will be installed into as many areas as possible. Note: there is now a good range of energy saving fittings and globes on the market that can be installed in wet areas, halls and bedrooms – allowing energy saving in these areas. Unfortunately there is a very limited selection of energy saving feature lights for areas such as living rooms and dining areas but BASIX does factor this issue into its calculations. The BASIX certificate will encourage the renovator to a 40% energy efficient light commitment on new or altered lighting.
  • All taps will have a minimum rating of 3 stars.

BASIX – Conclusions

Within the construction industry there are mixed opinions about the effectiveness of the BASIX certification process as a water & energy saving tool but in this author’s opinion it is an excellent guide for home owners and the BASIX certification process will ensure that people reduce energy and water consumption while minimising changes to the construction process or the occupants lifestyle.

The Australian residential architecture styles

This article gives a brief explanation of some of the architecture styles found in Australian houses. Just as these styles have developed from previous ones, the current styles are also being combined to create new hybrid designs, some of which work better than others.

The Triple Fronted Brick veneer

This style of house has a brick facade (exterior) with timber frames supporting interior walls, usually of gyprock. Roofs are always hipped or gabled and tiled. This style dominated suburban architecture in the 50’s – 60’s. In its basic form it is a bland and unimaginative style which has been propagated by developers. Due to its familiar and cheap construction, it still is the dominant style in housing estates and many consider the style the scourge of Australian domestic architecture. The basic style can be made much more interesting by rendering and painting, adding more angles, porticos, verandahs, and bay windows. Larger homes (2 stories) of this style have been described as “McMansions”.

The Timber and Fibro “Fisherman’s” Cottage

The original fisherman’s cottage was built in many coastal towns between the 30’s and 50’s. It was originally a simple timber framed structure of one or two rooms and a verandah which was clad with asbestos sheeting. The floors were generally raised on piles. The verandah sometimes had handsome wooden balustrade that was sometimes enclosed to make an additional room or sleep-out. Timber detail around windows and gables were often painted- cheery red being one of the most popular traditional colours.

The original cottages, being relatively cheap to purchase, are now popular for renovation. Construction is easy and owner-building is common. The older buildings require insulation in the ceiling and walls. Timber and fiber cement sheeting now replaces the original asbestos and often the interior is completed gutted to create a modern open plan style of living. Timber strap-work can be used and windows frames painted for effect

The Regional Gabled cottage

This popular style has emerged from the triple fronted brick veneer. While the house footprint and floor plan may be quite similar, the gabled cottage has a very different feel. In this style the distinctive gabled roof is a dominant design element, and a practical means of providing shade and entertaining space. Constructions can be entirely of brick (often painted), entirely timber, or a combination of brick on the lower part of the house and timber on the upper. Some houses of brick construction have featured verandahs and porticos. Roofs are usually galvanized iron and windows metal framed.

While it is well suited to sloping blocks, this style can also be built on a slab. The use of timber cladding greatly reduces weight and construction costs.

Ranch style Homes

The ranch style became popular in the nineties. It originated in Adelaide and subsequently became popular in regional and coastal NSW. The floor plan is simple and footprint (of at least the street facing section) is often rectangular. Walls are usually brick, or brick and timber, and windows are often colonial style floor-to-ceiling. Roofs usually tiled with extended eaves. The garage was often integrated into the house. Some ranch style houses were boomerang shaped, others were L shaped for corner allotments.

Ranch style houses can be readily combined with the Murcutt/Drew style (timber and galvanized iron). These smaller ranch style houses often have balconies the width of the house.

The Murcutt/Drew steel and corrugated iron house

A number of styles have emerged from the influence of architects Phillip Drew and Glen Murcutt. The geometric play of angles is often a signature, likewise the (sometimes exposed) steel framing and corrugated iron cladding which is available in a variety of colours. Fiber cement and timber cladding is often used with the iron to create a sympathetic blend of textures. Being of light weight construction, the steel and corrugated iron approach is relatively cheap and suitable for both flat and steeply inclined land. Interior cladding is most often gyprock but can be timber or even plywood. Butterfly roofs can also be employed quite successfully in this design. This style of house is suited for steel framed pole houses on steep slopes.

The pavilion style homes

The Pavilion style house is characterized by a simple rectangular, box shaped volumetric style, open plan interior with glass replacing much of the wall space. Windows are often also steel framed. The transparency of the walls makes it well suited for blocks with privacy and/or views. Open patios are an integral part of living area, and like the rooms, they are orientated according to the aspect. Roofs are often low pitched roof and skillion. The style was a favorite of architect Harry Seidler who favoured walls of rendered brick however it is also well suited to a steel, fiber cement, and corrugated iron treatment. This approach often requires the thinness of steel framing to create the desired look.

The Queenslander style

The Queenslander style house is characterized by an all timber painted exterior, a timber stud frame, and a floor raised on piles for air flow in hot climate. They have wide verandahs (often the length of the house and enclosed by shutters, and roofs are gabled and corrugated iron. The street facing view is often symmetrical. The NSW Queenslander is often smaller than the original classic Queenslander and is less decorative – probably due to limited supply of delicate timber detail and trades-people to build them. It is sometimes combined with the Ranch style house.

Each of these styles has a different emphasis to practicality (physical needs, layout, and views), land and environmental considerations (structural requirements for foundations, design for weather protection) and aesthetic considerations (planar, volumetric, and sculptural form, emotional and spiritual qualities.) All of these requirements and qualities should be considered when designing a house.