Go to Top

How to design and build a house in five steps

There are five steps to building a new project or extending existing.

You can choose how to complete these steps with us selecting our Standard, Extended or Custom services. The difference between these packages is in the amount of responsibilities you take in the selection of finishes, fittings and fixtures and whether your project requires extra drawings.

  • Sketch design is the first step in planning your project and it starts when you give your brief. We visit your site, take photos, analyse orientation of the site, views and microclimate.  Then we measure up the building. Depending on the size it may take two to three hours.

    You will also need to get a surveyor to prepare a detailed survey suitable for designing the house. This survey contains a lot of information such as topographic level, trees, sewer line, pits, trees, roof and gutter level etc. You may want to engage your own surveyor or we can request quotes from you. A survey takes a good part of the day and can be as long as six hours depending on the site size and complexity. You do not have to be present all this time.

    While you wait for the survey we research the council regulations applicable to your site. Once we get the survey we can start working on the sketch design.

    We prepare the main option and allow up to two revisions after which revisions happen on hourly rate. The sketch design includes plans, section and elevations if necessary. Once you are happy with the sketch design we proceed to the next stage.

  • As you can see from the name of this stage, design development is about getting to finer details of your project – its structure, materials, location and type of services such as rainwater tank for example, and how all that influences the exterior and interior of the building.

    This is also when we work on the interior features of your project and prepare required drawings. (Some items may not be necessary for development application (for example, interior features and joinery that do not affect structure and exterior) so they may be prepared later so as not to extend design time.)

    We will coordinate the work of specialist consultants such as hydraulic and structural engineer, bush fire consultants and so on as required. Their recommendations and findings may play a significant role in designing the house and construction budget.

    We will provide a schedule of proposed finishes, review the developed design against the budget and coordinate, and prepare an updated estimate of the cost of the works.

    To sum up, we will:

    • develop the approved concept design and provide documentation to explain it to you,
    • coordinate the work of specialist consultants,
    • provide a schedule of finishes,
    • review the developed design against the budget and
    • coordinate, and prepare an updated estimate of the cost of the works.
  • We will prepare drawings and supporting documentation to lodge your development application or complying development certificate. Every Council has different requirements and every project is unique.

    What is Development Application?

    A Development Application  is a set of documents using which your Council can give you an approval to develop your land. The package includes:

    • plans, elevations, sections and a number of special drawings with notes, dimensions and calculations to show how the proposal meets Council and State regulations
    • Statement of environmental effects, Waste management plan, BASIX certificate, Schedule of finishes and materials, Opinion of probable cost
    • other documents different in each case as it depends on where your land is and what you are planning to build.

    If your project does not quite comply with regulations, which is happens quite often, it is good to have a pre-lodgment meeting with the Council. There is a fee for it but it is an opportunity to see what may be the Council’s response the proposal and whether the Council appreciates our arguments for incompliance.

    Once this package is ready you pay the council’s fee for lodging the development application. The fee is based on construction cost. There may be other fees and levies pertinent to the proposal. 

    What happens in Council

    The application may spend several weeks in the Council. We start chasing your application on third week to remind the duty planner about it and notify you on its status.

    First, the proposal goes on notification. The Council will put a sign on your property and send letters to your neighbours. If there are objections we may have to meet the objector and the duty planner to resolve it. Therefore, it is always recommended to be upfront with your neighbours if your proposal is likely to affect them.

    After two week’s notification the Council starts reviewing the application and any objections. The strongest proposal is the one that complies with State and local planning policy. It has the best chances of being approved without conditions.

    If the application is refused

    If your application is refused you can submit another one having addressed the issues or you can go to Land and Environment Court. Again, success in the court depends on incompliances. The fewer of them the better.

    If you change your mind after DA is approved

    If you decide to change design after it is approved, you can lodge a so called Section 96 application. In this case we will prepare drawings showing the changes. Other documents may also be required.

    If your project complies with the code it can be approved faster through Complying Development Certificate.

    Complying Development Certificate

    Complying Development Certificate is a combined planning and construction approval.

    It is supposed to be a fast track, 10-day approval process where a building meets all of the predetermined standards established in either a State or local council planning document. A complying development certificate can be issued by either your local council or an accredited certifier.

    Currently it may apply to single and two storey dwellings, dwelling additions, swimming pools, granny flats (secondary dwelling), outbuildings in the domestic realm of development. Also complying development certificates can now be issued for commercial development in relation to change of use of a premises and internal alterations.

    In addition to preparing drawings we will:

    • write specifications
    • obtain supplementary information and
    • coordinate consultant’s reports with our documents.

    If your project was approved through development application to Council the next step must be getting a Construction Certificate. But if you have a Complying Development Certificate you can skip the next step and go straight to tender.

    Construction Certificate

    Once you receive a development consent from your Council we will prepare documents required by Private Certifier who gives you a permission to actually start building.  The Certifier checks that the proposal complies with technical standards and regulations.

    This set of documents is different in each case. Council often gives consent with conditions. We update the drawings to meet these conditions. The Certifier lodges the Construction Certificate with Council once they are satisfied that all the requirements of the Development Consent are met.

    The Certifier also inspects the site before and during construction and issues occupation certificate upon completion. In this case, the Certifier acts as a Primary Certifying Authority (PCA). However, you can also request the Council to be your PCA.

  • Working drawings

    These drawings are drawn at a scale 1:50, 1:20 and 1:5 where necessary. They provide the builder with the information they need at a high level of detail including method of construction, locations, joints, thicknesses, finishes and many dimensions. Together with a document called Specifications these drawings make a full set using which the builder can do the work.

    If you consider the standard package remember two points:

    1. Changes = Time = Money, and
    2. The later the change, the more expensive it will be

    Therefore, changes in plans cost much less than changes during construction known as variations. Variations are one of the two reasons costs spiral. The other reason is the unknown (excavation and weather). For this reason we recommend that you consider our Custom package on Services page.


    If you do not have a preferred builder we organize a tender:

    1. We give each builder a copy of working drawings and Specifications.
    2. Builders prepare their quotes
    3. We analyse and compare the quotes for you. We do not recommend a builder because it must be your decision.

    There are several different forms of Building Contract, so you should always seek legal advice before signing.

  • What happens during construction?

    During construction you are likely to have fortnightly site meetings with the builder during which you will be checking how construction is going and verifying that you are happy with work done so far and that you can pay the builder’s next progress claim. You will be answering questions and checking that work is done according to the drawings and terms of contract, that materials used are exactly what you want.

    If you do not have the knowledge to answer the builder’s questions you will have to rely on their professionalism and judgment. However, it cannot be ruled out that even with builder’s best intentions you will not like the result because you thought it would be done differently.

    How your life can be made easier

    We take care of all this:

    • meet on site with you and the builder
    • prepare minutes
    • check progress claims
    • resolve upcoming issues
    • amend drawings as required
Photo via photopin  cc.


Leave a Reply