Trust is key for this Owner Builder
Meet Sam. A Firefighter and Owner Builder.
Sam is in the process of adding a 2nd story to his 70's home including 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Essentially doubling the size of the house for his young, growing family.
Trust us when we say OBs would like a bit of what Sam has, in particular, the absolute trust he has in his team of tradespeople AND their work ethic. What a gift!
So be warned, you may read Sam's story with a tinge of envy but there's still some great insight you can learn from.
What made you decide to do your addition as an OB?
There was an element of it that was financial. I can do a lot of the labouring and unskilled work under the guidance of employed tradesmen.
I also wanted to be hands on in the process and because I work shift work I have days off during the week which means I have the time to put into the project.
As a firefighter, I have a big network of work colleagues who are qualified tradespeople. I also have a group of mates I can draw on to help.
The nature of the work we do means I trust them implicitly.
Trust is key.
What would you say to aspiring OBs who hold a 9 to 5 job?
I certainly wouldn’t say don’t pursue it.
It really comes down to what level of physical time they can and want to be onsite.
If they’re happy to purely manage their project, there is no reason why they can’t do it. You don’t have to be on the tools. Because I have a hands-on job and I’m exposed to carpentry type skills (we use carpentry tools at work), I wanted to use those skills on my house.
If you’re purely working on it in a project management capacity with a trusted builder, then you can be quite comfortable with the builder making decisions on the fly. For example, if something comes up and a decision needs to be made there and then the builder can do that.
It would also be helpful if your builder can ring you without disturbing your work.
You need to trust the builder is on the same page and wants the same outcomes.
Do you use contracts with your trades?
The trades I use are people I’ve known for over a decade. Because we’re primarily employed in emergency services, their reputation is paramount.
They're innately honest people with a lot of integrity. Day in and day out they go to work with purpose, working towards achieving the best outcome. They're individuals I’ve been in very hairy positions with and I have the upmost faith they look out for me.
I’m in a unique position.
However not all trades are fellow firefighters but they’re recommended by people I trust. The fact that they have an existing relationship and rapport with those trades gives me confidence.
Once you decided that you wanted to be an OB, what did you do to find out what was involved?
I got a lot of initial advice from the main carpenter. He pointed me in the right direction for what was required to get a permit – the course etc. I already had a white card because of the work I do and tickets in confined space and heights. This helped.
Who did you do your course through?
Absolute Education. It was a very straight-forward course. It was easy and I was able to complete it in an evening and get the paper work in a short amount of time.
Did you engage an Architect?
We used an Architect referred by a firefighter. We went through the whole process of getting plans done and engineering reports to see if it was valid to go ahead with the project.
The house was built in the mid ‘70s – the garage is a slab but the rest of the house is on piers so we weren’t sure about the structural integrity to add on the load of a 2nd level.
Going through that process – the plans, engineering report and council DA was costly. Essentially it was paperwork to tell us if we could do it.
We were lucky with the engineering, it ended up being straightforward as far as what needed to be done to reinforce and take the load of the addition.
We had to get into a tight space under the house to dig big footings to concrete and put steel piers in but a lot of the positioning of the columns that had to go into the internal walls downstairs actually fell on existing piers.
Once your plans were finalised, what did you do next as far as getting cost estimates, knowing materials, working out quantities etc.
Initially we drew on the knowledge from our main carpenter. He was able to knock up quick estimates as a starting point. As things started to get underway, we started to get quotes.
I had a few businesses that I spoke to and requested quotes from but never got replies. That was after sending all the information they needed e.g. plans etc but I never got a reply.
I was quick to write those people off – if they couldn’t get back to me with a quote, what would they be like if they got my business. I simply moved onto the next company.
When you say you relied on your carpenter for cost estimates, did you also engage a Quantity Surveyor?
No we didn’t engage a Quantity Surveyor. We used the initial estimates from the carpenter. Our tiler and plumber were also recommended by our carpenter. He was familiar with their pricing so was able to estimate their costs.
Our carpenter has done project management work for other OBs so he’s familiar with the OB process.
What stage of your extension are you at right now?
We’re four weeks into our project.
In the first three weeks we stripped the roof off, cut out all the timbers, got the structural members and footings poured under the house, did the insulation between the levels of the flooring system, got the frames up and 95% of trusses done. Power was also changed from above ground to underground power.
We’ve been doing really big days and I rallied a small army to achieve a lot in a tight timeframe.
They work like trojans. We feed them. They rack up browny points to use when it comes to them needing help with a project.
We kick off at 7am (in line with council regulation) but we work right up until 5pm and around 6pm we’d put tarps back on. We had 120mm of rain during so the tarps helped.
Most trades that are employed usually knock off at 3pm. The few extra hours we did each day means we’re in front.
When do you expect to complete your project?
We want to be finished by the end of March. It's easier once you have walls and a roof to get the internal work done.
We set goals throughout the process.
What advice can you give for Council?
We’ve had a good experience with our Council. They’ve been helpful in the process rather than a hindrance.
That being said, make sure you read your DA back to front. Really know it.
When our footings were inspected, the Inspector made an off the cuff comment – give us a ring when your cladding and roof is on and we’ll come and do the frame inspection.
When it came to organising the frame inspection with council, the first thing they said – we’ve got to check the flooring system before the floor goes down.
I said we were told to call when the roof and cladding was on. To which they replied – how are we going to see the floor?
I had to organise a rushed inspection to sought it out. We had to do a stat dec, supplying all the delivery dockets and invoices for all timber that got supplied to show that it was what was put in to meet engineering requirements.
I went back and re-read the DA and accept that it stated to get an inspection when the floor is down but the last thing in my head was the inspector’s comment.
Go off what is in writing and know it back to front. There is a lot of information and elements are repeated but the detail changes as the paperwork progresses.
Pay attention to detail of what compliance requirements are when it comes to Council. Avoid the heartache!
How about your experience with Council for the DA approval?
Our Architect arranged the DA submission to Council. It was part of his service.
Was it worth it getting the Architect to do this part of the process?
I didn’t know any better. It was all part of what was quoted and it did make it very easy. He’s local so has experience dealing with councils.
We’ve heard stories of where people have had a DA in Council for two years. Apparently there was a lot of back and forth and Council not helping with solutions only highlighting problems.
We had our DA approved in a few weeks and within a matter of weeks after that work was underway.
Our Council helped us navigate any problems to get it to work.
Would you do it again as an OB?
So far yes. You do have moments that are stressful when you have hiccups but nothing we haven’t been able to sort out. Definitely been a positive learning experience.
We hear you! How lucky is Sam with his tradespeople??
Still, as we promised, there are some great insights and here's a summary:
- Trust is key.
- Leverage the knowledge of your carpenter/builder in the initial stages (we say back it up with your own research).
- You need to trust the carpenter/builder is on the same page and wants the same outcomes.
- Get trades recommended by people you trust!
- Set goals.
- Pay attention to the compliance requirements with Council.
- Make sure you read your DA back to front!
A big thank you to Sam for his time and sharing his experience
We hope you enjoyed!