It’s late summer and the weather is giving us time to dream and think in the outdoors.
Our large challenge for our extension has been our limited budget. So, we had always agreed to start building using a phased-in approach. The living extension first, then the master wing next. We’ve never wanted to borrow more than what we already had in place, and wanted to give ourselves time to gather and save more funds as well.
Plus, the inclusion of a pool in our plan is a non-negotiable.
We’ve always been pretty “hands on” types: we’ve done a fair bit of plastering entire rooms, and painting. My husband can lay a deck, tile a bathroom and install a kitchen with irritatingly obsessive perfection. With that in mind, we got our owner-builder course and licence sorted out in November 2015. However, we both work and we don’t want our kids to be moving out by the time we get this build over with.
So, for the sake of comparison and the time value of money: we got a couple of builder recommendations, for full service head-contract style quotes. One quote for phase 1 came in at $290,000 to lock-up only (no power, no Giprock walls etc). And another for the whole build came in at …wait for it: $550,000. Yes, you read that right. It made me feel ill. It’s Sydney and that’s what people charge and what many people pay. Architects and builders justify it based on a high spec per m/2. Which may be fair if you want a quality outcome. We also recognise that people have to be paid to live in an expensive city in Sydney and trying to squeeze a contract too low may just mean an uncertain or poor quality outcome. At each stage comes risk. Ugh.
Back to our DIY thoughts we went. We continued researching Pryda frames and trusses, Surefoot and other methods of kit and pre-fab building that could be adapted to our needs. We looked at flooring and other things we’d need down the track, to get an idea of material costs. Fortunately the internet also makes that aspect easier. We also set up a Bunnings trade account, only available to tradespeople and owner-builders and started the costing process. Bunnings Trade division includes several very large manufacturing plants that make fully pre-fabricated components based on the Pryda system which we’d researched as being both well-designed and extremely practical. In Sydney our nearest frame manufacturer was the plant in Newcastle. We submitted our DA floor plans and received a quote for the frames/trusses for approximately $50,000. That was sobering. It sounded like a solid possibility but we had to remind ourselves we had no labour, only ourselves and our full-time jobs.
We were still phaffing about in February when we were put in-touch with a young, energetic builder who’d recently finished work on a friend’s house. He was planning to start working on his own projects but in the meantime, wanted to work with an owner-builder on a project. He sounded perfect.
We had several preliminary meeting with our prospective builder. This process was critical. It allowed us to figure out how we would work together, what the risks were, and whether we were on the same page about the quality we were after: LVL or pine or prefab frames? Spotted gum or another timber for flooring? Shadow lines? And how to ensure the box gutter was done properly…a perennial problem for many P&S houses.
We found him delightfully easy to communicate with, and full of practical ideas and contacts for excavation, plumbing and electricity. We agreed to proceed with some helpful estimates from him on all aspects of the build but with a budget and materials we would manage directly.
Pre fab or traditional frame
Although we were pretty committed to a pre-fab frame, one aspect of pre-fab concerned both him and us, and our architect. Once the frame is delivered on-site, who’s responsible if something is wrong? How easy would it be to amend something if needed? Spending $50,000 to save a few thousand and bed down a large cost, in fact could be a large risk. On our builders advice, we looked at estimates for timber and LVL and factored in the time cost for the frame build of each phase. Accordingly we set up an account with Eatons, which he was used to working with, and they are a good timber supplier in our area with good pricing and quick turnaround.
In parallel, we’ve been able to get the pool contract sorted out as a separate piece of the puzzle. Our property requires a drainage pit and some levelling, so on our builders advice – we could integrate pool excavation into the beginning of the project to ensure access was clear on the site (while the extension was not yet built) and to save the cost of putting excavation on the pool contractor’s fee.
As we got started by late March, one thing we underestimated enormously was excavation….so much dirt!