I've been a little reticent about posting any postation about our build ... it's been a bit of a PITA journey so far, and claiming anything as "fact" seemed likely to jinx it. However, given that we've thrown ~$60k at it, signed contracts, the bulldozer has now been & at the time I'm typing this the block is nearly ready for a new house to be built on it ... well it almost seems like Murphy might not shove his ugly mug in the way, at least for a while.
What we were after
We didn't have uber-solid goals, and we weren't particularly looking for "fancy".
I guess the main ones were:
- not be living in a leaky mouldy 50's house any longer
- some semblance of solar passive design
- be able to keep enjoying the summer breezes we'd enjoyed in the old house
- it be properly insulated
- OdourVac system for all toilets
- under-floor hydronic solar heating, at least downstairs if it be 2 storeys
- at least 4 bedrooms
- lots of car garaging (prefereably a minimum of 4 cars), space to work on a project car, and with height for a hoist
- intelligently designed kitchen & bathroom cabinetry (eg. in bathrooms enough room for toothbrushes, hairdryers, power-points inside cupboards for recharging, etc
- enough storage
- low-maintenance yard (and not necessarily a lot of back yard to look after)
Oh, the process ...
We started looking around in late 2010, to get an idea of what was around & what was going to cost how much. Looked at a couple of display homes, and had a particular liking for one medium-sized builder who seemed to specialise in relatively "green" designs. They even had some designs you could work with, and the display home both looked & felt great and was within budget ... although meeting the garage requirement would have been a bit of work. This was Home Team, with that link being to their page on the display home we were taken with.
However ... by late 2011 when we'd umm'd & ahh'd long enough (and the leaks in the roof had gotten annoying enough to start thinking about spending money again), we tried to contact them & they didn't return any voicemails. They were on the ASIC site, can't recall whether they were in voluntary liquidation but it didn't sound good & their display hom was closed. So that was that - we had to go with someone else. As a side note, I see their site has been updated to be Copyright 2013 and I don't think their offices used to be where they currently are ... so I think they've not gotten themselves out of whatever that trouble was ... dunno, we've moved on!
So we looked around, found someone we liked, did a feasibility study with them; which came back at about $1.2m. That's ... a bit much. And there were still lots of things about the design that needed fixing (and there might not be room on the block to fix it). At that point we decided we were using a volume/project builder as we were convinced we couldn't afford a custom design. I'm not sure I'm still convinced that was true, with the benefit of everything we've investigated/decided I think we should probably have engaged an architect with a relatively strict list of requirements, and then pimped the resulting design around a few builders.
So anyway, further looking around led us to a volume builder who "could do everything we wanted"; they said to think of them as custom builders who also have a range of standard designs. We were told the best way to come up with our design was to use the standard ones as a basis ... one standard design was brilliant but was too long for our block, but we managed to find another which we swapped-around to be what we thought was pretty close to what we wanted. So having paid our deposit, we awaited the tender ... and when it came back it had the floorplan we'd asked for but nothing else. No extended garage ceiling-height, no under-floor heating, none of the bathroom cabinetry we'd wanted, the OdourVac hadn't been included, basic windows & insulation, and so on.
Further enquiry told us they now "couldn't" do the under-floor heating, and given that suddenly there were things they wouldn't do there was a fair bit of back-and-forth in working out exactly what they would do. So we worked with them a lot to get an idea of what they would & wouldn't do, and finally we had a list they said they'd do ... so we left it with them.
For a few months, after which we'd heard nothing.
So we started getting antsy & looked around at other alternatives again. In the middle of that process, we had a pretty major "a-ha!" moment with the design of the house and the fact that we should've been building a 2nd separate garage rather than trying to squeeze it into the same single building. So we asked the builder if they'd started any of the estimating or drafting yet; answer came back no; we asked whether we could rearrange the design and get them to quote on the rearranged design; they said yes; we asked if their private certifier would approve the separate garage idea; they said yes. So we hastily drew-up something (a few rooms moved around & standard ceiling-heights for the house) which wouldn't need any walls moved nor the stairs, and left it with them again.
And again ... nothing came back, so we continued being antsy & started working more seriously with a few others.
Eventually they got back to us, after 6 months of "no response" (despite my attempts to get in contact), and told us they'd decided they wouldn't be able to do it & would therefore refund half our money. Hmmmm. OK we;d used some of the surveys they did etc, so they agreed to refund a bit more & we only paid for the stuff we eventually used. Reality was the Sydney market had gotten busy, they had a bunch of standard knock-it-up-fast work to keep them busy, and were no longer interested in major modifications to the design like ours was.
That lengthy & painful process brought us eventually to the people who are (touch wood!) building our place, Alkira Homes. We'd settled on having a separate garage (allowing more normal ceiling heights in the house itself), and the main area we spend our time being upstairs to avoid being shaded by the big gum-tree across the road in winter as well as hopefully catching more breeze. There weren't many builders, who'd do the OdourVac (we'd given up on many other requirements by now), and with private certifiers who'd approve the separate garage we wanted (ie. as well as the inbuilt one). Well OK, it's quite possible that there weren't many builders who had salesfolk who were willing to ask their private certifiers rather than just saying "no" based on their understanding of the CDC rules (but anyone who's built a project home knows that's just how it works).
'Tis based on the Olivia 38.2 sq (which was called Olivia 36 sq when we first started looking but the marketing department bolted an extra 2.2 sq in the meanwhile ).
What we've ended-up with
Again, a summary (just the highlights I guess):
- we won't be living in a leaky mouldy 50's house any longer
- a floorplan which is moderately re-arranged compared to standard (stairwell remains untouched!)
- main lounge area faces north, with covered verandah out front (hopefully catch sun in winter & block it in summer)
- the "study" (really a 2nd bedroom) downstairs has a covered patio out front, again for winter sun & summer shade
- wide sliding doors upstairs & downstairs to catch breezes, big sliding doors at the back downstairs to hopefully encourage flow-through
- thermally-broken frames on the double-galzed windows, the ground-floor rooms we might want the window open have security louvre-windows (which also have decent abaility to seal when shut); plus R2.5 wall insulation & R4 ceiling
- OdourVac system for all toilets
- 2 bedrooms upstairs, plus another large bedroom we'll use as a hobby-room; downstairs 2 more bedrooms almost like a "guest suite" with the downstairs bathroom separating them.
- a pretty large kitchen/dining/rumpus area downstairs opening onto a ~5m x ~7m alfresco
- the bathroom cabinetry we wanted
- enough storage (most of the cupboards aren't in the floorplans below but we intend a few)
- included 2-car garage plus separate external high-ceiling 2-car garage (reinforced floor for a hoist)
I'll update this with colours/selections when I recall what they are/were &/or find examples.