It is very tempting to go to a builder and look through a portfolio of house designs to choose the plan that appeals to you the most. It’s the easy and least painful way to go … but it’s also the least conscious way to go!
The first thing you will probably realise that none of the standard house designs perfectly suit your family or your lifestyle, or for that matter, the land on which you intend to build. It will be a compromise. Almost without exception the standard plans will be market driven, rather than tailored to client need. The idea is to attract potential customers by offering the “wow factor” and then pressing home the sale. The whole equation is based around volume building. Because this marketplace is so competitive margins are tight (especially in Adelaide), and therefore it requires volume turnover to keep business profitable. This also predicates minimum acceptable standards of construction with no concern about climate control beyond the mandatory 6 Star Energy rating, which in itself, is a minimum standard.
Let’s examine some of the shortfalls of the above approach.
- Firstly, the standard plans do not consider the land upon which the house is to be built. The implications of this are: The house may perform badly in relation to thermal comfort due to no consideration being given to orientation. This can mean very high energy bills from constantly running air conditioning and heating.
- Inappropriate choice of building materials, such as high thermal mass products such as brick on external walls and tiles on roofs. These again will drive up energy costs for the same reason.
- No consideration for the topography of the land. If there are falls on site the house plan may be totally unsuitable for where it is to be located. At best, it may require expensive and unattractive retaining walls or unnecessary cut and fill to make the plan viable. With standard plans the builder is not interested in what happens beyond the external walls of the house. This is the responsibility of the owner. What might have appeared to be a cheap option in the beginning can suddenly become unaffordable.
- The standard plan is not tailored to an individual brief and therefore will always be a compromise. Living with compromise for years may have other consequences over time that become unsustainable.
- Qualities such as light, space and view are accidental because they do not relate to site conditions and neighbours, sometimes resulting in rooms that face into side fences with no view and minimum natural light and ventilation and lost opportunity for better outcomes.
The list is more extensive than this, but by now you should be getting the picture. There is a lot more to building than first meets the eye, and much better ways of starting the process than glancing through the weekend papers looking at house plans or knocking on the nearest builders showroom door.
Armed with this knowledge, is it not time to ask yourselves, “don’t we deserve something better – after all, our home is probably the largest financial investment we are likely to make in our life?”
The better way to start is to talk to an architect first.
Why? Because an architect will:
- Design your house for your individual needs.
- Design your house specifically around the assets and constraints of your land, taking into consideration the location of adjoining properties and their respective rooms, trees, topography and other natural features.
- Design your house for its climatic zone on solar passive principles to minimise heating and cooling costs and optimise comfort conditions.
- Design efficiently to save capital expenditure and minimise maintenance costs.
- Consider all spaces for light, view and space optimisation