Chas Adlard, Australian Author

Becoming a Blockie

My wife and some friends prompted me to write this short "how-to" book. I am neither a professional builder, engineer or architect - as you will shortly realise. Once upon a time my wife and I are were just like the guy and gal in the city street, any guy and gal - and any city street - but, boy.... was that about to change!

This book is the result of mistakes - our mistakes - made in blind ignorance as we challenged the rural scene. If, per chance, this book gives you the guidelines by which to identify a suitable rural block, saves you $$$$$ and encourages you to become an owner-builder - I'll be bloody amazed!

Every State or Territory has them, perfect days in a perfect year. The glorious awakening to deep blue skies, a warm bearable temperature with a light breeze to guard against bothersome flies. In short, you feel good and so does your neighbour.

Oh, sure you've discussed moving with your partner before, but now, this Sunday morning seems to add a reality to your dreams. Out of the window the detached houses of urban sprawl suddenly blend into a chain of bricks and mortar, closing the metre or so gap which maintains individuality. The best neighbour in the street was up at six mowing his lawn, ignoring the laws governing noise pollution, but hell, he's a good bloke - no need to dob him in.

A local canine crosses your unblemished lawn to deposit his business and your mood starts to sour. There is a sudden screech of tyres, then an object of steel and rubber blurs across your vision accompanied by the awesome sound of souped-up V8 power, causing a further lapse in your good humour.

Gaining momentum, your urgency to eradicate any ties with city life has already started to foul your ability to make sound judgements. One hour later the family are bundled, full of excitement - your excitement, into the car. Turning out of your driveway, you pass the bus stop that takes you within easy minutes to the train and workplace. Shortly, you pass the kids' school, conveniently positioned near the large shopping centre with its many amenities that drew you originally to this area.

As you leave the houses behind you the countryside unfolds with green promise of perfect crops. The rainfall for this year has been spot on target - no flood, no shortfall or drought. Having purchased the Sunday paper your partner, by now every bit as keen as you, is browsing the numerous pages of rural real estate. Yes, yes, found it. Found it!

The "block" is secluded all right, five kilometres down a rutted road. Nobody notices either the sign "Dry track only" or the endless bone shattering corrugations. The view, what a view! Big as Australia itself, comments like "on a clear day you can see forever". The kids are climbing over the rusty chain link gate and broken fences. What a view!

Got to have it, got to. Walking down the hill is easy, what's this, a creek - crystal mountain water? The scenery (what are those plants?), excited parents and near hysterical kids make the walk up the hill (hang on, was that crystal hillwater?) easier. Got to have it, got to!


Don't join the endless list of bloody galahs (for Adlard: see top of list) - think - geography, topography, and history.

Geography: science of earth's form, physical features, climate, population; features, arrangement, of place.
Topography: local geography, features of a district, or the knowledge or description of them.
History: methodical record of public events, past events, course of human affairs, study of these, systematic account of natural phenomena.
  (Definitions taken from the Oxford dictionary.)

Let's throw these three titles into the blender. We know their individual definitions, so what do we have now? Geotopohistography, exactly!

If the area is known as Hurricane Point, Flood Plain Valley or Hell's Desert we probably should ask ourselves, why? The blown out budgets of local government often mean that the events due to natural phenomena and district features are overlooked by rural developers and council alike. This creates the potential for a man-made "natural disaster of the future" and therefore is not the best area for you to find the "great Australian dream". Certainly, the landscape itself could have changed positively with the combined skills of nature and man. Check, ask questions and recheck - be safe, not sorry.


As cities grew around Australia the surrounding countryside also changed as a result of progress. This change was mostly detrimental to the natural flora and fauna as was the practice of farmers who chained, burnt and harrowed their way to broader acres. Only now are we becoming aware of the damage this has caused with the high degree of land erosion and drought which threatens every Australian's lifestyle.

Great dams and catchment areas were built to trap the much needed water for city and town water supplies. In doing so, rivers, creeks and overflows were diverted from their natural course leaving the country scarred with the memory of their passing. Also, subterranean water been depleted by the indiscriminate drilling of bores.

It is amazing how the yearly rainfall can vary so vastly over a matter of ten to twenty kilometres. Often country towns parade this statistic proudly on their boundary markers, and too often the statistics are wrong, as high rainfall seems to become more and more scarce.

I know, I know, this is a boring and all too familiar theme. It is, however, true. So as you stand there on your prospective block of land ask yourselves what do you want from it? And, how can you help protect it from your own wants, needs and dreams?

 What is a block?

Often called a Rundle or Pitt Street farm these small holdings are within commuting distance of the nearest city. In larger cities such as Sydney, living on such a block entails an ever increasing commuting distance and often means staying within city limits during the working week, and returning to country living only for weekends. In smaller cities, such as Adelaide, most of these blocks still lie within a reasonable travelling distance of the city lights.

The size of the block may vary from one, five, ten, twenty or forty acres to much larger properties. Even now we still tend to refer to the size of blocks in acres despite the age of metric living. With the exception of land suitable for market gardening, blocks less than a few hundred acres would generally fall into the category of non-viable farmland. This is often reflected in the price asked for the land. Indeed the price asked for a five acre block varies little from the price asked for much larger blocks. It is the privacy factor that is generally thought the most important ingredient for the new blockie.

Let's take that a wee bit further. We are constantly aware of the plight shared by many of our farmers. How too much wet or too much dry weather rules their livelihood. How then do we, the pseudo-cocky, on our tiny acres match up to these worthy landowners? You're right - we don't.

Our small acreages, in the main, are subject to some sort of weed control, either by stock grazing or slashing. Having lived on big and small rural blocks, we personally are convinced that five acres of privacy is quite sufficient for all our needs. Of course, such sub-divisions are not easy to find so you will have to choose your best option. However, there is an enormous difference in the type of property you can eventually get for each dollar spent.

 Dirt Roads

Even a short length of dirt road or track can become a nightmare in wet weather. Hell, I've seen cars bogged in a city driveway. Your dream property and access road might have been the result of a recent sub-division and as such has not yet stood the test of extreme weather conditions. Check it out! Who's responsible for the upkeep of this road? The local council, the developer, or you? If you're a long way from the bitumen you may want to ask the neighbours a few questions about the road's durability. How often does the council grade the surface? Does it allow passage after heavy downpours? How long will your vehicle stand the endless punishment? What are the dangers of encountering stock or 'roos? Will the family lose its sense of humour once the novelty of the new property wears off? One other thing, if your car is a symbol of your own worth and you are a fastidious owner, forget it!

 Compass Points

Purchasing a good compass when looking for new properties can be a help and might save endless arguments in relation to where north really lies etc. While north is the preferred direction for your home to face, country living must also allow for the prevention of grass or bush fires whose ferocity comes largely from the north. With the use of a local map or land title copy the compass will make planning easier.

The Beginning - the prospective move

Let us restart the planning stage once again. You will need to consider the ramifications such a move will have on every member of your family. Don't forget to include those members who are residing away from home. They too, may be affected by such a move.

- your bank balance stand the change?
- such a move have a detrimental affect on your career/s?
- your children’s education take a down-turn?
- their future studies be affected?
- all your hobbies and sporting events be lost?

Certainly, you will find this move causes certain pain - better off facing it now. Rural living is marvellous once you've to the new life style, but it does not suit everybody. Think about it!

OK, you've thought about it and this book is either lining the waste-paper basket or you want more! I'll presume the latter.

Grab your map and decide on what area turns you all on. I guess you will need to list your own individual needs and then throw these thoughts into the ring. It may help if you use a MUST, COULD and SHOULD approach. Listing under such headings makes life slightly more bearable - no-one for instance gets thrown out of the ring.

The next step - go and have a good look around the area of your immediate choice and other areas, just in case. Try not to fall in love with the first block you see - it happens easily enough though - my wife just had to remind me, didn't she? Oh, that land...

Check the following:

- who owns the land - seek permission to walk on it first (leave your pets at home)
- where will the electrical power come from - is it 3-phase?
- where will the telephone connection come from?
- where will your water supply come from?
- what is the road access like?
- what are the fences like?
- how steep is the land?
- does it offer a good house site?
- how many trees and scrubs does the land have to offer?
- just how many noxious weeds cover the property?
- is the land suitable for stock?
- what should you expect from your council?
- is the asking price fair in relation to the area?
- is there an easement, right-of-way, give-and-take situation, lien or any other restriction over the land or title?

We will now cover these topics at length.


This is too often the greatest obstacle that a "blockie" must face. Even if you are lucky enough to have power on or adjacent to the boundary of your new property you must do your homework. The initial expense is often a killer when applied to your carefully planned new budget. Getting this power from your boundary to the house site, four hundred metres away, is another problem.

The alternatives to mains power are often too expensive to even consider and then only by the wayback-outback dweller. Generators, although not overly expensive, have their limitations and the noise - the noise! Free-lights or wind generators supported by accumulative (battery) power seem to be used very little these days. Solar power will become more and more popular as its viability becomes more economical.

Reminder: You must, MUST do your homework on this subject before signing any contract. The average real estate agent will often become less succinct when asked about power to the block. For instance, a general wave of the hand at this point by the agent towards a power pole (see glossary) or power box which happens to be some three hundred metres away is meant to reassure you that power is, of course, readily available. The costs could be enormous and run into tens of thousands of dollars. CAVEAT - LET THE BUYER BEWARE.

Get in touch with your State or Territory power company, get a representative on site, get a quote in writing - survive the shock!

If you have only just begun looking for a block or blocks you may not want the pleasure of a real estate agent's company and as such not have all the information you need at hand in relation to the whereabouts of available power. In this case look at surrounding properties to either side of you and look for tell tale signs of either electricity, gas or telephone. Quite often with underground services there will be marker posts at periodic distances indicating which utility is buried underneath. Poles of course are easier to detect, especially in South Australia with the well known "Stobie" pole. As a rule, two overhead domestic electrical lines (single phase) equal sufficient power for most homes and three lines (three phase) will allow the consumer extra for items such as large reverse-cycle air-conditioning systems and arc-welders.

If the new block is at the end of a cul-de-sac in a new sub-division you may want to reconsider your choice. Unless the power is already available you may be paying the account for the whole neighbourhood. At one time it was quite easy to obtain an interest free loan from the power company enabling you to pay off the installation costs over a few years. These loans are becoming more rare and consumers are often faced with the installation costs up front.

It is a common practice for the power company to provide their services by overhead (encumbering) lines where you, as the consumer, will have to pay the extra cost of an underground installation. To be fair, the power companies have suffered large financial losses due to claims for negligence in regard to bush fire prevention. A new power line has, however, been developed which prevents cables arcing during high winds but this cable has a much shorter working life than previous lines.

Tip: to avoid high utility costs use a common trench to carry all services. Common trenching may also find one utility company happy to create the trench where the other back fills it on completion of all installation work.

Trenches must meet with the power and telephone company's specifications. Do not try to cheat. We have, for instance, always dug a little deeper than the required specification demands. On occasions when we have met obstacles such as bed rock we have found the utility company more than happy to negotiate an alternative arrangement when faced with this type of dilemma. However, these days, power companies are less likely to entrust this type of work to the unskilled.

If the power company is willing to carry your power overhead you may still want to consider the alternative underground connection. The overhead lines coupled with the unsightly poles do nothing to promote your block and the surrounding landscape. Don't forget the onus falls on you to keep the trees well away from these overhead lines.

The power company will gladly supply you with handy literature which explains clearly their requirements and the services they can offer you, the consumer. You can often obtain literature to show the right and wrong approach to tree and shrub planting within close proximity to power lines.

We recommend that power be made available to the house site prior to building. This will mean your utility trench is covered in once and for all and with any luck will contain all your needed services. Pre-planning is the key to an organised home site. The power can terminate at a carefully positioned power-board. This power-board will need to be installed by a qualified electrician in strict keeping with the power company's specifications and be sited within a short distance from the proposed dwelling's power inlet.

That's enough of Mr. Nice Guy. So many power companies have caused the consumer unneeded headaches by not insisting that 3-phase power be available to all. OK the initial cost would have been nasty but, in the long run, well worth it. Directing the power to country properties bit by bit in a band-aid fashion has again proved expensive. So often the electricity crosses paddocks to terminate well away from road frontages. Then instead of having power at hand for the newly sub-divided block you are faced with a costly process that will give you just enough power for the job. This method has other problems too - your neighbour will have to grant an easement so that the power company can have access over the land. Even though the power company has a right under legislation to insist on this, they are loathe to create waves. They would much prefer that you get involved and also pay your new neighbour compensation for their trouble. Our advice to you is don't get involved. A negative answer from your new neighbour will ensure years of hostility and make your new life in a rural area most unpleasant.

Wouldn't it be easier for all if the power company had stayed, in the main, on the sides of the road? As a utility server shouldn't their obligations be more customer orientated and as such bear a higher portion of the cost? Within the area designated as "metro" the cost to consumers should most definitely be nil.

Tip: don't be afraid to fight the proposed cost. With so many employees at various levels of management you only need to find one that has a better grip on reality. Hell, failing that, there's always the politicians.


Once again let me amplify the need for forward planning. How many 'phone lines do you need? How many extensions do you need? Now and in the future?

With computers becoming more and more affordable and networks, both local and international, giving us a link from home computer to world wide information services, more homes will need a second line.

Tip: if you are a computer addict and your prospective block is outside the metropolitan 'phone area, forget it - unless of course you're happy with huge 'phone bills. A country 'phone is fine for voice where time is easily measured but computer time gets away from you and so does the resulting 'phone bill if you are paying STD charges. Go and look for an area that has a better tariff.

The telephone company used to provide its services to country areas at very reasonable cost but nowadays the expense is gradually increasing. The service is, however, generally top class and representatives are always on hand to give advice, if needed. Initial expenses may be high, but not frighteningly so, and the shared trench proposal may considerably reduce such cost. Again, don't be scared to question any preposterous charges.

Water - and not a drop to drink!

Very few blocks have the luxury of lots of water and even fewer are fed by the local water company. You will need sufficient water for:

- drinking
- washing - clothes and bodies
- toilets
- stock
- garden and/or paddocks

Water will come in many forms:

- town or mains supply
- bore - private or shared
- dams - spring or rainfall fed
- holding tanks

One thing is for sure, you will need this water for your survival. But at what price? Obviously, we all know the exorbitant cost of mains water but few realise that country water can be even more of a threat to our pockets. This expense confronts the new "blockie" immediately.

Mains water

You may consider yourself lucky or unlucky depending on the amount of water you use and the charges the water company make.


A bore is a luxury, especially if the water is of good quality. Shared bore systems come in two forms: good and bloody terrible. Check out the following:

- is it a private or shared bore?
- what is the quality of the water - sweet or salty?
- is it suitable for human consumption or for only stock or neither?
- how is it supplied?
- and at what rate - litres per minute, hour, day etc.?

Tell-tale signs around air-conditioning systems and water taps may alert you to the so-called water quality. A bore that supports your lawn and garden may also kill your water-heater in a very short time with mineral deposits etc.

A sweet water bore is great and if your new block boasts one you are indeed lucky. Before you sign any contract get in touch with the local bore pump company, as most bores will have some form of identification on the bore housing or at least show the name of the original installer. The pump contractors will usually know everything about your particular bore including the depth and its reliability. Failing this, most states have a government department that keeps a record of all bores, their depths and salinity. Your state water supplier will also carry out water tests, generally without cost to you, providing you take a water sample to their nearest laboratory.

If your new block is totally "dry", drilling a bore might be the answer. Your local bore contractor will be able to answer your questions and will provide you with the necessary forms to fill out for your bore permit. The cost of this permit is seldom more than a few dollars and is available from the Environment and Resources Department or equivalent organisation. Sinking the bore, however, will generally cost you thousands of dollars by the time you've included all the equipment.

Most bores are perhaps not so sweet and the water has certain properties that can resemble a weird concoction. Generally, however, their existence on your new property is a huge bonus. Carry out the same history check with the local bore pump company.

Bore depths vary from a few metres (generally within cooee of the shore line) to many hundreds. The bore or well housing contains the pipe by which the water is carried to the surface. The use of black poly-pipe "D" to withstand internal pressure is preferable these days to the endless lengths of galvanised pipe so prone to deterioration and high maintenance costs. The required lift is created, generally, by a submersible pump operated either with the aid of a windmill or powered source. This pump has a series of impellers that maintain the lift. The submersible pump and poly-pipe is supported by a stainless steel cable that is secured at the surface housing.

We have found the installation of a 5000 gallon (22,500 litre) header tank to be of great value for constant water reticulation. This tank is situated above the bore and is a reservoir for the underground water which is then pumped to needed areas by an electrical or motorised pump.

Important: it is often a requirement of council that "blockies" preparing to build a new home should have a serviceable fire pump. This self-powered pump can be used in conjunction with your rainwater tanks and dams.


Dams are used extensively around the country especially in relation to stock watering. Just be a little wary of the worthiness of such holding ponds. If you're out and about during the winter months then I would expect such dams to be full or nearly full. This does not mean they hold during the summer. Many dams are too shallow and suffer heavily from evaporation. Some have porous bases that soon drain away and some feed the hungry trees that surround their banks. Check and recheck - ask questions and be satisfied that the answers are realistic especially if the dam is declared "spring fed".

If the dams seem good, how will you use the water? Your reticulation system would involve some sort of pump, possibly a header tank (ensures adequate pressure and holding capacity) and could service your toilets and washing needs. How much will this cost?

If you have plans to dig a dam, then first check with your council for advice. You may be interfering with a water table which is designed to supply city or town catchment areas. You may also be catching water that is not too good for your family needs, for example, either from a piggery or septic run off. Digging the dam, after checking the regulations, needs to be done preferably by a local operator who knows the area and has the skill to properly construct your dam. There's nothing worse than a damn dam that is always dry. The dam will need a run-off so ensure that this excess water doesn't cause extra problems to you or your neighbours. In areas that have difficulty in maintaining dam water due to porous ground you can buy clay as a liner or, as we did with some success, line the dam with a plastic or specially designed membrane. Keep the dam area clear of trees and shrubs.

Rainwater tanks

This leaves your drinking water which would be collected in rainwater storage tanks. Now, hold on a minute. What if there is absolutely no aqua-juice on this slice of paradise, which is of course, your new block? Can you survive on holding tanks alone?

If you plant a native garden of tough suitable plants, use a town's carwash facility, install special water-saving shower nozzles and a timer - yes. Your initial cost may be a little heavy but not suicidally so. The number of tanks and their size will be determined by the amount of water that your roofing can deliver to these holding reservoirs. It may pay to check out your average rainfall about now, for your own peace of mind.

There are several types of rainwater tanks on the market - fibre-glass, poly-plastic, steel or corrugated iron, P.V.C. lined, pre-cast cement and concrete. All these come in various sizes. Tanks holding up to five thousand gallons (22,500 litres) can be carted to the site whereas pre-cast cement and concrete tanks in the region of twenty or thirty thousand gallons (90,000-110,000 litres) are built on site. Fibre-glass tanks are popular as they offer a clean alternative and are relocatable.

Tip: take a bit of time placing your rainwater tanks. Don't make a landmark out of them (some shame is hereby attached to yours truly with one house we had).

Like most construction the footing, slab and/or base is most important. All rainwater tanks should have a properly prepared base. It should be level and have a good compacted layer of mixed sand and metal.

Water tanks, any water tanks, are an absolute necessity for any land owner who is without the privilege of either mains water or a sweet bore (drinkable water). The larger concrete tank, if correctly designed and built, can be hidden almost entirely and also be used for recreational purposes. How? Simply by incurring a little more expense by excavating. Once in the ground it can provide the base for a pergola, gazebo or even an area for car parking or shedding. Sure, you'll have the cost of a properly constructed tank roof in addition to the excavation expense but against your overall building cost this will be peanuts. Be sure of one thing, building on a block is far, far more expensive than a comparative city dwelling.

On completion the new concrete tank's base will need a covering of water to avoid speedy drying and inevitably speedier cracking. When needing to fill your rainwater tank, you may have to buy in some water, which is expensive. If the block is completely dry your alternatives are nil - fill it. Your sub-contractors or builder, in most cases, will also need some water during construction.

Note: you will need to stress the importance of this water and tell your subbies to turn all taps off when not in immediate use.

Your building plan should ensure that sufficient downpipes are installed around the prospective dwelling to collect as much water in your tank as possible. Once at ground level, you can join the 75mm downpipes into 100mm sewer pipe. This will ensure that all the water is carried away swiftly and also the extra construction strength of the pipe will have a longer resistance to the ever searching tree roots. One inlet to the rainwater tank is not sufficient, so twin the pipelines.

Tip: if possible, have a fall to the rainwater tank, no matter how slight.

We made the mistake on one occasion of allowing the head pressure (the height of built- up water in the drainpipe) to feed the water into the tank. Wrong. In the summer a particularly nasty algae developed within the areas of pipe still holding water. City stormwater is often helped from low lying buildings to the street drains by this approach, which is fine but not, as a blockie, for your only source of drinking water.

When connecting the pipes to the tank, you can install built-in filters which may work up to a point but the simple design most used on blocks seems to be a sludge conversion pipe. This is installed just before the 100mm pipe joins the tank. A right or left bend is installed with an extension pipe falling well away. The end of this pipe is fitted with a threaded blanking cap. This cap must be above ground level or at least in a sump connected to a seepage run off. This diversion pipe allows roof and gutter debris to gather inside and is therefore easy to remove by flushing - simply remove the blanking cap periodically. Most tanks would have two inlets and therefore two diversion pipes.

Note: once the continuing fall has terminated into the diversion pipe you can then have the inlet pipes ascending into the rainwater tank.

Roof gutter guards of metal construction should be fitted to avoid leaf build up and as a fire retardant. The synthetic guards don't seem to work well on a long term basis.

The reticulation system

PolyD piping will do the job. Work out where in your paddock/s you need water and simply lay it out. You will, of course, need some fittings which will include risers. We first installed poly risers but in hindsight would prefer to use short galvanised ones - less likely to break off. Using star-droppers with the poly risers work but is an additional cost.

Even the most level of level suburban blocks give engineers, let alone the average home-owner or builder, anxious moments when dealing with falls. What is a fall? Pour water on a cement path and watch the direction of the water draining away. This direction is the fall. If it puddles you may have inward falls caused by a depression.

Most of us can pick either a gentle slope or cliff face but the less obvious fall evades us. For steeper falls purchase a string-line and line-level, secure one end of the string-line, on the ground, at the highest point and extend the line. Place a tomato stake or such-like in the ground on the low side and attach the extended line. Pull tight and position the line-level, adjust the height of the line attached to the stake until level. When level, measure the distance from the string to the ground - this is the measure of the fall. For the less obvious fall a rigid "level" will suffice, albeit not quite so accurately. Carrying a two or three metre length of clear hose blocked at either end which is filled two-thirds full of water may also help you determine the extent of the fall. Just watch which way the water runs. Of course, when you cut your home site the use of a dumpy level will make this job both easier and more importantly, reliable.

So what does all this achieve? It will give you knowledge of water run-off and may prepare you for added expense in relation to site preparation or alter your decision to build on that particular site. A water-course through your property may allow you to build a suitable catchment area.

We've all seen how a blocked stormwater run-off on the road's edge causes the water to be diverted around the blockage or even build up to the point of flooding. A large rock, similarly, in a creek causes cascading water to pass on either side. Your new home and any changes to the landscape can create the same problem - your problem. We've dealt with the fall of the land, now these problems are highlighted in a practical sense.

The fall, created by the cut for your house site, is generally called a batter (preparation). This, in simple terms is a freshly cut, sub-soiled bank, which is not a pretty sight by any means but one that can be simply rectified at little cost. This new fall will probably direct water down towards the prospective home's rear walls and footings. In the city dwelling this newly directed water source could the mean extra expense involving agricultural drains (also known, as French or seepage drains). Your initial block plan should determine whether you will need such a complicated remedy. Examine the left and right falls at the top of the batter, it could be that there is a sufficient fall to re-direct the water to pass to one or both sides of the new dwelling. It may mean using some of the cut soil to raise the area above the batter so that it will act as a baffle to redirect the water run-off. Careful though, check that this diversion isn't adding to the problem.

There is another utility that is a most important factor and although a little cart before the horse-ish, I'll throw it in now - so to speak.

Septic tanks

Most country blocks don't have the privilege of a sewer main and as such rely on a septic tank. Although health departments or similar organisations were generally charged with approving septic tank installation it is now common practice for local councils to be given this task.

It is often necessary to have percolation tests carried out before approval will be given. These tests give a measure of the ground soakage capability.

If your prospective block is situated within a water catchment area you may need to get a representative on site from the designated department in your particular State or Territory before planning your home site. By making councils responsible for such permits it is easy to see the advantage for both parties. The council representative can cover all the considerations in relation to the proposed home site including house, garage, sheds, rainwater and septic tank positioning. The "blockie" can therefore have in writing the necessary approval for all building and utility installation.

Tip: find out which way the septic tank should be positioned in the prepared hole just in case your septic tank installer is delayed when the tank arrives. The truck driver delivering the tank may not be an expert in the plumbing trade and as such could not be expected to know. It will, however, be extremely costly to re-hire the driver and his crane to right a wrongly positioned tank at a later date. Mark me down for another idiot point here.

From the house the wet areas and toilets are protected from feed-back septic smell by a back fall in the pipe system that allows a constant cover of water in the base of these pipes. Ventilation pipes are also used and for this reason often are known as "stink" pipes. In the city areas these pipes are generally installed against the exterior dwelling wall and terminate just above gutter height.

Tip: ensure that these "stink" pipes extend above the roof line of your country home. The country home is far more prone to breezes which direct the smell downwards, especially in hilly regions.

Septic tanks are liable to smell, especially during the first months of use. To avoid this unpleasantness you may purchase a special product to alleviate such odours. This product is readily available at most hardware stores. A dead mouse or two may also speed up the breakdown process.

As with city dwellings a series of inspection points (I.P.s) are installed for ease of maintenance should the need arise. The sewage pipes (100mm) then fall to the septic tank. From the tank a trench or trenches are dug to certain specifications. The tank outlet is then connected to a seepage pipe which lies within the trench and is surrounded by a protective shroud. Large aggregate stones (or metal, if you like) are placed to both sides and then covered with a membrane before being completely covered with soil. A properly designed septic trench should not weep even in a wet season.

Anaerobic septic systems are, however, becoming more and more common. These systems are far more expensive and involve yearly maintenance. Although hailed as an environmentally friendly system their worth is still subject to conjecture. They are also more costly.


What do we mean by access? Long term use and abuse of roads, tracks and driveways leading to and from the property. I've already discussed some of the problems that you should consider but now we need to look at your own responsibilities and costs.

If the council is doing a good job looking after the roads leading to your property boundary you then only have the problem from there on in. Oh, and out. The longer the driveway, the higher the cost of maintenance. Pre-planning will save you heaps.

Let's face it, you'll need a driveway or road that has sufficient room for two cars to pass each other while approaching from different directions. Easy isn't it? You'd think so, yet most get it wrong. The surface should be hard wearing but not too costly. We've found that 40mm dolomite is far more durable than the smaller metal. It looks good, after compaction - OK it costs a little more, but it will save you in the end. Check though, with the local quarry to ensure the colour is constant. Sometimes the bluey-grey dolomite comes to you a grizzly red.

How do we put in a driveway? That part is easy but we'll do it all at once - roadway, dam, rainwater tank site, home site, shed site etc. Understand? That's it, pre-planning.

 All we need is a BIG machine!

But we'll get back to that....

Access is also important in relation to emergency vehicles. The Country Fire Service or Authority are often faced by the impossible - no way in.

While your home is being constructed, heavy vehicles laden with equipment such as fibreglass rainwater tanks need an open path and a large turning circle - make sure they've got one or damage is likely to be done.

You may of course encounter extra problems such as natural water courses, man-made drainage ditches or other obstacles that need to be overcome. Large pipes come in handy to overcome water problems and if correctly installed will just about last for ever. Steep driveways are another thing, but with a little bit of planning they can be made into an easier incline. Again, think machinery, think big.


Walk around the prospective block's boundary and look at the fencing. If the posts are sound, droppers not bent and the wire intact you are fairly lucky, for no matter how loose the fence the remedial work required is small. While we are on the subject of fences and boundaries, you may want to check out the legal position. Are the boundaries in the right place? When was the property last surveyed?

In the city area, councils generally determine what type of fencing may be used and impose an encumbrance over new sub-divisions. The fencing cost is shared by the neighbouring householder after a "notice of intention to fence" has been served and both parties have reached an agreement. In the country the rules are similar only in theory.

Your new block might have fences to most sides in pristine condition. In direct contrast the remaining fence might be in poor repair. Your neighbour on this boundary might be a cow cocky with a thousand or more acres to manage compared with your newly found twenty acres. It would be inconsiderate at this stage in time, as new owner-come-neighbour, to insist on shared fencing costs. Let's do some homework.

To fence an acre would need some 230 or so metres of fencing wire plus additional materials. That would involve a minimum expense of several hundred dollars for material and labour costs, depending on the terrain and sub-soil composition. Gates are an additional cost for the average sized paddock steel gate.

Imagine you now have bought land unfenced, comprising twenty acres. Your sum cost for this amount of fencing adds up to a nightmare. However, for the cow cocky with over a thousand acres to fence - $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. So don't expect miracles from your prospective neighbours, but by the same token, of course, they may be in a position to compromise. For instance, you might provide the materials and they supply the labour or vice versa.

The type of fencing for a country block varies depending on the type of stock you may want to keep, if any. Sheep, sheep and lamb, pig etc. are just a few types of wire that come in two hundred metre rolls. You will need other fencing material such as perma-pine posts and star-droppers, top wire or barbwire, some box-section bolts or pins, a post-hole digger, crow-bar, dropper driver, wire cutters, a level and fence-strainers. Of course, the necessary skill comes generally after exhausting and frustrating work which isn't quite the bees-knees. You will experience the joy of joys as, deciding on just one last twitch with the strainers, the fence parts company with your end of the line and re-rolls itself defiantly.

With both the metal star-droppers and perma-pine posts costing more or less the same price it may be better to stick to the pine only. Not perhaps, on a larger acreage or very steep block but certainly around the house site. Star-droppers hold the fence down well and are easy to be unattached when re-straining the fence. Perma-pine posts tend to look much nicer and if the fence is correctly attached it will withstand quite a lot of wear and tear. If you live in an area which is populated by a large number of kangaroos, as we are, try deer-fencing. This is twice as high as ordinary wire fencing and does a pretty good job. You will, however, have to secure the base firmly as kangaroos much prefer to lift the fence than jump over it.

Tip: If you are putting in a lot of new fence, find somebody who has the necessary machinery to dig the post-holes for you. Digging post-holes by hand, especially in the summer months, is not an enviable task.

Don't be too scared by the prospect of doing the job yourself once the post-holes are dug. It is really quite simple. Just remember this rule of thumb - if you're putting in a six foot post at least two feet of it must be in the ground. No need for any concrete, just ram the dirt in tight with a few rocks etc. Ask around until you find somebody who can show you how to make a box-section and how to tension and affix the wire. Good Luck! (Chuckle...)

When planning your fences and in particular your gates remember to think a little lazy. Why? To answer this question I'll remind you of the outback swaggie. This old bloke had been trekking for a hundred miles and was mighty tuckered out. Suddenly, out of a dust cloud appeared this old ute and driving it an even older cocky. "Yeh, youse want a lift, mate?" asked the driver. To which the tired swaggie replied, "Get stuffed, open your own flaming gates."

You'll appreciate this yarn far more if you make the blue of installing a series of gates that need opening several times a day, especially if it's raining. If you are anticipating owning some sheep, a horse etc., you may need to fence your driveway completely to allow easy access for both the family and visitors. The latter might forget to shut these gates and your stock might run out in front of a vehicle and cause a dangerous situation.

Tip: if you fence off the driveway, install the fence well back and allow room to grow some small native bushes. It'll give your home entrance a lift. However, do not plant anything too close to your driveway otherwise you've got another problem to face in ensuing years.

The land - it's how steep?

First of all, how many acres is it supposed to be?
Does it suit your needs?
Is it so steep that your stock will need two long legs on one side and two stumpy ones on the other? (see glossary)
Does it have a view? Is the view rural, city, neither, of high-voltage pylons or worse?
The most important thing, I guess, is do you just love it? You do? OK, you've got your check list - go to it.

 House site

Be flexible, select three sites and then examine each for the following factors. Will the house when built stand out like the proverbial dog's balls and generally be a subject of ridicule that will come from different areas - your nearest neighbours, conservationists, rubber-necks on weekend drives and should you provoke them, your new enemy, the local council. Does the position of the proposed home offer an economic and practical site in relation to driveway access, power and telephone availability and climatic change?

Now, what's the key to success? Well done! Pre-planning.

Do not think of today - think of tomorrow and onwards. No, you can do better than that!

Here, let me help you - where shall we put the:

- house?
- granny flat?
- pergola?
- vergola?
- gazebo?
- patio?
- garage/carport?
- other shedding?
- chook shed?
- aviary/s?
- dog kennel?
- tennis court?
- swimming pool?
- spa?
- sauna?
- visitors' parking area?
- pathways?
- driveway?
- garden beds?
- vegie patch?
- fruit trees?
- chook run?

There, that should do it. Remember, we are going to bring in a BIG machine.

So many "blockies" end up with a house and little else around them. On steep blocks, later excavation is not only expensive it is often impossible.

Tip: should the council site representative prove difficult despite your well meaning manner, delay showing your real choice of site until last. We've found it successful in the past! Oh, and keep that smile plastered all over your face no matter what happens.

Established trees will generally not cause your new home's foundation any real problems. Your footing engineer will be more interested in any new plantings that you may have in mind. Of course, as in all walks of life, we encounter different schools of thought. Your local Country Fire Service will admire you greatly if your whole block is covered with bare ground, if not concrete. Environmentalists will regard you in high favour if your home is either not built at all or is completely covered with a rain forest lookalike. Your local council will receive gratefully higher rates for a home of outstanding value, preferably not seen from any viewpoint on passing roads or from nearby terrain.

Perhaps all you need is a little commonsense and an adaptation of some of the views illustrated. In short, don't add a problem to the original landscape - become part of the environment.

Soil tests: at some point in time a soil test will have to be carried out. This will determine the type of footings that are required for any new structure. In fact, the soil test result may disallow any building process at all.

Because of rising costs, very few would-be purchasers carry out soil tests before purchasing the land. You will have to decide which course to take. You may want to sign a contract which contains a let-out clause - subject to soil test approval.

We have bought land, cut the house site, and then worried about the soil test but I'm sure this method would not be recommended by most professionals.

Trees and shrubs

If your new block is situated in the drier areas of Australia and has a few well established trees, you are indeed lucky. The value of an established eucalypt of twenty metres or so has been set at some ridiculous price, so just be thankful for your good fortune. As a rule you should not cut these established trees down in keeping with environment standards so plan your new home and landscaping design around them.

New trees and scrubs can be purchased from any good nursery and by shopping around the price can be kept low. The "Trees for Life" organisation is a well established and credible society which provides trees at little, if any cost - in return you may be asked to grow some seedlings for them at a later date.

As avid gardeners we have tried to grow seedlings and established trees and shrubs with and without water. Our findings support the theory that trees in tubes will outgrow the more mature plant. The additional help of a water "drip system" in the first two years ensure these plants have a far better chance of survival. The survival rate varies greatly throughout Australia and in the drier areas may well mean a loss of one in three trees despite your tender loving care.

In the non-tropical areas we found autumn planting to be best and then we only planted the trees and shrubs suitable for the area. To find out which plant was suitable we not only visited the closest nursery but also took careful note of our neighbours' successfully grown flora.

Once again, if you are visited by the odd million 'roo or two you will need to be either very patient or have good fencing. Don't, repeat don't feed them. Why? Oh, you'll soon know why, if you do. We love them - but boy, they sure can put a strain on one's sense of humour. Our lawns, what's left of them, have not been cut for nearly four years. As a bowling green it's not so bad.

Noxious weeds

Every state and territory have noxious plants or weeds. Some are imported species and others adapt differently, as natives, to the vast climatic and soil variations this huge country offers.

Parts of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia share a common plant - Salvation Jane or Patterson's Curse. This prolific plant pleases the city tourist in spring with its resplendent carpet of endless colour, but to the land owner it is a very bothersome weed. Larger property owners manage this weed far better than the average "blockie" by running the correct amount of stock at the correct time or by spraying.

The new "blockie" pent on forming an animal kingdom often doesn't realise how much feed their stock will need. The ground quickly becomes barren and the "Jane" moves in with its tenacity to survive and grow far beyond any of its competitors. The "Jane" allowed to run rampant on a horse property endangers the animals' health.

One of our former properties was situated in hilly country where Scotch Thistle or Artichoke had been allowed to multiply in profusion. We sprayed with some success and a lot of hard work but never succeeded in eradicating the plants as the whole local area contained literally millions of seeds. As the seed was airborne it found no trouble in defeating our attempt at control.

No matter where you live in Australia noxious weeds exist so you must do some homework. Some land, for instance, may give you an expensive problem at a later date.


Your local stock dealer will be able to determine your needs and advise you accordingly. It takes a while to understand the vernacular - terms such as one leg to the acre, two tooth sheep or "Drench, raddle and clout the bastards" - will have you scratching your head or other appropriate body parts in amazement.

Let's examine the most favourite "blockies" pet, the horse. Most of us know that this animal has a leg on each corner and wins the Melbourne Cup, but little else. In truth, this marvellous animal has a character worthy of our utmost respect. A measure of a horse's size is measured in "hands", so the horse must suit the rider and vice-versa. Temperament in horses is generally determined at a young age as it is in most humans. The horse, however, must also respect you and needs a firm but gentle hand.

Before purchasing a horse do your homework on the animal's needs. These needs can be considerable and consume both time and money. The new rider should ideally attend a course of professional tuition, or have help from a knowledgeable friend, before taking charge of their own animal.

On the block, the horse will eat as much grass as a small mob of sheep. Remember, the feed on the block varies throughout the seasons - thus if the local area supports "two sheep to the acre", your horse represents a variable factor which must be accounted for. Good "blockies" will determine the stock numbers needed to keep the block short while not denuding it altogether.

In keeping with this factor the general rule is to have a combination, for instance - one horse, two sheep to so many acres. The weed control is shared and the presence of harmful worms and other parasites are reduced. Your horse will need a supplementary diet from time to time and your local veterinary supplier should be only to pleased to help you on this matter.

The use of your small acreage property to agist other animals is not recommended by us unless well constructed housing and supplementary feed is available. Agistment of this type might also need appropriate approval. Something else to consider is that the more people you invite onto your property, the less privacy you maintain.

Most of us have seen the familiar white fencing used to surround horse paddocks which serves to reduce horse and fence damage. The average unmarked sheep and lamb fence becomes quickly a target for abuse by the horse, who by nature seems to believe in the adage "the grass is always greener on the far side of the fence". The use of barbed wire is not suitable for the preservation of the horse's coat or eyes and can be appallingly dangerous if the horse gets caught up in it - so don't use it.

Sheep are plain bloody stupid.

Got past that one rather well, I thought. In truth, we've had a mob or two and have had to learn the hard way. Personally, with a lean towards smaller holdings I'd rather leave the growing of wool to the experts. If you don't want the responsibility of owning the stock that eats your grass, you may find a local farmer who is willing to supply some for you. Agistment of this type gains you either a little amount of money or meat for your table.

 What council - and ooooh, how much?

Like all levels of government there are honest administrators and those who are less so. Since outsourcing or privatisation has gained popularity within the Federal and State governments, more and more powers are given, not only to the private sector, but also to local government, i.e. councils. Local governments are also under the same type of proverbial hammer and many face amalgamation with other councils that lie on shared boundaries. In well-established areas boasting a large population council rates are often far less than those of country areas. The high cost of road maintenance and town and country planning put amazing pressure on council budgets, especially when most country inhabitants have no access to services such as refuse collection or bitumen roads. It is of course untrue that rates are paid only for these services, but we like to grizzle and gossip.

If you think I'm a "wus" on councils, think again. If the council is honest and their employees of sound mind and judgement, the answer is yes, but often bureaucracy blinds those who are asked to answer the most simple request for sane deliberation. In cases where council or council building inspectors are seemingly unrelenting over matters that you perceive as trivial keep your sense of humour and work from the Mayor down. If all else fails get advice from the Building Tribunal in your State or Territory.

It is important, however, to bear in mind that some extreme regulations made by councils have been brought about by court action of the past. For instance if the specified foundation costs for a building seem bizarre, check the local history for building collapse and consequential litigation.

Zoning areas for cyclones vary across Australia and these categories are set in the interest of all. Remember Darwin's nightmare. Check your wind category before planning your home - it will affect your budget.

Questions to ask?

- which council electorate governs your area?
- what rates can you expect on the undeveloped block, with an average house built?
- will council approve a home on this block of land and if so where?
- how do I carry out a council search and do I need to?
- does council require a copy of the soil report?
- does council oversee the septic installation, if so - what type?
- do we need a percolation test?
- what amenities or services do you get?
- does your refuse get collected? At your gate? In the town (local rubbish hopper)
- how often does council grade the local gravel roads?
etc. etc.


You'll need to carry out a title search. Of course, most real estate agents would have already done this chore but check and re-check.

Easements - utility companies often require an easement to carry their supply over your land.

Right-of-way - this allows the right of passage across the said land. It does not give right of ownership.

Give-and-take - generally this type of agreement applies to boundaries that lie on a river bed, among other things. As the parties involved are not able to divide the river from the middle an agreement is made to use equal portions of land. The land in question may not be included on the individual's own title.

Price - is it right?

Careful here, you can save yourself thousands. Finished all your homework? Good!

- have you examined the local market?
- is the asking price fair in relation to the services available?
- are many properties for sale in the area - why?
- do your prospective neighbours have ten dogs and fifty cats?
- can you do better?

Nowadays, we expect to bargain a bit for land so if you're happy - go ahead, make your bid. Good Luck!


Now all you have to decide is:

Do you want to hire a builder to do all the work for you?
Or do you want to become an overtired, nervous wreck but save a fortune in the process?

In short, do you want to become the prime-contractor and build your own home?

Yes? Oh, you brave, brave b......
Remember that machine, you know the BIG one? Go and get it!

No wait:

- is power available adjacent to the property boundary?
- is the block now legally yours?
- has council approved the house site, rainwater tank site, dam, bore, septic etc.?
- have you carried out a soil and percolation test?
- is the report/s in your favour?
- have you designed your new home?
 - have you got yourself a good architect?
- have you hired a good footing engineer (civil)?
- will the new "cut" be large enough for all your needs?
- have you arranged for appropriate insurance cover?
- and does it include Public Liability?
- have you got a camera handy, complete with a loaded film?
- have you got a good sense of humour?
- do you have tolerance and understand stress management?
- do you have lots of free time?
- and is any other person going to be affected or complain about your next step?

That, of course, involves the big machine. Why a big machine?

Because we are going to do a lot of earth moving and a smaller machine, although it might do the job, will cost you a lot more. In respect to the cost, and this applies to any size machine, you must get an operator who has lots of experience and is proficient.

The machine's size will depend on your property's access. For instance it may be necessary to off-load the machine (it comes to you on a low-loader) on the road side and fix this problem first. A good machine for the job is a track-loader like the Caterpillar 963. Now, it may look like a bull-dozer but it's not (I hope). A bull-dozer just pushes dirt but you'll need the agility of a swinging bucket. The tracks will cut into dirt a bit so don't order the metal for your driveway yet. Don't order a large excavator unless of course you can save money by using both machines together. You could twin these machines if you intended sinking the rainwater tank below ground level. It would also come in handy if you were enlarging an already constructed dam that contained water (you'll need a "dam" fine expert here to avoid ruination). True, at some point we will need a front-end loader which has a swinging bucket. Why? To dig the trenches, septic run etc.

As the big machine and it's operator are costing you close to $100 an hour don't waste time. Explain yourself in simple, clear terms and make sure the operator understands you. It will be one hell of a mess if he/she doesn't. Pegging the area in question isn't a bad idea but not normally necessary if the operator is a professional. You will need a dumpy-level, but the operator should have one. Why? Cos, you need a level place to build on.

Before you do anything take a few snapshots of the block. Why? Because from now on you are going to record all the work carried out on your new property. And, if you have the bad luck to strike problems or, God forbid, have any accidents that involve any person this camera will pay for itself.

OK, now get your family, other people and pets off the block. With a machine this size to-ing and fro-ing somebody's likely to get squashed. Make sure that it isn't you. If you need to interrupt the work, make sure you approach in a manner that allows the operator to SEE you. Yes, I believe you should be, discreetly, overseeing this work. Before you start merrily digging up the block:

- have you checked the underground services?
- do they exist?
- is there an easement?
- if so, have you contacted the appropriate utility company?
- have they been on site and identified the whereabouts of their cables?

Remember the fines for digging up underground cables are severe

Deal with the access problem, if one exists, first. Put in the correct sized driveway and don't forget you'll have the odd heavy truck or three visiting soon. After the driveway you can cut the house, shed sites etc. and dig the dam - if you're going to have one. Make sure you are not causing a problem. Remember, you might need a fall, however slight, in some areas. When you make a cut, any cut, get the operator to put aside the top-soil for later use.

Try not to rip out the native flora needlessly. If you have no alternative, you'll be amazed by the big machine's awesome power. A good operator will plan the slope of your entire excavation area so that water runoff will go somewhere that is both sensible and legal. Councils will often insist on this where water catchment is essential.

 What is the best time of year to build?

Unfortunately, you probably won't have the choice, but if you had?

The dam/s will need to be constructed before the winter rains. The driveway and other sites could be cut in winter but heavy rains can delay building work. OK so the heavy machinery makes a real mess of the land during the wetter months but at least it keeps the annoying dust (erosion) down and you can see if you've created a water problem. The house foundation can be poured, but not in heavy rain.

Don't expect much success if you build over the Christmas break. It'll get done, but the subbies also like their turkey. Complete the house during the summer months. Back to the machine. Have you thought of everything? Don't let this machine go until you're sure. Don't leave a mess. The block should look tidy so get rid of the excess dirt. You may be able to put sub-soil to use, for instance around the dam, but as a rule this dirt shouldn't be simply back-bladed across your paddocks. As sub-soil, it's function is limited - grasses will have a job growing and you could be left with an ugly scar across the land. Of course, you do still have that top-soil? That's it, now you're thinking.

Freshly cut batters can be covered. We tend to buy in a good quality soil which has been screened to remove most weeds. Try to avoid unnecessary retaining walls. They're ugly and afterall this is country living and ground-covers will do the job and look good too. If you have no choice and you construct a retaining wall which is over one metre high, you'll probably need council permission. Hopefully the block is now tidy, except for the new cuts, and you're ready to lay down your driveway metal. Tip: keep a carton of warm beer (takes away the urge to drink and drive) in your vehicle - a six pack or two can achieve favours beyond your wildest dreams.

Now to order the metal and 40mm will last longer. Remember, make sure the colour is consistent if you're putting down dolomite. A tandem truck (one with two axles at the back) carries around 15 tonnes. Most country driveways will soon eat up 45 tonnes so I'd start there. You should ask, where possible, for several tandem trucks to deliver your metal. Semi-tippers or truck-trailer combinations won't be able, generally speaking, to put down your drive in an easy manner. How do they do that? When the first truck arrives speak to the driver nicely and he/she'll show you (remember the six-pack). You can either lay the metal away from the house site or in from the gate. I prefer to drop it from the house site - out, this way if something untoward goes wrong it doesn't stop the other trucks continuing the operation. Tip: as a general rule a covering of sand, loam or metal will be achieved if you use: 1 tonne to 10 metres. At the rear of these tandem-tippers are chains that can hold back the load when tipping. So all the driver-operator does is drive forward at a slow pace as he/she's tipping. Voila, one driveway. After the last truck has dropped it's load and you're happy with the consistency of the metal's depth, ask the driver to run back and forth a few times. He may say no, but you do have a six-pack. What if he's a non-drinker? Tough! Alternatively, if you're fussy like me, you can bring in the metal while the big machine is still on site and get that operator to back blade the drive. The operator will have to be spot on to avoid running back and forth more than twice, otherwise the tracks will turn the metal into dust. Not, the best value for your money.

OK, the essential earth-moving is out of the way! Your new property looks tidy and you have easy access to and from the house site. Heavy vehicles can turn around easily at the site and the new driveway affords them the ease of travel. The camera - just a reminder - keep recording these events. If council or other parties fail to carry our an inspection and you bury the work in question, you will still have a recording of the event.

What next?


How you and your family manage the ensuing weeks will depend a great deal on your ability to laugh. How you relate to each other and your subbies and how you handle the stress. Oh, yes - you will have stressful moments in which to regret your decision to build but if you can think laterally and move onwards then they diminish quickly.

IMPORTANT - you must have time to firstly plan and then to act. A friend of mine who has just finished building his home in the Adelaide hills reminded me that this is a serious point and one often neglected by the owner-builder. You will occasionally face the eight day week and thirty hour day. You will rise early and retire late. Most of your thinking will happen at three o'clock anti-meridian while others sleep. You will spend 20-30 hours planning each week and should allow at least a quarter to a third of your time for such thought. This means that you will often be tired and irritable unless your time management is properly planned and executed. Failure to control time management will probably result in mistakes. Your new home could be the product of rushed and unplanned workmanship that is disastrous and above all, extremely costly.

Unless you're extremely lucky, you're going to need the services of a bank - which bank? Any bloody bank - that will lend money, at a reasonable rate, to a would-be owner-builder. And, these type of friendly banks and the all so important Mr. Manager are getting harder to find. Let's face it, would you lend money to an amateur builder and rely on this person's ability to stay within budget? Probably not. However, if you present a good case they are still around.

I'd suggest you take your council approved building plan to a professional builder and get a quote. You may decide at this stage not to build the house yourself. Anyway, the builder's quote should give you a base for your budget. How much you save as prime-contractor will depend a great deal on you. You could save between $20,000 and $40,000 dollars depending on the size of your new home. Or, you could save nothing or lose thousands of dollars if you make a real hash of things. It really is up to you - how you plan your budget, your cash flow and your needs. How you select your subbies and how you get the best work from them and how they relate to you. Tip: increase your realistic budget by at least another fifteen per cent. Sorry!

Now, your budget must take in all the other million and one things that need to be done around the block. To date, you've already spent a great deal but I assume that money was available and well within your means. It is important to remember that it is the land that carries any future profit. What you do with it and how you present it for future investment is again up to you. The improvements, such as house and shedding reflect on your future real estate sale. It is only the land that increases in real value - the rest is just cosmetic mumbo-jumbo.

OK, you've found a nice bank manager?! Check that he/she is not going on long service leave or being transferred. Why? On one occasion we had no fewer that five managers oversee our loan. Every time they changed places, the progress payments were halted while they inspected the property and charged us for the service. Luckily, we had sufficient funds with which to pay our subbies.

If your funds are limited ask the bank to supply you with a line-of-credit account for, say, $20,000. This will give you a cash flow for both materials and wages. As the prime-contractor you are expected to pay your subbies on time, if you don't......... Bye-bye, bad guy. Next, as prime-contractor you have a duty to the Taxation Department. Go to your local Taxation Office and ask for help. They have some very easy to follow literature and will also supply you with the payment books. I'll deal a little more with this subject later but the onus, with continually changing taxation laws, is solely on you - the owner builder. Your subbies will, generally, know more about this process than you. They will supply you with their builder's licence number and their tax file number. If they don't? Don't employ them.

While we're on the subject of the all so important builders' licence number, it's important to point out that this is considered a government rip-off by many within the building industry. For instance, you are thinking about becoming a brick-paving contractor. You've had some experience of your own - hell, you did twenty square metres around your home. Before you can legally start your business you must apply for your builder's licence. This will cost you a few hundred dollars and later some more money will purchase your supervisor's licence. Hang on, you say, I'm working by myself. Tough, you still need the licence. Some time passes and you get your licence/s, what has this achieved? Did the government department that granted this licence send an official out to check on your work? No! Mr. & Mrs. Joe-Average Citizen don't know that, they see the advertisements in the paper (which have to display the builder's number) and believe that this is a form of accreditation.

The Good, the bad and the oh, so bloody lousy

I am referring, of course, to the tradesperson/s who can either make your job as prime-contractor easy or impossible. You must do your homework FIRST. Ask your family and friends for help. Do they know any tradespeople? Are they any good?

There are many highly qualified people working in the building trade today but unfortunately there are also a few lousy, inconsiderate short-cut bludgers who discredit their individual trades. If, by some chance, you hire one or more of this type you must, as prime-contractor, have the strength to fire them immediately they show their hand. Don;t wait or you will be sorry.

How do we pay our sub-contractors?

Get some quotes first - no less than three, better still five. To do this you'll need many copies of your house plans. If you haven't seen them yet, they break down into the individual needs such as: the footing plan, the septic plan, the electrical plan and so on. We found that twenty copies got us through OK. Occasionally, the subbies will either lose a copy or the copy becomes torn or dirty or wet etc. Keeping a laminated copy on site or pinned up in a shed (if you have one) is a good idea.

Your first quotes will be for materials, such as bricks, timber and roofing materials. Before signing any agreement or contract of sale make sure you have a clause that allows for the return of quoted materials should they be of inferior quality and/or over-supplied. If the over-zealous salesperson at a brick company, for instance, reads your plan and by some chance throws in a thousand or so bricks too many and you sign...... yep, you're the prime-contractor - you should have checked. Of course, by getting a few quotes you can compare the corresponding amounts. Still, a clause in your favour may be worthwhile.

The foundation of your new home is of course the foundation of your new home. Get plenty of quotes and ask both your engineer if he/she can recommend any competent persons for the job. Right now you need or may need the following sub-contractors:

- a foundation contractor
- a plumber/gas fitter
- a white ant contractor
- a septic tank installer (the plumber may also have the correct accreditation)
- an electrician
- an approved bore contractor (if not used before and if you have a bore)

We agreed on an hourly rate with the electrician, plumber and carpenter. Be careful here though, you could get burned. It is important, if you also decide on this method of payment, to separate the cost of related materials - purchase these items yourself. In fact, we prefer to pay for all the materials required for the home - it keeps the budget tidy and labour costs are easier to define. Make sure you understand the tax laws. If you get billed by a sub-contractor with a joint account for both materials and labour you are bound to withhold a percentage of the total amount. This is called the Prescribed Payment System (P.P.S). Without a prior agreement with the sub-contractor to pay materials separately, he/she's had it - you must hold the money for payment to the Taxation Office. Some builders have an exemption granted by the Taxation Office, make sure you check this out first. You will have to define the laws applicable to mandatory Superannuation Funds. Tip: an easy way to determine tough labour costs in many instances is to double the material cost. For instance a brick may cost 50c - made. So the price made and laid is $1.00.

We like to draw up an agreement with the sub-contractor using a simple format. A definition of what we expect, if you like, which also demands a response. Signed by the sub-contractor, he/she states that they have a builders licence, the right accreditation, the right tax file number and the applicable insurance for themselves and any of their own sub-contractors or apprentices. This doesn't let you off the hook. Reminder - you must also have the right insurance. Ask your broker or insurance company for advice on public liability insurance, property insurance and cover for our subbies in case of accidents. Get firm quotes, in writing, especially for the larger jobs such as the house foundation.

Be prepared and able to pay progress payments to your subbies. It would be irresponsible to expect, for instance, the brick-layers to wait until the end of a big job for payment. Just be cautious about how much you pay them and other subbies. You wouldn't for instance want to be pre-paying them. I'm not saying that every sub-contractor is out to con you - but they may be, Tip: you'll need a builders' loo on site before any work can commence. This will require a "longdrop". This hole can be dug by the same machine as your post-holes, so you may be able to get any pre-fencing holes dug while they're on site. You'll need to cover the holes for safety until you start fencing. Note: the "longdrop" has to meet certain health regulations and needs to be the approved size - check this out.

Certainly, you can put in your fences now if they won't cause problems later by interrupting your building process - this includes crossing your soon to be dug trenches. Warning: when using the post-hole digger - don't let anybody, including yourself get close when the tractor operator is digging these holes. The numerous accidents that have occurred in the past are just too ghastly to contemplate. Put the posts loosely into the holes straight afterwards to prevent broken legs.

Now what?

Autumn, of course, is a great time to plant new seedlings but if you can't wait you'll just have to nurse them through any hot weather. If you've dressed the new batter (if one exists) with topsoil then plant away. As your house site has been cut to a good size (?) your new planting shouldn't be a problem while building. We managed this well and when the house was finished, six months later, the new ground-covers looked very appealing.


No mains supply? Install your rainwater tank/s and fill with water. Preparation - you'll need to mark out the position of your building/s. If you have a problem with this your engineer is the most likely and reliable person for the job. Make sure these markers are firmly embedded in the ground. Use your compass at this point in time to ensure the positioning suits the sun.

The work shed

Personally, we like to build a shed first. It offers you and your family somewhere to sit out of the weather. If you need a secure storage space, it provides one. The shed can also be used for a subbies' lunch room. We try to put on power and a telephone to the shed after the house foundation is poured. Councils are much less nervous if you do this in such order. Why? Councils are always scared of the new "blockies" who ends up living in their shed. If the foundation is down for your new home it at least shows them that your intentions are true. The telephone comes in useful while building. If you restrict the line to local calls only, you can then instruct your subbies to telephone you should any untoward problem occur. We include this instruction on our simple contract.

Try to place the shed in a good position. If you are the type who likes to play in and around the shed, you'll know what I'm talking about. Your shed will soon become cluttered (it may pay to make it even bigger than you first thought) and items will have a habit of flowing out and about. If the shed is near the property entrance it will soon become an eyesore. Likewise, if you build it close to the house the same problem may occur - pre-plan. Tip: the shed will probably need good footings. The deep holes required, in accordance with council regulations, possibly could be dug by the same machine that comes to dig the longdrop. Once the shed is built (and I hope it is of colorbond or the like) you can leave the concrete flooring until you have the house foundation poured. Yep, that's right - we get all the concreting down at once.

Pre-planning is the key

Got your builders loo on site? Good.

The concrete slab

Although your State or Territory will have different ideas on the type of foundation and allowable house design I'll deal, as a owner-builder, with the concrete slab, 'cos that's all I've seen used.

Of course, if you want to sink a wine cellar or basement you will need to dig the hole now. We put one in and although a costly item, we were very pleased with the outcome. We did need a rock-breaker and also found the construction of this cellar became somewhat larger than was originally planned. Those among you who want a swimming pool might need to retain the rock-breaker.

If you are building on a rocky base you may find that the engineer insists on a compacted base. This base is then cut into individual piers, as per the footing plan. Make sure the foundation sub-contractor compacts the base first before cutting the piers. The piers must be cut by using the right sized bucket (front-end loader). The discarded dirt should be swung well away from the house area. Why? Let's just say we experienced the alternative, and it cost us.

Even if your new home is fairly large get the foundation contractor to pre-board all the sides before the slab is poured. This process may eliminate the need for any remedial work later. For instance if the ledge on the sides of the slab are not straight and wide enough to accommodate the bricks....Once the base is prepared it will be lined with a plastic membrane. The shed also gets a membrane - lucky shed. Your plumber will be on site now and your under floor pipes will be installed. The electrician may call to put in some conduit, especially if you have a cellar. If he doesn't arrive on site before the slab is poured, don't forget to put in the appropriate electrical inlet sections for both the electricity and telephone lines.

Now we call in the white ant company. Careful here, choose wisely. Although I stand away, at a good distance, I like to oversee this process. Don't forget to treat the shed too.

Most councils like to be present at the "pour", but often don't make it. They do, however, turn up at some stage before this to inspect the site. I'd get your engineer on site if possible on the morning of the pour. DO NOT allow the foundation contractor to pour the slab in heavy rain. There'll be an argument over this - just refer him to your engineer. There are different schools of thought in relation to the curing time for concrete foundations. Ask your engineer for his/her advice. Do you need concrete for any other work? Think. The barbecue area, the mail box, the entry-gate pillars, the swimming pool, etc.?

Thank goodness, that's over.

Well, not quite. If you have put in a wine-cellar they will be back to finish the roof. In the mean time you will have to think and act. That slate or tiled cellar floor will have to go in pronto. Wine racks and any large articles too. Oh, and I guess a stairway. We used a spiral-staircase made out of steel. We simply searched around until we found one second-hand, very cheap.


Now to do the underground work. Bring in the back-hoe and cut good trenches, keep them deep and clean. The septic trench, for instance, will be dug according to an approved plan - make sure it is placed correctly. Other trenches, not on plan, should be positioned where they offer the best path without interfering with other work. Don’t forget, one large trench can carry most of your services - pre-plan.

Ask the back-hoe operator to swing the dirt well away from each side of the trench. It will mean that the back-filling will involve a little more work but that's preferable to the dirt finding it's own way back into the trench. Children quite often help with this process - God bless them.

Once all the trenches, septic run and tank hole etc. are dug out you can let the back-hoe go. Hang-on - make sure you can't use the machine elsewhere. Your swimming or spa pool, does this need a hole?

OK, we're ready to put in our services. A truck load of quarry sand at this point doesn't go astray. Next, get that trusty camera out and take pictures of all the freshly dug trenches. Well done. Let's get back to the sand. It might border slightly on overkill but I prefer to safe guard the 100mm sewer pipes by bedding them safely in quarry sand. Back-filling may not break the pipes but it certainly can squash them.

Why did I let the back-hoe go? Every machine has it's place and back-filling suits a Bobcat better. And, with any luck I can get this work done well and at little cost.

Order the septic tank and drop it in the hole - the right way round (little story omitted here). Get your plumber and/or septic tank installer on site to connect up the house system. You can place the needed aggregate in the septic run off once the Bobcat's on site. Hopefully, you've spent a little more now on P.V.C. 100mm pipes and the septic is well away from the soon-to-be-built house. Once the septic tank is in place fill it with water to one-third of it's capacity. Remember the concrete ship? It floats. So may your new septic tank in a heavy downpour.

Ask the telephone company representative whether he/she is happy to share the already prepared trench. If they are happy with this arrangement you'll probably find they will also back fill the trench on completion of their work. A carton of beer, on the day, may see all your other trenches back-filled. Aaah-Huh! If the power company, natural gas company, town sewer and mains water company have a say, get them involved too.

Deliveries of bottled gas (L.P.G) are quite common in rural areas, although fairly expensive. We changed to the larger tanks which are serviced by bulk-delivery. This is a cheaper alternative. If you're going to have L.P.G., ask your supplier for advice. The very large bulk tanks have to be sited well away from the home, so you may need a trench dug for the copper gas supply line. Tip: buy cook-tops and ovens with electric re-ignition. This will help remove the danger of leaking gas should the knobs be left on. Even the slightest leak can make a big bang. However, your trusty electrician will have to ensure all his/her work is carried out first. Your aim is to have power on at the shed. And, the telephone too. You will need power on the rainwater tank and a pressure pump too.

You can spend time here back-filling the bottom of the septic trench with quarry sand. Now you can place your rainwater (100mm pipes) above them - look at your house plan to see where the drainpipes will fall. Again, back-fill and bed the pipes with quarry sand. You'll need a water tap by the house site and probably near the shed. Black polypipe, which comes in great curled lengths is excellent and easy to handle. You will need the necessary fittings which don't come cheap - so plan your system. Try to use the trenches already available for this water run. The Bobcat can then safely finish the job. Extend the pipes above ground and cover them with tape to prevent dirt or mortar falling in.

Once all services: electricity, telephone, septic, mains water (if you're lucky), rainwater etc. are in place and back-filled - tidy up the block. Of course, you have been taking photos, haven't you? Tip: if you're really are such a fastidious and all so organised person you may have included electricity at the property entrance for powered gates, floodlighting and also have the trench pre-wired for a security system. Underground sprinklers may be pre-wired too. The ball is bouncing your way.

Now everything looks tidy again. We should have a serviceable shed complete with power and telephone, the house foundation, a septic system, a full rainwater tank that is connected and fitted with diversion pipes, water and power is available, a driveway which is 100 per cent serviceable, a freshly dug dam, and all fencing completed.

Oh, if you have the necessary permission - you can put in your bore now. If you don't want one - no worries.

I reckon you should take a break - have a weekend off. Hell, you've earned it.


That's enough of a break - back to work. If you haven't been able to put on any power it may be sensible to buy a second-hand generator. After the home is complete you can re-sell it and shouldn't lose too much on the deal. Most subbies will have a generator, but if you have a non-powered site you will have to spell out your needs before hiring them.

Select an area that will be the subbies' work place come dump. You may need to hire a big rubbish hopper and place it in this area. Try to find a place that can withstand the various nasties, a place, for instance that will not have a garden bed or lawn. Some products used in the making of mortar or plaster are not compatible with fertile land. Make sure bricklayers, for instance, mix their "mud" in this area only.

I would ensure that the property now has a lockable gate/s. You will have to unlock and lock-up these gates, early and late in the day. If you have long service leave coming, now's a good time to take it. Remember, you will have quite a lot of equipment on site and there are many breakers who want to steal it.

Have you many trees overhanging the house site? You may want to hire a tree-surgeon to either pollard the tree or lop off a few limbs. If this is the case, have a look around the block, especially if power cables are being compromised. If you're having a combustion heater or fireplace in your new home, now might be the time to get some wood cut you have plenty of dead branches around. Tip: if you are planning a fire place have it designed so that the ashes can be removed from outside the dwelling. This really saves a lot of time and mess. A suitable wood box can be installed with an internal and external door. If this is positioned next to the fire you'll be happy with the result.

I guess you're ready now to bring on the other subbies. Before we do, one little item of importance. I'm quite fond of the odd "brown milkshake", especially on a hot day. Our advice is don't, don't let your subbies imbibe on site - keep it dry. We've made this mistake and it causes all sorts of problems. Save the grog until you're happy with the whole job, then put on a subbies' party.

Tip: go and select your carpet or floor coverings now and pay for them. This advice was given to us many years ago by somebody who had lived on perpetual concrete. You will need to take a copy of the floor plan with you for the initial quote. Keep the carpet in storage until you are absolutely sure that all the dirty work is finished.

Which subbie you need first depends now on the construction of your house - brick-veneer, double brick or from other materials.

You've already got a:

- plumber/gas fitter
- an electrician.

Now you'll need:

- a carpenter/joiner
- a bricklayer/s
- a roofer
- a gyprock fixer and/or plasterer
- a tiler

And, it is your job, as prime-contractor to provide them with the necessary materials for the job , to offer suggestions where you feel they are needed and to discreetly supervise the construction of your new home. Are you up to it? Good.


By now you would have had quotes for all the major materials and should be in the position to order them at any moment. In other words, you've completed your homework. First, select a hardware store that is willing to give you good prices, smart service and quick delivery. Do your homework. Some of the larger streamlined stores offer top service but many of their products are expensive - so shop around. Incidentally, a telephone book is the quickest and less expensive way to travel.

What do YOU need?

That depends on the type of construction that you, your council, and your engineer have decided on. If you are supplying all or most of the materials then ASK your individual subbies to list their needs. Most important, if you do not understand the building jargon ie: hoop iron - then ask them to explain what it is and what it does. Your engineer may want to advise you on this matter. The materials a subbie orders through you may not meet the engineer's specifications.

You have the foundation so now you will need some load-bearing walls or structure that supports your roof. The roof is subject to a lifting force by the wind and must be secured in manner to prevent lift off. It is also subject to extensive weight during rainstorms. The materials used to build your home are attached together by using nails, screws, straps, ties, struts, pins, hoop iron, reinforced steel, steel rods and plates, mortar etc. As you construct the home you'll become more conversant with their use. A damp-course is laid between the concrete slab and the external walls and may include wet areas as a deterrent against salt damp etc. Important: you must have the materials required by each subbie on site, on time and at hand. Don't, for instance, lock the needed items away in the shed.


If you are paying some of your subbies an hourly rate I'd suggest you note, discreetly, their arrival and departure times when you're on site. We've had some damn good subbies but occasionally you get one trying it on. If you keep in front of the game, it'll help. And, don't spend endless hours yakking with your subbies, it WILL cost you money. Tip: not all subbies get on with each other, but if they do it makes your job easier. Brick-layers, for instance, will often push pre-laid wiring through the various electrical points. It saves the electrician a lot of endless visits and you a lot of money. Of course, you will have to make a deal with the brickies - it could be that the odd carton of beer does the trick.

If your subbies have an apprentice with time on his/her side suggest they keep an eye on the bored youngster. We came on site one afternoon to find a young lad leaping up and down on a laminated beam that cost $2000. He was, until my voice reached his and every other ear within a twenty miles, having a great time. The cement footmarks and indentations, although now suspended high above our lounge - are still clearly visible.


In the very beginning you'll need to order and get on site your windows and sliding-doors. Our last two homes were situated in a Category 2 wind zone. We made the mistake of selecting a cheaper brand of steel-framed window which proved to be a poor choice. During high winds the window panes wobbled. In our present house we installed the best product we could find and have had no problems. Pre-fabricated aluminium double-glazed windows are costly but may save heating/cooling costs. They also reduce dust and noise. Make sure you protect these windows from damage. Your shed, if you have one, is an ideal storage place. If the plastic covers become ripped - mend them. During construction the plastic will stop mortar stains and other general wear and tear from soiling either the frames or the glass.

REMINDER - that this little black duck is not a professional builder. My knowledge of building construction and the products used is limited. Any knowledge is self taught and comes from experience. This experience has been both good and bad. The blues that I've made are easily remembered. I'm just trying to help you - the owner/builder - avoid the same blunders. My knowledge is limited mostly to double-brick homes, as you will see.

Do not try to fool any supplier, sub-contractor or other interested party about your depth of knowledge. Ask your engineer or your architect to explain the function of the footing and house plans. If you don't understand, say so - ask more questions. Ask your electrician, your plumber, your brick-layer or your carpenter to explain any work changes that you can't see on the plan. You might be reading the plan wrongly but, there again, you might be right. If you decide to make a late change to your building plan ensure that council, your engineer and your subbies have an updated copy. Tip: while the house is being constructed watch the areas around the home that are being used predominantly as walk-ways. They'll be the ones that are distinctly worn. In the main, this is where you should plan future footpaths. Why? Because they are, generally, the quickest route to the external doors from the front of the home. Another tip: footpaths, where possible, should bend rather than follow definite lines such as right-angles. It is human nature to take short cuts.


It may pay you to hand-pick your bricks. If you can get your brick-layer involved with this chore, all the better. The brick company will, generally, put aside the pallets you choose in reserve. Tip: buy yourself some spray-cans of marker paint and a thick coloured chalk. On site, get your brickie to show you where he wants his pallets placed. With your new can of marker paint spray the ground where he indicates a position. Don't worry, you can spray the concrete slab too - it won't matter.

You, or somebody you can trust, should be on site when the bricks are delivered. Some brick-carriers will dump the pallets together even though you've marked out the positions clearly. And, once they've gone - you've got it - tough. Always cover your brick pallets with weighted down heavy-duty plastic. The last thing you want is wet bricks as they become too heavy to lay. Because of this, don't be hard on your brickies if they fail to turn up on rainy days.

We favour lotsa timber and lotsa bricks in our homes. On two occasions where bricks where laid in light drizzle, the resulting rain damage never disappeared. The mortar has a washed out look and as the bricks could not be cleaned properly they show the signs of cement stains.

It is essential that your brick-layers keep the brick-work extremely clean. Near enough is just not good enough. Insist on it, or get somebody else. This cleanliness also applies to the application of the mortar and the disposal of the tailings. These tailings are the by-product of each laid brick. As the brickie scrapes the mortar away from the bricks he flicks the tailings aside. Make sure this unused mortar goes to ground and not into the cavity. I believe brick-layers once used tailing boards to protect the cavity. As more and more brick-veneer homes were built this practice ceased. Anyway, try to keep the cavity clean as it tends to override the usefulness of your damp-course.

Keep the b......s honest. If we use the equation - $1.00 made and laid, as we did earlier, we must ensure that most of the bricks end up in the walls. We always clean the site each evening after the subbies have gone home. We pick up all the bricks that litter the ground, including the halves. Now, some bricks are discarded because they are not suitable for laying ie. badly chipped, badly kilned etc. - pick these up and put them aside on a pallet for return. Remember the clause? The other bricks and the halves, clean off and place back on a full pallet for further use. Pick up the empty pallets and stack close the property entrance ready for return. Keep a record of incoming and outgoing pallets. Clean the site of any other rubbish before knocking off. Why? Keeping a clean and tidy site will gradually rub-off on your subbies. They'll realise that you are attentive to detail and may also understand that you are providing a safer working environment. Let's face it - you don't need any accidents and a tidy work place lessens the chance of your subbies, or you, falling over any debris. By picking up the discarded bricks you are also stopping any indiscriminate wastage. Our equation relates to the brickies receiving 50c for each brick laid, yes? Or so we think. In truth, the forgotten bricks on the ground also end up on your invoice. Our last house contained 48,000 bricks - yep, you're right - prevention is better than the cure.

Tip: if you've got face brick and intend putting up curtain rails etc., drill holes in the bricks themselves. We didn't and after a time the heavy curtains pulled their attachments out of the mortar. Similarly, outside attachments need the same consideration.

Oh, one great mistake we made was to forget to provide, or budget for, the steel lintels that carry the bricks over the external windows and doors. Once I was rudely reminded by my brickies as to my short-comings I hastily, as Mr. Perfect, went off in search of the necessary hardware. Wow, (#^&*&#) said I - $2,500 later - heavy duty steel is not cheap. Yep, you too will suffer a burnt-out budget if you're not careful. Some builders may call such events "variations". Tip: if you intend using a bonding or anti-damp proofing agent in your mortar make sure that the product is not over used. If the directions are ignored the product could then have a detrimental consequence.


We made the mistake of covering out beaut new timber with a huge piece of black plastic. The weather, although hot, had been inclement and rain was forecast. Down it came and our new wood remained safe from the elements. Or so we believed. Luckily, after only a few days, I decided to remove the plastic. I'm glad nobody asked me to count those tenacious termites - all I can tell you is that they can do an awful amount of damage in a very short time. It took a lot of convincing for us to believe that they would die once we destroyed the humidity factor. Even then I recalled the white ant company. Any special wood, such as Oregon or laminated beams and matchwood I'd leave at the timber yard unless you have dry undercover housing - such as your new shed.

Tip: if you are using pine matchwood or cedar for your ceilings coat each side with a suitable wood finish. Apply two or three good coats. If you only coat one side of the wood it will cause the other side to warp or crack. Once coated this wood will be good for a very long time.

All external wood should also receive at least one coat of primer before affixed to the house. We tend to apply a top-coat too, even though this wood is sight unseen (facing inward), if your joiner makes the frames for the doors and you intend fitting them at the early stage. Why? Brick-layers often prefer to tie in the doors rather than place wooden wedges (double-brick homes) in the brickwork. While this may help them, you may find the wood becomes stained. You could apply a good coat/s of a pre-finish lacquer - ask your paint supply for advice. The wedges work, but it's really up to you, your carpenter and your brick-layer. All external wood around the home should be painted expediently to avoid weather damage.

If you do put in the door frames, the step or sill on any external frame will need to be covered. This could be done by attaching another piece of suitable wood on top. Why? It is a common practice to nail running boards to the sill which would then scar the wood. This allows a wheelbarrow, full of mortar, easy access and lessens the chance of a spill.

Tip: if you run out of money by the time walk-in robes are needed you can do a very good job by using internal doors and a light frame to achieve the same result. You will need to purchase hanging rails and fittings, door knobs and catches. Another tip: use solid doors internally. They cut down the noise factor and if you shop around they are quite inexpensive. And another tip: try to avoid the use of skirting boards in a face-brick house. They have no real purpose except, perhaps, as dust catchers.


Shop around for the best product available at an inexpensive price. You will probably need sisalation too. Your roofing or gyprock subbies may be able to help you with a good deal here.

Tip: don't install spot-lights against a gyprock wall - joins, however good, will look like shelves.

Your roof

Obviously, this is a factor that the engineer considers in his calculations. If laminated beams are part of your house design get advice on how to best support them to external walls. Our engineer was most unhappy with the carpenter's decision to cut most of the beam away so it could be attached to the wall. The carpenter was not at fault and neither was the engineer. I was at fault for not realising the importance of this construction. As prime-contractor you have the responsibility, as any other builder has, for the whole job. Plans and specifications are not always that clear. And, if they're not? Then ask questions of both the engineer and architect.

Tip: hiring a crane may save both time and unwanted accidents when installing your long and heavy roof beams.

The hoop iron that ties down the rafters, beams or trusses needs to be secured correctly. It should also comply with the engineer's specifications and be made of the correct gauge and strength.

Steel versus tiled roofs: check your prices here as the differences in cost are small. Colorbond steel roofs tend to creak a little during extreme temperature changes and you'll hear the heavy rain but in the event of a bushfire there is less chance of sparks entering via the roof.

Electrical items

You can save heaps! Electrical items are expensive and vary so much in price throughout wholesale and retail stores. We actually bought from a wholesaler only to find the local hardware store was selling most of the products far more cheaply. Decide just how many power points you really need before you start your home. Remember computers demand one helluva lot of points. With older children still at home I had my electrician install no less than ten switches in each bedroom. By the time all the computers, TVs, videos, CDs etc. were plugged in I came up four switches short in each bedroom. And, I just hate improvised electrical equipment. Tip: you can get the telephone company to pre-wire the home prior to lock-up. TV coaxial cables and security systems can also be pre-wired. Smoke detectors and electrical safety cut-off switches - legislation often makes these items of necessity.

Plumbing equipment

Out of all the expenses so far on your block, this cost will most certainly be one of your worst. Choose wisely and don't end up with a shed full of useless overkill. Order what you need when you need it. If you don't need it - don't get it. Tip: when designing a reticulation system draw the plan showing exactly where you intend the taps or valves to be situated. Measure the distances and calculate how many turns or bends you'll need. Make sure the plan is clear and take it to your plumbing supplier. He/she will then put together the necessary pumps, elbows, barrel joints, reducers, non-return valves, stop valves, poly-pipe, cleaners, glue etc. that you need. Make sure that you can return any unused items.

Back at the block and in the shed: arrange the items in order and once satisfied mark them with a texta in matching order. Position a line on each connecting item so you can easily align them as you apply the glue. Remember it only takes a few seconds to bond. It's a bit like a jig-saw puzzle - once you have the basis it easily comes together. It is, however, bloody hard to get them apart again, and, equally as expensive. Your plumber, of course, is the expert but you may save a lot of money by carrying out this preparation.

Don't forget to plan your water inlets, valves etc. between rainwater bore or alternative water (i.e. dam) supply. You may need to have all supplies interchangable with both home and garden. Remember, your dishwasher needs a tap or two, too. Oh, and don't forget a power point.

Lock up

And now - I did tell you - at lock-up, your real expenses begin! I didn't? Well, they do, but how real they become is up to you - have fun now....

I'm about to cut you loose at this point - your needs now will be a matter of individual choice and I'll just get in the way. A few hints though:

- the laundry should open to a well lit washing line that is not hidden from the wind.
- get advice on light fittings and window dressings from an expert.
- don't save on budget by doing your own jobs unless you are both fastidious and exact - for instance, many a home has been subject to an unprofessional paint job that ruins the building's finish.
- kitchen design is a job for a professional - get advice.
- roller doors are best when supported by power controls.
 - built-in barbeques should be situated close to the kitchen and protected from the wind.


Flat: land subject to flooding
Mostly flat land: hilly
Undulating: land subject to flooding
Steep: cliff face
Very steep: Mount Everest lookalike
Magnificent views: steep and very windy
Gully breezes: gale force winds
Power adjacent to property: costly
Power available: bloody expensive
Three-phase power available: see dictionary, under bankrupt
Timber framed residence: transportable
Older home, suits handy-person: bulldozer job
Older solid brick home: salt damp
Original roof: leaks, even during a heavy drought
Secluded country home: road impassable when wet
Plenty of shedding available: messy and/or house unfit for human habitation
Fifty thousand acres - will sell for $10,000: see dictionary, under desert
Home site available: cut without council approval or only bit of flat land
Dog: canine
Working dog: canine accompanied by/and under control of owner
Dead dog: any canine that roams among stock and is completely unaccompanied
Horse: fence killer
Barbed wire: horse killer
Sheep brain: proof that God does have a sense of humour
Fox: vermin
Rabbit: vermin
1 to 299 acres: hobby farm
Free range chooks: come back youse b......s, or fox food
District councils: necessary evil?
Bank managers: see above
Bank interest rate rise: For Sale - owners moving interstate
Owners moving interstate: as above or eager beavers
Good investment property: high financial risk
Friendly visit by bank manager: foreclosure
Must sell: desperate
Reduced to sell: on verge of suicide
Bush block: jungle
Gum studded block: three or four trees of various size
Merino rams: your new investment
Suffolk rams: dunno, they disappeared after an hour
Sheep and lamb fencing: imaginary boundary for owners
Eight foot brick wall: sheep fence
Good fencing: white ant infested posts and rusty wire to all boundaries
Some good fencing: gate still standing on entrance to property
Fencing contractor: masochist
Fence strainers: tool designed by sadistic engineer
Owner-builder: see fencing contractor
Good sub-contractor: rare to find and even harder to keep
Bad sub-contractor: easy to find and hard to get rid of

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