The Little-Big House Project Brief
Our clients were looking to build their dream home to retire in and enjoy. Their brief to their architects was that they wanted to build an award-winner level of home that they are happy to come home to.
When we heard about this project, we reached out to the architect and requested to be added to the tender list. We thoroughly worked through the pricing stages in our normal fashion and the clients and architect appreciated our attention to detail in the early stages of the process which proved to be beneficial in the construction of the project.
The site was cleared with careful consideration to the surrounding bushland, an important feature of the final aspect, aswell as shielding from the neighbouring golf course. Some grass trees were successfully transported and a large Ironbark tree was removed once we identified the tree was at risk of falling on the house at some stage in its life.
Termite risk was a particular concern of the clients. We worked closely with our pest control contractors at various stages of the build to ensure the extra level of protection was seen through and incorporated to all other details of the construction.
Achieving great architectural outcomes, particularly when incorporated with Energy Efficiency, require a holistic approach to the construction. With that in mind, we were constantly questioning our methods to make sure we achieved our usual standard of best possible aesthetic and performance of the materials we build and how we build them, while still achieving the thermal efficiency intended for this home.
This home was designed with a focus on the detailing required towards air tightness of the house. This was an important factor in achieving the level of thermal performance intended. A simple system used as standard practice in the architectural firm that achieves great results without going over the top. This goes a long way to improving the comfort of the homes residents. With this in mind, we researched the methods used in other, more extreme, climates aswell as consult with other builders who work in this space more often, to try and apply the detailing to this project. The basis of the airtightness comes down to ensuring the external wrap of the house (also known as sarking, installed as a barrier between the cladding/roof sweet and the framing) is as airtight as possible, which has an added benefit of being water tight! This means careful attention to any penetrations like windows, doors, pipes and cables, that might be a passage for loss of heat and cool retention.
Obstacles that we overcame
We experienced the full brunt of Covid related delays for the duration of this project. From Covid exposure isolations to statewide lockdowns, coupled with a decade high booming construction industry causing supply chain demands, delayed material availability and overworked and over committed trades contractors, it was a constant reschedule and juggle to keep the build progressing, even if at times it was a slow progression.
State lockdowns also made it difficult for the architect to visit the project as often as they would prefer. So we worked closely with the architects in a remote capacity and still managed to workshop details to achieve the architects vision. The architect actually commented that he was “glad that the clients chose to go with us, as he doesn’t know where this project would have ended up with another builder”
Incorporating the architects detailing for air tightness and ventilation often clashed with Bushfire Construction Standards, NCC Compliance and manufacturers warranties. We managed to find solutions to satisfy all these needs and still provide a great outcome.
It was, at times, a challenge to ensure the various trades working on the project were on board with the intent of the air-tightness of the design. It involves doing some things slightly differently to the baseline of construction methods. Although, we found that once educated, everyone found interest in the concept and were able to work together for the result.
What we would do differently
We would have pressed the engineers for final designs before commencing the project. Delays on revised engineering details was one source of delay at the earlier stages of construction.
The project was built on and designed to suit a wedge shaped block. This wasn’t given enough due consideration to the angles in the design when pricing the project and provided for some on site complications that required additional attention to solve.
We installed uPVC windows for the first time on this project. This was originally priced for install by the suppliers. In hind sight, the level of detail and critical alignments required for the install of the windows and doors were more than the suppliers anticipated. In the end we installed the units ourselves, due to state lockdowns, but the labour component would be more carefully considered for future uPVC window and door installations.
Three things we’re most proud of
The client’s brief to the architect was that they wanted ‘a home that could feel happy about when they come home’. At handover, the first thing the clients said was, ‘thankyou’. Thank you for reaching out to the architect and thank you for everything during the build. They definitely feel happy and proud of what we have all achieved.
As part of the thermal performance and energy efficiency design intent, the architect arrange a blower door test at the end of each project. This measures the air tightness of a dwelling, which is a direct means to determining the heat loss of a building, thus contributing to the amount of power required to heat or cool a house. This is measured in ‘Air Changes per Hour (ACH)
The average Australian home measures very poorly at 15-25 ach. The architects aim was to achieve a level of 8 ach or lower. Our blower door test recorded a level of 4.13 ach, which i’m told is as good as any of the builders they have worked with in Canberra. For our first attempt at air tightness, this was a great result.
I am also proud of the outcome of this project from a team capacity. As our business grows we are developing a great team relationship.It can often be hard for a business to maintain a high standard when the primary business owner steps away from the general day to day activities on site. The level of detail required for this project and the effort taken to carry through with that detail on site is a credit to the entire team.