Fully prefab, or owner build? The choice is made.

First up, my Construction Certificate (CC) was finally approved last week, after a lot more messing around with “the clock”. The Council is on the clock for the CC as well as the Development Application, apparently being carefully watched by the powers that be to make sure that they process applications within a reasonable amount of time. However, the clock is still very selective in who it ticks for; it seems to run just fine when I need to submit information to Council, but stops whenever Council has to do something. After I submitted my engineering the clock seized up again for over 2 months before my application was progressed. Someone needs to come up with an independent clock that hasn’t been raised and trained by Council.

Now that the Council paperwork is done, what’s next? Well, things have changed a little since my first grand plan. All things either evolve or die out, and I’m working on evolution rather than extinction for this building. I have had to make a call on how this project will be built, and I am about to apply to do my owner-builder licence – partly because I’m stubborn and won’t give up, and partly because it’ll be fun. What could possibly go wrong?

I figure all of that waiting on paperwork was good practice for the actual build process, and I now have my patience and persistence muscles all warmed up and ready to go.

Building my own house was never Plan A, but it looks like it is the only way to build this house on a budget. The two container home companies who offered an affordable build went bust (see previous post) and based on new quotes from several other businesses the cost of a fully fitted-out prefab house is way too high. These companies all seem to make their money on the interior fit-out, which cancels out the cost advantages of having a ready made structure. In fact there appears to be little to no price difference between the fully-fitted container homes and standard modular prefab homes offered by a range of companies.

My quotes for a fully-fitted out house ranged from around $2,400-$3,000 per square meter, not including external cladding for BAL Flame Zone or site costs, and often not including things like the stairs, the bathroom or the kitchen. Laminate and vinyl were popular materials so the quotes weren’t for a luxury standard of fit-out either. To me it would be crazy to outlay that sort of money to build with containers, where some rooms are restricted to being 2.4m wide, since to build a house using a standard construction method in a BAL Flame Zone has been estimated to cost around $2,300-$3,000/m (plus site costs, but including things like kitchens).

Based on quotes so far, and there have been a LOT of quotes, the logic behind my decision goes like this: my options are to either 1.) save up more funds and get a large loan to build a larger house (not made from containers) and start from scratch with the design and DA, or 2.) try to make this container house work, on a budget. If I went with option one it would be a good investment but would take a long time and I’d want to set up a shed or caravan on my land so I could stay up there in the short term. And if I’m looking at putting in a caravan or shed then I might as well put in a container and fit that out, and if I’m putting in one container why not put in three and make a house?

Also, a major motivation behind this small house idea has always been about avoiding a big mortgage and therefore keeping my freedom to do the work that I love, which doesn’t pay very well (yet) but gives job satisfaction by the bucket load and makes me happy to be alive. That is a big thing to consider giving up just to build a bigger shelter to live in. I also like the concept of clever use of small spaces, with low energy requirements. Those values are all still important to me and the fact that I can’t have a completely fitted-out container house delivered to my site and ready to live in hasn’t completely put me off – although that would have been very nice.

So I will continue with the container home build as an owner-builder, in all my spare time, and the clock can continue to tick slowly.

plane jumstart

I jump-started this plane with a Series III Land Rover, which involved a rapid reverse of the vehicle when the propellor kicked in. There could be a market for extra-long jumper leads. Nothing to do with building a house, but shows I’m up for a challenge!

Have I ever built anything in the past, you might well ask? Not exactly, but I have dabbled in the world of practical things – I kept my old Hi-Lux working out in the bush, rigged up my remote tented camp each year including wiring up solar panels and inverters to run my office, and last week I just finished building some bush-rock steps in the backyard. There are a bunch of other things I have kept in working order by applying different combinations of cable ties, duct tape, inner tyre tube and wire (which are the materials that hold the universe together), but these materials are possibly not at their best when used in a new house build.

You might be relieved to hear that I do intend to use trades. In fact I still hope to get a builder to help with site works and install the containers when they arrive, as I would like them to be structurally sound when stacked and joined and not my responsibility if they fall over. I am currently getting quotes from container companies for just the structural steel works and glazing for the containers (windows and doors installed), so the plan is to have a lockable structure delivered to site. The interior fit-out could then be gradual and also include recycled materials to streamline the budget and give the house some character.

What is the timeline? Well, how long is a piece of string? I’ve decided not to worry about that, the clocks never work properly anyway.

I don’t think the owner-builder licence application can be any harder than preparing a DA and CC, it certainly looks like it’s much simpler (about 4-5 days study apparently including the white card). A bit more paperwork, and the build will begin…