Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brisbane City Council provides helpful advice

So far, so good. Brisbane City Council has been extremely helpful this week .

I contacted them on Monday to find out three things:
  1. Given there are some pretty tiny lots in Spring Hill, would we – given our combined lot size and layout – be able to reconfigure the boundaries to create two separate lots?
  2. If reconfiguring the lots’ boundaries is possible, what would the minimum easement width need to be to ensure unfettered access to the rear house and to ensure code compliance?
  3. And, on the basis that we comply with the easement requirements, could we build right up to the easement boundary?
Over the course of the week, the BCC Planning person was so helpful that she not only provided responses to my queries, but she also emailed me through the Petrie Terrace and Spring Hill Local Plan Code (relevant sections highlighted), the Residential Design Single-Unit Dwelling Code (relevant sections highlighted), and the Subdivision Code.

In answer to my queries, she provided the following response:
  1. VERBAL - Reconfiguring the lots in theory is probably okay, but it will make the application Impact Assessable (which means we need to advertise and then consider external comments in our application)…I had already come to terms that this would be the case, because it doesn’t take much in Spring Hill to become Impact Assessable!
  2. WRITTEN - Because the length of the lots are less than 40m, there would need to be an easement 3m wide and - within that – a driveway of 2.5m in width.
  3. WRITTEN – We can build right to the edge of the easement, just not over it.
Having previously read through the Petrie Terrace and Spring Hill Local Plan Code, I already knew that it trumped all other codes, but I am not at all familiar with the  Subdivision Code….I can see that I am going to have to go through that with a fine tooth comb.

If in the end we are not able to reconfigure the lots (Subdivision Code), it will only mean that we cannot sell the back cottage…which is not the end of the world.  

I also asked the BCC lady if we needed a Town Planner to provide the planning report to Council as part of the application. She said that we are not required to do that, but she later emailed that it would be advisable to engage a Town Planner due to the complexities of the Spring Hill area.

I have been looking at all other building & planning applications in Spring Hill through the BCC website and I reckon that I can cobble something together myself – and with a little help from my friends. (Link to site is  

I was also able to find out (WRITTEN BCC advice) that we do not need to supply a hydrological report given the location of our property, and that there are no minimum floor heights that we need to adhere to. That all just means that we are elevated enough to not have to worry about flooding or ponding, and that our property would not impact others in the event of a storm, etc.

So key next step now is to pay special attention to the Subdivision Code.

I’m offline for the next few days, but I’ll post again on Wednesday.
Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Background and Objectives of Renovation

I thought it would be a good idea to write a bit of an overview of what the house is now, and what we want it to be after the renovation. I though it best to wait to write up the milestones until I have a better idea of what they are myself. Hope this gives a bit of a better picture of things.
  • Two existing workers cottages
  • Two Lots
  • Both houses straddle both lots
  • Combined Lot size 546m2
  • Width of property at front 14.738m
  • Width of property at rear 16.934m
  • Average width of property greater than 15m
Cottage #1 – front of property (our house)
  • Is not aligned to any of the houses in the block
  • Has had several alterations made over the last century 
  • Is starting to fall apart 
  • Sits approximately six meters from rear cottage 
Cottage #2 – rear of property (our friends rent this from us)
  • Aligned with – and almost on – rear boundary
  • Aligned with houses in street behind our property (I think that is because in the ‘olden days’ before they built the townhouses next to ours, access to the rear house was via the other street. When they built the town houses – approximately 13 years ago – they fenced the access point off)

Cottage #1 – our house – big ticket items only (the rest will just have to wait)
  • Raise and slide house as close to front and south boundaries as possible in order to:      
o       Maximise distance between house next door (north) to allow better lighting, privacy, airflow, and usable space.
o       Maximise distance between Cottages 1&2, to improve privacy, and create more usable space
o       Ensure legal height underneath for additional living space
  • New kitchen
o       So we can stop carrying buckets of hot water from the bathroom into the kitchen because there is no piped hot water to the kitchen! (And yes, it is safe to assume there is no dishwasher other than that which is human powered)
o       So that the fridge can finally go in the kitchen where it belongs
o       So that we can have an oven that not only fits more than two narrow bread loaf trays in it at once (on two levels – this thing is narrow!), but that also doesn’t need to have the baking goods shuffled around to use the one heat point in its bottom back corner.
o       So that we no longer have to use our camp cooker when we need to cook two things at once. Trust me, one element is only okay if there is only one of you.
o       So we can finally meet some basic health and hygiene requirements
o       To open up the rear of house to allow improved ventilation and lighting (especially through summer time…the house is so hot).
  • New bathroom – in comparison to the kitchen, this wish-list item just makes me feel greedy
o       Existing bathroom (and separate toilet) situated in area of the house where best airflow obtained in summertime
o       Like the kitchen, it has some fairly big issues.
o       Aesthetically – and let me alert you to the fact I am probably understating things – the bathroom could do with a bit of a facelift. I should let you know that it is missing a few internal walls in the shower at the moment because I couldn’t stand the peeling-mouldy-paint hanging off the rotting thirty year old mdf sheeting anymore. As for the ‘temporary’ outdoor copper coloured tap that we installed over a year ago? Well, I have no real problem with this…at least can clean it…there are many things I can’t clean properly. Lucky I am not a an obsessive cleaner!  
  • Second toilet (one that works and that I would be prepared to let others use)
o       Let me just say, when you have six people and a cat lined up first thing in the morning to take care of business, a second toilet is a boon! At least the dog doesn’t use it.
  • Safe entry points
o       Remove existing stairs – both front and back – and ensure there are two safe entry points to the house. When we first moved into the house over three years ago, I tagged one of the rear stair treads with some paint to identify which one was a bit rickety. I think perhaps that is the safest tread now. Hope we get the house done before one of us falls though, as the quote to fix them was for around $2500!

Cottage #2 – our friends place
  •  To facilitate separate vehicle access to the cottage
  •  To create greater distance between the two houses for improved livability and privacy
  • So that we have the option to sell the rear cottage if ever we want to relinquish some debt and reduce our stress levels.
  •  The inside of the cottage is sweet, although the outside needs a little attention.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First post ever - My Spring Hill Renovation Project

On Saturday, our friend (and soon to be architect) dropped by to talk with us about what we want and need out of our prospective renovation.

Equipped with what is no doubt the smallest budget since the early 90's (at least for a sizey renovation project in inner-city Brisbane), a house that is now literally falling down around us, and despite being located in an area that has more codes and restrictions than pretty well any other suburb in a twenty kilometer radius, we finally took our first step.

Well, you could call it our first step if you were to disregard the last twelve months where we almost gave up all hope of ever getting the ball rolling.


Well, everything costs money. And when it comes to planning and building, you can almost always add another zero to any figure you as a layperson might imagine up when estimating potential costs.

The first financial blow came at the end of 2009, when we engaged a Steve Cooper & Associates ( to undertake an Identification Survey and Contour & Detail Survey (AHD). Let me just preface this by saying I could not fault them, and if you need to get some surveying work done, I would definitely recommend them, but at just under $5000…I half expected them to use gold survey pegs! 

The second blow came when we got the quote from a Spring Hill based architect we’d had our eye on for some time, Brian Steendyk ( – a very nice, extremely helpful, and full of amazing ideas guy, who creates fantastic designs and houses and is familiar with local code requirements. (Check out the Steendyk designed Spring Hill Enviro-Cottage at Unfortunately, the quote arrived only days after a close colleague of mine came terribly unstuck during his own major home building project and almost lost everything…including his marriage. 

For us to have accepted the quote, we would have immediately lost over ten percent of our maximum building budget – taking our total budget down to around $70,000. This amount was without any buffer built in. If I were to include the recommended 30% buffer (and given the strife my friend was in, a buffer was essential) our budget was now down to $49,000. 

So we gave up. At least for a little while anyway. 

But then a series of tremendous south-east Queensland storms hit town in September and October, and we lost what little remaining integrity there had been in our back stairs, and were forced to get a builder out to give us a quote to replace the 16 tread death trap. 

There is nothing like the threat of throwing money away to motivate a person to take some action. So armed with the prospect of having to spend money on stairs that would only be there until we finally got the real reno’s done, and driven also by a good deal of spousal pestering, I finally got our friend to come around and talk about what we needed to do, what we wanted to do, what we could afford to do, and who could possibly do it. 

For my next post, I will try and include a timeline, with some information/rationale against each minor or major milestone. Although we haven’t actually had any major milestones yet!