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Which heating and cooling options are right for your new home? – Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed ducted gas heating and split system air-conditioning for heating and cooling your home. Here we’ll go into detail on a few other options.

 

Evaporative Cooling

You can tell if a home has evaporative cooling without even stepping inside. It’s the strange raised box that sits on top of a roof. It works by circulating water onto a cooling pad and making it very wet. A fan draws air from outside the unit through the moistened pad to cool it, then passes the cool air into the home. You’ll need to have one or two windows cracked to allow the cool air to circulate throughout the house. The unit will burn out if you don’t.

Evaporative cooling systems are cheap to run and can be preferred to refrigerated cooling, but are limited on their ability, particularly in hot humid conditions or a few days into a heatwave.

If installed in a home with gas ducted heating, it also adds an additional duct in the ceilings in each room or space it’s installed, which can deter some people. 

 

Ducted Reverse Cycle Air-conditioning

The next step up is fully ducted reverse cycle air conditioning. Generally, at the higher end of the budget, ducted air-conditioning both heats and cools your home through one unit. It also means you only have one type of duct in your ceilings as both the heating and the cooling run through the same vent. Even better these days, many systems now come with full zoning, meaning you can turn it off in the areas and rooms you aren’t using, thus making it much more cost and energy-efficient.

 

Gas Log Fire

Many people like the ambiance of a gas log fire as a way to channel a traditional wood fire, but these are often installed to enhance a heating system and create a cosy atmosphere, rather than as a total heating option.

 

Hydronic Heating

By far, our new favourite heating is hydronic, even if it comes at a cost. As the name suggests, hydronic comes from the word “hydro”, meaning water.  Hydronic heating works by circulating heated water (usually via a gas furnace) throughout the home either through your concrete slab or wall panels. 

While the cost of installing hydronic heating is at the top end, the lovely warmth of the slab under your feet on those chilly winter days is worth every penny! Generally, hydronic systems are reasonably inexpensive to run. It’s also a great option for people with allergies and asthma as you’re not blowing air and dust around your house. 

If hydronic or under-floor heating is the one for you, you’ll need to take it into consideration before you get building as the concrete slab needs to be specifically designed to accommodate the pipes.

There are many options, all of which have varying supply, installation, and running costs. However, having your home designed to work efficiently using passive solar principles ensures it will heat and cool more naturally, reducing energy costs considerably.

Using quality insulation, double glazing, draft control, and leveraging nature’s free energy source, sunlight, will have a dramatic effect on the performance and efficiency of each system to deliver year-round comfort.

Architecture & Building, Construction Consultant, Custom Builder

The difference between a luxury home builder and a volume home builder – Part 2

Following on from Part 1 of this post, Part 2 will give you a good breakdown of the differences between a volume builder and a luxury builder, the pros and cons of each and some helpful advice designed to help you choose which option is right for you.

 

Volume Builder

Volume Builders are large companies that build hundreds, sometimes thousands of homes every year. They usually seem to be cheaper to build with compared to custom or luxury builders, due, in part, to their bulk purchasing of building materials.

Volume Builders usually offer house and land packages with a fixed range of designs, and while they do allow for small alterations to the floor plan, changes tend to be somewhat limited and often incur exorbitant additional costs, too. 

It’s important to have a very clear understanding of what is and isn’t included in the quote. Some companies may not provide a complete “turn-key” solution, meaning there could be items required for council compliance that are not included in the final product – leaving you to come up with the additional funds needed to complete the project.

This is especially true when you’re buying a house & land package after viewing the display model. Display homes showcase the very highest quality model of home with all the fancy upgrades and premium extras on display – all very good at getting you into a building contract – but to get the same home built for you, it carries a lot of very high, additional costs. 

The greatest of care is taken in finishing a display model, but sadly, what you end up with is usually not anywhere near to the same level of quality. 

Under the pressure of fast turnaround times and low-profit margin building contracts, careless and avoidable mistakes in the construction, materials and build quality occur frequently, and are often left unrectified in the hope it won’t be picked up. 

 

Luxury Home Builder

If you are seeking a builder who’ll help you design and build a home specific and unique to you, a custom or luxury home builder is likely the one for you.

Luxury builders like Merit Homes take on only a fraction of the jobs as volume builders within the same timeframe, so they’re able to commit the time to design a home to suit the block site, the environment, and the lifestyle needs of those living there.

With the extra time and attention to detail put into designing a home with a luxury builder, it usually comes at a higher cost when compared to the mass-produced homes of high-volume builders. 

Building your new home is a huge investment, both emotionally and financially, so it only makes sense to invest in high-quality build materials and superior craftsmanship.

A luxury home builder will give you the most flexibility when it comes to making decisions about the design of your home, taking into account the size, shape, and elevation of your block. 

Merit Homes work with you, your architect, and interior designer together to create a design that works for the land site – capitalising on views, solar orientation, and your personal tastes – all while providing guidance backed by our decades of experience.

 

On closing…

It’s important to note that once upon a time, most high-volume building companies we see today started out as small, quality home builders that grew too big, branched out as a franchise brand, and in doing so, lost hold of their small company values. 

While rapid growth may prove lucrative for some, Merit Homes has consciously steered in the opposite direction, preferring to maintain a hands-on approach to every home and a personal approach to every client relationship.

Architecture & Building, Construction Consultant, Custom Builder

The difference between a luxury home builder and a volume home builder – Part 1

If you’re researching potential builders to construct your new home and have landed on our website, it’s likely that you already know the answer to this question. 

Usually, by the time our clients come to be working with us, they don’t need any convincing, but if you’re new to the owner-builder game and still have a few questions as to why you’d elect a building company dedicated to quality over quantity, we’ll break it down for you.

When embarking on the exciting journey of building your new home, one of the first decisions you’ll make is who to build with. 

With the allure of lower build costs, house and land packages, tiered appliance packages, selected colour palettes, and shorter build times on offer through volume builders, it can be tempting to go with the cheaper, faster option. Somewhere around 150,000 Australian owner-builders take this route every year, after all, so you definitely wouldn’t be alone.

But if you’re more of a quality-over-quantity, attention-to-every-detail type of person like us, a boutique or luxury home builder like us is likely the right choice for you!

By choosing to build with one of Greater Sydney’s leading luxury builders like Merit Homes, you’ll have a home that is a one-of-a-kind, site-specific design made with premium build materials, hand-selected fixtures, fittings and appliances, stunning interior-designed spaces, and beautifully curated decor.

It’s important to note that once upon a time, most high-volume building companies we see today started out as small, quality home builders that grew too big, branched out as a franchise brand, and in doing so, lost hold of their small company values. 

While rapid growth may prove lucrative for some, Merit Homes has consciously steered in the opposite direction, preferring to maintain a hands-on approach to every home and a personal approach to every client relationship.

 

Part 2 coming up..

Part 2 will give you a good breakdown of the differences between a volume builder and a luxury builder, the pros and cons of each, and some helpful advice designed to help you choose which option is right for you.

Custom Builder, House Renovation, Interior Design

Which heating and cooling options are right for your new home? – Part 1

With the depths of the gloomy winter months now well and truly upon us, the importance of having sufficient, preferably instant heat in our homes is all too real. It’s as though we completely forget how cold it gets every year!

As a kid, I can recall vying for the best spot in front of the gas wall furnace in our single-brick converted-garage-come-family-room, or in front of the combustion wood heater that occupied the lounge room – our only two forms of heating. My parents would have a similar memory when they were kids – of the wood fireplace, at least.

Of course, winter in Sydney is not so tough in comparison to our south-of-the-border neighbours’, who had a rude awakening to a 1.7-degree celsius morning recently – and it was still Autumn!

Likewise, cooling and good airflow through your home during those sweltering summer months can be vital to your comfort, especially impacting how well you sleep.

Unlike past decades when we had very few options, choosing the right heating and cooling system today can be a challenging task. With energy costs on the rise, energy efficiency a large focus and heating and cooling making up about 40% of household running costs, it’s important to make the right choice for your lifestyle and budget. 

Let’s take a quick look at what’s available.

 

Gas Ducted Heating

This is one of the more common systems, especially in homes built between 10 and 30 years ago. Before houses were built on concrete slabs, gas heating ducts were installed under the flooring. One might argue this was more efficient than the ceiling duct method used these days. Because hot air always rises, releasing heat at ceiling level means it mostly hangs out there, not where you need it at ground level. 

It still does the job but if your home has airy 7-metre high ceilings, it’s probably not going to be efficient or a sufficient way to heat your home.

 

Split System (Reverse Cycle) Air-conditioning Units

Another popular option is individual air-conditioners like split systems which provide heating and cooling. Each unit has an external condenser unit and an internal wall-mounted air distributor. Depending on the unit, the kW size in relation to the size of the area it’s servicing and the manner in which you use it, it can be very cost-efficient. 

If you’re the type to run it at 32 degrees all winter and 18 degrees all summer, not only should you consider moving to the northern hemisphere where the seasons are more aligned, you’re also in for some expensive bill surprises!

If used for a couple of hours a day at no lower than 24-25 degrees on cool in summer, and around 20-21 degrees heat in winter, it should cost you somewhere between $40-$150 a year.

Unfortunately, split system units can be an eyesore and have the potential to ruin the aesthetics of your luxury Merit Home. Fortunately, the same type of unit can be recessed into a bulkhead, showing only a grill or air vent. Very sleek!

In part 2 of this article, we’ll go into some more recently developed heating and cooling systems, as well as some basic design methods to ensure maximum energy efficiency.

Architecture & Building, Custom Builder, House Renovation

External home design of the Art Deco era

Greater Sydney is no stranger to the art deco style. 

Evidence of the much-celebrated era are spread throughout the city and surrounds, whether it be in old movie theatres, town halls, churches, hotels, offices, apartment buildings and private homes, all contributing their own ‘tip of the cap’ to the 1920s and ’30s beyond the streets of Sydney.

Further afield, think luxury cruise ships, jazz clubs, glittering swing dance parties, New York skyscrapers, seaside mansions, and the awe-inspiring waterside estate of The Great Gatsby. 

The style is elegant and opulent, and in its day it was daring, bold and exotic. It represented free-thinking, a strong economy, happier times; evolving technology, premium craftsmanship, and it symbolised wealth, power and sophistication. 

It was a style that influenced all things design across the world, from fashion, jewellery and cars, municipal buildings and ocean liners. Art Deco was boldly modernist with geometric shapes, clean lines, metallic highlights, luxe fabrics, bold colour, exotic materials and textures.

Now, a century later, is art-deco making a comeback? Well, we’d be more inclined to believe that it never really left us!

Whether you go all out and recreate an art-deco home from the era, or you pick up just some of the design elements to implement in your new home, rest assured, it will remain a timeless style to adore into the future.

 

Here are some art-deco features you can borrow.

 

Curves: Softly rounded corners are one of the hallmarks of the style, accentuating shape, balance and proportion. Curves bring an interesting, asymmetric element to the facade, or accentuate a grand portico or generous balcony. 

Black accents: Black or charcoal-coloured doors, architraves, window frames and balustrades like that of the railings on an art-deco ship.

White rendering: The natural way to keep the whole look fresh while ensuring the black accents pop. Elegant, contemporary, simplistic and stunning.

Motifs: Classic shapes and patterns including sunbursts, parallel lines, fans, chevrons and triangles were used to layer understated appeal to a modern-art-deco façade – repeated in the interior design with mirrors, intricate ceiling mouldings, cornices, fireplaces, and joinery.

Flat roof: The roof doesn’t always have to be flat but the idea is to allow the art-deco shape, curve and balance of the exterior to take centre stage. 

Horizontal lines: Linear mouldings etched into the facade highlight clean lines, generous proportions and elegant street appeal.

Internally, an art deco-inspired home should implement expansive light-filled living areas, a sumptuous master suite, lavish bathrooms and fabulous outdoor entertaining – just as it would do in any 2021 home. 

Next, we’ll discuss how to bring a touch of 1920s art-deco elegance into your 2020s home’s interiors.

Architecture & Building, Construction Consultant, Custom Builder, News

Step 8 of 8: Planning a knock-down & rebuild – Pool

Interestingly, in recent years, backyard pools have climbed the ladder from being one of the least desirable to one of the most desirable big-ticket items for buyers hunting for their next home. 

This is largely due to the ease with which pools are to maintain these days, complete with automated self-cleaning systems and even “robot” pool cleaners that pretty much barrel out of the pool shed, lift the latch on the gate, dive in, clean the entire pool, bring themselves back up to the surface and drag themselves, utterly exhausted, back to the shed and back on charge. 

Well, that may be the slightly embellished version of events, anyway!

With our beautiful warm climate, it’s not surprising pools are high on the list of must-have’s now that the effort required for upkeeping them is far easier and less time consuming than it used to be, and with things like pool covers reducing water evaporation and heat loss, they’ve become far more energy-efficient, too.

If you do intend to put in a pool either now or in the future, ensure to discuss this with us upfront ahead of construction, even if you don’t plan on installing it straight away, as this can have a bearing on the building design you proceed with and may also impact on the slab design/shape, cost or requirements (foundations of your new home) and construction.

You might have to consider how much more difficult it might be to have a pool dropped into the backyard after your house is built. If the pool is dropped in before you build, the site is usually clear and easy to access. 

If you’re doing it after you’ve built, the intended pool site may become inaccessible because of your house, power lines, or even a narrow nearby street, so a different method of delivery may be required. 

In some cases, if a crane is unable to get close enough to lower a pool into the ground, a helicopter is required to pick your new pool up, usually from a field nearby, and drop it into your backyard, which of course, is more costly.

Architecture & Building, Construction Consultant, Custom Builder, News

Step 7 of 8: Planning a knock-down & rebuild – Neighbours

Here’s another good reason to love thy neighbour!

Should your proposed new home plans fall outside of the standard building regulations, your neighbours may end up playing a part in assisting with the approval of your design.

This can be tricky, especially if they already have their nose out of joint or they perceive your plans will impact on them in a negative way.

Like you would with your builder, it’s important to build a strong, open and honest relationship with your future neighbours – well before you or your builder needs to approach them for their approval of your plans. They’ll be far more receptive to you if you’ve already made an effort to introduce yourself and get to know them.

In most cases, as your builder, we like to meet with your neighbours ourselves. Not only are we keen to build a solid, harmonious relationship with them too, we are also able to take the emotion out of their objections and come up with easy solutions and compromises to any areas of concern they may have. 

Case in point might be a window placed at the top of your stairwell that would look out over their backyard pool or directly into their master ensuite. They’d, of course, like to retain their privacy, but you’re only wanting the window there for more natural light, rather than the view. Fogged-glass that diffuses light would be a great solution here, moving or raising the window height, or using an outdoor screen as a shield might be others. 

It’s important to be considerate and flexible to your neighbours’ concerns. It can turn into a tiresome negotiation of sorts, and you may need to forego something you had your heart set on, but given that you’ll be living next door to these people and may need to rely on them to collect your mail, bring your bin in or feed your cat while you’re away,  it’s worthwhile making it a win-win situation for all parties.

Architecture & Building, Construction Consultant, Custom Builder, House Renovation, Interior Design, News

Step 6 of 8: Planning a knock-down & rebuild – Power Supply

Power Supply

These days, new home builds are connected to underground power, instead of the ugly overhead powerlines that line the streets in older neighbourhoods. 

You’ll notice power lines are missing in all new housing estates, and while they may still be present and in use in your area, slowly, overhead lines are being phased out and replaced with underground electricity – which makes for a far prettier, and safer streetscape. 

In many established areas, and as an ongoing project across the country that will continue for years to come, local councils are notifying ratepayers of their intention to commence the transition to underground power and homeowners are required to produce the funds to pay for the transition. 

We tell you this because one way or another, whether you want to or not, you’ll end up having to install and connect to an underground electricity source anyway, so it may as well be now. 

Your existing dwelling will have overhead power which will be abolished prior to demolition, and you’ll need to arrange the installation of an underground electricity pit. This process can be lengthy but can be commenced prior to the demolition of the existing home. 

How to arrange installation: 

  1. Contact your electricity provider for an application form. 
  2. Once returned, you’ll receive a quote which is usually valid for 30 days. 
  3. Payment is required in full before the quote expires and before works can commence.
  4. Once paid, your electricity pit will be installed approximately 28 days later. 
  5. Once installed, your electricity pit can take up to 21 days to be energised (made live).

So, this process can take anywhere from 60-90 days, depending on how quickly you pay for the works. You’ll want to have this completed ahead of construction commencing.

The benefits of underground power:

Improved public safety: by removing poles there are fewer car collisions, which continue to be a factor in a large number of accidents and deaths Australia-wide.

Improved reliability: underground power results in fewer disruptions and outages after major storm events.

Improved street appearance: No power lines create a more aesthetically pleasing neighbourhood.

Increased property value: There is strong evidence showing a positive impact on property values after the removal of poles and wires. 

Reduction in tree pruning: no more monitoring of trees getting in the way of live wires. Councils save on maintenance, while also allowing the tree canopy to flourish.

Lower costs: underground power has minimal maintenance and operating costs.

Improved opportunity for emerging technologies: helps pave the way for innovation through energy trading, electric vehicle penetration and Smart City strategies.

Architecture & Building, Construction Consultant, Custom Builder, House Renovation, News

Step 4 of 8: Planning a knock-down & rebuild – Drainage

Legal Point Of Discharge

Whether you’re building from scratch on a vacant allotment or you’re rebuilding on a block that was previously occupied by an established home, all sites require what’s called a “legal point of discharge” or LPOD and a “sewer tie”, or “point of connection”, for drainage prior to any works beginning. 

It’s important because for many of our clients who are rebuilding a new home where an old home stood previously, the existing LPOD on the site may not be satisfactory for a new dwelling. 

What is the ‘legal point of discharge’?

Basically, the legal point of discharge is usually the lowest point of the property, being the natural direction for water to flow to. Stormwater that falls on a property is collected and drained to the lowest point, or the ‘legal point of discharge’.

From there, the stormwater is then ‘discharged’ or released into the Council stormwater system, which is usually an underground drain in the street or in an easement. In cases where there is no council stormwater system available, it can be drained out to the curb or gutter in the street.

Stormwater, especially if unable to escape properly, has the potential to cause great damage to both yours and your neighbouring homes. If damages occur at the fault of an unsatisfactory drainage system, liability for the costs to rectify the damage and correct the fault will be the responsibility of the homeowner at fault.

You will need to apply for a Legal Point Of Discharge Report from your council, which will provide you with information on:

  • The Legal Point of Discharge in accordance with the Building Act
  • The Point of Connection (sewer tie) – to the council sewer system
  • The location of any council drains, where available
  • Additional building and planning advice

It is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure the LPOD is satisfactory according to council regulations and any additional costs are the responsibility of the owner. 

 

Architecture & Building, Construction Consultant, Custom Builder, House Renovation, News

Step 3 of 8: Planning a knock-down & rebuild – Easements & Setbacks

If you’ve never built before, you may not have been aware that there are rules governing how far forward you are allowed to build on your block. All new dwellings must comply with building regulations where minimum front, side and rear setbacks need to be met. 

Generally in established areas, the council requires your home to be set back to the average setback of both of your neighbour’s homes. Should you wish to be further forward than this, council approval is required. Depending on the council, this process of assessment takes approximately six weeks.

Don’t automatically assume that approval will be granted. Minimum setback rules are in place to not only maintain a pleasing aesthetic from the street, but also for street safety, privacy, noise, utilities, existing infrastructure, environmental protection, and with an ever-increasing focus on energy-efficiency, the potential solar impact your home will have on neighbouring homes by it blocking sunlight or airflow. 

Having said that, your application to build closer to the front boundary than is currently allowable has a greater chance of approval the less you’re applying to bring it forward. 

Your architect or draftsman will be able to advise on what might be considered reasonable for council approval to be granted. 

You may have wondered why a lot of homes built over a century ago were built right up to the front of the block. This is because the main form of transport for most households at that time was on foot. It wasn’t until later that automobiles became a mainstream form of transportation that town planning changed to allow for parking space at the front of properties.

Ensure to take the existing driveway position into account when designing the new home as you can’t just move it to the other side of the block should you wish to change it, you’ll need to obtain approval directly from the council.

Easements

Does your block of land have any easements on it? It’s actually rarer for your land not to have an easement than it is to have one, but the position and space it impacts will vary from block to block. 

An easement is a section of earth that has services running under the ground, such as gas, water and electricity, which must remain clear of any building in case the owner of the easement needs to gain access to it via your property. 

If there is any type of structure sitting on top of the easement, the council or owning authority has the right to remove it in order to gain the access they need without being required to return it to its original state.

You’ll see any easement outlined on your council plan of subdivision, which will show exactly where you cannot build. You can also contact the easement’s owning authority (ie: council, water) for clarity on what type of easement it is, and in some rare cases, depending on the age, type, and whether the easement is still in use, you may be able to apply to have the easement lifted. 

Next, we discuss Drainage