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Construction Consultant, Custom Builder, News

Part 2: The essential items for every luxury custom home.

Part 2: The essential items for every luxury custom home.

For those with a love for the finer things in life, building a custom home will be one of the only opportunities you’ll have to create a sophisticated living space with everything on your wishlist to provide the perfect balance between comfort and style.

In Part 2, we step INSIDE the home to discuss two more must-have features every luxury custom home should have:

  1. Media Room

Not so long ago, we would have said a Theatre Room, however, while we are a nation of movie buffs, a single-faceted living space such as a home theatre isn’t exactly practical – unless it’s just one of seven living spaces in your new home, then, by all means, a theatre room is essential!

There is definitely a place for a home theatre, but if it’s one of only two or three living zones in your new home, you might consider adding a few extra elements to the space so it doesn’t only serve one purpose. Let’s face it, after family movie night, a cinema room will sit collecting dust until the next family movie night. 

What won’t sit empty is a multi-media or entertainment room. You have the big-screen projector and single row of recliner chairs, but you also have the board games, billiards table, air hockey, built-in bar, and it can also function as a music room (and already sound-proofed), home gym and a library simultaneously.

  1. Master Suite

Those signing on the dotted line for a luxury custom-built home are usually the ones sleeping in the master suite, so it only makes sense that all that hard work and hard-earned money is rewarded with a suite worthy of a king and queen. How far you run with that rule of thumb is really up to you, but run far, we say!

For a start, you’ll want some privacy away from the rest of the bedrooms, high foot traffic and noise zones. Ensure your space has SPACE. A private outdoor escape that you can use without all your neighbours seeing you in your dressing gown – perhaps your master is at the rear and has access to the pool. 

A lounge, a bar, and a gas log fire to add a touch of romance; a fully fitted dressing room, and of course, a lavish his & hers ensuite; double showers, double vanity, a big soaker bathtub at the least!

If you have a family, remember, this is your only private space in the entire house, so take your time and make considered choices to decide what you want this space to be for you. 

Architecture & Building, Custom Builder, News

Part 1: The essential items for every luxury custom home.

Part 1: The essential items for every luxury custom home.

For those with a love for the finer things in life (like the team at Merit Homes), building a custom home will be one of the only opportunities you’ll have to create a sophisticated living space with everything on your wishlist to provide the perfect balance between comfort and style.

There are many ways to achieve this, and as one of Greater Sydney’s premier luxury home builders, we’ve been a part of most of them. From gallery-height ceilings and floating staircases to beautiful wooden floors and marble kitchens, the possibilities are endless when it comes to home design.

Here are the must-have features every luxury custom home should have:

  1. Swimming Pool

A staple in every outstanding home, a swimming pool is the number one way to cool off in the warm, humid Sydney summers, when temperatures often exceed 40-degrees celsius. 

If you’re concerned about the additional work and expense required to own one, fear not. Swimming pools are increasingly ranking higher on the wish list for homebuyers in all parts of the country, due to modern pool technology/systems and solar heating making pools far easier to manage, clean, and cheaper to run than they once were. 

Depending on your block, landscape, climate and location, there are all manner of ways to make a splash in this arena. An infinity pool with a view, underwater lighting, waterfalls, a suspended gazebo and daybed, and lush tropical gardens each promise to leave a lasting impression on you and those you invite into your private oasis.

  1. Alfresco Entertaining

Flowing indoor to outdoor living spaces are another hallmark of luxury Sydney homes, and there’s no better way to enjoy the upcoming summer months than by sipping on a cocktail poolside in the great outdoors. 

A built-in BBQ (connected to mains gas, of course!), a clay pizza oven, an outdoor kitchen and a well-stocked bar fridge are all key, but it goes far beyond just alfresco dining these days. 

You could almost think of your outdoor arena as an outdoor extension or version of the home you have indoors. Outdoor living in 2021 comes with dining, lounging and even games zones, a built-in sound system and a TV for match days, a day bed by the pool, a spa, an outdoor shower, a fire pit – and even a yoga pad or meditation deck! 

Outdoor spaces are becoming a work of art, and a good one will not only get you out of the house, it’ll have everyone marvelling at how amazing you are. Work with a good landscape designer and there is no bounds to the social flex you’ll have!

Part 2 coming up..

Part 2 will step inside the home to uncover another two of the most essential items every luxury custom home must-have. 

Custom Builder, House Renovation, Interior Design, News

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, 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, House Renovation, News

Step 5 of 8: Planning a knock-down & rebuild – Street Access

Street Access

The accessibility of your block during the build phase of the project is a significant factor that you may not have considered, and the reason we raise the topic is not simply for the convenience and ease of the tradespeople that will be in and out of your new home site for the next 12-months or more. 

You will need to take into account how accessible your block is for both the demolition and construction stages – especially when you’re rebuilding a new home in an already established area where lots of people already live, work, drive and go to school. 

Accessibility to your new home site, not to mention the impact imposed on all your new neighbours, can be far more tricky to navigate. You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot before you’ve even moved in!

But aside from how your new home will impact your tradespeople and the rest of the neighbourhood, a good part of the reason we advise you to think about it is because restricted access blocks will actually impact on YOU. Specifically, your bottom line.

Please be aware that additional charges may be incurred for things like traffic management or the manual unloading of materials where trades are unable to get close enough to the job site.

Below are some factors you’ll need to consider:

  • Road sizes, including parked cars: 
    • Can large trucks get in? 
    • Can they manoeuvre in and out easily? 
    • What times are best? 
  • Parking: 
    • Outside of the job site itself, is parking available?
    • How far away will trades and deliverers have to park?
    • If parking isn’t available on-site, what is the street terrain like?
    • Will heavy deliveries have to be pushed uphill?
  • Local schools: 
    • Increased traffic at school pick-up/drop-off times
    • Are children likely to be near the job site?
    • How will you minimise danger to children? 
    • Best times for trades/deliveries to avoid your site? 
  • Overhead powerlines: likely in older areas where overhead powerlines are still in use.
    • What is the height restriction for trucks, cranes and other machinery to gain access to your site?
  • Traffic:
    • How busy is the area?
    • What times are peak traffic periods?
    • How difficult is your site to access? Will traffic flow be interrupted if a large truck takes 5-10 minutes to manoeuvre in?
    • Is traffic management required for certain stages/days of the build? 
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

 

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

Step 2 of 8: Planning a knock-down & rebuild – Block frontage & depth

Step 2 of 8: Block frontage & depth

The frontage (generally the block’s width, or the length that runs along the street) and block depth are both major factors which directly affect the type and size of home you can build. 

Not only must it be the right size, but have the right aspect, be in the right address or location, and right down to it having the best school zoning. 

Then, just when you think you’ve found the one that ticks all the boxes, you find an easement running through the very area you had planned to put the shed, or the only north-facing space you wanted to drop in the pool – which has the potential to completely upend all the grand plans you had for your new home, especially if there’s a spectacular view you wanted to capitalise on from the infinity pool.

It’s for this reason that people can be searching for years before finding the right piece of land to build their home on.

The block’s dimensions are one thing, but the actual ‘building envelope’, or the area you are allowed to build on, is another topic altogether. 

There are rules pertaining to the maximum percentage of the land area you are allowed to build on, and a minimum percentage of the land that must be retained as outdoor space, as well as keeping the home within a certain area inside the boundary for various reasons relating to fire safety, noise pollution, privacy, and energy efficiency (sunlight & airflow). 

Thankfully, neither you nor your neighbour can legally build from corner to corner of a house block while also adhering to the various rules in place for new home builds. 

Regulations serve to maintain a high quality of living, protect us, our health, safety and the value of our homes.

There’s also the setback, which is the area of space you must allow between the street and where your home’s construction begins on the block. The setback and easements will be discussed in Step 3. Stay tuned!