Architectural Bridge – Fail

It’s not a new house but it is architecture and my wife or I use it every day.

It’s the footbridge at Footscray Railway Station.

Looks fairly impressive and very modern with its round shape………….So why is it a Fail?

Well you would think that one of the main purposes of this bridge would be to keep you dry as you walk across it on rainy days.

This is where it fails, most of those transparent panels you can see in the roof are in fact steel plates with lots of holes drilled in them.

Consequently when it rains you get as wet walking across the bridge, as if there was no roof!

Not only that but these panels are over the stainless steel handrails on the stairs. If you stumble on the stairs its no use relying on grabbing the rail as with the water streaming down them they are as slippy as ice!

A triumph of architecture over practicality!       A truly Epic Fail!

For more Fails and Unusual Houses go to What the………………….?


Standard Building Contract or ‘Owner Builder Contract’

Some small builders may suggest they can package build a house cheaper for you if you become an ‘Owner Builder’*.

* Not be confused with True ‘Owner Building’ where you have the skills and propose doing a lot of the work yourself

Here are 8 reasons why you should think very hard about doing this:

  • You remove the protection of the standard building contracts.
  • The whole exercise is about removing responsibility from the builder if this is their attitude at the start how confident are you they are going to take responsibility for any problems during the build..
  • Do you fully understand the responsibilities and risks which can include extra costs that can blow your budget.
  • Do you have all the knowledge, skills and time to manage the build properly.
  • You will have to take a course (May be available on line) which is going to take time. This will only give you the most basic understanding of the process.
  • Most banks are very reluctant to lend to owner builders so finance is going to be an issue.
  • You won’t have the advantage of any of the standard builders guarantees which means that if problems arise later you will have to meet the full cost.
  • When you want to sell many people can be reluctant to buy an Owner Built House without guarantees.

I have heard of several cases where this type of job went wrong but it may be successful for you.

For Similar Posts see Choosing a Builder


Round or Slimline Tanks?

In addition to the standard round tanks there are a whole range of alternative rainwater storage tanks available.

One popular shape is the slimline tank which will fit in a narrow space. I have even seen a row of them used as a boundary fence.

Before you make a choice it could be worth thinking about finding out if you can find room for a round tank.

Round tanks cost less because they are easier to make and use less material. Typically the cost increase for a slimline tank over a round tank of the same volume is at least 50%.

A comparison from my local Masters store:

  • $800 for a Slimline 3,000 Litre tank
  • $500 for a Round 3,000 Litre tank

If you haven’t the width to fit a 3000L tank you could perhaps look at getting two round 2,000Litre tanks for the same price as the 3,000Litre Slimline tank.

Other advantages of the round tanks are they are a lot stronger, and easier to clean out.


See this post to find out How Much Rainwater Storage You Need


Consideration of Others – Fail

Here is something that really gives me the 5H!T5 and it seems all too common on newer housing estates.

Some Bogan leaves his car parked across the footpath because they are too lazy to walk another 5m.

No consideration that they have to make people walk in the road.

Is it my imagination?……….. or is it really true that 90% of the people that are guilty of this trick drive Holden Commodores?


What do your neighbours do that annoys you?


For more Fails and Unusual Houses go to

 What the………………….?



Understanding your Survey Plan

I’m used to look at survey plans but I do understand that most people struggle to understand them. Here is a quick guide to help you understand the survey plan for your new house.

The plan below shows a survey plan for the block previously mentioned in the Title Plan Post. It doesn’t include the easement to make it easier to see the other details.

The bearing and length of each boundary are the same as the title plan in the format.  For example the North boundary is at bearing of 92 degrees 0 minutes 15 seconds (92° 00′ 15″) and 38m long.

A North Point has been provided.

The footpath along the front of the block and the nature strip crossover (constructed by the developer is shown, as well as an electrical pit.

TBM stands for Temporary Bench Mark. This means the surveyor will use this feature as the level on which all other level information such as slab levels will be based. Its normal for the TBM to be set at a round number typically either 10.000m or 100.00m. Usually the only time the TBM’s actual height will be the correct height above Sea Level (Australian Height Datum) is when there is a risk of flooding and the floor level will need to be above the 100 year flood level.

Once the TBM has been set the surveyor calculates the surface levels of the block. This is shown by contours, (shown dashed) which are lines of equal height. The normal contour interval for residential block surveys is 0.2m intervals and each contour is labelled with the height it represents.

In addition to the contours the surveyor will show spot levels at the corners and sometimes in the middle of the block. These are marked with a ‘+’ and a height.

From this drawing you can see:

  • The lowest part of the block is the South East corner at 100.00m
  • The highest part of the block is the North west corner at 100.85m
  • The block slopes upwards from the front at approx 0.53m. (around 1 in 70)
  • The block slopes upward in a Northerly direction at approx 0.30m (around 1 in 60)
  • As the contours are roughly similar spacing from each other the slopes are fairly constant.


In summary although there is a slope on the block it isn’t too severe so the site costs for dealing with the slope could be around $4- $6,000.


For more see Blocks


Door Opening

One of the small things that can really make a difference to your house is how doors open……..but its one thing that is frequently forgotten.

This sketch shows a typical bedroom and ensuite layout. (I know it doesn’t show the wardrobe but I’m trying to keep it simple)

A couple of things you need to think about are:

Into The Room Or Not

You will see as usual the doors to open from the corridor, into the room or into the en-suite from the bedroom as in this diag.

Particularly in the case of bathrooms and en-suites it makes a lot of sense for the door to open into the bedroom as this makes a lot more usable room in the bathroom.

It also minimises the risk of sending my wife flying if I open the door while she is at the mirror putting her make up on.

In the case of separate toilets its actually much safer to have the door open outwards.


Left Or Right Handed

How to tell – When you look at the door from the side it opens towards, and you can see the hinges…. which side are they on? That is the hand of the door.

Looking at the door to the bedroom you will see that the door is hinged on the right as you look at it from inside the room.

This works well as the door opens against the wall. Having the door hinged from the left side doesn’t seem much different, but it means you have to walk round the door to get out.

It seems minor but in our last house we got one door wrong and it annoyed us every day for 6 years.

You need to get the door opening sorted out before you can finalise your electrical plan as it will affect which side of the door you put the light switches.

Once the wires are installed and the drywall installed changing the door direction can be a major cost.

More on doors including 24 pages of Check Lists for your new house choices in the

‘Selection / Pre-Start Guide’


Boundary Fence Fail

Driving along a quiet Werribee Street the other day I had to stop to take a picture of this!

Are they trying to recreate the Berlin Wall?

Is it a World War 2 Buff trying to create his own Colditz?

Is that square cover in the nature strip the escape tunnel exit?

All it needs is a machine gun in a watchtower.


For more Fails and Unusual Houses go to What the………………….?


Don’t Over Develop


I’ve heard people say that they have got the best house on the street……………………..but when you see it, its got the smallest garden, or sometimes no garden at all. They have overdeveloped and spent money they will never get back.

This photo shows one example. The house must be around 800-1,000sqm (say 100 squares). It would be twice the size of any of its neighbours.

Most people looking for a house expect a reasonable amount of garden for their children to run around in and room to have barbies in summer. Others want to grow veggies.

I certainly wouldn’t want to see a fence right in front of every downstairs window.

Remember at some stage every house is going to be sold.

If you overdevelop your block you are aren’t going to get as much interest in your home and less likely to get what you expect from the sale.

Signs of Over Development

Here are a few examples

  • Building a huge double storey house when all the surrounding houses are small singe storey.
  • The house is no more than 1 m from the side boundaries and no more than 2m from the back boundary.
  • A swimming pool fills the whole backyard.

Want to build a big house – make sure that you buy a big enough block to avoid falling into the over development trap. Don’t be like the owner of this house that’s been for sale for at least 6 months.

Have you ever been put off a house due to over development?


See Size for more posts on what you need.


Understanding Retaining Walls

Its quite usual when you have a sloping site to need a retaining wall to make the land you build on level, or just have a flat garden.

Retaining walls however are not simple structures. They have to withstand significant loads and need to be properly designed and constructed to avoid failure.

Loads On A Retaining Wall

The sketch above shows a retaining wall. There are three main loads on this wall:

  1. A wedge of soil (shown as a grey triangle) tending to slide down. The size of the soil wedge depends on angle ‘A’ which will vary depending on the soil. Typically the loading will be over 1 tonne/m for a 1m wall. The taller the wall the greater the load.
  2. The additional weight of a car (or any other above ground load, such as piled up dirt) which will be adding to the soil load. Say another tone per m
  3. If water is allowed to build up behind the wall the load is increased by the water pressure. Almost another tonne of water.

Methods of Failure

There are 3 ways simple retaining walls typically fail:

  • Toppling Over
  • Sliding forward on the foundations
  • Breaking with the top separating from the bottom

As one of the main factors in holding up the wall is the strength of the soil at the foot of the wall:

    • DO NOT excavate in this area or steeply slope the soil away from the wall without checking with a designer.
    • DO provide proper Drainage Behind The Wall, AND slope the surface below the wall gently away from the wall. You want to prevent the soil supporting the wall becoming soft and failing.


Usually all retaining walls over a certain height (‘H’ in the sketch above) require a permit from the council, who will want to see that the wall has been properly designed.(Depending on the Council this height can range from 600- 900mm)
‘H’is the difference in height between the upper and lower LEVEL areas.

NB The following walls all have an effective height of MORE THAN 0.9m.

In the case of the tiered wall above you would need to set the walls at least 2 x H apart (Even more in bad ground) before the walls could be considered as separate.

The reason why you don’t need a permit for smaller walls is to save the councils extra work, and they think that damage from a smaller wall failing will be fairly small. It doesn’t mean you don’t need to make sure its properly designed.

What Can You Do

This is NOT  a lesson on how to design retaining walls just helping you to understand the loads involved so:

If you are uncertain its best to get it all checked by an engineer!


For advice on who pays see Retaining Wall Fairness