Balcony Drainage

If you are going to have a balcony don’t forget to consider  the drainage.

You need to make sure that you have a large enough drain, for example this.

And the whole balcony slopes down to the drain.

If the drainage isn’t done properly you are going to have staining on the front of your house.

Here are a couple of photos of balconys with drainage problems.

This is a really bad example of staining where it looks like there was no drain, and the water drains off the edge.


Although this isn’t as bad you can see that some water has been staining the building as water runs out of the grout between the tiles.

Concrete – Preparing The Base

It seems to me that many people think that a concrete driveway or path will cover any number of shortcuts and other sins.

Well if you want a good finish, that will last, you need to make sure that preparation isn’t skimped.

Without a good base for the slab to sit on cracks will soon spoil the finished look of your drive or path.

This is what I would regard as the minimum preparation for laying a concrete driveway or path for a new home.

Well prepared base for concrete path.
  1. The area of excavation, and base, should be a minimum of the area of concrete plus 150 mm all round, except where the edge is against a wall.
  2. During dry weather excavate the area to a depth that will allow for the depth of the slab plus for a gravel base of at least 100mm.
  3. Check the excavated surface for soft areas. Typical soft areas can be; water logged, topsoil, and badly backfilled trenches.
  4. Excavate any soft areas and backfill with gravel well compacted in 100mm layers.
  5. Lay the gravel base to the required level making sure its well compacted, preferably with a vibrating plate compactor.
  6. Keep people and equipment off the area and make sure surface water is not allowed to flow across the area.
  7. Cover with a polythene layer. You can normally buy this off a roll by the m at a building suppliers for small jobs.


For more posts on on getting your paths and driveways correct see Concreting

Wall Height – Standard Bricks

The table shows the height of walls based on ‘Standard Bricks’ of 230mm x 110mm x 76mm with 10mm mortar joints.

Bricks Wall Height (mm) Comments
1 86
2 172
3 258
4 344
5 430
6 516
7 602
8 688
9 774
10 860  Good Height For Barby
11 946
12 1,032
13 1,118
14 1,204
15 1,290
16 1,376
17 1,462
18 1,548
19 1,634
20 1,720
21 1,806
22 1,892
23 1,978
24 2,064
25 2,150 Min Height Non-Habitable Room*
26 2,236
27 2,322
28 2,408 Min Height Habitable Room*
29 2,494
30 2,580
31 2,666
32 2,752 Typical Upgrade Room Height
33 2,838
34 2,924
35 3,010

*For More on ‘Habitable Rooms’ check this link: Habitable Room

For wall lengths see this link: Wall Lengths


Concrete – Cracking

One of the inevitable facts about concrete slabs is that there will be some cracking.

One of the sayings in concrete design is “ All concrete cracks…..the purpose of reinforcement is to hold the broken bits together.”

So what does this mean when you are having a new house built?

Surface Cracking – All Concrete

Hairline surface cracking is not unusual particularly in steel power floated house slabs. It can be caused by

    • Excess water in the mix,
    • Too much work when finishing the surface
    • Or drying out too quickly when curing.

Although the cracks don’t look very good they shouldn’t affect any subsequent flooring such as tiles.

Full Depth Cracks – House Slabs

House slabs are normally designed as a single slab with reinforcement so that any cracks that occurs will be prevented from opening too far.

Cracks of up to 2mm wide are considered acceptable in a floor slab. If you should get any cracks this wide and want a tiled surface its important to make sure a flexible tile adhesive is used.

Full depth Cracking – Driveways and Paths

Good design of driveways and paths is based on making sure that cracks are encouraged to occur, but only at the location of constructed joints.

This is done by making sure these joints are weaker than the main slab.

For construction details and joint spacing see: Concrete Joints 1

The Standards say “cracks other than at the joints are unacceptable if more than 1.5mm”, although most people say that any crack is unacceptable.

More Information on Standards

See pages 16-19 of the Guide to Standards and Tolerances 2007 available here Victorian Building Authority


For  posts on on getting your paths and driveways correct see Concreting


Concreting – Bar Chairs

No we are not talking about seats in a pub.

Bar Chairs are used to make sure the steel reinforcement in concrete ‘sits’ in the right place.

Here is a typical plastic ‘chair”

And here is a different type.

Getting the steel reinforcement in place is very important in making sure you get the best quality slab. . . .and the only way to make sure is to ‘sit’ the reinforcement mesh, or bars, on these chairs.

The chairs need to be 800mm apart unless the bars in the mesh are greater than7mm diameter.

The reinforcement  in paths and driveways should be a minimum of 40mm from the top and bottom of the slab. (This typically means around the middle of the slab)

Some concreters, especially the one who give you a cheap price, will tell you you don’t need bar chairs as they can pull the reinforcement up to the right position with special hooks while they are pouring the concrete*.

This is completely wrong.

Below is a picture of the underside of a concrete slab that had to be dug up due to excessive cracking after using this money saving** ‘technique’.

You can clearly see the rusting reinforcement that was on the underside of the slab was doing nothing to stop the slab cracking.

To ensure you get the best slab make sure there are bar chairs in place while the concrete is being poured…………. I have been told its not unknown to put the chairs in place for a pre-concrete inspection and then take them out before the pour!


*Footnote 1: Many concretors disagree with me. . . but in America where they lay huge amounts of concrete roads they have developed special machines to pull the steel up into place. . . .In 300mm thick slabs they have found that the steel can be 75mm out of place (Federal Highways Administration).

So how can workers correctly “hook and pull” mesh reinforcement accuratly While Standing On The Reinforcement?

**Footnote 2: The actual cost of the chairs works out at around $1/m2 of concrete!

For more posts on on getting your paths and driveways correct see Concreting


Concrete – Reinforcement Mesh

Purpose of Steel Mesh Reinforcement

A lot of people believe that the steel mesh adds substantially to the strength of concrete paving.

This is a myth!

The truth is large areas of concrete paving will crack.

What well thought out reinforcement steel does is:

  • Limits cracking where you don’t want it (in the middle of slabs)
  • If some cracking does occur it holds the cracks tightly closed.
  • A reduced amount of steel across joints helps to make sure that cracks do occur at the joints (where you want it to crack).

Sizes and Types of Mesh Reinforcement

A single full sheet of mesh is 6m by 2.4m.

Many local suppliers will sell you half a sheet, or less, for small jobs if you plan on doing it yourself.

These are the common types of mesh that you can buy in Australia for paving work, with my opinions on what mesh to choose.





5mm dia bars @ 200mm spacing

For garden paths (max joint spacing 2m)


6mm dia bars @ 200mm spacing

For plain paths or patios (max joint spacing 3m)


6.75mm dia bars @ 200mm spacing

Caravan or Boat parking areas


7.6mm dia bars @ 200mm spacing

Front Driveway minimum for plain concrete


8.6mm dia bars @ 200mm spacing

Front Driveway best for patterned concrete


7.6mm dia bars @ 100mm spacing

Polished concrete floors

There are many more types of mesh but they are more specialised, the above will be fine for typical concrete slabs around your home.

Depth of Cover

The minimum cover from the top and bottom surfaces of the slab should be 30mm.

This will prevent the steel rusting once the concrete is placed.

To make sure you get this cover see this link: ‘Bar Chairs‘.


When you need to join two pieces of mesh the overlap should be 2 squares.

Do Not overlap mesh across the site where a joint is going to be. That will stop the crack forming at the joint.


Don’t worry about a bit of surface rust on the mesh, although you should remove any rust flakes. The roughness of the corroded area help the concrete grip the reinforcement.

The alkali nature of the concrete will stop any further rust, as long as the 30mm cover is maintained.


See this link for advice on the thickness of concrete slabs: Concrete Thickness

For more posts on on getting your paths and driveways correct see Concreting


While The House Is Built

If you are getting a house built you can feel lost with not much to do between the contracts being signed and being ready to move.

Here are some suggestions for you to be doing during the wait.

Inspect Progress

I have always made at least weekly visits to inspect progress during construction.

It’s surprising how it gives you a better idea of what’s behind the walls. Y

ou might even discover some mistakes at an early stage and avoid time wasting corrections being needed later.

Growing Plants

With a new garden you will probably need lots of new plants.

One we way we saved money was by buying lots of plants in 50mm pots, some compost and 100mm pots.

We then replanted all the new plants in the larger pots and refilled the smaller pots with either seeds or cuttings from our garden.

To make it easier to water them I set up a very basic spray system.

By the time we were ready to move we had over a hundred reasonably sized plants ready to go.

Making Garden Features and Furniture

I quite like making mosaics so for our last house I made a number of mosaics on concrete paving slabs, which were then set in paths around the house.

These made interesting features.

I also used mosaics to make a small garden table.

Another project could be to build wooden benches and garden tables.

Start a Worm Farm

With most new houses by the time the builder has finished there isn’t much good soil left.

Although you can buy compost and top soil there aren’t many worms and other organisms in it.

Starting a worm farm can help.

To make mine develop faster I used to collect the coffee grounds and tea bags from the kitchen at work to add to the stuff from home.

You could also used paper from the shredder or ask you favourite café to save you their coffee grounds.

Build a Dog Kennel

If you have got a pet that spends part of its life outside you need to be sure its got somewhere to keep out of the weather.

You are getting a new house so why not make sure your pet gets looked after.

Make Pelmets

One way of keeping the heat in the house is to fit pelmets above the windows.

These, together with Curtains, stops the heat being drawn down the cold windows at night.

These can be reasonably easily made before your move and fitted as soon as you get possession.


What things have you made, or wished you had made, before you moved into a house?

Also see Settling In

Wall Length – Standard Bricks

If you are looking designing at a floor plan it can be useful to think about planning the walls based on brick size.

The table below is based on ‘Standard Bricks’ of 230mm x 110mm x 76mm with 10mm joints.

It provides both the wall lengths, and the opening sizes.


Bricks Wall Length (mm) Openings Width (mm)
1.5 350
2.0 470 490
2.5 590
3.0 710 730
3.5 830
4.0 950 970
4.5 1,070
5.0 1,190 1,210
5.5 1,310
6.0 1,430 1,450
6.5 1,550
7.0 1,670 1,690
7.5 1,790
8.0 1,910 1,930
8.5 2,030
9.0 2,150 2,170
9.5 2,270
10.0 2,390 2,410
10.5 2,510
11.0 2,630 2,650
11.5 2,750
12.0 2,870 2,890
12.5 2,990
13.0 3,110 3,130
13.5 3,230
14.0 3,350 3,370
14.5 3,470
15.0 3,590 3,610
15.5 3,710
16.0 3,830 3,850
16.5 3,950
17.0 4,070 4,090
17.5 4,190
18.0 4,310 4,330
18.5 4,430
19.0 4,550 4,570
19.5 4,670
20.0 4,790 4,810
20.5 4,910
21.0 5,030 5,050
21.5 5,150
22.0 5,270 5,290
22.5 5,390
23.0 5,510 5,530
23.5 5,630
24.0 5,750 5,770
24.5 5,870
25.0 5,990 6,010

NB. Maximum dimension between Articulation Joints is 6.00 (see this link: Articulation Joints)

For Wall Heights see this link: Wall Height


Getting the Colours Right

Let face it, I am a typical man and colours don’t really interest me much.

I like to limit myself to the standards of White, Black, Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

I’m even not too sure about Indigo and Violet. . . What’s wrong with just saying Purple?

Don’t start on talking about colours like Aquamarine and Avocado as I will quickly get lost. . . and that’s before we mention the 100 different types of white, or ’50 shades of Grey!

The average project home builder has about the same sense of colour as me so if you want a particular colour here are some things you need to do:

  • Find out if the builder has a standard paint supplier or will allow the use of any paint manufacturer as early as possible.
  • Get that paint manufacturers colour charts and pick the colours and finishes (gloss, satin, matt etc) you want before the colour selection.
  • Make sure the full description of the colours are handed over preferably with copies of the colour cards stapled to the documents for reference.
  • Check the colours are correctly described in the contract documents.
  • Check the final finishes against the cards at the PCI inspection.

Did you finish up with a colour you hate on your house? Or just the wrong shade of white?

For similar posts see Selection

More about selecting finishes including 24 pages of Check Lists in the‘Selection / Pre-Start Guide’


Checking Door Painting

Do you read the guarantees on things you buy?

Well here is one on a door at my local Bunnings store.
II am including this post for 2 reasons.

DIY door installation

If you are going to fit a door don’t rush the job make sure you paint all edges before you install it.

When its an external door I would reccomend at least 3 coats all over if you don’t want it to shrink and expand when the weather changes.

There is little that is more annoying than a door that continually sticks.

New Houses

With new houses the guy who paints normally comes along after the doors are fitted so its quite common that both the top and bottom edges don’t get painted.

This is just one of the things you need to check before you agree to the final payment.


For more advice on things to check see the PCI Guide