Buffer Zones

Planning a house layout? or considering builders standard layouts?

Thinking about buffer zones when you are will save you on heating and cooling costs.

So what are buffer zones?

Buffer Zones are basically rooms and spaces that may be heated to a lower temperature, only heated occasionally, or even left unheated in winter.

In summer the situation is reversed and these rooms and spaces will not need to be cooled to the same extent as the main rooms.

As these rooms and spaces are at a temperature between the main rooms and the outside they act as additional insulation reducing the cost of keeping the main rooms at a comfortable temperature.

Examples of Buffer Zones

Typical  ‘Buffer Zones’ are:

      • Roof space
      • Garage
      • Guest bedrooms
      • Laundry
      • Study
      • Toilet
      • Bathrooms
      • Porch
      • Conservatory

An example of using buffer zones can be seen on the following floor plan.

The study, laundry, main bathroom, toilet, en-suite are all enclosed rooms on the South side of the house.

They don’t need to be heated/cooled all the time.

For instance in winter the bathroom only needs to be heated for around half an hour in the morning.

All this reduces the volume to be heated in winter and stops heat loss to the North.

A popular buffer zone in England is a Porch.

We haven’t had one in an Australian house yet and they don’t seem to be very common in standard designs. . .but if you live in the High Country, or Tasmania, one could be well worthwhile.

Conservatories are also less common in Australia probably because of the overheating risk in summer.

They can however be useful for increasing ventilation through the house if properly designed with large top vents.

Has a buffer zone worked for you?

For more posts about plans see the Design Category.

To save money on Heating and Cooling see Insulation


Changing Builders Standard Plans

Most builders will change their standard designs to some extent.

The builder of the last house we built, Metricon, was fairly flexible.

Here are some of the changes that you could talk with the builder about if their standard is close to what you want.

    • Handing. This means swapping the design around so rooms on the left become rooms on the right. Generally this should be available at no cost.
    • Partial handing. This means swapping either the front or the back of the house while leaving the remainder the same. We have done this when we wanted the bedroom and the garage on the opposite sides of the house to the original plan. (Again this didn’t add to the cost)
    • Raising the cill height of windows. We adjusted the cill height of most windows on the south side of the house decreasing the the size . At that time this was a no cost alteration. N.B. The builder will not usually allow any changes to the front of the house.
    • Swapping position of  windows. We wanted to change the position of a patio door with a window, this was a no cost for this as long as the total of windows and patio doors stayed the same.
    • Providing additional internal walls and doors. We wanted this to reduce the amount of open plan living. This was achieved at what we thought was a reasonable cost.
    • Relocating internal walls. This was a no cost alteration.
    • Decreasing the size of  rooms. We wanted to reduce the size of one room by 1 metre which reduced the overall length of the house by the same amount. For this change we made a saving.
    • Additional power outlets, light fittings and switches. These were standard extras.
    • Extra outside taps. Makes watering the garden, and washing the car easiser. These were standard extras.

What have your experiences been when looking to change a standard design?

For changing things see Selection


Accessible Design

Accessible design is making a house suitable to be lived in or visited by a disabled person.

If you don’t think this is important remember that one in five Australians has a disability.

So for instance:

  • You might be fine now but what if you or a family member has an accident?
  • How will you manage when you get older if you are in the same house?
  • If a friend or relative becomes disabled will they be able to visit you?

Also for those thinking about starting a family remember . . . a wheelchair friendly house is also a pushchair friendly house.

Ideas To Incorporate Into Your Design

Here are some of the things to think about:

  • A level site.
  • Driveways and garages wide enough to get a wheelchair next to the car.
  • Ramps rather than steps. Usually at a slope of no more than 1 in 14.
  • Doors at least 800mm wide, internal and external.
  • Corridors at least 1200mm wide.
  • Toilet doors opening outwards.
  • Reinforced walls next to toilets to allow fitting of grab rails.
  • Walk in large showers.
  • Aim for  1000mm space between furniture in all rooms.

Building these things into a new house is a lot cheaper than having to change the house some years down the track.

If you think this is just common sense its interesting to see how often designers and builders get this wrong.

I recently visited a retirement village where all the houses were built on stumps with a minimum of two steps to get up to the front door.

Some even had three steps.!

For similar posts about house design see Plans

Much more information on what to look for in the
Guide to Choosing a New House


Buying Plans From The Internet

These days there are a vast number of house plans available of the Internet.

There are very many high quality companies that provide plans on the net.

However as with all internet based service you need to be careful.


There are many variations of climate across Australia to what is suitable foe Tasmania may be totally unsuitable for Darwin.

This may be even more pronounced for plans that come from other countries.

Building Standards

Building standards are again something that varies widely from state to state and between countries


Different countries have differing construction methods. . . . there is no advantage in saving on plans if its going to cost extra to get a material which need to be specially imported..


The Big trap here is buying plans from the USA which use feet and inches, something the modern tradesman may no longer understand.


I would be very reluctant to use an overseas plan provider for my house and then be faced with delays due to ensuring compliance with local standards.

If you find a plan on the internet that you really like you will need to be sure that the company that can provide you with:

 1. A full set of drawings, with dimensions in metric units, including:

        • A block plan based on survey information, that you will need to organise.
        • Floor Plan
        • Foundation plan these will need to be signed off by an engineer based on the soil investigation.
        • Exterior elevations.
        • Interior details of kitchen, bathrooms and laundry.
        • Roof plans showing adequate information for a truss manufacturer and builder to construct the roof.

2. A full specification and material list.

3. The ability to modify drawings to meet your exact requirements.

Some plan providers can provide additional drawings for plumbing, electrical and heating.  Alternatively it might be easier to get these services directly through the builder you select.
Generally the process will be:

  1. Find a design you like on the internet from a company that will provide all the above services.
  2. Pay an initial deposit to get a copy of the plans.
  3. Make modifications to the plan to meet your requirements.
  4. Receive final plans and specification of a standard you can use for planning, energy rating, and building approval and for use in a contract with a builder.

Somewhere to Store Your Bins

Thirty or more years ago storing garbage bins didn’t used to be a problem.

There was only one bin and block were big so finding somewhere to leave the bin wasn’t a problem.

Now we can have at least three bins and blocks are getting smaller.

When you are looking at house plans it pays to think about where you are going to store the bins.

Getting Them To The Kerb

As well as storage think about how to get them to the kerb for collection.

You don’t want to be pulling them through the house.

Best is if you can take them through a side gate, otherwise make sure its easy to take them through the garage.


Twin Basins – Is It Worth It?

When we first came to Australia and started looking at display houses we often saw En-Suites with two wash basins.

We thought it looked fairly classy so that’s what we got in our first Australian new house.

Ever since we have always gone for a single basin. . . here’s why:

  • We found that we are never in the bathroom at the same time.  Even when we used to travel to work together I always got up first to take the dog for a walk which gave my wife a clear run.
  • Having a single basin gives more counter space on the vanity. (sometimes too much!)  We do have fairly strict demarcation lines. My wife’s stuff is on the left and my stuff is only allowed on the right.
  • Having one basin with only one set of waste plumbing leaves more room in the vanity cupboards for fresh towels, hair dryer, toilet rolls, spare toiletries, etc, etc.
  • Cost saving of basin, tap fittings, and labour. Even with basic fittings this gave us a few hundred dollars we could use on things we really wanted. If you have expensive plumbing fittngs the savings could be thousands!

Will you have twin basins in your new house?


For similar posts see Selection

More plumbing information and 24 pages of Check Lists

in the ‘Selection / Pre-Start Guide’


How Much Garage Do You Need

The trend these days seems to be for double garages……… but how many of them have two cars in them. . . . My guess would be about 10% and quite a few never have a car in them at all.

Some are just a home for junk that really should go to the tip.

Some are a workshop with bench, fixed power tools and shelves of tools.

I have seen a few ‘Man Caves’ with pool table and a bar.

Others are a storage place for bikes and barbies.

My double garage can still get one car in but the remainder is a combination of most of the above.

With narrower blocks a problem can be the garage dominates the rest of the house.

When you come to sell not many will want a house that looks more like an industrial lock up storage than a home, like This House.


Typical internal garage dimensions are:

  • Single garages – 3.5 metres (wide) by 6 metres (long) with a door around 2.5m wide.
  • Double garages – 6 metres (wide) by 6 metres (long) with a door around 5m wide.

These garages should fit anything up to a large 4WD, which are around 5.5m long by 1.9m wide.even with a bull bar on the front and tow bar behind.

Alternative Layouts

In the past I have had a single carport for parking the car with a separate garage/workshop at the back as my shed, which seemed to work well.

Another option may be to have a garage and a half!  This could be either:

  • 9 m long by 3.5 m wide with the back half being the store room/shed.


  • 6m long by 5m wide with shelves and/or a workbench along one or both side walls. This would work better if you wanted a large door through to the back garden.

Not enough room? . . . perhaps an underground/basement garage is the way to go. (see this link to find out more: Underground Garage)

Other Considerations

Once you have chosen the size here are some links to other aspects of garage planning:

Choosing a House? . . . An  E-book is available for only $4 to help plan your new house


Small En-Suites

Would you like a small ensuite for a guest bedroom?

If you are wondering how small you can go and still fit in a toilet, shower, and wash basin, then visit a budget hotel.

Last weekend we stopped at an Ibis hotel in Adelaide.

The photo shows the wash basin which you have to stand against the toilet bowl to use.

The wall on the left is the edge of a shower which is around 900mm x 1,000mm.

It was quite hard to photograph to see how it was arranged; so there is a sketch plan below to show the layout.

It may surprise you to know that this isn’t the smallest en-suite we have encountered.

That was in Singapore where you could have a shower while sitting on the toilet.

How Much House?

Do you know that in spite of the standard block getting smaller over the past 20 years the actual size of the houses has been getting bigger. The builders are doing a good job of selling us on the idea of more space.

There are three sizes of house you could buy:

  1. The size you need . . .. SMALL
  2. The size that you would like. . . . BIG
  3. The size that the builder wants to sell you. . . .ENORMOUS

Get a bigger house and it could blow your Budget. To keep costs in check you need to do some preparation. Here are some suggestion:

  1. Avoid starting by visiting show houses.
  2. Go through your existing house throwing away all the junk you haven’t used in the last year or two. You could even raise some money and have a garage sale.
  3. Measure the internal size of each room in your house, in m2 and think about whether that room needs to be bigger, or could be smaller.
  4. Don’t forget to include the wardrobes, the pantry, and the garage.
  5. Don’t measure the hallways but allow 15-20m2 for hallways and passages.
  6. Allow around 15-20m2 for internal and external walls.
  7. Decide what additional rooms you need, for example an extra bedroom if you have another child on the way.
  8. Add all the areas to get the total area of the house.
  9. You could also convert the sizes to Squares for easy comparison when looking at adverts.
  10. Start looking on the builders web sites or adverts for houses plans that are close to this size.
  11. When you are looking at plans use the dimensions you originally took for each room to get a feel for the room sizes.
  12. Only go and look at houses that are within the dimension you calculated, plus say no more than 10%.

To help I have prepared a Google documents Checklist which can be accessed from the link or the Checklist tab at the top of the page.

How have you made sure you haven’t finished up with a house that’s too big?

For posts about Costs see Budget

For Posts about Design see Floor Plans


Understanding Plans – Basic Floor Plan

A basic floor plan is the sort of plan you will see in the developer’s brochure or on their web site.

Most people aren’t used to looking at plans and relating them to what they are going to get.

So here is a way of helping you understand.

1. Get a pad of metric graph paper. These usually have smaller squares with 2mm sides and heavier lines every 10mm.
2. If we are going to draw a plan at 1 in 100 then the side of every small square is equivalent to 200mm, or 20cm.
3. Start in a simple room, say a bedroom, and measure one wall. Draw a thin line along one of the lines of the graph paper.
4. From one of the corners measure to the next corner and draw this line on the graph paper, don’t worry about the doors or windows at this stage.
5. Carry on measuring and drawing until you have gone right the way around the room. You should now have drawn a box that looks something like the picture below.

6. Mark the position of the doors and the windows.
7. Thicken the outside of the lines to the thickness of one square for external brick walls.
8.Thicken the outside of the lines to the thickness of half a square for internal walls.
9. Draw in a quarter circle to show the way that the door opens. You should now have a drawing that looks something like the picture below.

10. This will help you relate the size of your existing room to one you see on a plan.

11. If you want to see how the furniture looks its better to cut out sections of graph paper the same size as the furniture rather than draw on the paper. You can then move these around.


Once you have got the hang of this you can expand the drawing to include all the rooms of the house.

For similar posts see Drawings and Floor Plans