Buying A Sloping Block.

It doesn’t take much of a slope to mean that costs will increase.

For the last house I built, in 2005, a 0.8m slope over a 26m wide by 32m deep block added $4,800 to the cost.

That’s for much less of a slope than the block in the picture.

The extra cost was for some cut and fill ($2,900) to level the site under the slab, and about 12m of 450mm high timber retaining wall ($1,900).

Much more of a slope and the costs can really shoot up. As well as cut and fill costs you could have:

  • Drop Edge Beams – A sort of retaining wall as part of the foundation to make sure that the fill stays under the foundation.
  • Concrete Pier, or Screw Piles may be needed because the different depths of fill under the slab will have varying strengths.
  • Higher Strength Slab – Needed to span between the piles.
  • Extensive Retaining Walls – Once Retaining Walls go above 1m high the costs increase significantly.

One advantage of double storey houses on slopes is that the additional cost of foundations will be lower than those for a single storey house of similar total floor area due to the smaller foundation area.

For really steep slopes you may need to go for a Split Level Home or even build on ‘Stilts’. Either way you are definitely going outside the typical project builders territory and probably looking to get a custom builder and architect involved in the house.

So why build on a slope? Well for many people its a view, and means you may only be overlooked on one side of the house.

Without a view and I would only be looking at building on a slope if the block was significantly cheaper, compared to a similar sized flat block, to offset the additional costs.

For Similar Posts see Choosing Blocks

Or see Understanding Retaining Walls


Why I Used Jenman System Agents To Sell

Unless your new house is the first house you own you are going to have to sell your existing house.

Lots of people in Melbourne use auctions but I have never been very keen on that approach.

We have now sold two houses using Jenman System Agents and have been very satisfied.

We recently sold our home in Wydham Vale using Brian Mark Real Estate of Werribee. Previously we we sold an investment property in Chadstone about 7 years ago using T G Newton Real Estate of Oakleigh

If you look through their websites you will see lots of reasons for using them but the three advantages that I really like are:

  • They are quite clear that their duty is to you as seller of the house.

In my experience they go all out to get the best price for the house rather than tell buyers you may be willing to drop the price.

  • They carefully vet all people that are taken through your house.

Much better than ‘Open for Inspections’ when criminals could ‘case’ your house anonymously by giving a false name to the agent.

  • You only pay when the house is sold

I have often wonder if those advertising campaigns some agents charge you for upfront are really advertising the house for you, or the Agent to get more interest in all his offerings.

If there is a local Jenman Agent why not give them a try?



I have not been paid for this post and did not receive any discount on the sale of either house


Five Interior Design Improvements You Can Make

Post contributed by Emma Lamb, on behalf of Steel-line

Improving the interior of a home can enhance your enjoyment of your surroundings as well as add value to the house. Whether making a small change or planning a substantial renovation, you can dramatically alter the way you live for the better.

The following alterations are just a few ways to upgrade the look of your home:

Bamboo Flooring

You may have been longing for a new hard wood floor in the kitchen or dining room, but the high cost of materials has kept the project on hold.

Consider a greener alternative and opt for a bamboo floor. You can achieve the gorgeous look of a hard wood floor at a significantly decreased price tag—sometimes half the cost of hard wood! Moreover, a bamboo floor is also durable and long-lasting.

Many homeowners install bamboo flooring as a healthy alternative to other types of flooring since bamboo does not harbor dust mites and is easy to keep clean. In any case, installing green flooring (bamboo is an easily-renewable resource) will remain a popular design trend in 2012.

Brighten Up Your Space

Brighter colors, in general,  can update the look of any room. If four walls of neon green are too much for you, consider a few painted accents such as cornices, shelves, or closet doors.

Even painting a single wall a brighter color can improve the look of a room. You might add some bright paint to a fireplace screen, picture frames, wooden rocking chairs, or side tables to add color pizzazz to your décor.

Knock Down Walls

With the trend for a cheaply constructed mansions waning fast, many homeowners are opting to make the most from smaller spaces. Taking down a wall in the home is never a light consideration, but doing just that can dramatically change the way you live.

Consider expanding your small bathroom into a bathroom suite. If you’ve got a spare room near a bathroom, you can combine the two spaces to create a luxurious suite.

You might also simply want to take a portion of the spare room for the bathroom suite and use the rest of the space to create a large walk-in closet or a small office nook.

Energy-Friendly Window Treatments

Once upon a time, medieval people hung tapestries on walls to keep draughts out of the castle; interestingly enough, the same practice still applies for today’s homes.

Many people are choosing draperies billed to cut down on energy costs; these fabrics help keep out winter draughts that creep in through the windows and to keep cool air inside during summer months. Not only will new draperies add visual appeal to any room, but they can also save you money on gas and electric bills in the long run.

Reupholster It

Design trends change year by year; one way to keep up with changing decorative styles is to simply change fabric around the house. In many cases, reupholstering large pieces of furniture can be as costly as buying new furniture; however, many projects can be tackled at home with even the most modest know-how.

Reupholstering the seats of dining room chairs, for instance, is a simple project that can add new life to the look of the room and remain a cost-effective upgrade. You can also rescue a great vintage piece of furniture by making over its upholstery to suit your decorative style.

Making design improvements to your living space can be cost-effective, simple, and even fun. With careful planning, major renovations can be tackled smoothly and have considerable impact on the way you live at home and even small projects can have a large impact on your home’s design plan.


The Settling In Section contains lots more advice on what

to do after you have moved in your new house.


Why I Don’t Have Mono-Crystalline Solar Panels

Several people have commented that my panels look different to those on other houses.

Most solar PV installations use Mono-Crystalline panels, because they are smaller for the same power rating.

The panels on my roof are Kaneka Thin Film Panels.

Here are the reasons why:

Efficiency In Real World Temperatures

When you see a panel power rating it is based on laboratory conditions with a panel temperature of 25oC.

In Australia, on your roof, the panel temperature is generally somewhere around double the ambient temperature, thus most panels operate above 25oC most of the time.

Typical crystallines panels lose power @ 0.45% per degree C above 25oC.

Typical thin-film panels lose power @ 0.25% per degree C above 25oC.

This means that on a typical 25oC day with a panel temperature of 50oC

  • A 1000watt mono-crystalline system may be generating 885watts.
  • A 1000watt thin film system is likely to be generating a higher power of 935watts.

On hotter summer days when panel temperature can rise to over 80 degrees the difference will be even greater.


Thin film panels are bigger than mono-crystalline panels means that more of your roof is shaded by the panels helping to keep the house cooler.

Energy Payback

Thin film panels have much lower embodied energy than mono-crystalline panels meaning that the energy involved in the production is recovered within two years of use.

Better Performance When Partially Shaded

Partial shading effects can be quite significant in overall system efficiency. Thin film panels however are less susceptible to shading.


In spite of the above advantages for Thin Film panels the cost per installed watt is around the same as Monocrystaline panels.

More independent information about solar panels in Australian conditions can be found at the Desert Knowledge Solar Centre at Alice Springs


For similar posts see Solar Electricity in the Sustainability Tab


Gas Plumbing

Most people who have mains gas available will have gas connections for hot water and central heating automatically provided by the builder.

But what else do you need to think about?

Meter Location

You will need the meter somewhere where it can be read from the front of the house but is not an eyesore.

Sounds simple but our last builders proposed location was behind a proposed gate that would have been an issue when reading the meter.

Oven and Hob

Our oven and gas hob are together so we have a gas line to that point.

Even if you have all electric cooking it may be worth running a blanked off line to that point if you have an eye on selling the house in the future.

Future Gas Fires

A lot of display houses feature gas log fires.

If you like the idea but can’t afford it now it could be worth getting a gas line put in for the future.

Hot water

If you have thought about the issues with long  Hot Water Pipe Runs you may want a different location to the builders standard for your boiler.

You may even prefer two separate instantaneous hot water units which will affect gas lines.


As previously mentioned in the External Plumbing post its worth considering a mains gas supply to your barbeque if you use it regularly.

What gas plumbing issues concern you?


For similar posts see Plumbing


More plumbing information and 24 pages of Check Lists in the

‘Selection / Pre-Start Guide’


Insulation Basics – Brick Veneer Walls

This post will help you understand how much heat you lose through walls. A previous post has explained ‘R’ and ‘U’ values

When considering insulation a typical brick veneer wall would be:


R value

Outside surface air layer


110mm brick


25mm cavity


R1.5 Insulation


Plasterboard 10mm


Inside surface air layer


Total R value


U value = 1/R


The heat losses or gains for 150 sq m (fairly typical external wall area) of this type of brick veneer wall at 15 degrees above, or below, outside temperature will be:

Area x ‘U’ x temperature difference = watts per hour

150m2 x 0.51 x15degrees = 1178watts per hour

Heating/Cooling Requirement = 1.17kw/hour

To change the U value calculation simply change the value of the element or add an element in.

Example 1 Changing the Insulation to R 2.0

New Total R = 2.41

New U = 0.41

Reduced Heating/Cooling requirement to 0.92kw/hr

Example 2 Adding a reflective building wrap to example 1 (increases cavity R by 0.18

New Total R = 2.59

New U = 0.39

Reduced Heating/Cooling Requirement to 0.87kw/hr

Remember this isn’t the total heating requirement as heat is also lost through windows, ceilings floors and ventilation.


See Insulation for similar Posts

For Posts about Green Building see Sustainability

How Much Can You Afford

So you want a new house?

Before you start going around display houses the first thing you need to figure out is how much you can afford. Get this wrong as a couple and it can damage your relationship, and you could finish up with a Ghost House.

Don’t let the marketing convince you to be too ambitious. Its better to get a smaller house and no financial stress than a big house and be struggling for the next ten years. After all its nice to be able to have some money left over after the bills have been paid to enjoy yourself.

The Barefoot Investor talks a lot of sense when he talks about the 20 -10 – 30 Rule. That’s have a 20% deposit, be prepared for a 10% interest rate rise, and don’t have mortgage repayment’s of more than 30% of your wages.

When we started off our approach was that we would borrow no more than I could pay off from my wages while leaving enough for living expenses. We also had mainly second hand furniture.

My wife’s wages went on buying new furniture, home improvements, holidays and luxuries. This meant that if she got pregnant or any other problems occurred we could still keep the house without major stress.

This meant that our first house was a small two bedroom house. Very much at the lower end of the housing ladder, but we were on the ladder, and building up equity for that next step. The running costs of the smaller house were also lower which certainly helped us pay off the mortgage faster before our next house.

Even if you already own a house and are looking to trade up the same financial considerations apply to your next house!

How big was your first House?


Budget has more posts about finding a house the right size for you


Double Glazing or Smaller Windows?

I’ve posted on Double Glazing but that not the only way to save heat loss through windows so I thought I would do a numerical comparison of the various options for glazing treatment of windows.

In a bedroom of our current house the South facing windows were approximately 4m square (We are in Australia so these windows don’t get any sun).The  basis of my calculations is a difference of 15oC between internal and external temperature.

The equation used to calculate heat loss is:

Heat Loss  =  Area  x  Temperature Difference   x   ‘U’


‘U’ single glazing = 7*

‘U’ double glazing = 3*

‘U’ brick veneer = 0.51

* ‘U’ value includes effect of frame.

Option 1 Do Nothing

Heat loss through glass  =  4 x 15 x 7  =  420watts  =  0.42kw/hour

Remember this heat loss is for one room only.

Option 2 Reduce window by 40% to 2.4 m

Heat loss through glass  =  2.4 x 15 x 7  =  252watts  =  .25kw/hour

Heat loss through brick   =  1.6 x 15 x .51  =  12 watts  = 0.012kw/hour

Total heat loss  =  0.25kw/hr  +  0.012kw/hr  =   0.262kw/hour

With our builder this was a no cost option that has reduced the heat loss by 38%.

Option 3 Double Glazing

Heat loss through glass = 4 x 15 x 3 = 180watts = 0.18kW/hour

This is a heat loss reduction of 57% but at a significant cost.

Option 4 Reduce Window by 40% and Double Glazing

Heat loss through glass = 2.4 x 15 x 3 = 108watts = 0.108kW/hour

Heat loss through replacement brick wall = 1.6 x 15 x .51 = 12 watts = 0.012kW/hour

Total  =   0.108kW/hour  +  0.012kW/hour  =  0.12kW/hour

This final option has reduced the heat loss by over 70% and will be around 30% cheaper than double glazing the original large windows.

I hope this has given you some food for thought!

See Insulation for similar Posts

For Posts about Green Building see Sustainability

Block Orientation

Sponsored by Coral Homes

When looking at block orientation a key issue is using the sun to warm the house in winter and keeping the sun out of the rooms in the summer.

Typical blocks in Australia are rectangular. About twice as long as the block width, as are most home designs. This limits the way you can place the house. In my experience the order of preference of blocks is.

1. Facing East
2. Facing West
3. Facing South
4. Facing North

If you have got a block at an angle it will require a bit more thought unless you can orientate the house in one of the above preferred directions. Larger blocks and square blocks make adjustments to the house orientation easier.

My reasons for the preferences are as follows:

Facing East

This orientation allows one of the long sides to face north making the best use of the sun in a passive solar house. Usually the master bedroom is at the front so even in the summer the low sun morning sun only warms the bedroom from the chill of the night. Windows can be minimised on the west side to stop the house overheating in the afternoon and evening. This orientation also gives you plenty of roof area for the most effective location of solar hot water and solar electricity panels.

Facing West

Again like the east facing block you can have one of the long sides to face north making the best use of the sun in a passive solar house. With a master bedroom at the front you will need to take steps to keep the afternoon sun out of the room to stop overheating. Like the East facing orientation this is useful for solar panels on the roof.

Facing South

With a house facing south the best layout is to have as many rooms as possible having large windows facing north which can be difficult on a narrow block. To make the best of this orientation you may need to have plans drawn up as most standard plans don’t suit this orientation. It’s also best to minimise west facing windows.

Facing North

A north facing house is probably the least desirable on a suburban block as it makes it hard to get the sun into the house. I certainly wouldn’t want big north facing windows allowing passers by to look in.


Lots more information in the anewhouse Guide to Buying a Block for only $4

See similar posts see Choosing a Block and Passive Solar


Starting House Design 1- Bubble Diagram 1

A big mistake in designing a house is to get involved in detail too quickly.

Rough sketches of a floor plan, which you can easily change, are the best way to start. . . . Much better than using a computer drawing tool which can  ‘Lock You In’ and stop you considering different ideas.

  1. Decide what rooms you need and the approximate size of the house (see How Much House?)
  2. Draw some bubble diagrams. . . . These are drawings where each bubble represents a room, or a feature of the house.
  3. Work quickly, while thinking, and discussing, how you want the various rooms to relate to each other.
  4. As you develop the plans try to draw the bubbles to roughly represent the room sizes, but don’t try to be too accurate.
  5. Because the drawings are done quickly you can easily do new ones as your ideas develop.
  6. Don’t throw the old one out though! You might want to go back to a previous idea.

The collection of diagrams will be a demonstration that you have gone through a process of developing a design rather than infringing someone else’s Copyright.

The above illustration is a tidied up version of the initial bubble diagram for our first Australian house. It was based on certain things we wanted in the floor plan. These were:

  • A rectangular plan to keep things simple and economical
  • A passive solar house with the main rooms facing North
  • A wood burning stove in the centre of the house
  • Our bedroom at the opposite end of the house to the children.

Next  I will show how we developed the initial bubble diagram to a refined version which we could then use to develop the final floor plan.


For more Posts about Design see Floor Plans