Category Archives: Home and Family

Tree Houses Masters

The idea of building a tree house is a sweet little dream for many Australian’s, and with the advent of shows like “Tree House Masters” it leaves Aussies asking “Why don’t we see or hear more about tree houses in Australia”? Well, it all comes down to building regulations.

“Tree House Masters” is set in America and America has very different development and compliance rules to Australia.

If you choose to build a tree house in Australia you’ll need the following before you can start construction:

1. Development consent

Development consent & a construction certificate will be required if your tree house is more than 20m² in area.


2. Arborist report

An arborist report will be required stating the maximum loads the trees can take and the longevity of the trees to be used.


3. Geotechnical report

A geotechnical report will most likely be required stating that the ground around the trees is stable enough to take the load of the proposed tree house.

Council will then assess your application like any other proposed residential development.


Things you need to consider:

  • Height – There will be a height restriction for your tree house (around 8.5m high). Check with your local council.
  • Bushfire Attack Level – Timber building materials may not meet your Bush Fire Attack level.
  • Balustrade compliance – The height, infill details and materials of balustrades will need to comply with standard building requirements.
  • Stairs – Stair and railings will need to comply with building codes. Read our stair design article for more details.

What dematerialisation means

Dematerialisation is a critical aspect in sustainable development – some would say the most critical. This is not only because of the resource savings provided by reduction of any individual element in a project, but because of the multiplying factor – the ripple effect – created by these reductions. Here Neville Cowland of NOWarchitecture explores the potential before steps are taken to build anything.

What dematerialisation means

At the basic level dematerialisation refers to the reduction in the quantity of materials required to serve economic functions in society. In building terms, dematerialisation means doing more with less, or better yet, no material consumption to deliver the same level of functionality to the user. Choices are available in the way buildings are constructed to significantly reduce materialisation to a point where carbon neutral development is achievable


Dematerialisation strategies for environmentally sustainable design that guide architecture include:

  • Efficient logical structures & rational building forms
  • Reduction of secondary finishes
  • Economic use of materials
  • Consideration of life cycle costs & embodied energy

In any approach to dematerialisation, planning decisions and material selections are augmented by consideration of passive energy systems which respond to climatic conditions:

  • Solar orientation for warmth in winter and natural daylighting
  • Even cross ventilation and induced passive ventilation
  • Night purging systems for summer cooling
  • High levels of exposed thermal mass to reduce
  • temperature fluctuations

  • Intelligent interplay of natural light

These initiatives are further supported by strategies for building services which provide reduced energy requirements:

  • Low energy heating and cooling systems
  • Efficient artificial lighting
  • Integration of renewable energy sources
  • Integration of rainwater harvesting systems
  • Integration of passive cooling systems



The first strategy in dematerialisation is the planning of the project. Carefully define the size of the project, because at the basic level dematerialisation refers to the reduction in the quantity of materials required to serve a function.

  • How many spaces are needed? Be conscious of the difference between required functions and desired functions and frequent and infrequent functions
  • What space is required for each function?
  • What size does each space need to be?
  • Can the same space provide for multiple functions?

Ensure that room sizes are appropriate to their function, character and comfort levels based on:

  • Floor space
  • Room volume
  • Proportion: enclosure area to floor area ratio
  • Functional relationships: proportion of circulation space (wasted space)
  • Spatial psychology: make spaces look larger than they are; consider window size and positions to allow external views to increase the sense of space and use mirrors to multiply views to enlarge the visual space

The number of spaces can be minimised by designing them to provide for more than a single function. For example, an appropriately designed and fitted garage can function as a rumpus room or home gym; a study can function as bedroom for infrequent guests. For easy transition provide storage options which allow the space to provide for different uses without limiting other functions.

Choose Your Green Roofs Color

Few other building systems provide the range of benefits that green roofs can. They insulate buildings against noise and temperature fluctuations, reducing the building’s reliance on active heating and cooling. Green roofs also protect the roof membrane from exposure to the elements and can dramatically extend the life of a roof.

Growing plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen and moisture as they grow. This both purifies the air and cools temperatures around the building. This is particularly important in urban areas, where hard surfaces absorb heat from the sun and radiate it back out into the environment, contributing to higher city temperatures.

Green roofs slow down and clean stormwater. By incorporating soil and plants onto the roof tops, the green roof absorbs stormwater and slowly releases it back into the environment, helping to prevent flooding.

Removing vegetation for buildings also affects biodiversity. By replacing traditional roofing materials (tiles, bitumen, concrete) with a green roof it provides habitat, shelter and food that supports biodiversity. Green roofs have one other important contribution to make – they make us feel good. There is an increasing body of research that shows that being in and around living (green) systems improves our sense of wellbeing and makes us feel mentally and physically better.

What to consider when building a green roof


How do you want to use your green roof?

Do you want to walk on your roof or just have it look beautiful? If the roof isn’t going to be walked on, you can get away with shallower soils (15-30cm) and grow ground covers and plants that don’t need a lot of soil to thrive. If you want an area to walk and play on or to grow food, deeper soils will be needed (greater than 30cm). Whether the roof will be actively used or not, consideration needs to be given to the ease of access for installation and ongoing maintenance. If the roof will be actively used, design features may need to be included such as balustrades that make it safe to be on the roof, and provide adequate privacy for you and your neighbours.


Read the complete article

The complete version of this article, which was written by Dr Chris Reardon of Sunteth Design, is part of the book entitled “How to rethink building materials”.

How to rethink building materials can be purchased online as a hard copy or soft copy.

The remaining sections of the article cover the following topics:


Considering the site

  1. How much sun and rain the roof get will get
  2. Waterproofing
  3. Soil, water and plants
  4. Materials used to construct a Green Roof

Table of contents – “How to rethink building materials”

  • Part 1 Overview: What it’s all about
    • 1.01 Creating sustainable change – Barriers to getting the message through.
    • 1.02 Choosing materials from an early design stage – Questions to ask at the beginning of a project.
    • 1.03 Managing change – How to avoid the downside of the building industry’s inherent aversion to risk.
  • Part 2 Forethought: A look at the issues behind the choices we make
  • Part 3 Planning: Unfamiliar but essential considerations
  • Part 4 The Great Debates: Contested ideas about material impacts
  • Part 5 Uncommon Solutions: The fast-approaching horizon
  • Part 8 A-Z of Building Materials

Reducing noise inside

Recent studies have shown that living in a noisy home that endures constant erratic noises can reduce your life span. Not only does it affect longevity but living in a noisy home generally provides an unrelaxing atmosphere.

Reducing noise or poor acoustics in and around your home isn’t difficult, especially if you‘re building a new home. All that is required is a little planning during the design phase to ensure the acoustics inside and outside the home have been considered and addressed.


So what is noise?

Noise is defined as a loud or unpleasant sound that causes disturbance. Noise around the home is often caused by sound bouncing off one surface to another (reverberation). There are three essential rules to reduce reverberation:

  1. Minimise opportunities for reverberation
  2. Introduce sound soakers
  3. Incorporate noise distractors

Generally, the more a surface of a space is flat, continuous and unperforated the more sounds will be bounced around within that space. These types of surfaces will increase noise.

Below we describe how you can incorporate the rules mentioned above to minimise noise in your home.


Reduce the size of open spaces

Open plan areas that contain smooth and continuous surfaces are excellent at reflecting internal noise around the home as well as amplifying external noises into the home. Try reducing the size of open plan areas not only in actual floor area but also in ceiling height as well. Read more about reducing open spaces.


Incorporate perforated panels

If you already have a large open space you can reduce noise by incorporating perforated panels to items like cupboard doors, kitchen cabinets and stair balustrades for example.  This will offer internal spaces more absorbent and irregular surfaces for noise to dissipate in.


Relocate noisy spaces

To reduce house born noises it is very important to locate noise producing areas in well thought out spaces. Halls and stair wells for example can act as noise conductors or speakers. Don’t face TV’s, kitchens, WC’s or stereo systems onto a stair well or hall, as the noises created in these spaces will be transmitted and often amplified into areas close by.


Walls – reduce hard / reflective coverings

There are other options to products like plasterboard. The options are a little more expensive but if you really need to reduce noise try these options.

Make the sun in your home

Whether you want to watch sport on TV away from the glare of the afternoon sun, or have a sunny kitchen window to grow basil and parsley, the way that your home is oriented can make a big difference to how you use your home.

When you choose a floor plan that faces the right way on your block, you’ll make your home more comfortable, and you can save money on heating, cooling and lighting. Your home builder can flip or rotate your floor plan to make the most of your block’s orientation.


Here is a quick guide to help you work out which rooms to position where in your home:

North- This is side of your home that will be warmer in winter. The north side is generally the best place to have living areas and rooms that you use the most.

South- This is the coolest side, so it is generally the best place for bedrooms in warmer climates, or rooms that you don’t use during the day.

East- This side is where you will receive morning sun, so it is a great idea to have your kitchen or bedrooms on this side so you can enjoy a relaxing breakfast in the sunlight.

West- Since this is the direction the sun sets, the western side of your home is more likely to get hot in the afternoon. This is a great area to place rooms that you don’t use often, such as your bathroom, garage or laundry.

Did you know that on average hot water systems make up 31 percents of your total energy bill

According to the Independent Pricing & Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) hot water systems consume more energy than any other device within the average household. In their 2009 report IPART also predicted a 60% increase in the price of electricity from 1 July 2010 – 30 June 2013. You will have experienced some of these increases already, but further increases are coming soon.

This article compares the costs, benefits and disadvantages of the three major hot water alternatives commonly available to Australians: electric, gas and solar.


Electric Hot Water Systems

Electric hot water has been continuously developed and used over the last century and has been the main source of hot water in homes for several decades. In 2008 the ABS recorded that around 58% of homes in NSW use electric hot water systems.

With the continuously rising cost of electricity and the introduction of the Carbon Tax, it is becoming increasingly expensive to run an electric hot water system.

The government has stated that it will try and phase out electric hot water systems by 2013. This will make it harder to purchase replacement tanks and parts.

From an ‘initial investment’ point-of-view, electric tanks are currently your most affordable option. They range in price from $500 to $2000, with many second-hand tanks available for less.

Although costly to run, electrical hot water systems are reliable.

Until recently all electric hot water systems heated water with an energy-hungry electrical element. However there is now an energy-saving alternative: the electric heat pump.

Electric heat pumps are approximately three times more efficient than electrical-element based systems but the initial investment is between $1500 and $4000. Heat pumps are more efficient in warmer weather and in warmer climates.


Gas Hot Water Systems

Gas hot water systems have become increasingly popular over the last 5 years. Improvements in technology have seen gas systems, both storage and continuous, become more efficient and affordable.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 76% of households in Melbourne are using a gas hot water system.

Gas hot water requires a gas connection in the household but can also be run on gas bottles.

Some gas hot water systems are considerably more efficient than others – look at their energy star rating before purchasing.

Gas Hot Water Systems usually cost between $800 – $2500. The price depends on size and efficiency.

Gas Hot Water Systems are not as cost effective as solar or heat pump based systems, however they are more efficient than traditional electric-element based systems.

Solar hot water system from the Modern Group
Solar Hot Water Systems

Australia has an abundance of sunlight. Our solar insolation levels (amount of sunlight per square meter) greatly exceed those in Europe, Russia and North America. Some parts of central Australia receive an enormous 5.89 kWh/m2 per day. Australia’s solar insolation levels make solar hot water the most energy efficient water heating alternative for Australians. (Source:

Solar Hot Water systems can reduce the energy used to create hot water by up to 90% (when compared to electric element-based hot water systems).

Solar hot water helps the environment, saving around 4,000 kg (4 tonnes) of green house gases each year.

A solar hot water system can cost anywhere between $4000 – $8000, depending on the size of the tank and the number and efficiency of the collectors.

There are two types of solar hot water tanks available; ground-mount tanks and roof-mount tanks.

Roof-mount tanks are useful for those with limited space around the house but they can be harder to maintain and are not suitable for those with brittle or weak roofs.

Ground-mount tanks are placed, as the name suggests, on the ground rather than on the roof above the collectors. This provides the panels with a more slimline look, although requires a place on the ground for the tank to be stored.

Window furnishing alternatives

Window bars/grills are an external window furnishing usually made of steel with a baked on powder-coated finish. Bolted to the outside of the window, they have been a very popular alternative in past years for elderly people, or those who live in neighbourhoods with higher crime rates, due to the strength and protection they provide.


  • Very hard for intruders to break in
  • Hard wearing and long lasting


  • Not a large benefit in terms of privacy unless coupled
    with an internal furnishing
  • Not generally considered a modern or attractive alternative
  • No other benefits e.g. noise reduction, light reduction or insulation
Curtains & blinds
Blinds and curtains

Blinds are an internal window furnishing which are available in a huge range of different styles and operation types. Different blind alternatives include vertical blinds, Venetian blinds, roller blinds, Roman blinds, panel glide blinds, cellular blinds and drapes. These alternatives are generally made from polyester, aluminium or timber laminate and although they look different general serve a similar purpose.


  • Increased privacy
  • Provide excellent light control
  • Provide some sort of insulation
    against heat and cold
  • Available in an enormous range
    of colours and styles guaranteed
    to suit any home


  • Generally no added security provided from these types of window furnishings
  • Insulation benefit not as large as other alternatives

Louvres are an alternative to standard glass windows, so in essence they are both an internal and external window furnishing. Louvres comprise of thin horizontal blades which can be adjusted anywhere between opened and fully closed. These sheets are generally made from timber, glass or aluminium and come in a wide range of colours and styles. They are also available in a wide range of operations including manual and motorised.



  • Increased privacy
  • Light control
  • Aluminium alternatives provide noise reduction
    and insulation benefits
  • Wide range of alternatives in relation to material,
    colour, style and operation
  • Increased security within the home
  • Seal tight to reduce noise and disturbance from bad weather



  • Can be a costly alternative
  • Glass and wooden louvers do not provide a security benefit

Awnings are an external window furnishing which have been popular for many years now. Generally made from canvas, acrylic or aluminium, awnings come in a wide range of styles and colours. Awnings also have a large variety of operation types including rope, tape, automatic, crank or motorised options.

Home bush fire compliant

The dry winds in NSW 2013, and the subsequent Blue Mountains disasters have boasted the discussion of poor bush fire compliant homes once more.

For new homes current legislation does a pretty good job of forcing Australians to better withstand a bush fire attack. But what about renovations?

Currently there is no legislation enforcing property owners to upgrade their existing homes to comply with current Bushfire Attack Level’s (BAL). There is only one minor measure in place that only quietly mentions that a homeowner has a property located in a bush fire prone area.

When a property is sold the vendor is required by law to organise a Sales Contract. Within this Sales Contract is a Section 149 Planning Certificate. Within this document it mentions if your property is in a bush fire prone area or not. It does not state the Bushfire Attack Level or if the current dwelling comply’s with current bush fire legislation.

The seller of any property is not legally required to ensure their property meets current bush fire construction standards.


Ensuring your home is bush fire compliant

When selling or buying a property you can find out if your property is bush fire compliant or not by doing a little research. Here is what you should do:

1. Engage council

Engage your local council and ask them to prepare a Building Certificate. The certificate will outline if your home complies with current building standards, and will go into a little detail about bush fire compliance.

If you need further details about bush fire compliance you can engage a private certifier or your local council.

2. Certifiers

  • Council – There are some council’s that can provide a specialist consulting service – assessing bush fire construction compliance. Gosford City Council for example provides a consulting service under their Streamline Group. This is a paid service where a report can be prepared outlining what you need to do to ensure your house complies with your particular Busfire Attack Level.
  • Private – There are some private certifiers that also offer a similar service as above.

3. Bush Fire Consultant

Specialist bush fire consultants are a great resource if you have a high level bush fire prone property.

As a home owner, the choice is yours, as to whether you bring your home in-line with current bush fire construction levels or not. Getting your home to comply with current standards can be a costly exercise but not always. Making the recommended changes could be as simple as replacing timber fascias with Colorbond, but if your house is entirely clad with timber it could be a very costly venture.

Construction process for home design

Starting the process of building a new home? Read this article to get an overview of the processes involved. Note that although the processes are constantly changing, the drawing production process and council preparation process remains relatively unchanged over time.


Step 1. The initial consultation

At this first meeting the architect/building designer (designer) and you the client will discuss all your thoughts in relation to the design of your house or development beg. size, types of spaces how you anticipate these spaces will feel, etc.

Service fees and what they include will also be discussed at this time and a fee proposal as well as a Client Brief and a contract will be sent to your after the meeting. There are services available which can assist you in design and construction costing if you find you need support in this area.


Step 2. Site Analysis

The building designer/architect will analyse your site verbally and/or provide a written report (if you can not be present) and discuss with you the restrictions and assets of your property. This portion of the service is not only valuable to people that have already purchased a property but also to people that are in the process of buying and that have not yet exchanged contracts, as we can discuss issues such as sun orientation versus street face versus outside living and how these factors affect greatly on the quality of living for that particular property. The analysis will also consider such things as wind direction, tree shadowing and many other factors that seem to go unnoticed when purchasing property.


Step 3. Initial Design

The Initial Design process includes council and other government body research as well as the study of your requirements – where sketch design drawings are produced and discussed with you prior to developing the design. See Designing Your Own Home for further information on this stage. The drawings produced at this stage are minimal but should include all floor plans and some elevations or a three dimensional rendering of the proposed building.

Step 4. Developed Design

This stage sees your sketch design drawings developed into a house you should be very happy with – if not you will need to discuss further changes with your designer – most designers allow 2 major sessions of changes in their contract. Once you are happy with the design your drawings will be developed to working drawings that will have loads of information on them including notes and dimensions.


Step 5. Working Drawings

During this stage detailed drawings will be produced that will be used for your council Development Application (DA) as well as for construction. You may also need to produce other reports with your DA to council such as a Statement of Environmental Effects, BASIX Report, Waste Management Report, Site Analysis Plans, Geotechnical Report, Landscape Plan, Flora and Fauna Report and Fire Report – check with your local council.

Products and Bush Fire Attack levels

Renovating or building a new home in a bush fire prone area can be a nightmare when choosing building materials and products. Not only should the roofing, windows, doors, guttering and cladding meet your families requirements, but they must also comply with construction requirements for bush fire prone areas.

To ensure you choose building products that will comply with Bush Fire Attack levels (BAL) it’s important to understand what Bush Fire Attack levels mean.

Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL) are given to properties that are:

located in bush fire risk areas, the higher the number, the higher the bush fire risk (example BAL – 40 means you’re in a really high risk area and BAL – 12.5 means you’re at the lower end of bush fire risk). BAL – FZ however means that you are in total Flame Zone and are at extreme bush fire risk. The number behind the BAL acronym relates to the heat flux in kW/m².

Outlined below are the 5 main Bushfire Attack Levels (BAL) – you will need to assess which one applies to your property.

  1. BAL – 12.5 – lowest level of bush fire attack.
  2. BAL – 19 – possible requirements – use of fire retardant timbers.
  3. BAL – 29 – possible requirements – gutter guards, use fire retardant timber timbers.
  4. BAL – 40 – possible requirements – gutter guards, stainless steel or bronze insect screens, no exposed timber, use fibre cement sheeting, brick & concrete cladding, brick cladding, metal framed toughened glass windows and doors only.
  1. BAL – FZ – possible requirements – gutter guards, stainless steel insect screens, no exposed timber, brick & concrete cladding, windows & doors that comply with AS3959 – and AS1530.8.2 (generally metal framed toughened glass windows), 10,000 litre fire dedicated water tank, radiant heat barriers (example fire shutters), sprinkler systems, fire hydrants, special barrier housing for gas cylinders and fire door compliant entry and garage doors.


So how do you know what BAL your site is?

1. Assess your risk

To assess your sites BAL you need to confirm the following:

  1. Distance from your site to the fire hazard.
  2. Type of fire hazard (grassland or forest for example).
  3. Slope type and gradient from the fire hazard.
  4. Your sites Fire Danger Index (FDI)

To find the answers to the above you will need to read over the latest release of the RFS Guidelines for Single Dwelling Development. You could also speak with an industry professional like a builder, building designer or an architect, they should know the latest requirements for building in bush fire prone areas.


  • If the outside of your dwelling footprint is located at least 100 metres from a fire hazard you can use any building materials you like, but it is highly recommended that window screens and gutter guards be installed to reduced possible ember attack.
  • Construction materials alone will not provide sufficient protection from fires, you must create and ample buffer zone and a safe exit from your property.
  • If you cannot find wall cladding or windows and doors to comply with your sites Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) you can increase your buffer zone to reduce your BAL.
  • All materials on your building need to comply with the highest BAL calculated on all elevations of your home. It use to be that if your building had a higher BAL on one side of your home than another you could use materials to comply with different BAL’s. Previously this saved on window and door costs for example.


2. Confirm that your products comply with your site BAL

All building materials will have a product specification document that should state what BAL level the products are able to withstand. Unfortunately there are many wonderful products on the market that cannot be given specific BAL compliance levels as they are considered composite products.  Currently CSIRO’s methodology for testing building products does not allow for composite products to be tested, only products that are of one material can be tested. So products like bitumen roof shingles (which are composed of a few different products) cannot be tested, but single component materials like Colorbond sheeting or terracotta tiles can. As a result resellers of new and innovative products are finding it difficult to gain market traction in the bush fire prone market and consumers are limited to a small selection of products.