Building a House process
Every construction process is unique and depends on the scope and complexity of the project. But each time a sustainable house is built, the process follows typical steps, and the principles are similar for smaller scale projects like renovations.
The articles Renovations and additions and Buying a home off the plan include more information on the construction process specific to those situations.
Step 1: Choosing a builder
Before you get to the stage of choosing a builder, your research and design process will have yielded finished design documents to put out for tender by builders (see Preliminary research; The design process).
Two common ways to choose a builder are:
- choose a preferred builder and invite them to prepare a quotation or ‘tender’ (and seek an alternative quotation to ensure competitive pricing)
- call open or selective tenders from a range of builders and choose on the basis of price.
Each method delivers a builder and a quotation but one emphasises best price and the other, preferred builder. In either case, note in your tender documents that you are ‘not obliged to accept the lowest or any tender’.
A designer generally helps choose builders to tender for a project, based on recommendations and past experience. Advertised open tenders deliver variable outcomes and often exclude smaller specialist builders who do not have time to tender for multiple projects.
Your choice of builder is almost as critical as your choice of designer.
The principal role of a builder is to coordinate the building works as project manager. This role includes supervising and coordinating each trade; sourcing, quantifying and coordinating delivery of materials; and, most importantly, quality-assuring the entire process.
Builders and tradespeople are understandably risk-averse and tend to manage risk by using tried and proven materials and practices. Sustainable outcomes often require the use of innovative materials and practices. To avoid problems later, ensure each builder is made aware of your commitment to a sustainable home when they are invited to tender.
Dragi Markovic & DSEWPaC
Sourcing certified environmentally preferred materials (see Materials) at competitive rates and supervising tradespeople to ensure materials are correctly installed requires a builder who is prepared to ‘go the extra step’. Choose a builder who is both trained in and committed to delivering sustainable outcomes. Familiarise yourself with environmental certification systems to inform your own decision or agreement.
Both Master Builders Australia (MBA) and the Housing Industry Association (HIA) train builders in sustainable practices. Choosing a builder with this training from their website listings is a good first step but does not guarantee delivery of best practice outcomes. References from satisfied clients are an effective quality assurance method. Both MBA and HIA run sustainability awards programs and the lists of past winners on their websites also provide a good indication of ability.
- carefully implement sustainability features as specified in the design
- source and use recycled or reused materials
- access environmentally certified materials and ensure they are ordered with adequate lead times
- separate waste streams on site
- instruct and even backcharge subcontractors who fail to use environmentally preferred practices
- ensure that glues, resins, paints and finishes are indoor air quality friendly
- conserve on-site biodiversity
- install and maintain sediment control barriers.
Several certification schemes can independently certify products and services as environmentally sustainable. Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that runs the internationally recognised Environmental Choice Australia Ecolabelling Program. Green Tick® is based on a life cycle assessment (LCA) of the effects of an operation down its supply chain.
Green Tick Certified.
Good Environmental Choice Australia.
Step 2: Tender documents and contracts
In projects being tendered by more than one builder, this step precedes Step 1.
Tender documents must clearly identify any sustainability practices or materials certification requirements that are different from business as usual. Attach schedules to the tender documents that tenderers are required to sign.
Allaying builder concerns about the unfamiliar aspects of sustainable practice can reduce the amount they allow for unknown contingencies.