Generally this is where the process starts. Plans for almost all significant permanent structures beyond an awning or a tiny garden shed must be submitted to Council or a Private certifier for approval. Must is a relative word, people still build decks and sheds without approval. The chance of getting away with this is dropping though, as we often get calls to certify “illegal” structures, because a neighbour has dobbed, Council have spotted something on Google maps, or the people are selling, and the building inspector has noted something not on the plans. This is always a bit painful, as we have to make some guesses about foundations, and inevitably the building is mostly over built and very strong, except for a couple of small details which are hard to change later. As much as I admire the rebel spirit, and have been naughty myself in the past, it is hard to get away with anything in the modern world. In the time of paper records, it was hard for Council to check, now it is just a few clicks away. Some work such as removing a wall in an old house where Council do not hold plans, may be technically approvable, but there is almost no chance of getting caught out. Do everyone a favour though, ask a builder or an engineer to look in the roof to see what that wall is supporting, and what kind of lintel or replacement bracing is required, otherwise Council may find out about it in the newspaper. There are some exemptions on very large rural properties.
Sometimes people have the builder quote the job, including plans. This has the advantage of simpicity, but of course means that you are then bound to one builder, and cannot get competitive quotes. For most work, it is also difficult for a builder to quote before the plans are prepared, and he is not going to do them, until the quote is accepted. The solution is to add a bit of fat in the quote, and some clauses about getting extras if the soil test or windload is worse than assumed, and of course at that stage you have to accept. Unless it is a fairly standard job, we recommend you get the plans first …….. but then again we would say that.
We start with a soil test. This often effects what kind of construction we will recommend. Too often for example people have their heart set on brick, it turns out the soil is blacksoil, the cost of the footings is astronomical, and the building has to be redesigned in rendered blue board. Depending on the soil and lay of the land, we may advice a suspended floor instead of a slab on ground to save on retaining walls, in any case we think it is smart to start with the ground.
Plans form two functions, to let Council know what you are doing, and to let your builder know what has to be built. There is seldom a need to impress Council, and the builder is more impressed by clear simple plans, with a minimum of excess information (called “boilerplate”) which is easy to do in the modern day of cut and paste. We try to make our plans functional. If it is a development application, or the plans will be used as walkthroughs to sell the building, we will provide fancy 3d drawings, but for building it is not required. It actually takes more time and trouble to put less on paper, but saves you in building costs and mistakes. The industry is going away for this though, it is easy to impress a non-builder client with thick bundles of plans with lots of boilerplate on them, and considering the huge cost of plans it is tempting to try and show off. We don’t.
We will try to assign one person to see your job through, and be your primary contact. They may not do all the work, or have all the answers, but they can get them. If at any time though you want to speak to the engineer or manager, this is absolutely encouraged. No stepping on toes, we all need feedback to grow.
The plans will then go either to Council or a private certifier. This is to check that the building complies with the town plan, the building code and is not over a sewer or some other complication. This work was previously done only by Council, but legislation has changed and private certifiers can now do the work. Because people often feared Councils this was a popular move. Councils have since become more user friendly and are quite competitive again. Some Councils such as Ipswich still provide certification, and are quick and responsive. Some Councils such as Brisbane ,no longer approve building plans, and you must use a certifier. If the project requires some Council approval anyway, such as paying a bond for a removal, or a boundary relaxation, then people often find it easier to put the whole process through them. If you need an approval in a day or two, then people often use a private certifier.
If you have had your plans prepared by an architect or a draftsman, you will often have to supply a structural certificate, this is called a Form 15.
We have good relations with both, and can recommend names for either project. Their costs are similar. Either you or the Builder will pay the BSA insurance fee, and the Long Service Levy, along with the certification fee, which is available on Council websites, or by getting a quote from a certifier.