Open-minded and curious Owner Builder saves tens of thousands
Meet Sydney based Owner Builder, Alex who saved tens of thousands of dollars by buying his windows for his custom new build from a window supplier in China.
Alex openly shares his experience including the drawbacks, things to watch out for and the savings opportunity.
Here's a short overview of his order:
- Double glazed, aluminium awning windows with Crimsafe and a thermal break
- Ordered through a supplier listed on Ali Baba – Super Wu (Super House)
- Estimated savings of around $60k (or more)
What was it that made you consider ordering windows from China?
I stumbled across it when I did my research for aluminium windows. Ali Baba came up. I was curious enough to enquire because I felt I had nothing to lose.
I made a few enquiries and got a few quotes. I asked around to understand what the risks were ordering from an Ali Baba supplier. I spoke to my builder, certifier and other local window suppliers.
My builder had worked for a construction company and they had installed windows from China in a block of units. He was open to the idea.
The certifier said to make sure the order meets all the Australian Standards. He required this from a compliance perspective.
I contacted the Australian Window Association (AWA) to understand the Australian Standards.
The AWA were also able to direct me to their list of suppliers in China. The two suppliers I’d made enquiries with were on the AWA member's list. This made me more comfortable.
The last check I did was to find out if the China suppliers did any local installs which they did. I went to a residential home to check the work as well as a commercial building in Sydney.
By this point, I was comfortable. Plus, when you order through Ali Baba, Ali Baba gives buyers a guarantee on purchase – suppliers have to meet contractual obligations.
What more did you learn about meeting Australian Standards?
The Australian Standards are generic across Australia and most window suppliers meet those standards.
In NSW, you also have to meet Basix – to do with sustainable living. Things like thermal mass and insulation are Basix related.
If doing a new build in NSW, you need a Basix certificate. AWA also do that certification.
The AWA also told me that to be an AWA member, you needed an existing window manufacturer to recommend you to be a member. That gave me confidence because not just anyone can become an AWA member.
Tell us about the ordering process.
I first went to a few local window suppliers to find out the specs for different types of windows.
With these specs, I went back to supplier in China to see if they could meet the specs. Surprisingly, I found they could go above and beyond the specs and at a cheaper price.
There was a lot of communication via WeChat and WhatsApp. That’s how they communicate. Written English is fine so there was no need for phone contact.
They sent pictures and order forms to complete.
We understand you waited for the window frames to be up before you measured and ordered even though the ordering lead-time was 12 to 15 weeks, why was that?
If everything went to plan, we would have ordered them in time to be installed when the frame finished. That was a perfect scenario.
However, we did a custom build and when we started the build, we found a lot things that weren’t spec’d out properly and questions also came up around the design.
For example, when we put the slab down, we made slight modifications. The carpenter pointed out that because of the changes, once the frame goes up, there’s a possibility that the windows won’t fit.
So we decided to wait for the frames to go up before measuring and ordering all the windows.
The carpenter was right and in the end the windows had to be reduced in size.
Because we were saving so much money on the windows, from a time / cost point of view it made sense to wait for 12 weeks. We were ahead even factoring in 12 weeks of mortgage repayments.
Even if we went local, we'd have still held off ordering until the frame went up before taking measurements. There'd have been a 6-week lead-time anyway.
We knew there were other options but for us, it was worth the delay.
What are some learnings from the process?
You need to consider the drawbacks:
- The lead-time (12 to 15 weeks) is quite long.
- If the order ends up being wrong, the timeframe is something to keep in mind if the windows need to be sent back.
- We also ordered 2 sliding doors through a local supplier. The difference is the local supplier comes on-site to do the measure and the install. From a point of liability, if it’s a difficult install, you’re dealing with a local supplier.
- When ordering from China, the liability is with the owner builder. If measurements are wrong, you’re liable.
If you order from China, you need to:
- Double-check every measurement you put on the order form – right down to the tolerance millimetres for width and height.
- Bear in mind that different windows have different specs. For example, bathroom windows you want to be translucent.
- Know which windows you want security mesh on.
- Specify everything e.g. double glaze or single glaze.
- And the colour!
Be very certain you are correct.
The measuring part would make us sweat, did you do the measurements or did your carpenter?
I did the measurements, the carpenter did the measurements and my builder did the measurements – 3 sets of eyes checked the measurements!
You used hipages to get an installer? Why didn’t your carpenter or builder do the install?
My carpenter only installs the window frame and the glazier comes later and puts in the glass. The weight of the window was an issue for our carpenter. One of our windows was 250kg.
The guy I got also happened to import windows from China so he was familiar with the product and was used to installing them. He was also open to speaking direct with the supplier if any issues.
Once they were installed, the carpenter and builder were impressed. The local supplier who installed the 2 sliding doors was also impressed.
How about insurance on shipping?
I would recommend shipping insurance.
Super Wu ship a lot of windows to Australia so their packaging was very, very good. Nothing was broken or scratched. The windows were in bubble wrap with air pillows and in customised steel frames (even though the windows were different sizes) to protect the windows.
What was the cost compared to local suppliers?
I had acoustic requirements so we ordered double-glazed, 10mm glass, awning windows with Crimsafe and a thermal break.
The total cost of the windows was AUD$18,000 and shipping and delivery to site = approximately AUD$6,000. A total $24,000k.
A quote from a local supplier for single glazed only was around $60k to $70k. This excluded a thermal break and Crimsafe.
Australia has a free trade agreement with China so we don’t pay GST / import duty.
To finish up, tell us how you've found the OB process from end-to-end?
I keep an open mind and I’m flexible. Stuff happens. I try to understand it from the builder’s point of view then I make my own assessment of whether he’s doing the right or wrong thing.
I have an IT project management background so I understand there are phases of a project, deliverables for each phase, as well as the scope of a project, locking down suppliers and the need for a contingency plan. That's helped.
It’s the technicalities of building that I don’t know. When I’m not comfortable with what the builder is saying, I get a 2nd opinion. It costs money but it’s a quality assurance check.
Some other things that made owner building possible for me is technology and social media. Things like The Owner Builder Facebook group to discuss issues; hipages to find rated tradies without needing referrals; and the Council/regulation information online.
Our sincere thanks to Alex for openly sharing his experience. What great insight he's given and definitely provided food for thought!
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you decide to go down this path, you do so at your own risk. This is Alex's experience and in no way does it mean you'll have the same experience. So please, you must do your homework 🙂