When to choose a Building Designer - Owner Builder Club

When to choose a Building Designer

Builder Designer vs Architect

Meet Andrew Remely. A Canberra based qualified Building Designer and a member of the Building Designers Association of Australia.

His credentials are impressive – a background in product design, an Honours degree in Fine Art and Multimedia as well as a furniture designer.

What was obvious throughout our chat with Andrew is his genuine passion and expansive knowledge of design.

You'll find that Andrew offers a number of thought provoking points throughout this Q&A.


How does an Owner Builder decide who to engage with – a Draftsperson, Building Designer or an Architect?

It’s about finding someone who is going to give you the design services that will give you a great outcome.

There’s a time and a place for a draftsman who provides an excellent service. A good draftsman who can help you through getting a compliant building and getting it through planning approvals is very useful. If you’ve got a well worked out design, then a draftsman makes sense.

Building Designers have an Advance Diploma qualification that provides much more than just drafting. They cover things like compliance with building and local planning codes, passive solar design and interior design. Things you wouldn’t normally get from a straight draftsman.

Architecture is an amazing profession and one I’ve been interested in for a very long time. It takes 6 years to complete an architecture degree and I'm yet to meet an Architect who is not highly intelligent.

Andrew made some great points well worth considering:

  1. A good design is money in the bank. I can’t stress enough the importance of that. The money you spend on design you will get back in spades down the track.
  2. If you use a Builder Designer or Architect right up front, you’ll get a good set of plans that are easier to get through council, easier to build and easier for builder’s to quote on.
  3. Building Designers are typically a bit cheaper than Architects and generally a little more pragmatic in their design.
  4. Solar and good insulation should dramatically reduce running aspects of a house so you should save the costs of a good design in power savings.
  5. A well thought out design will improve your quality of life when you live in it.
  6. There’s a lot to be gained from using someone local. Especially when it comes to getting plans through council. Local knowledge is valuable.
  7. There’ll be designers and architects who are appropriate for people to work with and there’ll be ones that won’t be. At the end of the day, you have to feel comfortable with the person you’re working with.

It’s about finding the right one.

Before engaging with a preferred profession, do you agree it’s important an OB understands what they want?

Yes but be careful about being too prescriptive and too locked in to ideas. Don’t necessarily build a house based on what you’ve seen and simply copying it.

The point of employing a professional is for them to think of solutions that you can’t think of.

Something that has stuck in my mind from when I was doing my study is this – if you’re thinking of solutions that an ordinary punter can come up with than why are they paying you.

Don’t sort it all out because you might be missing out on someone who can provide better solutions.

Focus on the outcome, the bigger picture of the house. For example, you might like an open house with panoramic views and with an amazing outdoor space.

It’s not just about the number of rooms.

When it comes to plans, what further insight can you give to OBs?

What I would say to an Owner Builder is this – because you’re managing the entire process the kind of documentation that you need and the kind of work based on what you need has to be something that you understand and can manage. Make this a part of the service.

The documentation should clearly explain the floor plan e.g. a green house, 2 story or 1 story, positioned like this on the block; here are the things I need to do in terms of setbacks; window sizes, garage sizes, stairs; assessable bathrooms to get through planning. Truss roof, termite protection, slab built to this level, waterproofing here.

These are all the aspects of the documentation so a) someone can build it and b) someone can certify it and sign it off.

If you’re on a block that doesn’t need much planning approval and there’s not a lot of tricky design issues around trying to get what you want built through planning then you need less help with planning.

If you’re building a kit home where it’s well documented from the manufacturing well you don’t need that other level of documentation.

(At this point the doorbell rang and Andrew’s tiles arrived for his bathroom. He made a point that you should always check your tiles when they’re delivered!)

How do you specifically work with OBs?

I help people with both design and project planning. In particular, the first step to get going in the right direction with a plan they can follow through on.

I’ve always been interested in design especially furniture. I renovated my own house as an OB so I come from the perspective of being an OB. It was then that I decided to study building design and make the jump to being a Building Designer.

In terms of project planning, I’ve managed multi-million dollar online projects in government. I’m certified in two project management methodologies – traditional IT project management such as Gantt – timelines, schedules and milestones.

I’m also certified in a more contemporary project management tool called Agile. It’s a tool used more widely by leading edge companies like Facebook and Google. It’s much more focussed on the outcomes and offers greater flexibility. It helps think and plan in a less constrained way.

It’s particularly suitable for an OB – rather than focus on a cascading Gantt chart with complicated timelines, Agile lets you build a list of priorities and offers greater flexibility.

I like to empower people through tools and planning activities and give them the space to run with it but be there to help as needed.

Some people want more some people want less. Depends on the situation and what people need.

Tell us a little more about your work…

Something I’m looking at changing is how I license intellectual property of my work to an open source market. Thinking differently about the copyright model.

Similar to what the Commonwealth Government has done. The government developed a simple energy efficient house plan – a 3 bedroom house and the plans are free for people to use to build on their block.

I’m looking at making some of my plans available under a creative commons license so people can download and have modified for their building site. They can’t use them commercially or resell and they’ll be required to credit me and acknowledge I did it.

It wouldn’t be a case of just submitting the plans to council, some modification would be required and I would charge for the modifications only not the base design.

There’s a space in the market for good quality design that can be modified to a particular situation especially for budget conscious people. It’s a way they can change how they spend money.

And finally, Andrew's words of wisdom…

  1. Embrace the building codes! They’re there for a reason. Trying to get around the codes doesn’t necessarily give you a better outcome. Don’t fight them, work with them.
  2. You don’t always need more space – you need better space that comes through good design.
  3. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. A poorly designed and built house that’s poorly insulated, difficult to heat and has rooms that are not used means running costs are going to be a burden.
  4. For the amount of work, stress and commitment that goes into an OB project, you want a mind-blowing outcome. Make it more than about saving money.
  5. Do it with a passion, with a dream. If you don’t, you’d be better off buying a spec built home in the burbs!

Thank you Andrew! Such an enjoyable extended chat with you and we're grateful for your time, expertise and insight.

To learn more about Andrew's style and work, visit his website here.

Until next time,

Happy researching, planning and building 🙂

Thinking about Owner Building? Unlock your potential and gain the right insights that will help you make an informed decision about becoming an Owner Builder. This resource will empower you to confidently embark on your journey into the world of owner building.

Elevate your owner builder journey with our online resource. Providing you with a step-by-step roadmap to meticulously plan and prepare before breaking ground. From design to permits, equip yourself with the essential knowledge to ensure a seamless and successful building experience from the start.

Confidently embark on your owner builder dream with this online resource. Developed in consultation with two registered builders, this stage-by-stage build process will guide you through the entire build. You’ll also get access to key quality checks, trades and materials at stage to help you build your vision with precision, ensuring a rewarding  experience.

Insight Categories