Making It real
My story in attempting to bring a new housing type that improves affordability, livability & community resilience
Challenge 6 - Finding the right consultant (2 of 2). The Building Surveyor & the 2nd kitchen (Article 12)
(Please note that this article is one in a series and it may make references to previous articles)
Make sure you spend your time getting the right building surveyor. The control and influence they can have on your project are like having someone in your bed until your house keys are handed over. The realisation that I could be stuck with a very unhelpful and unresponsive surveyor are the moments that create sleepless nights. Unlike other consultants, the building survey once engaged, needs to register the project with the building commission. It’s like a short-term marriage. This arrangement is to prevent unscrupulous builders from replacing law-abiding surveyors with another more “flexible” surveyor how might show a blind eye to poor workmanship. For this reason, the building commission requires justification from you as to why you wish to remove a project registered building surveyor. This process is made much more complicated if the surveyor does not agree with the removal, meaning it could drag out the building process for months. For this reason, the power that building surveyors have on projects is dangerously high meaning that if you have an antagonistic relationship with this consultant, you can be in a world of pain. Luckily for me, my original building surveyor, after providing their initial advice and collecting “all” their fees, agreed to remove themselves from the project and the process went smoothly. However, this was not the end of the challenges that revolved around the building surveyor and the extent it would impact me was severe. What was it exactly that brought all these complications to the surface? Naturally, the fact I just wanted to install a 2nd kitchen. (I suggest you read the article below)
When communicating with drawings to my original building surveyor what I wanted to do, they were only too happy to assist and as quick as kids opening Christmas presents, they issued me an agreement that registered their role with the building commission. After the initial review of the house, variations came quickly for additional “unforeseen” reviews of which none provided clear guidance on the fundamental idea of the design, the second kitchen. Around the time I replaced the architect, the building surveyor was increasingly becoming nonresponsive and would only drip-feed information, frustrating both the new designers and me. It was at this point I discussed my concern with the surveyor and discovered that the second kitchen was complicating matters beyond their willingness to assist. It was incredibly disappointing as this design concept was discussed at length before engagement occurred. I had effectively paid a consultant that was never going to provide me with the service that I had requested at the onset. I perhaps had cause not to pay my fees, however knowing I could be tied up at the commission for an excessive period, sometimes it's best to cut your losses and move on. Being let down once more, I persisted and thanks to Mesh Design I landed on a new building surveyor relatively quickly. It wasn’t long before I became increasingly aware of just how complicated the world of the building surveyor was.
Building surveyors have the responsibility of being the protector and policeman of good building quality. For this reason, they often get abused or challenged by builders who have an interest in cutting corners or are seeking a “deem to comply*” solution. (* When the rules allow some level of interpretation, and as long as the design outcome delivers on the intent of the law, the building surveyor has the authority to approve an alternative approach). Even though they have a significant influence on a project, a building surveyor has the too often yet unfortunate task of outlining why aspects of designs are not achievable. As the laws discourage them in providing specific design guidance in how non-compliant designs are resolvable, it can become an inefficient process of going back and forth in the hope that the resubmitted design will gain the required marks to pass, if at all. The building surveyor's role is complicated when you consider the extensiveness of the building codes (There are 3 volumes and a guide book on average about 600 pages long!) and how it often also needs to be found in light of the local planning policy which can also be up to 600’s pages. It was becoming more apparent just how excessively complicated it was to obtain a permit and if you were to attempt something the building code or planning had not taken into account, God help you! I was discovering that the journey I was embarking on was just about to take a turn for the worse.
Without going into too specific building and planning rules here (See future articles), the core issue for the building surveyor in supplying me with what should have been a straight forward building permit was that the proposed second yet flexibly designed kitchen (it could be installed or hidden depending on what layout you needed) was on the 2nd level whilst the first one was on ground level. The Surveyor highlighted that this was the core item that created a conflict as to which “Class” they should classify the building which would then provide the necessary guidance as to how to asses it. As a result, he did not have the authority to approve the design and directed that I seek local council consent. Perhaps not a surprise to me so much now, but the outcome of the conversations with the council was some options as to what may assist me in my cause, but no clarity or certainty of approval if I choose to follow some of the costly options they suggested. Even though council seem to agree with the merits of what I was seeking to achieve, they were not comfortable in supplying approval of the house design with two kitchens and suggesting that it was more a Building code issue. (refer to my future comment from the National Building code Authority on this statement) As a result, I was forced to remove the second kitchen from the set of drawings in a bid to obtain councils consent on several other, less controversial design matters. As the kitchen was however fundamental to the ultimate design, I was forced to reconsider an alternative approach in how I could influence both the planning and building authority to become more an enabler than an impediment to the delivery of multigenerational homes. So began my journey into the multimedia space and world of webs designs, blogging and animation production.
The explanation of the relationship between planning rules and the building code is quite a complicated one, so I have broken this into four separate articles. In the first, I will respond to the common question I get from people where they are bewildered by my quest, believing there are already multigenerational homes or houses that have two kitchens. The second article will explain how the building codes apply to residential housing, and I will outline 2 of the three nonsensical outcomes these rules create. In the third, I will expand on how the planning system influences building code outcomes and contributes to the third nonsensical outcome from the regulations it enforces. Finally, I will close out with a suggested solution in how these rules could easily be amended to convert the authorities from being inhibitors to becoming enablers in the supply of multigenerational homes. Hopefully, by now, I haven’t tired you out as the next three will take some effort to get through as they are quite technical.
A property expert with over 25 years experience working across both private and public sectors, predominately within the housing space.