To save money I wanted to know about building as an “owner-builder”. So can you build your own granny flat?
Yes, you can. As an “owner-builder” you can obtain the right permits. Then you need to hire a private certifier or arrange a local council representative to approve your granny flat. Once approved, you can physically build it yourself or hire the right trades people.
I decided to go ahead and build the granny flat in our back yard with no prior building experience. After chatting to friends in the building industry, I realised it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Below I cover the exact steps you need to follow to build your own granny flat and save a ton of cash.
UPDATE: To see where I go into more detail: Click here to see a detailed step-by-step guide for a granny flat build
How Do You Save Money as an Owner Builder?
As an owner-builder you immediately save on ‘project management’ costs that builders factor into every job they do. If you can pitch in for the manual labour that needs to be done, here is where you will save a lot of money as well.
It certainly helps if a friend can lend a hand!
Labour is expensive, especially in Australia. The average labourer still asks hundreds of dollars for a day’s work. So, if you can substitute yourself as a labourer or a builders “assistant” (like a brickies labourer) to speed any job up, that is money in your pocket.
Saving on Building Materials
Many builders you might hire to work for you, will also add a margin on top of building materials as well. By souring all the materials yourself, you will save a lot of money. It might mean more trips to Bunnings, but it will be worth it in the end.
NOTE: For a breakdown cost to build my granny flat see this post.
What is an Owner Builder?
An owner-builder is basically a certification you can get to build your own granny flat. There are strict rules in Australia about building, however once you obtain a “White Card”, you can obtain an owner-builder licence.
A White card is all about safety. A type of qualification you need to ensure you understand the risks of building on any building site. You will need this before getting the owner-builder certification.
It also gives you the confidence to know what to do when a safety issue arises on site. Once you have your White Card, which can be completed by taking a quiz online. I did it through an Owner Builder Courses company.
There is an open-book online quiz you need to take. It wasn’t too difficult and I passed with flying colours. Within a couple of weeks, I was issued a White Card as seen below:
White Card’s will work in most states. For example, this was issued from QLD but I built in NSW
Once you have the White (safety) card certification completed, you then need to complete the course for Owner-builder certification. I actually started doing this through one company but the exams where really long and would have taken 8+ hours to complete in one sitting.
So, I found another company which only took about 1.5 Hours to complete. I recommend going with Live and Learn. There was just one test which needed to be completed as opposed to 5 with the other company.
There was also a simple PDF document which had all the answers you will need for the quiz. The open book exam was very easy with them.I also found them to be a little cheaper. Once the quiz was completed I submitted the answers and within a couple of days I had my certificate!
I was now an official “Owner Builder”.
Trades You Will Need
Once you have your building certification, it sadly doesn’t mean you are now a qualified trades person. You will need a licenced plumber to fit the pipes (which I explain about further down this post).
You will also need a licenced electrician as an example of other trades you will need help from. I was electrocuted years ago due to house wiring and I certainly don’t recommend that at all!
Do everything you can to keep yourself safe when building.
What Permits & Certifications do you Need?
Unfortunately, you can’t get to work after completing these qualifications online just yet. There are a few permits you need, these might vary from state to state (I am in NSW) so can only share what I needed before I began.
NOTE: For a detailed look at certifications to build a granny flat click here.
Firstly, I needed a:
• Certificate 10.7 from council. This was $133 at the time and I required this to see whether I needed a full DA (Development Application) or a CDC (Complying Development Application).
You want to do what you can to try and avoid a DA and get a CDC, there is a lot less red tape this way.
• Owner Builder Permit from “Service NSW” this was $180 and basically it was me paying money to the local Government to say I completed the White Card and Owner-Builder exams.
Like a few things I have discovered, there are a bunch of smaller costs like this which don’t add value to your property, but need to be paid.
• Long Service Levy – This is a payment that needs to be made into a fund for “Long Service Levy’s” for builders.
This one seemed the craziest to me, you basically have to pay money into a fund you won’t benefit from. It is for professional builders and this needs to be paid, otherwise they won’t let you build.
It seemed like extortion to me, but there is nothing you can do about it. The cost for this is based on the estimated building cost of your granny flat and it cost me: $342.36
Planning and Design Cost
Depending on who your designer is there are extra costs here. And the permits above are actually paid after you have your design planned out. We went with a local designer and it cost us just under $2,200 for the original sketches and final construction ready drawings.
NOTE: Check out the difference between a draftsperson and architect and how you can save.
We also needed a:
• Surveyor to come to the house and map out the land. This cost me $1,430 for the area I live in (Central Coast, NSW)
• Engineers to come out and measure the soil and see if we were sitting on rock regarding the Granny flat foundation. This cost $780.
• BASIX Certificate for the Granny Flat: This is a certificate you need to comply with Environmental Issues. Such as confirming which insulation you need to use and what type of hot water system is allowed.This cost us $525
Private Certifier vs. Local Council
Once you have paid for these certifications and have the drawings you need someone to certify the building work. This is to ensure everything is legally completed and the final Granny Flat will be safe for anyone to live in. For an in depth guide about these certifiers, please click here.
There are two options for this:
1. A Private Certifier:
This is where you hire a local “Certifier” who comes out to inspect 4 stages of the entire build from beginning to end. The good news is there is no time limit and you don’t have to involve council directly. After a lot of research, I found that using a private certifier was the best choice for us.
In short, you can arrange inspections with only 24 hours’ notice and they will help you with all the questions you will have along the way. This cost $1600 and it would be cheaper with council, however trying to get Council on the phone when you want is near impossible where I live.
2. Council Certification:
This is where you ask your local council directly to inspect the stages of your granny flat build and they give you the “sign-off” on the final build as opposed to a private certifier. This option is cheaper; however, you won’t be able to pick up the phone and arrange inspections when you want without a fair bit of notice.
Also, as mentioned it is harder to get an answer you might need in the middle of the build without holding things up.
Even though you can opt for a private instead of a public level of certification, you will always need council to inspect your plumbing.
A private certifier won’t be able to sign off on the plumbing which connects your sewage waste to the main sewer line where you live. If you decide to opt for Private certification you will need to call council for the plumbing inspections.
And if you do have council to the inspections for you. You will still need to contact another department in council for this sewer inspection. The cost where I live for this “extra plumbing certification” was $233.40.
Where Can You Build Your Own Granny Flat?
Most people build there granny flat in their back yard, like I have. However, sometimes your granny flat won’t fit at the bottom of your garden. Due to this you can apply for a DA with council to check if you can build a granny flat in your front yard.
Like anything to do with local council there are rules and regulations.
However, if you have enough space along the sides of your property and a big enough setback from the street, this won’t be completely ruled out. I recommend chatting to the building and development department of your municipality for more info.
Can You Build a granny flat without a house?
Granny flat’s have a lot less requirements to be built (compared to a full-sized houses). This is because many local governments recognise a housing shortage.
Especially in capital cities like Melbourne and Sydney.
Therefore, building extra housing is actually encouraged. Granny flats are classed as “Secondary dwellings”. This effectively means that you need a “Primary dwelling” before building a granny flat.
There might be some exceptions to this rule. Generally speaking I can only say this wouldn’t be possible in the council that I live in.
It is great news that yes, you can build your own granny flat. And as this blog was designed to share, it isn’t as difficult as you might think. There are just a lot of things that you need to consider first and some money to you need to pay for the permits and certifications mentioned above.
You could certainly shop around for a cheaper designer and cheaper building certifier. And by chipping in to do as much of the physical work your self you will save a lot of money.
Just be sure you don’t do the Electrical and Plumbing work yourself.
Working with electricity is dangerous and you will need a licenced plumber to sign off on the final work as well.