I have had the pleasure of getting to know Allan Staines, the “Father” of owner-building construction in Australia.
His text books are compulsory reading for building schools, TAFE’s and Universities. Since the first version of his books, he has sold over one million copies. So let’s hear from the man himself to answer common questions readers have when it comes to building granny flats.
How do you build a granny flat?
You build a granny flat by following these 10 steps (in this order):
- Obtain a Section 10.7 Certificate to confirm if you can build on your land
- If ok, employ a surveyor, engineer and designer to check the land and develop plans
- Reach out to your local council or a private certifier to lodge the build with council
- Order the frame for Granny Flat construction
- Arrange quotes with Electrician and Plumber
- Pour concrete slab or construct piers and lay floor
- Construct prefab wall frames (putting up the frame)
- Fit rafters or trusses for the roof
- Fit roof
- Fit windows, lay bricks (veneer) or weatherboard cladding and plaster internal walls
These steps will get you to the point of installing the kitchen, bathrooms, bedroom wardrobes and dressing the cabin to exactly as you want it.
In Allan Stain’s book “How to be a successful Owner Builder and Renovator” these steps can be seen in detail.
How much does it cost to build a granny flat?
This is a common question I get, and it really is like asking, “How long is a piece of string?”
Only because it is dependent on:
- How many bedrooms you want?
- How hard it is to get to the construction site in the back yard?
- What finishes and fixtures you want?
- Are you building on flat land or on a slope?
- How many windows do you want?
For a detailed look at costs see this breakdown I created here.
Make the owner-builder process easier by following the tips below
Do I need a white card as an owner builder?
Yes, is the short answer. A “White card” is a general construction induction training card. Which can only be obtained by completing training online or in person by a qualified training centre.
Once you successfully complete the training you are issued with one and can move ahead with the other permits required to build.
Do you need a builder’s licence to build a granny flat?
You don’t need a full builder’s qualifications to build as an owner-builder. However, you do need to have passed an “owner builders” training test to qualify.
Once you have completed ‘owner-building’ training and you have your white card you can employ a certifier to carry out the necessary inspections for your build.
To read more about this in depth, see my post about building from scratch.
What parts of a Granny flat (GF) build are easier to build yourself without prior experience?
From my personal experience and what Allan explains, most of the heavy labour although physically demanding is easy to do, such as:
- Digging ditches
- Digging footings
- Laying bearers and joists
- Laying floor
- Painting walls
- Installing a flat packed kitchen
What parts of a build are difficult for an owner builder without experience?
There are other parts which can be tricky for the “owner-builder” doing it the first time. These include:
- Raising a granny flat frame and ensuring everything is plumb and straight
- Fitting windows, doors and shower screens
- Brick laying
- Installing a roof
- Connecting power (which should be done by a qualified electrician anyway)
None of the building points above are impossible, however can be demanding if not attempted before.
However don’t let these stop you from giving it a go. If you have time to spare and don’t mind taking a little longer this will certainly help.
How do I get started building a granny flat?
As Allan told me:
“Lets say you take off 1 month from work to build your granny flat. If you order your frame well in advance and have the slab laid when you are still at work, then you are ready to go with the slab or piers already completed. You would then plan to start building yourself on the day the prefabbed frame is delivered.”
If you choose to hire an experienced builder (contractor you hire) can have the frame up in 1.5 to 2 days. Then you have the trusses or rafters put in, all square, plum and straight.
Then windows in and roof on.
Get the roofer in at the same time cladding is going on or bricks are being laid for brick veneer. (After sarking is done of course).
All this can all be done in one month if the trades are managed properly. Then you can take your time with the rest as it is at “lock up stage”.
- Lockup stage means you can work at the pace you want to and nothing internally will be dragged out due to bad weather.
I did ask Allan:
If you had the choice and budgets were not a concern; would you recommend cladding or brick veneer?
Allan’s answer was simple:
Brick, you never have to paint it and it will last decades. Allan has lived in his house after 40 years of building it with an the extension constructed years later.
“The top half was added (extension) using cladding and is such a hastle to have to paint it over time, where the bottom (brick section) will be fine forever with no up-keep required.”
I went on to ask Allan;
When it comes to building materials, are there any ‘traps’ owner builders can fall in to when trying to save money?
And there was another simple answer to this question:
“Don’t skimp on cheap things, such as windows, buying cheap windows that corrode over time or latches that break are almost impossible to fix as the years go on.”
The personal example Allan gave was, “I can’t even locate parts to fix the windows installed 20 plus years ago. The companies don’t exist anymore. Buying cheap things never works in the long run.”
Are there costs many owner builders forget to factor into their build?
Yes, when Allan was a builder he would factor in every single thing in the quote, even down to the nails and screws used, there are a lot of these small things that need to be factored into the build, there are many aspects to the build that are forgotten.
Be sure to add contingency for things that come up.
The good news is generally these costs can blow up when renovating more than building from scratch.
Are there safe/recommended ways for owner builders to save money?
Yes, build yourself. For things you can’t do, plumbing/electricity, be sure to get at least 3 quotes.
What are the common things that go wrong for Owner builder’s and how can people prevent the impact of them?
Allan answer this question very succinctly
Not planning right, not budgeting right and taking on too much in the time you have given yourself. It is always going to take a first-time owner builder longer than a trades person. That is why they charge what they do.
You can do anything it is just going to take you 2 or 3 times longer in some cases.
From my own person account (What the foundation of this website was built on) I had some follow up questions for Allan regarding hiring trades people, as I did outsource jobs I didn’t have the time or skill to do.
When outsourcing tasks to qualified builders, what in your opinion makes a great builder?
This answer surprised me as I thought it would mainly do with expertise.
“Someone who is easy to get along with. Being easy going is very important; it means they will more likely be flexible if you need to alter anything along the build. And the builder will be happy to explain things to keep you informed when you need to be.”
What questions should you ask any builder before hiring them?
Be sure to share with them detailed specifications. A set of documents in booklet form accompanying the plans.
Without specifications the owner builder is really at their mercy with regards to the materials they use and the quality of their work.
For instance, using 20Mpa concrete where 40Mpa should be used can make or break the quality of a construction.
Without these specifics you are asking for trouble.
Enquire at a HIA office for the standard specifications booklets.
Are there ways to save on using a builder – And would you recommend holding them to a fixed quote or paying by the hour?
Getting a fixed quote is a better idea.
That way you have everything in writing and there is no confusion about what needs to be done.
However it is imperative that you are very clear on the outcomes expected. And you and the builder are on the same page.
What are common frustrations qualified builders have when working with home owners?
Yes there are a couple.
Do not look over builders shoulders when they are working, when inspecting their work, do so after they have gone home for the day. When they are not around.
It is frustrating for owners to be in the way when builders are trying to work. Breaking their focus, concentration and thinking.
A builder is always thinking of the best way to construct, and you being there all the time constantly asking questions and pointing things out is very frustrating for them.
Just be very clear on the specifications and plans before you hire them and let them work, don’t micro manage them.
Would you recommend owner builders attempt their own plumbing work?
No, all plumbing work needs to be carried out by a licenced plumber, however you can dig your own ditches for plumbing work underground to save on labour costs.
Some councils will let you do your own guttering, downpipes and placing your own noggins at the places designated by the plumber on a granny flat frame.
Would you have any advice for people looking to buy a granny flat “kit” and building themselves?
Kits are fine as long as they are from a reputable company.
Another problem is having everything sent to you at once. And then being affected by the weather.
This is a major problem.
You may need to ask the kit company if they can send things to you in ‘lots’ such as send the bearers and joists in one lot. (if building on piers).
When this is done, then send the timber frame. Then after this is erected send the trusses or rafters. This way if you do need to take your time the timber isn’t sitting in your yard and warping due to the weather.
Any Last words of advice for ‘Owner builders’ of GF’s?
Give it a go! Just make sure everything is planned out extremely well before beginning any physical building and have realistic timelines based on your work/life balance.
I hope this in depth review with Allan Stains himself will guide you on the owner builder steps to build a granny flat.
If looking to build your own secondary dwelling find out more here.