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Where To Start?

Dalecki Design Founder Janik Dalecki offers first time builders and renovators a guide to the design and approvals process


The prospect of tackling a project, whether it be a new home, renovation or addition can be extremely daunting, especially if it is a process you have never encountered before. With council approvals, consultants and designers, it’s hard to even know where to begin!

Below is a general guide for first time builders or renovators, to walk you through step by step each stage of the building design and approvals process, leading you to the point where construction of your dream project can begin.

The following steps are heavily dependent on the exact nature of the project you are undertaking, however, provide a good general guide to get you started with the process.

If you are beginning a new project, there is a good chance that you already have a fair idea of what you want to do- whether it be to build a new family home, renovate your existing home, or even build an alfresco area out the back. From here, the best place to start is to call your local council. Have a chat to them about your project so they can give you a yes or no answer as to whether your project requires any approvals at all.

It is also a good idea to speak to council about your project in a little more detail- explain exactly what it is you are hoping to do and what you want to achieve. They will be able to give you a general understanding as to whether the works you are hoping to carry out are possible within your particular council’s Local Planning Policies and the Residential Design Codes.

Residential Design Codes – Commonly referred to as ‘R-codes’, they are the Western Australia wide rules and regulations that stipulate what you can and can’t do on your specific parcel of land. These regulations include all aspects of a home design including boundary setbacks, wall heights, building heights and maximum building footprint of your site etc.

Local Planning Policy – Guidelines put in place by your individual council. These guidelines override the residential design codes and are here to ensure the desired integrity of the area is maintained. 

It is important to remember not to take the council’s opinion as to whether or not your project is possible as final. If a council says that your works aren’t possible, quite often, a good designer or architect will be able to come up with a solution that falls within the council’s regulations and still meets your brief. The specialised knowledge and experience of a building designer or architect also mean that they can often provide sufficient justification or explanation for your project that will support council approval.

The next step before approaching a professional is to put together a detailed brief of what you want to do including exactly what you want to achieve and what your budget is. A brief may include inspirational photos, house plans that you like, or could be purely written. This step is crucial, as it is important to have a clear idea of exactly what you want to achieve prior to starting your project. Your brief doesn’t have to explain physically how it will be laid out, or how it will be achieved (this is the designer’s job), but more so a result of what you are trying to achieve in terms of liveability.

From here, approach a building designer, architect or builder with your detailed brief. Carry out thorough research into the companies prior to approaching them to ensure that the firm you ultimately engage reflects your style and design philosophy.

Once you have selected the firm you will be working with to develop your design, the first consultant involved in the process is a surveyor. The surveyor will conduct a feature and contour survey, measuring the fall and height of your land along with any features that are on the site, such as existing structures, trees and services (ie sewer). In the case of an addition or renovation, it is particularly important to get this done up front so you know the exact position of the house in relation to your boundaries.

The firm that you approach will then come up with a design based on your detailed brief and the findings of the land survey. The process of developing a final design will often involve a number of revisions and toing and froing between you and your design firm before it is perfect.

Once you have decided on a design that you love, the firm will lodge this to council for the development application. This is the first stage of applications that will be submitted in the process of your home design approval.

Development Application – Otherwise known as development approval (DA), planning approval or planning application. Essentially this stage is the council assessing your particular design to ensure it complies with the R-codes and any local planning policies.

Once planning approval has been granted, the firm will complete detailed documentation, which are the plans that are used to construct the project. Depending on the size of the project, various consultants will be involved at this stage. A standard house will require a structural engineer, energy efficiency consultant, building certifier and geotechnical engineer.

Geotechnical Engineer – Takes samples of the soil on your piece of land to give you a classification of the soil type that you are building on. The structural engineer will then use this to calculate the structural components specified in the detailed documentation (slab and footings etc).

Structural Engineer – Specifies in detail all the structural components within the project.

Energy Efficiency Consultant- Assesses the design and the proposed specification of the build to ensure it meets the minimum standards for energy efficiency (all homes must be a minimum of a 6 star rating).

Building Certifier – Whilst engaging a building certifier isn’t a requirement, it is a huge benefit when lodging your documentation to council as it fast tracks the process. A building certifier will assess the plans against the Building Code of Australia, or BCA, to ensure it meets the required standards and will then provide a Certificate of Design compliance (also referred to as a CDC).

By lodging ‘certified’ plans to council it fast tracks this stage, with council processing the application within 10 working days, with reduced council processing fees. However, if you lodge ‘uncertified plans’ to council, they can take up to 25 working days to process and will be subject to the full processing fee.

Building Code of Australia – Also referred as the BCA, is a uniform set of technical provisions for the design and construction of any buildings structures throughout Australia.

Australian Standards – Commonly referred to as AS are documents setting out specifications, procedures, and guidelines. They are designed to ensure products, services and systems are safe, reliable and consistent.

Certificate of Design Compliance – Or commonly referred to a CDC, is a certificate provided from the Building Certifier stating the building permit application package is compliant with the required Australian Standards and Building Code of Australia and is therefore ready to be lodged to council as a Certified Building Application.

Larger projects (i.e multi-residential) will require additional consultants. These consultants can include an acoustic engineer, fire engineer, mechanical engineer, hydraulic engineer and civil engineer among various others, depending on the exact nature of the project.

The whole package (detailed drawings including the required information from all of the engaged consultants) along with the Building Certifier certificate of design compliance (if this process is selected) is then lodged to council for a Building Permit under the selected builders builders registration.

Building Permit – Also commonly referred to as a building application, building approval or building licence. This is the final approval process from council.

If you are an owner builder, prior to lodging your documentation for building approval, you will need to lodge an application to the Building Commission for an owner builder application in order to receive your owner builder licence.

Once approval is granted by council for the building permit, your project has received the green light and construction can officially begin!

Whilst this whole process may seem overwhelming, it is important to remember that if you engage a building designer, architect or builder early on in the process, they will guide you through the steps, taking care of the majority of the work for you. Starting a project is an exciting time, so be sure to enjoy the process!

To find more about Dalecki Design visit the website here.