We've been in our house almost 6 months now and it feels like we've been here forever. This house so quickly felt like home and I know that is because everything about it was a conscious decision on our part, making it totally our own. We often find ourselves saying to each other how easy this space feels, how much we love being at home, coming home after work and how good it feels to live here. I've begun to truly realise that there is an appreciation you feel once you rid yourself of the excess. Everything around us is simple, beautiful and purposeful.
Design & build
People ask us if there's anything we'd change about our house now that we're living in it. I can't think of anything. That's the beauty with a custom design and build - it is exactly the way we wanted it to be. It might not suit someone else but it fits us perfectly.
With that being said it was definitely daunting building a house that we'd designed ourselves because it wasn't a tried and tested off-the-shelf plan. There were many moments where I wondered if we'd got measurements right or whether our vision would work. But after just a few days living in the house we were content with how everything turned out. The house doesn't feel cramped or small - and I believe that comes down to the design. From the pitched ceiling to the big windows. Sliding doors rather than conventional swinging doors. A luxuriously big shower and a kitchen bigger than the one that was in our four bedroom home! This house might be less than a third of the size of an average home but we think it packs a punch.
The build itself we're pretty darn chuffed with too. There's not a single element of our home that let us down us quality-wise and I remember with our first build that there were many. This time around we made very conscious decisions about the businesses & people we wanted to work with and it paid off. We can't recommend the team of tradespeople we used highly enough. In some cases this meant we paid a premium but typically you get what you pay for when it comes to service and quality.
It took just over 6 months to finish the build, which at the time felt like forever for a small build, but in reality considering the winter weather we were battling I think we did very well. Building over summer would have been much easier but there are drawbacks to each season, and while we cursed the wind and rain many times throughout the build the cooler weather was kind in that our exposed concrete floors didn't crack during curing.
If there is one thing we'd do differently with the design and build it would be to have spent even more time in the planning process with some of the technical aspects. The convoluted drainage channel system that was required between the house and same level concrete deck cost us thousands more than we'd expected. Similarly my design choice to have horizontal runs of corrugated cladding on the house meant thousands spent in labour & flashings purely for a look. Had we known how much some of these design choices were going to cost us and what headaches were involved with meeting building code compliance for certain things we may have chosen a different option. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and if that's all we can complain about I think we're pretty lucky!
In summary we are very happy with the design and build. The companies and people we worked with helped us create a home that we couldn't be happier with and we are so thankful. Our advice for anyone looking at building? Spend a lot of time on the planning part - it will be time well spent when you get to the build phase. Try to visualise yourself living in the home and how the design will work functionally, not just from an aesthetic viewpoint. And carefully consider your contractors and remember the cheapest quote isn't always the best option.
Materials & products
There's a number of reasons why we went over budget for this build but the main reason was our choice not to compromise on the materials and products we used. While it wasn't easy to see the budget being blown to pieces this house is intended as our forever home and we didn't want to later regret not having it made the way we dreamed it to be.
We could have saved thousands by having a cheaper shower, but we dreamed of the luxurious tiled shower. We could have had a kitset kitchen but this is the centre of our home and we are so pleased we did a custom kitchen to suit. We could have picked cheaper carpet for the bedroom, we could have selected a lower grade plywood for the walls, our eco-fire choice was pricey and we could have gone with a cheaper quote for all windows but we made conscious choices with the materials and products in our home. Even so we did definitely compromise on some things; we could have picked even higher grade plywood or gone with pre-sealed sheets, we opted out of argon gas for our windows, I didn't get the brand of kitchen appliances I dreamed of and we did glass wool insulation rather than a more eco-friendly product.
It was a constant battle trying to balance our dreams, must-haves, wants and budget. I'm sure it's like this with any build, big or small. But it was all on us this time around because I was managing the project and the budget. Last time we built we had a fixed price contract for the build and we picked material and product choices from a set list given to us by the building franchise. When it's a custom build suddenly a whole world of material and product options is open to you and it was sometimes overwhelming trying to make decisions.
Our material and product choices involved weighing up cost, aesthetics, future maintenance, eco-friendliness, time-savings, budget priorities and future costs.
The final cost of our house build is sitting around $220,000. This excludes the cost of land, the shed build, landscaping and costs of connecting to services (water, sewerage, power & phoneline - which will differ for every build & location). I have included the cost of the concrete deck in that amount which almost doubles the footprint of the build.
You could build a 65 square metre house for less than what it has cost us. I'd estimate you could save $25-50k on choosing different materials, cheaper products and components. But for us this would have meant not getting the forever house we dreamed of. Also because it was a custom design and build we had to pay for that. An off-the-shelf plan would be cheaper and time-saving.
Some of the things which might surprise you about the cost of the build: Plywood isn't cheaper than GIB itself, it just meant no gib-stopping and painting bills. We saved thousands of dollars by doing as much as we could ourselves like putting up the plywood & polyurethaning it, bathroom gib-stopping & painting, also sanding & sealing the concrete floor. If we didn't have to satisfy council building requirements we would have saved close to $20k in costs that did nothing to improve the actual build so I can definitely see the attraction of tiny houses on wheels, not to mention how frustrating & time-consuming it seems to be having to deal with the council when building.
We've managed to shave over 15 years off our mortgage by down-sizing from a house that was excessive to our requirements. And in the process we've built our dream forever house. This house has allowed us to take a huge step toward financial freedom, it's given us time back because it takes mere minutes to do chores instead of hours and it's taken away some of the stress we had because life is simpler now.
There were many meltdown moments during the build (mainly with blowing the budget!) however it has all been well and truly worth it. Of course that's what you'd expect us to say, but we have no real regrets. We made very little compromise with this build and while it might have cost more than we'd initially hoped we've achieved the house we wanted.
So what next?
It feels so good to have the house complete and to just enjoy living in it. Every day we appreciate this home we've built. At the end of 2019 we also came up with a name for our home. I'd always wanted to name it but it took a while to both agree on a name that fit the place. Devon Cottage - for the street we live on and the small house that it is. We're going to have the name of the house etched into some corten steel panels which will go on the end of the deck finishing off the fence.
Next up is the landscaping which is going to be a work in progress for many years. We recently had the fence put in and we're re-sowing grass, planting fruit trees, with the first vegetable garden to go in shortly too. From there we'll add a tunnel house, herb gardens, along with more trees and shrubs as time and money permits.