04 Apr, 2018

Before you begin – assessing your needs and preferences for your new home


Whether you are building or buying, spending some time to really think through the way that you will use your home now and into the future can save you a lot of time and money, and will make sure that your new home is the right fit for you.

Working through the following questions can help you develop your own project brief, which you can use to help choose between project home options or in conversations with your architect or designer.

- How big is your family and how long are you likely to live in your new home? Whilst this might not be straightforward to answer, the size of your family (now and into the future), including whether you may have elderly relatives coming to live with you, will determine such factors as the number of bedrooms, garage space and proximity to schools and work.

How long you anticipate being in your home will help determine whether you should also be designing for future flexibility, such as when children leave home, or when you retire. You may want to design the home so that bedrooms can be converted into hobby spaces, to ensure it is accessible even if your mobility changes, or for a portion of the house to be able to be closed off to reduce heating and cooling costs when it is no longer in active use.

- How do you live, and what do you like doing? When considering a new home, think about your lifestyle now and how you would like your home to enable that. If you have a busy lifestyle and are out and about during the week, you may prefer a home that requires minimal maintenance. If you have particular hobbies or sports that you love, you may want to ensure you have space for these activities and to store equipment easily. You may prefer to live closer to your work, schools and favourite places even if it means a smaller home, than to live further away and spend more time travelling.

Would you rather have a backyard of your own for gardening or children to play in, or a smaller garden but live closer to a park? Are you typically a minimalist who never keeps anything that’s not actively used, or someone who will need extra storage space throughout the home?

Remember that in housing, more is often not better - a larger home will cost you more, and will require more time and money to clean and maintain. Clever design can help you have more functional spaces that can be adapted over time, and ensure that what you do have works well with your lifestyle.

- What is most important for your family and how you live in your home? Rank the following factors in the order of importance for you and your family, to help you prioritise certain design features in your home.

  1. Being close to work, schools and our daily activities to reduce travel time and potentially reduce the number of cars our family needs.
  2. Being able to entertain, having large spaces where a lot of people can come together.
  3. Having privacy within our home, with separated living areas and bedrooms so that everyone can retreat when they need to.
  4. Having room for multiple generations of the family to come and stay at different phases of life.
  5. Good garden space, and/or plenty of outdoor living areas.
  6. A large kitchen that is the focal point of the house for family and friends.
  7. Great internal temperature comfort all year round.
  8. Energy and water efficiency, to reduce our ongoing bills.
  9. A low maintenance home and garden.
  10. An elegant, interesting design of the home.
  11. A good return on investment (good resale value).
  12. Privacy from neighbours and surrounding streets.
  13. Having room for hobbies, such as a workspace or toolshed.

- What sort of house style and construction materials do you prefer? There are a whole suite of different styles and construction materials that could be used in your home, and these will all influence the look and the performance of your home. Take your time to look at homes in the area, ask questions of friends and family about what they like or dislike about their home, and do some research to get a clearer picture of your preferences.

Remember that a housing style and construction materials that work well in one climate, may not be appropriate for our sub-tropical environment. Generally speaking, lighter construction materials like wood and steel, and housing styles that provide shade and allow good breezes like the traditional Queenslander perform the best in the sub-tropics.

- What is your budget? It may be difficult to work out your budget, until you know what you are able to get for that amount of money. It is important, however, to make sure that you’ve talked with your bank and considered your income and living costs, and worked out the amount that you could spend and still be comfortable even if interest rates were to rise, or you were unable to work for a period of time. Remember that the costs of your home may increase if there are delays or changes required to the building process, or that costs can increase for building materials and services, so you should factor this into your budget.

Having a good idea of how much money you are able to spend will ensue that you don’t spend more than you’re able, even if you fall in love with a particular design or feature.

- Maximising the comfort and performance of your home There are several important features that will have a big impact on how comfortable your home is, and how much it will cost to live in it. Take some time do research the benefits of these features, so you can develop a list of ‘non-negotiables’ that you want in your future home - and those that you may like to retrofit later, if possible. If you will need to retrofit these features onto your home, make sure you have allowed for this in your budget.

  • Homes where the daytime living areas and largest windows face towards the north keep cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and will give you the best daylight. It is critical that these northern facing windows have good, fixed shading above them so that the summer sun doesn’t heat your house.
  • Windows and rooms that face towards the east will be exposed to full morning sun, and those to the west will have the full afternoon sun. Ideally, rooms that are less frequently used would be on these sides of the house (such as a garage, laundry or bathroom), and windows should be well shaded.
  • Outdoor living areas and good cross-ventilation through the house will help you keep naturally cool, particularly when these can capture the breezes that predominately come from the south-east on the coast.
  • A white or cool roof with good insulation will reduce the amount of heat that comes into your house, keeping you several degrees cooler.
  • Ceiling fans cost a tiny fraction to run compared to air conditioners, and can keep you very comfortable on hot summer’s days even with the windows open. A house with ceiling fans in all bedrooms, living areas and outdoor spaces is a good investment!
  • Having solar PV panels and a solar hot water system from the beginning will save you a lot of money and immunise you against power price rises. Consider whether you want to have these installed directly, or otherwise may prefer to have your house wired for future installation.
  • Rainwater tanks can reduce your water bills, and if you would like to have one in your home it is worth considering up front where this would be located, and whether it is connected to internal uses like your toilets and laundry.

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