Secondary builds: the why and the how

How did a tall, young man building designer, and an older, short woman come to design and build a small home of 35sq meters, with a dynamic Geelong team of tradies and builder?

When Dan Procházka came to live in my 3 bedroom house in Geelong, while he completed his final year at Deakin Uni in Architecture, I could see that he was keen to be an active sustainability designer. He won awards for his designs, and then moved back to Gippsland to be part of an intentional community.

As a Carbon Manager focused mainly at that time on commercial building and industrial upgrades, I wasn’t very interested in residential buildings. While working for Council I developed the Geelong Commercial Building Upgrade program, we won the national City Switch Award with a local building owner and his tenants.

When Dan invited me to join a working bee at the community he lived at to assist a young man to build a tiny house, I rocked up out of cautious curiosity. I could see Emmet’s commitment to doing a good job with the array of reclaimed materials that he had gathered for the build. As I assisted him, I remembered the joys of my basic carpentry course of my 20’s. He encouraged me to try some angle grinding, and I became enchanted by the vision of a simpler living space. So contrary to the Australian dream!

Meanwhile, Dan had sketched out some ideas for a secondary dwelling on the block I live on in Geelong. This was, I think, originally his idea. Sometimes people can see your potential before you can! Our communications and ideas developed. Then I brought in a local carpenter with an interest in small builds. The team slowly grew as the design became a reality and I committed to achieving it.

During these two years, before the formal planning application, I grew more commited to living with less impact on environment and building more connectivity to people and Wadawurrung country where I live. I wanted to stay in the city but create a space which would back other people to live more simply.

The sub division costs which are required for a new dwelling are a shock. I spent $49,000 on the whole process. It’s time for Victoria to move to ‘secondary dwelling’ options with use of existing infrastructure. NSW is positively encouraging this approach to utilise existing city space and stop the environmentally and culturally disrespectful continual roll out onto country.

I appreciate the effective campaigning of the Alternative Technology Association team as they push for more rational planning regulations in Victoria. I don’t want to listen to comments about house prices, watch younger and older people struggle to afford housing, hear about tenants who are being squeezed out of the market. I want to be part of a proactive integrated city planning process which connects us all and shares more resources. Secondary dwelling rights are our future.

 

How Can Women Take a Lead for Small Housing Builds?

I learnt a great deal through this experience of creating a small home. I am physically stronger than I thought I was, I learnt things I didn’t think I could understand, I enjoyed working with
a team of guys and had to confront a few internalised messages about myself as a female. I am proud that I took a key lead role in creating our tree hugged small house. This bigger sense of myself is already having an impact on relationships, and things I care about in the community I live in.

I am focused on encouraging women to create the living spaces they want to have as their home base. It could take many forms, so here are my tips from what I learnt:

 

  • Get some hands-on experience – wood and other natural materials are wonderful ways to challenge ourselves.
  • Project manage – then you can’t back off from the development! Women are natural leaders.
  • Take advice – thanks to builder Sally Wills for advising me to move away from the owner builder approach, as regulations tightened in Victoria.
  • Build a team that you trust – back them to work well together.
  • Ask lots of questions and keep learning – I made our balustrade design decision at 3am in the morning looking at ideas on the internet.
  • Own up to your own mistakes and be flexible if changes are needed – I wanted to use some second-hand windows, but they didn’t meet regulations.
  • Trust your thinking and keep taking guidance as the project develops.
  • Believe in your physical power – your fitness and capacity will grow along with your skills.
  • Have a few shoulders to cry on – ongoing listening support will clarify your mind and decisions.
  • Have a woman buddy to back you and help with some decisions, such as internal fit out.
  • Don’t back down on your vision – when I found an old ‘butlers sink’ I worked with the Building Inspector to replan the required washing machine connection and laundry tub plan which doubles as my washing up sink in the kitchen, with a plastic tub inserted (see photo).
  • Keep financial records – work with the builder to create the costings and then review changes. This type of build involves decisions on the go, and you don’t want to short change the builder as you manage your budget.
  • Every now and then dance on the mezzanine floor at night in the moonlight – well now my secrets are out!
  • Do some fun baking, and celebrate the key stages of the build with a team morning tea, and tradies and suppliers party at the end.
  • Take lots of photos and some videos and keep a diary of the build.
  • Have fun – It’s real!

By Vicky Grosser, Carbon Manager

Vicky is a Carbon Manager with a commitment for sustaining all life through First Nations led care of country. Somehow she ended up being on a small house project management and build team! This is her story and tips for women who want to take a lead role in building homes and community for our future.

 

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