Building on a sloping block definitely has its unique challenges, however, the rewards are considerable. Keep the following 7 points in mind to improve your chances of a happy outcome.
- Don’t discount the option of a Sloping Block! The more interesting blocks in a suburb or development are always sloping, and if your builder is competent in solutions for sloping blocks, the results are more pleasing than flat blocks. These days, they are generally cheaper than flat blocks, so what you save in the purchase price can offset any additional cost of construction. In fact, the overall house and land price will probably be less expensive.
- The most important factor in building on a sloping block is your choice of a builder. Make sure the builders you are considering have experience building on sloping blocks, and have a look at their previous work. Talk to their clients. This generally will be custom builders, as Volume Builders’ methods are not compatible with steep blocks; they charge a lot of money to dig a hole and bury a house in it. Preferably, choose a builder you trust before settling on a block as they will be able to advise you on all the following factors.
- Orientation: Orientation is important with regards to taking advantage of solar efficiency as well as views. With a North-facing block main living areas can face north. Sometimes with a South-facing block, the views and the orientation can be in conflict, so you need to compromise. Work with your builder to maximise the attributes of your block and minimise the shortcomings. If the view is South-facing, there are ways to incorporate windows that allow a view, but not expansive glass panoramas that expose your home to the winter chills; and these windows may need to be double glazed. In the final analysis, orientation is more important than view. The passive solar gain saves enormously on the costs of heating and cooling a home, and the comfort level is immeasurably better.
- Slope: Which way does the block slope? Does the slope rise from the road, or fall from the road, does it slope from left to right or vice versa? (The convention is that you describe the block from the standpoint of standing on the road looking in.) The ideal design of your home will be dictated by the slope. For instance, if the block slopes up from the road, more often than not the best solution will be to have the garage underneath the home, and have living areas open out at ground level in the back. Conversely if the block slopes down from the road, it might be more appropriate to build a split level that follows the slope down, and position a rumpus room or utility room in the back.
- Rock: Be aware that with a sloping block, soil depths are relatively shallow, so you are very likely to strike rock. After all, rock is what makes a hill. So you want your home design to reduce any unnecessary excavation. Work with the block, not against it.
- Foundations: Generally when people think about building on a sloping block, they think about a home out of ground on a timber sub-floor. This is a more expensive option, as you have to pay for brickwork and timber for this elevated option. These days, a good custom builder will be able to offer different options, including split level concrete slab options that can accommodate up-contour or down-contour by placing steps or stairs within your home with consideration to useability. The advantages include cost as well as energy rating, which is improved with a concrete slab. (If you have BAL (Bush Fire Attack Level) issues, a concrete slab may be your only option; more on BAL in a separate article.)
- It’s not a House, it’s a Home: As you work with your designer to create a plan for your home, keep the whole block in mind. A good builder will highlight a block’s potential. Consider how you will use the land: clothesline, access for trailer, wheelbarrow, kids’ play area. You’re not building a house, you’re creating a home. A home doesn’t stop at the walls, it’s the boundary of your block of land. Tie it all together, and make moving around on it as convenient as possible.
Building on a sloping block can be an excellent solution for achieving a beautiful and interesting home. Because of the way blocks are priced these days, this can be very affordable. Take some time to ponder the 7 points above, and incorporate these considerations into your choice of builder, and your overall design. Get it right and you’ll have a home with 10 times the character of a mac-mansion on the flat.
Do you value integrity, communication and superb quality throughout the building process? Do you have a question about your block or dream home? John Kearney is a Melbourne Building Design and Construction Consultant who has been in the building industry for over 20 years. He is passionate about giving people a cost effective alternative to building in the areas they love, and specialises in solutions for difficult and sloping blocks. Find out more at http://slopingblocksolutions.com.au/ Tweet with John at SBSBuilder and Like his Facebook page to get tips, updates and a bit of humour!