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Question Are sustainable buildings more expensive?

No. Sustainable buildings include features that are cost positive from day one; other features recoup costs over the long term through lower running costs. According to a study commissioned by Sustainability Victoria and the Cape Paterson Ecovillage (Szatow 2011), sustainable technology has reached a tipping point where the financial benefits of building and living in environmentally friendly homes now outweigh the initial costs over the lifespan of the home. The study concluded that:

  • additional up-front investment in sustainable features could realise up to 10% after-tax returns per year over 20 years and allow faster mortgage repayment through energy and water savings 
  • a combination of high level thermal performance, efficient appliances, on-site power generation, electric vehicles, energy management systems and water efficiency could save residents more than $300,000 and eight years off a typical mortgage. Source: Your Home: Australia’s guide to environmentally sustainable homes

Solar photovoltaic systems, battery storage, rainwater tanks (connected to the laundry and toilet and/or to the garden), rain gardens, solar hot water, geo thermal, double or triple glazing, black water, low emission paints for a healthy home, and ethically procured building materials are all considerations for sustainable homes. We have plenty of experience with these products, and their suppliers, and can advise you on expected costs for your project.

Question How does the process work?

Every project moves through five main stages:

1. Concept Design – where we present sketches and ideas of a building form that responds to your brief, site conditions and neighbourhood with an internal floorplan.

2. Design Development – where we go into more detail and make sure the internal circulation of the home works for you. We’ll develop project themes and key design ideas to make the project uniquely yours.

3. Documentation – where we refine the finishes, materials and how services will work and create technical drawings to allow builders to quote the project.

4. Contractor Selection – where we’ll work with you to choose the most suitable method to find a great builder for your project.

5. Construction – where we administer the contract between you and the builder and make sure the project gets built to our design specifications.

If you’re not sure of the probable costs of your project, we can do a feasibility study before Stage 1 to help you see what’s possible on your site.

Before we start work together we’ll sign a fee agreement that outlines in more detail each service in each stage, what we’re going to deliver, when, and any associated fees.

Question Who will work on the project?

We work as a team and develop our projects through design studio format. With each new project we brainstorm design concepts individually, and then present them to the team for discussion and critique. The best option is selected by the group for development.

There will typically be three staff taking a project through to construction: the project architect, an assistant for day to day activities, and the practice director overseeing the project.

Your main point of contact will be your project architect, but all staff welcome contact from our clients.

Question How long does it take?

Every project finds its own pace depending on a variety of factors: planning, cost, market and site conditions, and coordination between clients and consultants.

Residential projects typically take 9 to 15 months from the start of design through to the beginning of construction. Construction time depends on each project but renovations usually take 8 and 12 months to build, and new builds 9 and 14 months.

Schools and community projects can be turned around within 4 months from the start of design to the start of construction, but more often these take longer depending on the size of the project, planning regulations, and funding. Our role as architects is to negotiate the needs of different stakeholders – waste, tenants, building users of all types, council etc – in these projects.

Question Do you have a particular style?

No. Like children, no matter how we try to mould them, all our projects turn out gloriously individuated!

But, like bringing up children, we work to principles. Our buildings are based on environmental design principles. They’re designed for year-round comfort through harnessing or omitting the heat of the sun. In winter, they’ll shut up nicely to keep the heat in, and carefully considered operable glazing ensures breezes are captured for cooling and fresh air. We’ve been designing environmentally sustainable architecture since 2004, so we’d like to think we’re experts in this area.

How every project is realised will depend on the site and our client collaboration. This means the style of your project will develop through our work together finding the right expression of ideas that take into consideration your needs, how the building fits into its surrounds, and preferred materials.

Question Do you do interiors?

Yes we do.

This where our experience with domestic spaces comes to the fore. Architecture is background, but interiors are what you see, feel, touch – the warmth and tactility of materials, how particular materials capture light, are they clean or obscure, cold to touch, hard or giving? Interiors bring projects to life.

We also have knowledge about environmental, social impact, and healthy home interior materials.

Interiors are included in the architectural fee; for additional interiors support such as choosing soft furnishings, we can recommend interior decorators.

Question What happens if we can’t achieve our brief within the budget?

It’s pretty rare for a client to arrive at the first meeting with their brief matching their budget. Usually people have a wish list and during our early meetings we evolve this into a workable, budgeted project brief.

Unlike a holiday where you book flights, hotels and allow a daily budget, architecture budgeting isn’t straightforward. This is because the market affects the build costs, design is incredibly complex, and every decision you make can have cost ramifications.

Where you cannot afford what you’d like we’ll work with you on alternatives. For example, if you’d like a rumpus, study and tv room that would be three separate rooms (each approximately 60K to build), we could make one bedroom larger to incorporate a study desk or create one communal room rather than separate rooms (which can have positive affect on the family environment anyway). It will be your decision – our role is to help you make an informed decision where you understand cost and lifestyle implications.

Question How do fees work?

Architects’ fees are typically percentage and fixed fees. We come up with a concept design for a fixed fee and for documentation and construction, we move to percentage fees. During concept design, we’re planning number of rooms and general aesthetic – big picture. During documentation and construction, we’re resolving the details, finishes and how things will work.

For example. What difference does it make to us as architects if you decide on timber floors or carpet? Timber will take longer for us to resolve than carpet. This is because we’ll need to consider the type of timber and board length and width to achieve what we’re after, how it is finished, how it’s laid, the way that it meets the walls, the skirting boards, and the joists etc. At concept design we haven’t resolved finish details yet, and so we can’t foreshadow these costs yet.

Percentage fee allows us to adjust the fee to remunerate us for the time it takes to resolve matters like these as they come up. It is calculated as a percentage of the construction cost and broken down into deliverables and stages. These will be outlined so you’ll know approximately what you can expect to pay, when, from the beginning of the project. We’ll also recommend you hire a cost planner for additional guidance.

On smaller projects and addition work to a project underway (if you win Tattslotto and want to add another floor or change your brief sometime down the track…) hourly rates work well. We’ll provide a task list with hourly estimates and this provides you with a running sheet – what needs to be done when, and what is still to come.

Question How do you control costs?

Controlling cost is absolutely essential to you and us, which is why we have a number of procedures in place to manage costs.

First, when we start a new project we benchmark existing projects in the office to assess market conditions to give you an idea of costs from the outset.

Next, we recommend you hire a quantity surveyor (cost planner) to check costs. This typically costs around $2000. It seems like a lot, but it’s really only a small part of what you’re investing overall but it can make a huge difference to peace of mind.

After 15 years in this practice we have developed good relationships with builders. We work closely with them to get cost indications early, and those discussions allow us to negotiate prices and economical outcomes as we work through a project.

Question What happens if we don't want to proceed?

Sometimes life gets in the way. If circumstances change and you can’t proceed with construction we can put your project on hold or halt it. You’ll be required to pay for any work complete, as per our contract. No hard feelings!

Question Are you experienced with planning permits and councils?

Since starting this practice in 2003, we have worked with most Melbourne and many regional councils. We have a wealth of planning permit experience, and great working relationships with council planners.

We believe this experience also allows us to push the envelope where required to get interesting design outcomes through planning, such as our Sunshine project, What Could Have Been or House in House.

For some projects, we organise a pre-planning permit application meeting with council, to work through any potential issues early. And for particularly challenging projects we recommend you hire a planning consultant. Like a quantity surveyor (cost planner), this is a minor upfront cost that can save thousands.

Question Why are architect’s designs more expensive than off the plan constructions?

Architect’s designs are more unique and custom designed to meet your needs. The fridge will be exactly where you need it and the right size. The bath will be big enough. Storage will suit your gear. The house will be beautiful, responsive to its context, and a neighbourly asset, making your neighbourhood better.

Architect-designed houses also generally have higher resale value because they are more considered and better built.

Question Should I choose an architect?

Much like surgery should be undertaken by highly trained and experienced practitioners, so too should architecture.

Architecture is complicated; what happens within four walls is complicated. From the structure of the roof right through to where you put the school bags and make lunches, all the details matter.

Mistakes can embed repair, utility and maintenance costs into the lifetime of the building. As architects, we’re trained extensively and experienced in construction and navigating planning regulations. Our training reduces risk, and makes for a more enjoyable and rewarding process.

Architects are trained to identify elements that will be critical to a brief, and seek unexpected and delightful design solutions. We will ensure your investment is well spent, and encourage you to stretch yourself where possible. With architecture, like everything, you get what you pay for. We’ve never yet had a client say: “I wish I’d spent less on my project”.

Perhaps most of all we enjoy life; we want our clients to enjoy life, too. Great architecture, borne through a rewarding and enjoyable process, absolutely makes life better.

Question How do you choose a builder?

When we’re working with you to select a builder for your project, we’ll usually put together a shortlist of builders we’ve worked with before and others recommended by yourselves or others.

The three ways of selecting a builder include:

1. Direct negotiating
2. Competitive tender
3. Inviting builders to put in expressions of interest and then select a preferred builder

We’ll explain the pros and cons of each approach and help you select your preferred option. During construction, our role is to be your advocate on site to work with the builder to ensure the design ideas are realised – particularly the detail – and that construction quality is accomplished.

Question Can we visit your projects?

Of course! Many of our clients are more than happy for prospective clients to tour their Steffen Welsch Architects’ home.

For education or commercial projects, tours of our buildings are also welcomed. Please get in touch to arrange a suitable time.

Feel free to contact us with further questions.