CAN I CHANGE THE PLAN?
Designing a home is quite different to designing a car. There are some similarities, but designing a car involves considering a lot more variables initially to come up with a lot less variables when it hits the market. When it comes to buying a car, the options to customise it are very limited – there’s no such thing as making the car an extra 100mm longer! But when it comes to a home, the question often comes up, Can I change the plan?
Unfortunately there’s not a simple answer to this question. Some builders offer a full customisation service, quite a few offer some customisation, whereas others are very limited in what changes they allow.
But this blog is not around whether or not customisation should or shouldn’t be allowed, but rather on understanding what’s involved behind the scenes when a change is made on the plan or scope of works. We do have another blog on the science behind the design – well worth reading – but this is approaching the question from a different angle.
Step one here is to realise that there are different levels of customisation.
1. Layout. This is where the floorplan is changed, such as rooms moved around, orientation changed, zones swapped around – ie. the relationship between bedrooms and living areas changed. These are substantial changes at a fundamental level that affect the usage and look of the home, both inside and out, and we’ll come back to this in more detail shortly.
2. Sizes. Once again, mostly related to the floorplan, but leaving the overall format in tact, but squeezing or stretching things to end up with a different size. This can involve the whole home becoming bigger or smaller, or it may just mean shrinking one room to allow an adjacent room to become larger. This is generally considered a medium level of change.
3. Facade. Changes in this category are mostly related to how the home looks from the outside, but some of them could also affect the internal. This could include changes to the windows, the roof design (steeper pitch, more gables, etc), and of course the extent and style of things like verandahs, decking, carports and garages.
4. Fit-out changes. This is where it starts getting more detailed – the changes could be things like adjusting the internal door heights; swinging a door a different way; adding a skylight, or even a bench seat. Changing the cabinetry around (more drawers, less doors, etc) is often a classic change at this level.
5. Fittings & fixtures. The fine tuning changes at this stage are often extensive. Changes in taps, tiles, lighting, handles, bath, toilet, towel rails, switches – the list is long here and no 2 homes are ever the same in this category of changes, and these changes are often made further along the design process.
So the next step is to be aware of the impact of changes at the various levels. Of course, the extent of the impact will vary from builder to builder, depending on their own internal processes and policies.
By far the biggest impact is at level 1 – the layout. When a home is designed, many things are factored in. This will include things like:
A. Energy rating – how the home uses the energy from the sun.
B. Engineering. The various spans within the home and the different sized members to make it strong enough.
C. Use of space. Changing room locations can often create wasted space or a poor use of space because it interrupts the original design.
D. Relationship between different zones. A designer often envisages a specific way the home is going to be used.
E. Sundry. There are sometimes little things that have a domino effect after a change is made. This could include having to swing a door another way, which then means that the robe won’t work, which then means changing the robe, which then affects the windows, and so on and so on. A tiny change can end up changing the home completely.
It’s at this level that many builders do 1 of 2 things – they either say no to changes, or they already have a raft of options within each range to cater for different sites and lifestyles. Saying a blanket no to all changes can mean a no-go for you due to it not being suitable for your particular site, or the layout simply won’t work for the way you live.
But the important thing for you to be aware of is that even a simple layout change can literally transform a design from being a great design to a terrible design. And then there are other layout changes – possibly even significant ones – that may have only a minor impact on the original intent of the designer. The secret is to be very careful when wanting a change at this level, and explore the potential impact on every area of the home – including costs.
Changes at the next step – size changes – can also have some significant impact, depending on the extent of the size change. As an example, significantly increasing the width of the home will have a dramatic effect on the energy rating and may actually drop below the required minimum star rating, and suddenly you’re back to square one. Of course, cost is often a consideration at this level, but many builders are ok with simply massaging the sizes a bit to make it more workable for you, and if it’s gone into carefully it shouldn’t be a problem.
Level 3 changes are often more of a personal thing with the builder. Some builders – like us – are fussy about a consistency of style and like to limit the options to customers here. Back to the car analogy, it’s a bit like wanting BMW mags on a Mercedes – BMW are obviously going to say no. But even then, a lot of changes can easily be made at the facade level without affecting the outcome too much.
Levels 4 & 5 are widely recognised as being customisable without affecting things too much. But there are a few items that catch builders out from time to time, and these are special appliances or fittings that aren’t run-of-the-mill such as a special wood or gas fireplace (may require special structural support or heat proofing) or a special tapware (may require special tools to install) or even things like a barn door or a chimney. Many of these things won’t affect the broader science of the design of the home, but can create headaches and cost blowouts.
Another point about changes at levels 4 & 5 is the sourcing of products. You might think that if you can find it on Google then you can have it. But it’s sometimes not that easy. Some suppliers have exclusivity of supply and make it difficult for the builder to purchase. Or it might be a product that’s only available overseas. Or its a special order and takes 6 months to supply. Or it’s a product from a once off shipment and when it comes time for the builder to purchase, it’s long gone from stock.
Another consideration – which applies to all levels of customisation – that we haven’t addressed so far is the capabilities of the builder. You might say a builder is a builder, so what. But there are builders and there are builders. It’s a bit like saying a doctor is a doctor, but there are a vast array of doctors with different fields of specialisation and expertise – and the same goes with builders. Asking a builder who has geared up their business around single storey residential to construct a 2-storey tilt-slab town house isn’t generally a good idea. Over time, many builders will find their niche, and through systems, contacts and specialist knowledge, become very good at what the do and as a result will refuse to take on homes with certain levels of customisation that don’t fit who they are.
So there you have it: can I change the plan? …There’s no such thing as saying yes or no – it’s more a question of what the result will be if this change is made, and whether the builder can or will do it.
Being aware of the possible far-reaching effects of changes will put you a step ahead when thinking about them. And always remember – the original designer had the overall picture in their mind from the start and there’s probably a jolly good reason why it is like it is.
Disclaimer. This blog is our opinion only. The information provided in our blogs is accurate and true to the best of our knowledge, but there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. The information presented in our blogs is for informational purposes only and we are not professionals, so the content we provide shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. We strongly recommend consulting with a professional before taking any sort of action. We reserve the right to change how we manage our blog and we may change the focus or content at any time.
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