What You Need to Consider Before Designing Your Home

When you are planning your residential home build or renovation, there are many important points to consider. This planning is not only limited to selecting your site. As Gold Coast Architects, we often have clients come to us with many questions around what they can build on their site and how to find out if it’s suitable for their intended use. There’s a lot to consider before they even get to the design stage.


In this article, we will outline key areas to be aware of and also share City of Gold Coast council links to assist you with your research.  These are the important facts you need to consider BEFORE you start designing your home. They apply specifically to building homes on the Gold Coast. However, if you live elsewhere, the general principles are still likely to apply.



Undertake a Title Search


First step is to undertake a title search to ensure there are no legal impediments. These barriers could include service easements or covenants that may restrict the use of a portion of the property. Real estate agents and lawyers handling land sales should be able to access this information on your behalf. Alternatively, you can lodge a request directly with the Land Titles Office to obtain a copy of the land title. This will show any easements impacting the property.



Carry Out an Identification Site Survey


An identification site survey will also identify key site attributes including services, easements, boundary encroachments and levels. It is always beneficial to have this information prior to commencing design. This may highlight issues that are not readily apparent from a simple site inspection.



identification site survey


Confirm Site Zoning with Council


Next step is to confirm the site zoning with the relevant council. Here on the Gold Coast, we have a very good interactive mapping service. You simply type in your street address and a property report is generated identifying all of the key planning constraints impacting your property.  You can find the Gold Coast City Plan here: http://cityplanmaps.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/CityPlan/


Navigating through all the various planning codes that apply to your property can be quite a complicated and confusing process. If you are at all unsure, it is best to seek professional assistance from a Town Planner or Architect to advise on planning implications.



Consider Key Zoning Constraints Impacting Residential Homes


There are several key zoning constraints to consider that are likely to influence your residential home design including:

  • Density – this dictates the number of residential properties allowable on a site (ie, a single detached dwelling vs multiple attached dwellings). This may also determine the minimum site size allowing for potential subdivision of larger sites into several smaller properties.
  • Site Cover – this dictates the area of built form covering the site. In simple terms, it is the area covered by an impermeable roof (less a set allowance for eaves) as a percentage of the total site area. Most standard residential lots allow 50% site cover.
  • Building Height – This limits the number of storeys, or a specific maximum height above ground. It’s important to check the actual definition because components like basements and mezzanines can have specific rules applied.
  • Boundary Setbacks – These vary relative to height, the setbacks increasing as the building height rises. Front, rear and side boundaries all have different setback provisions. In most cases, these apply to the building extremities. However, in some cases, various building elements such as garages or shade structures can project into these setbacks.


Waterfront properties also have specific setbacks from the waterway based on flood modelling. City of Gold Coast Coastal Erosion Hazard Overlay Code states that buildings and structures are setback from waterways to ensure the hydraulic performance of the waterway is not compromised.


Any building work undertaken within this setback must demonstrate it will not decrease the flood storage capacity of the existing property. Even swimming pools and decks built above the existing land profile within this zone may decrease the ability for water to flow over the land in flood conditions and require council approval.


waterfront intrusions


Noncompliance with any of the above planning constraints is likely to trigger the need for a town planning relaxation application.



Review Flood Levels


Extreme wet weather events are occurring more regularly with the potential for homes to be inundated also increasing. Maps identifying flood prone areas in SE Queensland have recently been updated.


Based on this flood modelling, Council have designated minimum ground floor levels set at 300mm above the flood levels expected in a Q100 flood event (a once in 100-year event). This is not only applicable to waterfront properties. In some areas, the impact on “dry” blocks can be even more significant than “wet” blocks.


In some cases, this can have a major impact on the design of your new home and may even impact the renovation of existing properties.


This new LDS designed residence replacing an older home had to be built 1m higher than the original ground floor level to comply with new flood level requirements.


View City of Gold Coast Flood Maps here: https://cityplan.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/Pages/Plan/Book.aspx?exhibit=GCCC_CityPlan&hid=48633


These maps only identify flood prone areas and whether a floor assessment is required. To determine a precise flood level for a specific property, an application needs to be filed with council.



Consider a Bushfire Hazard Assessment


Living in Australia, we also need to be aware of bushfire risks. Particularly in rural areas, or sites that are in close proximity to bushland or vegetation posing a potential threat, a bushfire assessment may be required.  This will establish the degree of risk and the level of protection required to your new home.


You can find more information on bushfire hazard mapping on the City of Gold Coast council website here: http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/planning-and-building/bushfire-hazard-mapping-update-43426.html



What to Consider When Renovating or Extending a Home


Where an existing building is to be renovated or extended, “as built” construction drawings are required before design work can commence. If original drawings are not readily available, a Council archive search may locate copies of the original plans submitted for Building Approval.


You can download the City of Gold Coast Search Request Form here: http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/documents/fa/search-request-form.pdf


If drawings cannot be found, you will need to undertake a site measure of the existing building. This is best done by a draftsman, Architect or surveyor. For more complex buildings, a laser scan survey is an ideal solution. You can find out more about the laser scanning in our article Game Changing Technology.

3D house model created by laser scanning
A 3D model created by laser scanning an existing beach house that LDS are redesigning for a major upgrade.



Check for Design Covenants


Many new estates selling land for residential development may have design covenants in place. These govern the design of new houses within the estate. The purpose of these covenants is to ensure that minimum design standards are maintained.


Typical conditions relate to the use of specific building materials, planning constraints (i.e. ensuring the garage isn’t a dominant feature of the front façade) or building massing and roof forms. Soft and hard landscaping, and location of services such as antennas, water tanks or clotheslines can be included.


Estates where design covenants apply will have a design panel to provide guidance and assessment of each design proposal.


Montego Hills home
This LDS design was recently approved by the design panel for a large acreage site in Montego Hills.
See a video of this new residence https://vimeo.com/357696146



Where to From Here?


Researching the above information ensures the design of your new home can proceed without delay once you’ve engaged your Architect and agreed a design brief.


Alternatively, once you’ve engaged an Architect, they can undertake this research for you. They can also assist with obtaining and collating the necessary pre-design information, and interpret the impact this may have on your design.


This article relates specifically to residential homes and does not necessarily apply to other residential uses such as multi-residential building.


Codes and planning instruments are regularly updated. It’s important you check with the City of Gold Coast, or the council in your area, to be sure that your site is suitable for the development proposed on it.


Still have further questions about the process? Schedule a phone meeting to discuss your design requirements here: https://calendly.com/leadesign/60min





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