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The dangers of do it yourself

Getting your home renovation right from the start is simpler than trying to fix costly blunders, writes Alice Archer.

Getting your home renovation right from the start is simpler than trying to fix costly blunders, writes Alice Archer.

Australia's $30 billion-a-year renovation boom has created a spike in botched do-it-yourself projects, according to Archicentre, the building design, inspection and advice service of the Australian Institute of Architects.

Archicentre national general manager Cameron Frazer says the proliferation of reality TV shows, while inspiring, has lifted people's confidence in their ability to carry out renovations.

This has led to a rise in the number of bungled renovation jobs as people get out of their depth.

"Archicentre is increasingly being called by home renovators seeking architects' advice to get them out of a sticky situation," he says. "Renovating is not as easy as it looks. Any building work is a massive undertaking and you need expert planning and advice.

"These TV shows are about drama and viewers need to realise that behind the scenes there is probably a massive team of experts ensuring everyone's safety as well as making sure that all the building and planning controls are being followed."

In most cases, he says, these sticky situations are due to a lack of planning and expertise.

"The most common problem is the cost blowing out. A renovation is fraught with difficulties when you don't know what's buried in the ground, what's inside the walls or if there is a major structural fault.

"A major structural fault can cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair.

"You don't want to wait for the builder to arrive to tell you your roof has a major structural defect and needs to be replaced; you want to know about all these problems in advance so you can include them in your budget and weigh up whether the renovation is worth doing."

Mr Frazer says two key factors emerge in the renovation-gone-wrong scenario: a lack of planning and lack of building expertise.

"Anyone considering a renovation, or buying a property with the view to renovate, should first engage an independent, professional building inspector to check for faults. This way there will be no nasty surprises."

He says about 30 per cent of homes inspected by Archicentre architects for homebuyers are found to have some form of major fault.

The most common are sub-floor problems, faults in the roof structure, and illegal building, wiring or plumbing.

"Old wiring or plumbing will always cause a significant cost blow-out; it can cost about $10,000 to have a house re-wired.

"We recommend you engage an architect or a well-qualified builder from the outset, so you can ascertain the condition of the house and what repairs need to be done before you decide whether it's worth renovating, or whether it's worth buying. Once you've decided to go ahead with the renovation, your building expert or architect can help plan the project properly so you know how much it will cost.

"If you invest some of your project budget in the early investigation and planning, you will have a successful renovation, avoiding costly blow-outs and nasty surprises."

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