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Renovation and Extension Terminology

During the process of interviewing contractors or building companies, or when you are discussing and planning your extensions and renovations with your final choice, you may find them using building or design jargon.  Unless you are familiar with some of this renovation terminology, you can get lost or confused about what it is they are talking about.

Below are some commonly used words and terms associated with home additions, house renovations and home building plans.

Bearer a sub-floor timber that supports the floor joists.

Builder’s warranty / indemnity insurance compulsory insurance for builders that is supposed to protect homeowners from faulty work in the case that the builder dies, goes missing or becomes insolvent.

Building period the time that is allowed for your home to reach practical completion.

Certificate of final inspection issued by a building surveyor after final inspection of a renovation to show that work is up to scratch.

Contractor the party engaged to supply goods or services.

Contract price the amount payable to your builder for any work. It can be adjusted according to terms set out in the contract.

Cooling-off period the period when a person may legally withdraw from a contract without incurring a penalty.

Cost-plus contract a contract in which the builder determines labour and material costs, then adds a percentage to ensure a profit.

Covenant guidelines that require structures in a particular development or area to conform to specific standards.

Default interest the amount payable to the builder if you do not pay by the due date.

Defect liability period the period of time specified in the contract in which the builder is required to rectify defects (except for minor settlement or minor shrinkage).

Defects work that is faulty or not to the level specified in the contract.

Easement areas of land located above or around the equipment used for essential services such as pipes and electrical wires. Government authorities control use of this land.

Estimate the amount that the contractor expects to spend on materials and labour during the course of a project. Depending on the terms of the contract, this cost may change.

Fixed-price contract a contract in which the customer and contractor agree on a price that will not change, no matter what the project actually costs the contractor.

Flashing waterproof material that prevents moisture from penetrating a house through the walls or roof.

Footing a rectangular masonry section which is usually made wider than the bottom of the foundation wall or pier it supports.

Foundation the part of a building where all loads are transferred to the ground.

Joist timbers that provide the main structural support for a ceiling or floor.

Liquidated damages the amount of money you are entitled to if your home is not practically completed by the end of the building period.

Load-bearing wall a wall that supports weight from a floor or ceiling above it.

Occupancy permit issued by a building surveyor after the final inspection of a new home.

Planning permit councils place restrictions on building activities in their jurisdiction. Planning permits are needed for most large projects and many smaller ones.

Plans technical drawings completed by an architect or draftsperson and used in the construction of a house.

Practical completion the stage when the works have been completed in accordance with the contract apart from minor defects and is reasonably suitable for habitation.

Prime cost items this allowance is a reasonable estimate for fixtures and fittings that you select after the contract is signed and may include special kitchen and bathroom items.

Progress payments payments made to the builder at specified stages during the building process.

Provisional sum items amounts your builder has determined as ‘best estimates’ of the cost of certain work.

Sarking a reflective foil laminate that is installed inside roofs. It has many benefits including weather proofing, insulation and reduction of dust and sound.

Specifications A detailed description of work to be undertaken including the type and quantity of materials that will be used.

Strata title grants ownership over a section of a larger building.

Subcontractor a person, partnership or company who contracts with the builder to carry out part of the building works.

Subfloor A floor that will serve as the base for another floor; for example, a concrete floor that is covered over with floating floorboards.

Surveyor an engineer who carries out surveys of property elevations and boundaries.

Truss a structural support unit of three or more members, usually arranged in a triangular shape. Trusses are often used to support roofs and floors.

Variation is an omission, addition or change to the works, or a change in the manner of carrying out the works and should be outlined in the contract. A variation can be made at your request or at the request of the builder.

Warranty a statement that guarantees the material and workmanship of a product is defect-free and will remain so for a specified period of time.

Works means the work to be carried out, completed and handed over to you in accordance with what is set out in your contract documents including the variations.

Zoning council rules regarding the uses that an area of land may be put to.

Things to Keep in Mind When Renovating

There are many things to consider when renovating, building a new house or extending your current home.  It can be easy to overlook or even be unaware of some aspects.

The following are some of the things to keep in mind during the planning process.

Before you start work on your renovations, you or your building company need to contact your local council to find out whether any permits are required.

Your local government authorities will provide you with information on regulations and requirements in your local area.

Did you know?

Extensions and renovations that involve structural changes to your home are building projects under Victorian law, regardless of the size and cost.

You are required to have a major domestic building contract for work over $5000.  This includes renovations, extensions, alterations, repairs of a home, landscaping, paving, driveways, fencing, retaining structures, garages, workshops, swimming pools and spas.  It also includes the preparation of plans or specifications by the builder for the work.

Keep in mind that planning and approvals, like council permits, can take a long time to finalise.


If you spend more on your additions or renovations than the house will be valued at completion (over capitalising), then you may end up losing money in the long term.

When planning your home improvements, make sure you have a clear sense of what you want and stick to it.  Otherwise, you may find that you go over budget.

Make sure that you have written contracts with your building company or any trades people you employ.

It can be more expensive to fix problems than the cost of the original work so be sure of what you want and clear with any instructions.

Remember, renovating, extending and additions to your home can be very disrupting.  You may even be required to move out for a period of time.

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