Thursday 8 December 2011

Councils, Engineers and Swimming Pools

Mid November I received another letter from Council, it was not good news. They were not satisfied with the information I had sent them about the hemp lime masonry walling, being a report from the Australian Centre for Construction Innovation at the University of New South Wales and a Construction Manual provided by Klara from the Australian Hemp Masonry Company. Not that the information of itself was insufficient, but the problem was that it did not specifically address the Building Code of Australia.

The letter from Council stated:-
"An examination of the recently submitted documentation does not provide sufficient evidence to support that the use of such material, form of construction or design meets a Performance Requirement of the Building Code of Australia (BCA). Where an alternative masonry walling system is proposed as an Alternative Solution the proposal must comply with:
a) Performance Requirement P2.1
b) The relevant Performance Requirements determined in accordance with Clause 1.0.10 of the BCA."

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) sets out the standards to which buildings must be constructed. The BCA sets out in detail the standards required for a number of common building practises. If your method of building method or material falls outside this you are able to utilise an "alternative solution" by showing that the alternative solution meets the "performance requirements" set out in the BCA.

My problem was that all the information that I provided to Council did not specifically refer to the BCA and state that it met the performance requirements. I thought that I could go through and reference all the research and studies on hemp building and show how this met each of the performance requirements. A further phone call to Council thwarted this idea as I was advised that evidence to support the use of a material or form of construction had to be in one of the forms set out in section 1.2.2 of the BCA. Essentially I needed an engineer or similar suitably qualified person to say that the material complies with the performance requirements of the BCA and to make specific reference to the BCA.

At this point I was feeling somewhat disheartened, and could either whinge and complain about how difficult it was to get things through Council or try any meet their requirements. The latter was my only real option, although the former might make me feel a bit better. With the assistance of Klara from the Australian Hemp Masonry Company I am hoping the Council will accept that the hemp masonry walling complies with the BCA.

Meanwhile, other work in preparation for the build continued. David and Garry from Cottier Consulting were engaged to do the concrete slab design. Things were slightly more difficult than usual as the house will have a polished concrete slab, has an unusually shaped footprint, as well as having the hemp walls. David seemed to have no problems working through this and discussed with Klara whether the hemp masonry walls were considered to be articulated or not for the purposes of the slab design.

A chance mention from a neighbour that there was once a swimming pool on the block of land was confirmed when Cottiers found rubble in some of the bore holes taken for the soil classification. At this point we did not know where the swimming pool had been or whether it was an above ground or in ground pool. On the suggestion of Cottier Consulting I put in a request to Council for information and copies of the DA or plans for the pool and any removal of it. A form was completed and faxed to Council, I did not even have to pay a fee, and a few weeks later a copy of a very brief one page DA and some 1970 plans for an in ground concrete swimming pool arrived. An in ground swimming pool!!!!! At least we now knew where it once was and what size it was. What we still don't fully know is how much of it is still there underground. Our soil was classified as P. I am told that this does not necessarily mean it is a problem, but the classification does have an effect of the slab design.

With completed design details and drawings for the slab I could now move on to getting quotes for the concrete slab. I am only hoping that all of these issues do not push up the cost of the concrete slab as I am on a tight budget.

Moonlight rainbow over the block of land. A beautiful sight to calm the soul. Perhaps the east facing deck, when built, will become my, Japanese inspired, moon viewing platform.

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