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  • Shane Smith

Central Coast NSW: A Comprehensive guide to local house construction types & common building and pest issues




Are you on your property hunt in the Central Coast NSW and are in the process of shortlisting your favourite suburbs? Or perhaps you’ve found your dream home or investment property and are ready to inspect the property or make an offer. But hold on, are you aware of the potential building and pest problems you may be facing and the potential financial outlays & headaches associated with them?


If your answer is no, then you have landed in the right place. As a building and pest inspector operating exclusively on the Central Coast I’ll guide you through;


  • Most common residential construction typologies found on the Central Coast NSW, 

  • Pro’s and Con’s of each construction type, and 

  • Most common building and pest issues based on the location and construction type.


This is based on what I see on a daily basis with my feet on the ground as a building and pest inspector on the Central Coast NSW. So without further ado…  



Timber Pole homes


With a large portion of residential properties on the Central Coast being on sloping terrain, many houses have been built on poles. The timber pole home is common for properties built in the 80's and 90's in the area. Timber as a structure offers some flexibility over other more rigid materials, have great strength, has natural insulating properties, is a renewable resource, and aesthetically integrates with it's surrounding landscape well. It is commonly assumed that these homes are more vulnerable to termite attack than other homes. If the correct measures are taken to minimise the risk of termite damage, including treating the timber, chemical / physical barriers, regular inspections and good maintenance, then this should not be a major concern. If you are purchasing one of these homes, you want to particularly understand how it's been maintained and treated over the years.


Locations:

  • Gosford, North Gosford, East Gosford

  • Phegan Bay / Woy Woy Bay areas

  • Avoca beach

  • Killcare

  • Parts of Umina backing onto bush

  • Empire Bay

  • Koolewong / Tascott / Point Clare


Examples:


Pro’s: 

  1. Nice architectural features, offering character especially on the inside often with high raked ceilings.

  2. Usually nestled amongst trees offering a sense of tranquillity.

  3. Often have panoramic water views / district views with a ‘treetop’ feel.

  4. More privacy between neighbours than flat blocks, as there is minimal overlooking .

  5. Often has great cross ventilation with a common design feature of high level windows on the opposite side to low level sliding doors and windows.

  6. Some opportunity to extend at the lower level.

  7. Cool in summer: with great airflow around the whole house, and usually a lot of shading from surrounding trees.


Con’s:

Vulnerable to:

  1. Termites due to the timber construction & bushland setting (branches overhanging roof is one common issue).

  2. Other pests due to the natural bushland setting.

  3. Landslides if retaining walls have been overlooked or not designed by a Structural Engineer, particularly on steep sites.

  4. Gradual movement of building down the slope.

  5. Timber rot & mould, especially at the lower level if not well ventilated

  6. Some properties have high-moisture microclimates akin to rainforests, perhaps being in valleys, which can cause additional moisture issues over time.

  7. Orientation is important; if predominantly south facing it will be very shady all year round due to the surrounding trees and overshadowing hills, increasing moisture problems. Flat blocks don't have the same problems usually as part of the house will receive northern light. So look for north, north-east, or north-west facing blocks, i.e. the slope of the block is facing these orientations, with the living space is facing north.


Variation: Steel Pole Homes


A variation to the timber pole home is a steel framed pole home. There is a significant advantage with steel pole homes over timber pole homes, and so this would be seen with more modern buildings, usually post-1990’s construction. On the Central Coast I have often seen this in areas such as Koolewong, Parts of Umina on the hills, Avoca Beach, and Phegan Bay/Woy Woy Bay. These are properties where land has been sold in more recent times (last 15 years) and so the construction is newer, and it may have also been a requirements to meet heightened bushfire construction standards following the black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.  


The main advantages are;

  • No termite risk to the structure (non-structural elements of the house made of timber are still vulnerable, but the problem is 10 fold if there’s structural termite damage, so it’s often not a deal-breaker when purchasing a property).

  • Longevity: Steel construction is just going to last a lot longer than timber, mainly because timber is susceptible to rot from moisture, and moisture is one of the biggest culprits of structural deterioration. Yes steel has the potential issue of rust, but rust does not usually cause structural damage in the same way rot does to timber. Having said this, it is imperative to check the exposed steel on properties close to the ocean as there will be significant damage if the steel is not painted or galvanised.

  • Stronger against bushfires and house fires (often a concern for such bushland properties, with BAL levels ranging from BAL29 up to Flame Zone).



Select Suburb Deep Dive:

Gosford, North Gosford, and east Gosford areas


Parts of the Gosford suburbs back onto Rumbalara reserve and Katandra reserve. It is a perfect contrast to how central to amenities and relatively bustling (for the central coast) this area is, because these houses near these reserves are so tranquil it is like being in another world but you are just a short drive to the shops, schools, train station, and more. Many of these houses are built well too, offering architectural style with features such as vaulted timber lined ceilings from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s, especially in North Gosford such as  that is perfectly suited to this setting both in style and form.


Many however are also not built well, especially where owner-builder extensions are concerned. More of these have issues of the structure moving down the hill, and issues with moisture from the ground as rooms have been infilled under the original elevated structures right up against the earth or retaining walls, therefore essentially being partially below ground level. These are at times illegal works and the construction is substandard.



A little on illegal works…


From my experience working for Council I can tell immediately when these are also illegally built without council approval. Tell-tale signs include poor workmanship and non-compliances with the building code such as varying stair tread heights, where a certifier will not be able to sign off on it to get the occupation certificate. It is not to say that you shouldn’t buy a house with extensions that are not council approved, however you want to do a bit of investigation work together with your conveyancer/property lawyer prior to purchasing such a property. You want to determine whether you will ask the owner to obtain council approval prior to the sale as part of the negotiation, or negotiate a lower purchase price and take on the risk that the works may not be able to get approved and council could issue a demolition order (rare but it can happen). 


It is a case by case issue, and one question you need to ask is if the illegal works is something you could live without, or are you purchasing the property because the illegal works is a big part of the appeal of the property. If you choose the latter, and is it easily approvable, possibly with some very minor works/changes to help it get it across the line (applying for a building information certificate through council is the way forward)? If not, is it financially viable to knock down and rebuild the illegal portion? 


I see a lot of secondary dwellings, i.e. granny flats/studio’s, in this situation. You may assume it is all legalised as there are existing tenants and the agent might quote the potential rental income which includes the rent from the illegal secondary dwelling, but the reality is that often the onus is on the buyer to find out if there’s any illegal works on the property or not. Although technically it is a requirement that the agent disclose any known illegal works to any properties they are selling, the caveat is that they may simply not know if it is legal or illegal. 


So you should be turning to your conveyancer/property lawyer first and foremost during settlement, and make sure they request all relevant council records and find out if there’s any illegal works on the property or not (usually in the form of extensions). A building and pest inspector with experience and knowledge of council requirements and the building code can also flag any areas that look suspiciously illegal. Then there is Title Insurance which should always be taken out as the final safety net to mitigate risk in case of undiscovered illegal works, which is intended to cover you financially if there’s costs associated with illegal works amongst other issues to do with the title (such as incorrect boundaries, encroaching structures, etc).



The Timber & Fibro Shack


The shack is a much loved housing typology of the Central Coast where it's previous life as a holiday home is now converted, and often extended to become a permanent home to suit the modern family. Many are in it's original form, and need some work to get it to a comfortably liveable state, which is part of the appeal for the keen renovator.


Locations:

  • Ettalong

  • Umina

  • Davistown

  • Hardey's Bay

  • Wagstaffe

  • Daley's Point

  • Woy Woy


Examples:


Pro’s: 

  1. Inherent character from yesteryear, so many have good potential to renovate (if the structure is sound), and some have already been tastefully renovated.

  2. Due to these usually being on flat blocks, they are cost effective to extend compared to a sloping block.

  3. Single level living is nice and accessible to young and old alike and easily adaptable to be accessibility compliant.

  4. Indoor outdoor living with the living space leading out onto the yard is possible, unlike steeply sloping blocks. This is one major appeal to young families because the back yard is very usable.

Con's:

  1. Vulnerable to termites due to the timber construction.

  2. Vulnerable to timber rot & mould.

  3. Many of these houses are close to the end of life its life-cycle both structurally and non-structurally (due to age and materials used, and at times the poor standard of construction). Careful analysis of the structure prior to any consideration of renovation is important, as it may be wiser to knock-down and re-build. Prior to purchasing you need to understand if there's any value in the house itself, or if you are essentially paying for only the land value. Ask yourself if you want something where you don't have to spend any / minimal time or money on, i.e. move-in ready, or if you have an appetite for renovating / rebuilding and realistically have the time, energy, and funds to do so.

  4. Beware of renovated shacks; superficial renovations often try to conceal serious defects. Since non-visible rectifications, say to the structure / plumbing / water ingress issues, do not provide the same return on investment as superficial renovations like new kitchens, paint, and street appeal, we find a lot of renovated properties that look fantastic still have serious defects.


Select Suburb Deep Dive:

Umina Beach / Ettalong Beach (The Peninsula)


This area was originally built up as a holiday destination dating as far back as the 1880's, with significant development of houses starting in the 1910's. It's an attractive option for many Sydneysider's moving to the central coast, due to it's beautiful beaches, close proximity to Woy Woy station for the commuters, and thriving community. Due to it's history, the original beach shacks are well and truly shacks; they are built small, so many have had all sorts of hodgepodge extensions over the decades to convert these holiday homes into permanent homes. Later, predominantly starting around the 60's, houses were constructed using brick veneer, with these houses having similarly small footprints for the holiday purpose (and to meet size expectation of the time which has grown phenomenally!).


Today, many of these extensions are not worth keeping due to the poor workmanship and age, but the original houses can still be restored if there's been consistent upkeep of the property. In the lowest end of the single-residential market you will find many properties in this condition of needing a lot of TLC. Although more affordable, the cost of bringing these houses up to standard needs to be factored in and not underestimated.



Brick Veneer with slab on ground

The most common housing type is brick veneer on the Central Coast, not unlike the rest of Australia. Mass production of project homes has lead the way for this to become predominant construction method, with it's affordability, durability, and the aesthetic appeal of bricks being the key benefits. This combined with slab on ground makes for a solid building that appeals to most people. Here we zone in on the slab-on-ground type which is very common and is in some ways an opposite to the previously studied pole home.


Locations:

  • Chittaway Bay

  • Lake Haven

  • Charmhaven

  • Hamlyn Terrace

  • Berkley Vale

  • Blue Haven

  • Green Point

  • Wadalba

  • Woongarrah


Examples:


Pro’s: 

  1. Newer construction type; the construction standards have been generally very good in the past 15 years to meet a more stringent Building Code (NCC) and Australian Standards.

  2. Newer and therefore less likely to have defects arising from lack of maintenance compounding over the years.

  3. For houses built from the 2000's the walls and roofs are insulated with batts (as it became mandatory) - great for your electricity bill! Most houses on the Central Coast prior to this are un-insulated and it is very difficult to retrofit insulation in walls.

  4. Brick is a very solid material against weathering and general wear and tear compared to light-weight cladding like timber & fibre cement sheeting.

  5. No subfloor space gives the advantage of minimal sub-floor vermin activity.

  6. The slab directly on the ground surface gives good thermal insulation for summer and winter.

  7. Concrete is a long lasting solid material compared to timber frame construction.

  8. Because of all of the above pro's, when buying one of these properties there's a decent portion of house value compared to land value in the total price, with many being move-in ready (Many investors are drawn to this type of house).


Con’s:

  1. Termites are still found in such homes, with the structural integrity compromised when termites attach the timber frame.

  2. Rising damp can be an issue, especially when the walls are not insulated and/or the moisture barrier is inadequately installed. This can lead to mould growth and mildew.

  3. Poor site preparation or soil movement can cause structural issues as the slab is directly on the ground. This is harder to rectify than if the floor was off the ground on piers.

  4. Water-ingress from the ground level may occur if it is on flood-prone land or on a sloping block and the stormwater drainage fails or is inadequately sized.

  5. On sloping blocks the retaining wall side can become damp and cause additional moisture issues, especially if not exposed to sunlight.



Select Suburb Deep Dive:

Berkley Vale, Killarney Vale & Chittaway Bay area


This area adjoins Tuggerah Lake to the east / north east, and the terrain is relatively flat until it reaches the adjoining suburbs to the west (Glenning Valley & Fountaindale). Relatively newer housing estates were established setback from the water, and the original settlement with older homes are closest to the lake. Slab on ground homes are found in both these areas, but the homes closer to the lake have uninhabitable ground floor levels as they are in flood-prone areas. You can see where it is flood prone using this map: https://waterride.net/FloodData/CentralCoast/ noting you want to turn on the probably maximal flood layer or PMF which is 2.6m for Tuggerah Lakes).


The major thing to note is, flooding events are common in these areas and there are several issues to consider when buying in flood-prone land.


  • The non-habitable ground floor is often a useful space, and many properties are bought and sold with the idea that this space will be used as bedrooms, offices, etc. This is an illegal use of the space and it is not possible to obtain council approval to renovate / extend on the ground floor.

  • The habitable slab on ground level; check if this is above or below the PMF/major/minor flood event level. These levels have risen over the years. You need to obtain a Section 149 / 10.7 Planning Certificate and check Clause 7(A) which will state the level of flood risk to the property. Also contact the flood engineer at council to obtain flood information for your affected site for additional valuable information if you plan to develop on the site.


Beachfront homes


If you happen to be the 1% with a budget of between $3.5 ~10m (or more), then you can be the owner of one of these amazing beachfront properties. The Central coast is home to many luxury homes on the waterfront as well as older dilapidated ones. These properties inevitably come with coastal hazards and risks, and are subject to coastal development controls. Certain risks include natural coastal erosion risks (historically occurring in big storm events), whereby the shoreline recession threatens properties, risk of undermined and eroded properties causing damage to private and public assets and infrastructure, weathering and erosion of coastal cliffs and bluffs (geotechnical risk), landslips & soil erosion, and wave run-up. Existing houses may have been built in what is now considered the "Immediate Risk Coastal Hazard Zone" and therefore is not only at great risk, but cannot be modified.





Commonly found in parts of:

  • Wamberal

  • Umina Beach

  • Pearl Beach

  • Forresters Beach

  • Avoca Beach

  • Macmasters Beach

  • Noraville


Examples:


Pro’s: 

  1. The obvious beachfront appeal is why this is prime real estate!

  2. The views, the sound of the waves crashing, the sea breeze, and the proximity to the surf and nature, is what is typically appealing about beachfront homes.

  3. However, the Central Coast is special, because this is all within close proximity to Sydney but away from the hustle and bustle of the Sydney beaches where privacy is limited. The water is pristine, the atmosphere is laid back, and the surf is world class.

Con’s:

  1. As mentioned, the coastal hazards and risks is a big minus for many. each block is unique and needs to be assessed with the help of a qualified builder, planner, architect, and structural engineer if new works are to be considered.

  2. Development on these sites is one of the most difficult and time consuming to get through council.

  3. Construction is notoriously expensive for the structure to withstand the coastal hazards and risks.


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If you would like to speak with a building and pest professional please do not hesitate to reach out for a chat with Shane on 0493 572 971. As the owner and inspector of Thoroughcheck Building Inspections Shane has inspected thousands of properties here on the Central Coast, in his role as a building and pest inspector and as a former council building certifier and qualified builder. He is passionate about helping people reach their property goals.


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