Building on a Slope – mishaps and easy solutions

Building on a Slope – mishaps and easy solutions

Building on a slope –

Things to consider if you’re building on a slope and you’re an owner, architect, building designer or someone looking to purchase land with a slope. We’ve got some mishaps and easy solutions.

Building on a slope has benefits

  • You’re among the treetops and you may have majestic views to look at every day. You’ll never get sick of the views and it adds wow to your home.
  • It can increase your home value
  • Beautiful summer breezes will flow through your home. Those north/north easterlies are heaven. Protect yourself from the cold westerly winter winds. Aesthetically it’s a joy everyday to be on top of a hill
  • It’s better than being at the bottom of a slope from a water management view
  • Sloping land is usually cheaper to buy

Some mishaps & things to consider when designing, building & living on a slope

  • Winds – You may be in a higher wind rating. If you’re on the western side of a hill, that can mean cold westerly winter winds if you’re in a cold climate
  • Weather – can create mishaps when you’re building on a slope. It’s slippery for people and handling equipment and materials, at least until you have an all-weather access
  • Slips, trips and falls – OHS issues when building or living on sloping land. Adapt and level the ground where possible. The ground isn’t level, which makes it uneven, hard to get access around home for maintenance, gardening, fires and drainage. Simple things such as mowing a lawn, gardening or cleaning windows, or using a ladder on a house (ladders are a big OHS issue. Mishaps often occur says Master Builders Assoc and Housing Industry Assoc as many people work off them).
  • Accessibility – If you’re injured or a person with disabilities, a slope adds complexity. Even 4 steps or a slope to the front door can be a real issue. We had 6 weeks of non-load bearing on a leg and had to move out of the home because of the slope and steps into the house and to the bedroom. Especially at night when the grass or path is wet with dew or rain
  • Drainage – Managing water drainage and erosion is always an issue, especially keeping the water away from the house. Storm water/absorption trenches with aggregate, sand and geotech pipes that slow the water down may be required
  • Storm water detention tanks – may be required if the water can’t be absorbed on site, this can be very expensive if it needs to be pumped out
  • Driveways and paths – Keeping the driveway and paths in good working order and not deteriorate or erode over time. Steep slopes require management every year to keep it safe and free from debris
  • Gutters – Clearing out drainage is vital and not allowing debris build up which will block up drains and gutters around the house and the house gutters
  • Bushfires run uphill – so if you’re in a bushfire zone, and build on top of a hill, that puts the house at a greater risk as it’s in direct path of a potential bushfire. If you’re at the top of a hill your bushfire zone may be higher than if you were on flat ground or at the bottom of the hill

From a builder’s perspective, building on a slope

We’ve seen broken & twisted ankles, trucks tip over (yes tip over!), vehicles get bogged, scaffolding sink into the ground, all because of a sloping block. It’s not that building on slopes is impossible; it’s just it adds complexity and risk to a house build. Which is why project home builders won’t go near them and why a lot of people won’t buy or build with them. Here are a few things builders work with –

  • Building materials – getting them to site, up the hill, down the hill, with trucks, people and then there’s storing them so they don’t wash away. Having a drop-off, turning & parking zone for tradies and for when you’re living in the home
  • Building at heights – getting the materials up into the air and installed by builders is even more complex. Imagine having tonnes of materials that have to be clad, rendered and constructed
  • Using scaffolding – will be vital so the builder can build, moving the scaff and getting access can also be tricky
  • Cut and fill – when establishing a house-site you may have to cut, fill and compact the soil so it’s all on one level with the same compaction density
  • Split level home – You can have a split level home. Of course we’ve had a lot of experience with them. It just adds a little more skill, which an experienced builder will be able to manage
  • Enclosing underneath – if the house is post and beam, enclosing around the underside of the house for bushfires is important to reduce the risk of a fire getting underneath the house. This also helps keep the house warm if it’s in a cold climate. You can then insulate underneath the home if it’s exposed.

Having been builders for decades, we’ve seen and heard a lot of stories that have happened. If you take the steps to minimise the risks, then you’ll know the risks and mishaps that can go wrong, so you know what not to do

Options and Easy Solutions

  • Engage a great architect or building designer – one who’s experienced building with slopes and getting the house & services well positioned on the topographic survey. Have building drop off zones, clear the vegetation and stabilise the ground with retaining walls and battering the site. Your designer is experienced with heights of the buildings on a sloping block, as sometimes it’s easier to forget this. That’s why it’s vital to work with the builder while drawing, as they’ll visit your site and you can work together to get the best solution
  • Work with the land – where the sun is (solar passive), the slope, services, front door, views and summer/winter winds
  • Prefab – Your builder may use a prefabricated wall, floor and roof system that can be craned into place to reduce time and alleviating on-site construction
  • Increase your Budget – Find extra money to cover the additional costs to build your house
  • Foundations – that you can use include:
    suspended slab (most expensive option);
    split level (entering at ground level can be cool although rising damp, termites and waterproofing where the ground meets the house can be hard to manage);
    strip footings to elevate part of the house and have the other part on the ground;
    piers/posts for a pole home
  • Engage experts – who are skilled in designing and building on slopes
  • Use a good engineer – who’s experienced with Blue Mountains soil types, slopes and collaborates with the builder on alternatives and solutions
  • Batter out the slope so it slows the flow of water and you can get close to the slope after you cut and fill or use posts. You can also retain it, remembering to check with council when you need to get it engineered
  • Enjoy and accept – Be ok with the sloping land and buy your land for a lot less. In other words, makes estimates on the additional costs and show the Purchaser what the costs are and you should be able to offset the extra build costs for a lower land price
  • No expectations – Building in the Blue Mountains often means building on a slope, in a bushfire or environmental zone and having water management issues. If you find a block with a slight slope, then that is a bonus
  • Create an experienced team – who are experienced with slopes and your region. If you’re the owner, keep everyone in communication with each other. They’re all on your side and you can get advice from all of them and find out. Have a vision and be flexible with how it’s achieved rather than rigid. Trust your team, get their advice and listen to them.
  • Same page – do you feel like your vision and goals are the same as your team? Do you have the same taste and style.
  • Traditional vs Architectural – Do you prefer a more traditional house that most builders build, or do you want an architectural style that looks and feels different to any other home? It comes down to the finishes and details at the end of the day.

Create a team who’s experienced,
where they listen to you and create what you’d like.

While you’re flexible with how you get there,

ensure that they have the same taste and style
as you want and can afford

Examples of split level homes, retaining walls, cut and fill.