Top 10 tips for owner builders

Within the construction industry, it is common knowledge that there are a variety of roles on offer that one can aspire to attain. No two roles are the same; the paths to reaching these roles as well as what they entail can differ significantly. For instance, a carpenter does not have the same career path and daily tasks as an electrician. Hence, there is something on offer for everyone, regardless of background or experience. 


One such role of note that is quite popular but also not talked about frequently is the role of an owner builder. Owner builders differ from other professionals in the industry in particular ways. An owner builder is someone who assumes authority on any construction-related projects undertaken on their domestic property. 


Many people prefer the autonomous nature that comes with being an owner builder, as they are able to build anything they desire on their land at their own discretion. It also means that you aren’t tied to one specific role, because owner builders aren’t employed by someone. They can hire other people with expertise in other areas to help them with projects (secondary input from other qualified experts being a bonus), and are free to pursue other career interests with little loss. 


There are caveats that come with being an owner builder. That is why it is important to stay on your toes to ensure you can have a fruitful experience as one. With that being said, here are 10 tips for owner builders. These tips do not just apply to current owner builders, but prospective ones as well.


1.Ensure you have proven your eligibility


Qualifications are extremely important in building and construction. It can be the difference between a successful project and one that fails to meet the mark for whatever reason, be it quality, safety etc. for this reason, making sure you have proven your eligibility is key to becoming a successful owner builder. 


You must be able to demonstrate that you are eligible for a Certificate of Consent. There are many conditions which are outlined in Section 25E of The Building Act 1993 (which can be accessed from the VBA’s website ( that you would need to satisfy, and they are in place to ensure that you are ready to perform and/or oversee building on a domestic front once you have successfully met other selection stages.


Such conditions include: 


  • Being the owner of the land, 
  • Intending to reside on the property, or 
  • Not having previously been equipped with a building permit in the past five years for a different property. 


2.Read and understand the study guide


Once you have proven your eligibility, you should also download and read the owner builder study guide from the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) website. The study guide consists of key information about the requirements of being an owner builder, the risks associated with being an owner builder, the type of professions you would normally engage with, and the culpability that you will possess on a construction site. Understanding this information is key, especially at the beginning of the process of becoming an owner builder. 



3.Complete an owner builder course


Perhaps the most critical tip for potential owner builders is to complete an owner builder course when attempting to become an owner builder. An owner builder course is a construction course that educates you on becoming an owner builder, and essentially provides you with the training needed to successfully initiate projects on your domestic property. Typically, the accredited course – Certificate IV in Building and Construction (Building) covers most if not all the units required for your skills and knowledge upgrade.


The content covers a wide range of topics such as classification of an owner builder, the risks and costs associated with being an owner builder, and overseeing contractors. The certificate course also benefits you in the event that you decide that domestic house construction or renovation is a career you would like to pursue. It is the precursor to the Diploma of Building and Construction (Building) course that is a requirement for application for a Builders Registration.


Additionally, you will need to undertake a construction induction course on ‘Prepare to Work Safely in the Construction Industry’. Upon completion of this course, you will receive a white card, which will be your proof of having completed the course and will allow you to enter other construction sites.



4. Understand your role and responsibilities 


The duty of an owner builder does not just reside in being responsible for construction on your own property. It can be a gratifying experience, but this can only be felt when you are aware of everything that is expected of you to perform your role well.


It is incumbent on an owner builder to make sure they are complying with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations. The need for quality and safety is more important than ever. This is especially true due to the fact that the industry has a shortage of skilled labour. According to the VBA, you must be aware of your obligations, which includes ensuring the site of work is safe for workers. This could involve arranging for a certification for completed work, and remedying any defective building works.  



5. Obtain a building permit


This point ties into the last, particularly in the case of safety. A building permit means your site is approved for work to commence, meaning it is deemed safe by authorities. Conducting construction without a permit is not allowed, and doing so only puts yourself and all your colleagues at risk. It is imperative that you have a building permit before doing any kind of construction on your property.



6. Have the right amount of contracts with tradespeople


As an owner builder, you will not be doing all the work by yourself. The VBA states that you will need to enter into a major domestic building contract when you use a registered building practitioner to do work on your project costing more than $10,000. 



7. Learn to collaborate with others effectively


As you will be working with people from other professions, it is important as an owner builder to have the skills necessary to work with different people. Construction projects are truly a team effort. When there is an imbalance in workflow, everything can fall apart. It does not just fall on others, you will need to be able to delegate tasks and have the respect to take advice where needed from professionals involved in a particular project. 


8. Manage your time well


Collaborating also involves being able to work within time limits. Meeting deadlines can be stressful, but one of the keys to being a successful owner builder is knowing when everything must be done, and doing everything to ensure there are no parts of the project being finished late. 



9. Know your limits


Owner builders have a clear set of construction projects they are allowed to undertake. This includes single residential dwellings, retaining walls, pergolas etc. the VBA clearly outlines what you can and can’t do as an owner builder. An example of what you cannot do is demolition work or sub-floor work. Understanding your limits will help you to have a successful tenure as an owner builder. 



10. Have fun


Being an owner builder, as mentioned earlier, is a little different to other roles in construction. You may even have a separate job from this that takes up your time. This is why it is important, maybe more so than other of the tips mentioned, to enjoy yourself. You are completing projects that in most cases are for yourself because you own the property where the construction is taking place. Having fun during the process and taking satisfaction in what you have completed is the reason why owner builders keep looking for new projects to undertake. It is a fulfilling role that provides pleasure and pride. 


Being an owner builder can be difficult in some aspects. However, by following these tips you can ensure your experience as an owner builder is not taken for granted. 


Parker Brent is a provider of courses in building and construction that can help you to become an owner builder. If you are interested, enquire here for more details.