The Gruen Eco Design blog about how to convert your dream from an energy efficient home into a reality.


Something important to look out for are trees on your site as well as on your neighbouring sites. Especially when it comes to large trees and even more so indigenous trees, like any kind of gumtree. A permit if often required to remove large trees and in many cases council does not support the removal of these trees at all. Therefore be mindful if there are any trees that might hinder your project.

Also, when it comes to trees there is something called a Tree Protection Zone. Meaning depending on the size of the tree and the circumference of the trunk there is an area – a radius around the tree -where you can’t build in. Or to be more precise, you can build into this area to a certain percentage, but special construction techniques may need to get applied. You will also often need an arborist to examine and document the trees and determine the tree protection zone. This also applies to trees on your neighbouring properties or the nature strip. The bigger the tree the bigger the tree protection zone. Just one tree in the wrong location can make or break a site.

Even more so when the site has a Significant Landscape Overlay, or a Vegetation Protection Overlay. If such an overlay is present it might not be possible at all to remove trees. So you will need to investigate and discuss with council and or our architect/designer first before getting seriously invested.

Speaking of overlays, zoning and council in general. It is really important to check the planning regulations, the zoning and more so the schedule to the zone and any restrictions this may pose on your dream home. Planning regulations can control an almost endless list of things, like setbacks, building heights, site coverage, materials, ground floor to first floor ratios and so on. You also have to check if a planning permit is needed for what you want to do.

In most cases a planning permit can take anywhere from 6-12 months. Even longer when the neighbours object, especially when they take you to VCAT.

One other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that once you lodge a planning permit, council will try to force their ideal image of a house on to you. For instance, council usually does not support so called sheer walls, first floor walls sitting on top of ground floor walls. Just because they do want articulation and they think such walls are ugly. If you have a look around at the typical subdivision, you can see this sort of wedding cake style everywhere, where the first floor walls step in. This articulation poses quite a few issues. For once, since the first floor walls are not supported by walls below you need steel beams and posts to pick up the load, which makes the construction more expensive. But the bigger issue is that it is contra productive when it comes to energy efficiency and sustainability. You need way more material, more insulation. Due to the articulation there is more external wall area and roof area, which increases the area to volume ratio of your home. The larger wall and roof area leads to more potential heat loss or gain.

As a general rule I would always say try to find a side where you don’t need a planning permit to build your house. This means a lot less problems. Obviously this does not always work. And if you have to get a planning permit make sure you budget in for the time the project can sit with council and consider getting a private planner to help you navigate the council maze.