GMA Technical Information

What is a Building Surveyor, what do we do and why do you need us?

In Queensland, most building work is approved by Private Building Certifiers, also known as Building Surveyors. Building Surveyors are licensed by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) and act as an alternative to the local Council, to approve building work when it is in accordance with the Council’s planning scheme and the relevant building codes. Very few Council’s deal with self-assessable building work, so it is up to the Building Surveyor to determine compliance, issue building approvals and carry out inspections during construction.

We can help you with your project before any plans are drawn up by advising you on planning scheme requirements and how to comply with building codes. We can also alert you to any possible constraints over your property that may hold up your building application, or may add additional costs to your build. Some more common constraints that often take home owners by surprise are bushfire construction requirements, minimum floor heights in flood effected areas, landslide risk, and transport noise corridors. You can find out more about them here.

Building Surveyors must, under the Building Act, notify the Local Authority of all construction work taking place in their jurisdiction. We lodge a notice of engagement to Council at the start of your building approval process, and we also lodge all documentation relating to your project once a final certificate (form 21) has been issued.

During construction we must be notified of the progress of your building work and make sure all aspects are compliant and meet minimum construction standards. This is a very important part of our duty to you and your project. We are here to protect you, the home owner, from unnecessary disappointment relating to the structural soundness of your build after the work has been completed.

There are certain stages of construction that must be inspected by the building surveyor. In some cases, we will permit a registered engineer to conduct inspections on our behalf. Either we or the engineer will determine that the construction work complies with all Codes, and issue you with a Form 16 that permits you to continue work onto the next stage. Make yourself familiar with these stages and what mandatory inspections are required here, and ensure that you do not proceed past each stage until we have given you permission to do so. The QBCC has the authority to issue fines to those that carry on work past unapproved stages. We want to avoid this from happening, so if ever you’re unsure, please contact us to discuss what inspections must be carried out on your project.

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The Building Approval process explained

In Queensland, all Building Approvals are issued under the IDAS process (Integrated Development Assessment System) and the Planning Act. This system governs the steps taken and the information required in order to assess and issue your building approval.

To start the process we need a set of architectural plans. These should include a site plan, floor plans and elevations. We will also ask for structural details, that is bracing and tie down and the foundation design. Your building designer or architect will be able to help you with these.

After you have lodged the application, we will need to assess your proposal against the planning scheme and all building codes. If we need any further information from you before issuing the building approval we will send you a Request for information (RFI).

Our usual method of correspondence is via email, so please ensure you give us your current email address on your application forms. If your email address should change during the certification process, it is very important that you update your details with us.

When all information has been received and your application complies with all requirements, we will issue you with a decision notice that tells you all you need to know about your building approval. Please take the time to read the decision notice and call us if there is anything on it you are unsure of. The decision notice will state:

  • When building work should commence
  • When building work should be completed
  • The certificates we require before we can issue either a stage form 16 or a final form 21
  • What inspections will be required and who should be carrying them out
  • What application specific conditions have been placed over the construction – these may relate to bushfire, flooding or other Council planning scheme provisions
  • What standard conditions apply to the construction – these will reference the National Construction Code and any Australian Standards the construction must comply with.
  • As well as receiving your decision notice, you will also receive a set of stamped approved plans from us which may also contain information valuable to your development. It is also important that these plans are looked over and any stamps (always in red) are read and understood.

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    When do I need a building approval?

    If you’re planning on building a small extension or carrying out some renovation work, or even just building retaining walls or a fence, how do you know if you need a building approval?

    The Building Regulation 2006 has a list of ‘triggers’ which determine when a building approval is required.

    Below is a list of some of the more common building work and when a building approval will be required. If the work you’re proposing is not mentioned here, or if you are unsure if a building approval will be required, please contact us. Our technical team members know what questions to ask in order to determine if a building approval will be required.

    Fences

    If your new fence is no more than 2m in height AND it does not form part of a pool barrier, you will not require a building approval. However, if your fence sits on top of a retaining wall, and the combined height of the retaining wall and fence is greater than 2m, a building approval will be required. In most cases this will also trigger an application to Council for a relaxation.

    Pool Barriers

    The Building Regulation 2006 contains a great deal of information in regard to pool barriers and when a building approval is required. In a nut shell, if you are proposing to repair/adjust or replace a part of a pool fence, you may do so provided the part to be rectified is no more than 5m in length and contains no more than 6 posts. However, if the work you’re proposing involves changing the ground level (for eg, laying pavers around your pool area), or increasing/decreasing the height of the barrier then you are advised to speak with one of our technical members.

    Non-load bearing devices

    These are aerials, antennas, flagpoles, mast, or tower (provided you do not live within the Obstacle Limitation Surfaces Standards (OLS) of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority), and a satellite dish with a maximum dimension of 900mm.

    No building approval will be required if the device is attached to a building or structure and no more than 3.5m above the building/structure OR if the device is detached from any building or structure and no more than 10m above the natural ground surface.

    Retaining Walls

    If the retaining wall does not form part of a pool fence/barrier, and if it is less than 1m in height, not within 1.5m of an existing or proposed structure/building, and not taking surcharge load, you do not need a building approval. Surcharge load means any load applied to the ground that may affect the movement of the ground near the retaining wall.

    Filling and excavation

    Filling or excavation does not require a building approval if:

    (a) the proposed cut or fill is no deeper than 1m above or below the natural ground surface for the relevant building or structure; and

    (b) any cut embankment is only into soil of a following type and no steeper than gradient stated for the soil type— (i) for sand—2 horizontal to 1 vertical; (ii) for silt—4 horizontal to 1 vertical; (iii) for firm clay—1 horizontal to 1 vertical; (iv) for soft clay—3 horizontal to 2 vertical; and

    (c) any fill embankment is no steeper than 4.0 horizontal to 1.0 vertical; and

    (d) any compacted fill embankment is only into soil of a following type and no steeper than gradient stated for the soil type— (i) for sand—3 horizontal to 2 vertical; (ii) for silt—4 horizontal to 1 vertical; (iii) for firm clay—2 horizontal to 1 vertical.

    You may need to seek advice from a geotechnical engineer to determine if any of the above applies to your proposed filling/excavation

    Repairs/maintenance/alterations not affecting any structural components

    This section applies only if the work you’re proposing does not affect any fire safety system within the existing building/structure, and does not affect a pool barrier. You do not require a building approval if the work does not alter the building/structure’s floor area or height.

    Repairs/maintenance/alterations only affecting minor structural components

    This section does not apply to any work effecting a pool barrier or a solar hot water system, or a photovoltaic solar panel attached to the roof of a building, and if the building work does not change the floor area or height of the existing building/structure. For a dwelling house, you will not require a building approval if the work does not affect more than 20% if the building’s structural components of the same type.

    A structural component is considered minor if:

    (a) the component is— (i) a roof beam or lintel supporting no more than 5m2 of roof area; or (ii) a sun hood or sun blind projecting no more than 1m from the building; or

    (b) if the work is repairing or maintaining the component—were it not present in the building, the building’s general safety and structural integrity would not be at risk; or

    (c) if the work is adding the component to the building—the addition does not pose a risk to the building’s general safety and structural integrity.

    If you live in an apartment building or an attached dwelling, please contact us for further information.

    Class 10 buildings/structures - Sheds, decks, carports, etc

    This section does not apply to decks that are roofed or higher than 1m out of ground, or to work proposed in Cyclonic areas.

    No building approval will be required if:

    (a) the plan area of the class 10 is no more than 10m2; and

    (b) the class 10 has, above its natural ground surface— (i) a height of no more than 2.4m; and (ii) if the class 10 is not a rainwater tank—a mean height of no more than 2.1m, worked out by dividing its total elevational area facing the boundary by its horizontal length facing the boundary; and

    (c) any side of the class 10 is no longer than 5m

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    Building without a building approval

    It does sometimes happen. You may have purchased a property that has some unapproved structures on it. Or perhaps you got busy one weekend with some building work not realising that a building approval would be required.

    The good news is it’s not the end of the world. GMA will be able to help you through the building approval process for as-constructed work and hopefully get you out the other side with minimal heartache and worry. Before we can help you, we will need a full set of architectural plans – site plan, floor plan and elevations. These plans must accurately indicate all front, side and rear setbacks as well as the floor area of the as-constructed work and heights out of ground.

    If the siting of the works is not in accordance with the Council siting requirements, the first step will be to get the Council to approve a relaxation of those requirements. When we have any necessary Council approvals we can then move onto the next step of organising the retrospective building approval.

    As-constructed building approvals require all the same information as those for proposed building work. And they do cost a little more due to the additional work involved. We will require certificates for some aspects just as we do for new building work, though some of these will need to be issued retrospectively. For example, for us to be satisfied that the building work is structurally sound, you may need to engage an engineer to determine that the slab/footings and the frame have been built to standard. If termite management is required to the as-constructed work, we may need you to engage the services of a licensed termite management installer to verify that the new work is suitably protected and does not worsen the risk of termite attack to the existing structure.

    These retrospective inspections tend to be more expensive than those for new builds, so be prepared for the additional costs associated with an as-constructed building approval.

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    Inspections - Stages and Form 16s

    When you have received your building work approval (called a Decision Notice), you will see a section on the second page referring to your required inspections. These inspections must be carried out on completion of each stage, and before proceeding onto the next stage.

    Form 16 - Stage certificate

    Under the Building Act 1975, your building certifier must be notified at each stage, and either inspect and approve, or receive evidence from a competent person that the stage has been inspected and approved, prior to you proceeding on with the build. We may permit a Registered Professional Engineer to inspect the building work noted on your decision notice, and provide us with a form 16 inspection certificate. This form 16 advises us that the work has been inspected and complies with the approved plans and all relevant standards and codes.

    By law there are only two inspections which must be carried out by a Certifier. These are a site inspection (for any work other than a single detached dwelling house, a site inspection may not be required), and a final inspection. For all other inspections, your engineer may issue a form 16.

    Form 16 - Aspect certificate

    During our inspections, we cannot always see that certain work has been installed and completed correctly if it is concealed (i.e. Waterproofing), or there may be certain elements that require to be inspected by others. We will therefore ask to be provided with a form 16 from the licensed installer, or other approved inspector, as evidence that the element was installed in accordance with the National Construction Code and it relevant Australian Standards. This form 16 is referred to as an aspect certificate, as they demonstrate compliance of just one aspect within a Stage.

    Form 15 - Design certificate

    Sometimes we need evidence that the work was designed correctly. For example, the glazing in the windows, sliding doors and shower screens, or the engineer’s design for footings and slab. This evidence is provided in a set format known as a Form 15.

    Click here to view forms

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    Fire Separation

    Fire separation between unattached buildings

    If you propose to build a patio or a deck, and have plans drawn showing it in close proximity to your side boundary, we may ask that you either move it away from your boundary or provide some sort of fire separation between it and the boundary line (usually in the form of a block wall or similar). This can be a frustrating thing to hear! Before planning your new building work, it is always best to check on what you may or may not be able to construct near your boundary lines.

    If you are proposing building work near another building on your allotment, or if you live in a duplex, the National Construction Code (NCC) also has a set of requirements to keep both your dwelling and other structures safe in the event of a fire.

    Fire separation is not a simple one rule fits all scenarios. The NCC accommodates for many different types of construction, so please contact us if you would like more information.

    Separating walls between attached buildings

    Separating Walls are required when two dwellings are attached – like a duplex/townhouse.

    There are many types of separating wall construction methods available in today’s market. The NCC requires that each of these methods must achieve a Fire Resistance Level (FRL) of 60/60/60 between the dwellings. This means that the wall must maintain structural adequacy, integrity and insulation for a minimum of 60 minutes, enabling all occupants to vacate the building in the event of a fire.

    All separating walls must be inspected by either us as the building certifier or a Passive Fire License Holder (licensed by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission)). If a Passive Fire License Holder inspects the wall, the inspection must cover all of the elements required in the NCC like the mineral fibre installation, eaves separation and end of wall compaction. If the passive fire licensee inspection does not cover all these aspects, GMA will also need to inspect.

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    What's the difference between a Form 17 and a Form 23?

    This can easily become a confusing topic. But there is a very simple way to determine if you need a form 17 (which can only be issued by a building certifier), or if you need a form 23 (issued by a pool safety inspector).

    For work to a pool barrier that requires a building approval (click here to find out if you need a pool fence approval) you may only get this approval from a Building Certifier, who will on completion of the barrier issue you with a form 17. Having a form 23 does not negate the need to still obtain a form 17. If you do not require a building approval for alterations to an existing pool fence, or if you are selling or leasing your property, you may engage the services of a pool safety inspector who can issue you with a form 23.

    Both forms act as evidence that you have a compliant pool fence and are valid for two years for a domestic pool.

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    Termite Management

    The National Construction Code (NCC) has requirements for termite risk management that applies to all new building work. It is important to note that the NCC requirements are to provide for a termite management system that deters termites from gaining entry to a building via a concealed route. The installation of a termite management system will not stop termite activity from occurring on your site.

    All of Queensland is deemed to be termite risk area. And all primary building elements must be protected – these include architraves, skirtings and the like.

    There are many methods available for providing an effective termite management system to your building. It would be advisable to speak with a licensed termite management installer before starting any construction work so that you will be aware of any requirements to your development.

    One of the biggest heartaches home owners face is finding out the termite management system installed during the build has been compromised by works carried out AFTER construction has been completed. Often paths, landscaping, driveways, decorative claddings and other such ‘add ons’ breech the termite barrier, allowing for concealed access into the building. This can be expensive and time consuming to rectify. If you have plans to add any additional work like this, please let your termite management installer know so that they can prepare a suitable management system specific to your development.

    There are several things that you can do as the home owner to ensure your termite management system remains effective and in accordance with the BCA. We will expect to see compliance with the following items when we do our final inspection:

  • Maintain a 75mm inspection zone below the barrier where above landscaping and grassed areas
  • Ensure no pipes, fence posts, retaining walls or other attachments sit directly over the barrier. An inspection zone must be allowed for between these attachments and the barrier location so that any possible termite activity can be viewed.
  • Place the termite notice sticker (durable notice) in your meter box.
  • If concreting or laying other hardstand areas around the perimeter of your building, ensure a min. 25mm inspection zone exists at the barrier location.
  • We will require a Form 16 from your licensed Termite Management Installer for all aspects of termite management. Typically, we will require a certificate for all plumbing penetrations and other slab penetrations, the perimeter treatment, and any cold joint treatment. Discuss these with your termite management technician if you’re unsure what applies to your development.

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    Common constraints - Bushfire, Flooding, Landslide and Transport Noise Corridors

    Councils include, as part of their planning documents, maps which tell us what areas are prone to bushfire, flooding and landslide. These parts in the Council planning scheme are called overlays, and if in one of these areas, it is the responsibility of the Building Certifier to ensure your house is built to appropriately combat these natural hazards. There are occasions when Council will determine new building work will increase the risk of the hazard to neighbouring lots, the community, or impact on life saving measures and will necessitate a planning application so they can properly assess the risk involved.

    If you are building a dwelling house on a residential lot, most of these hazards will be addressed through specific building work requirements. For example, in flood effected areas, you will have to build your slab or suspended floor above the flood level, in bushfire areas your dwelling’s construction must comply with the Australian Standard 3959 for building within bushfire prone areas.

    Transport noise corridors (TNC) are indicated on State mapping as opposed to local mapping. If you are building near a busy road you may wish to check out the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning website to find out if your property falls within a transport noise corridor.

    If you are building within one of these areas, your construction will have to satisfy the National Construction Code and it’s referenced standards, any applicable Queensland Development Code, as well as any Planning Scheme requirements.

    If you believe one of these overlays may affect your development and would like further information, please contact us and speak with one of our technical team members.

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    Secondary Dwellings vs Dual Occupancies

    Planning Schemes in most areas throughout Queensland have been gradually getting updated to comply with the Queensland Planning Provisions (QPP). This means that each local authority adopting the new QPP planning scheme is now consistent with the State’s definition of a dwelling house.

    The QPP planning schemes have adopted self-assessable criteria for Secondary Dwellings, also called granny flats, family accommodations, annexed units or auxiliary units. (Self-Assessable means that there is no requirement to apply for a separate planning approval, if the proposal complies with the acceptable criteria in the planning scheme). The self-assessable criteria are generally as per the following:

  • Max gross floor area of 80sqm
  • The primary and secondary dwelling must appear as one dwelling from the street
  • The secondary dwelling, if detached from the primary dwelling, must be located within 10m of the primary dwelling.
  • It is important to note however that each Council has been given the authority to change these requirements as they see fit, so always check with your council or contact us, before planning your secondary dwelling extension.

    The Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning (DILGP) has made the intention of Secondary dwellings clear in that they are to remain subordinate to, and used in conjunction with the primary dwelling, and they are to be occupied by members of the same household.

    The DILGP has confirmed that if a secondary dwelling is occupied by people who are not members of the primary dwelling household, the secondary dwelling is no longer considered to be used in conjunction with the primary dwelling. If this is the case, the development is now defined as a Dual Occupancy (also known as a Duplex).

    See below for the QPP definitions of each of these uses, to help you determine if your development may comply as a secondary dwelling.

  • Dwelling house - A residential use of premises for one household that contains a single dwelling. The use includes domestic outbuildings and works normally associated with a dwelling and may include a secondary dwelling.
  • Secondary Dwelling - A dwelling used in conjunction with, and subordinate to, a dwelling house on the same lot. A secondary dwelling may be constructed under a dwelling house, be attached to a dwelling house or be free standing.
  • Household - An individual or a group of two or more related or unrelated people who reside in the dwelling, with the common intention to live together on a long-term basis and who make common provision for food or other essentials for living. (Please note that some planning schemes place an upper limit on the number of individuals)
  • Dual Occupancy - Premises containing two dwellings on one lot (whether or not attached) for separate households.
  • If your development does not comply with the self-assessable criteria for a secondary dwelling, you have three options:

  • You may lodge a planning application to Council (referred to as an MCU) for the Secondary Dwelling. They will assess your proposal and determine its compliance based on its own merit.
  • You may request that the development be assessed as a dual occupancy. In many Council areas, a dual occupancy will trigger an MCU, and under the Building Code of Australia will also require fire separation.
  • Amend your proposal so that the development complies with the self-assessable requirements for a secondary dwelling.
  • Due to the general public’s lack of understanding between the differences between a bona fide secondary dwelling and a dual occupancy, many Councils are now treading cautiously when it comes to self-assessable secondary dwellings. There have been many reported cases of secondary dwellings which have been approved as self-assessable, later to be used as a dual occupancy – and this is not viewed favourably with any Council. For this reason, GMA believes it is our duty to ensure that you, as the owner, are fully aware of the differences between a secondary dwelling and a dual occupancy. If you lodge an application with us for a secondary dwelling, we will require that you read and sign the owner declaration form (click here). This declaration becomes part of our documents to be lodged to Council.

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