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Renovation is a great way to modernise and make an existing house more functional and aesthetic. And in many cases, a clever renovation will work miracles but there are some things even a clever reno can’t fix. No matter the size of your budget or the creativity of your design. 

So think carefully before buying a house with the intention to renovate , or spending lots of time and money to renovate your current home, if any of these apply.


Renovation on a small lot

Photo Credit:Architect:   Shaun Lockyer Architects.  Photographs: Aperture Photography



Block size does matter. The first thing that a clever reno can’t be fixed is the size of your block of land.  

When you’ve got a small block your design options for your home renovation or extension can be really limited.

Many  Local Councils have rules about what you can do on small lots – Brisbane City Council for example has a Small Lot Code which has outlines specific rules for lots smaller than 450m2. The code outlines rules around boundary setbacks and site coverage limiting how and where you can build on that site.

But keep in mind, any lot size below about 600 m2 can have implications for your design options. So if you’ve got a smaller lot you aren’t going to be able to have the same outcomes as you might be able to achieve on a bigger block of land. 

It doesn’t mean there aren’t possibilities, it just means it might not be possible to put that dream house that you’ve always wanted, exactly as you envisage it on a smaller block.

Photo Credit:  Architect:MAKE Architecture.  Photographs:Peter Bennetts



The second thing a clever renovation cant change is the zoning your home falls within.  Each and every property has a zoning classification applied to it by your local council.

The zoning tells you what you can or can’t do on your property.  So it’s this thing that says whether you can build a hospital or a house, or industrial or if you can build units  and usually cover what heights those units can be. 

So the zoning your property is can have a profound effect on the renovation possibilities and your long term lifestyle in that location, 

So it’s really important to check BEFORE you commit to spending any money on a renovation project. 

Zonings do change so even if your house had a certain when you purchased it doesn’t mean it is still that zone. If you’re looking to buy a house to renovate, checking the zone should be one of the first things you do before putting in an offer and understanding what that means. now 

If you are building or renovating a family home then the main thing to look out for is a high density development zone. You don’t want to invest in your house or spend a lot of money buying what you think is going to be your dream house to only have five eight ten storeys of units go up next door.

Typically when homeowners  look  at their own family home, a priority is usually protecting themselves from a situation that would devalue their house, and having an undesirable land use or development next door can do that in the blink of an eye.

So familiarise yourself with the zones of your Local Council. 

Most Councils have a website that allows you to actually get zoning and planning information free online.

Home renovation on Sloping Block

Photo Credit:   Architect:Glamuzina Paterson Architects   Photographs:Patrick Reynolds



The third thing a clever renovation can’t fix is the slope of your land.

Believe it or not, many people never take into account what’s happening outside the four walls of their home, especially when they are looking at  buying a house. Often they’re so focused on the actual house itself that they forget to look at the implications of the land on which it sits.

If you’ve got a sloping block of land, it’s always going to be more difficult, if not impossible not to mention expensive if you’ve got your heart set on a flat grass cricket pitch as your backyard. 

Sloping blocks aren’t necessarily a game changer though, in fact they have some benefits that a flat block doesn’t. 

Generally speaking, if you want the typical flat grass backyard, then ideally you need to buy a flat block, but bear in mind flat blocks come with some negatives.

A flat block often leaves you with issues with neighbors and houses overlooking your property, you might have a situation where your windows look straight into your neighbours or you might feel like you step into your back neighbours home when you exit your back balcony doors. So a positive of a flat block is they give you a great backyard but on the negative side they can have some privacy issues. 

A sloping block however means that the houses tend to be staggered and you often avoid those privacy issues,  It all really comes so it depends what your ideal outcome is. 

Renovated House

Photo Credit:  Architect:Fearns Studio.  Photographs:Tom Ferguson



The fourth thing a clever renovation can’t fix is your location.

In terms of building a new home  or renovating or even extending your home,  it’s essentially going to cost the same from a construction cost point of view to do the building work on your house no matter what suburb you’re in.  But the issue arises with the end value pos the new building works.  The end value of it is going to be very different if it’s lower end suburb versus a higher end suburb. And this can even affect how much or how little renovation work you do. 

Because the fact of the matter is, if you’re looking at over capitalizing if you’re well not wanting to over capitalize if you’re looking at being concerned at all about the end value of your project which we find the majority of our clients

So you need to actually think about the location and area you’re buying in to start with sometimes you can get a great bargain but if the bargain is in an area that won’t support that value at the end  when it comes to resale then maybe it’s not so much of a bargain because remember your construction costs will be essentially the same no matter where you build in a particular city.

A clever design can’t suddenly get you a two million dollar sale in a lower end suburb no matter how amazing the house is.


Photo Credit:  Architect:Zen Architects.  Photographs:Derek Swalwell



The fifth thing a clever renovation can’t fix is your home’s orientation.  

Orientation refers to the way your house is located on your property relative to the north, south, east and the west and because of that, how that’s impacted by the Sun and the breezes. 

Brisbane, for example,  is located in the subtropics, so the sun is a huge issue. Especially the western sun on a summer’s afternoon – it is hot and relentless.

Ideally in the southern hemisphere, you want your main living areas facing to the North, which usually means your backyard, to minimise the impact of the sun in summer.

I recently had a client come to me looking to do a home renovation and one of the topics that came up was the sun and she wanted to know how to ‘fix’ the Western Sun. 

This  particular house was a long 1970s brick house and the long side of it – which included  the lounge room, kitchen  and dining room all faced due west. All the windows were on the western side and as a result this home was difficult to live in as it was so uncomfortable and hot.

The fact is, it isn’t possible to ‘fix’ the Western Sun. Granted, there are measures you can take to try and minimise its impact, like shading or awnings, or even landscaping  but even those measures come with issues,  which typically is a substantial impact on your indoor outdoor connection.

At the end of the day, how your block is designed and oriented to that isn’t something that we just fix through a clever design  especially if the existing house already has living spaces opening out to that it’s very expensive to completely shift those living spaces somewhere else and if your block is small it isn’t always possible to reconfigure the interior to open in a different direction. A smaller block usually means your backyard is in a set location.

Simply by buying one house over another you can completely eliminate this issue from your scenario. 

So don’t underestimate the importance of good orientation


Photo Credit:  Architect:Zen Architects.  Photographs:Derek Swalwell


At the end of the day, so much of what you spend your money on, how easy or hard your project is and whether you can get the project you want is driven by what you have to work, the house you have to work with or the one you’re looking to buy, with at the start of your project.


Taking into account each of these 5 things that even a clever renovation can’t fix right at the start will help you make the best decisions about whether or not renovation on that particular house at least) is the best possible solution.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting.

Leave a comment, we love to hear from you.

Until next time….stop dreaming and start planning…


While every effort has been made to provide accurate information, The Zen Reno does not guarantee that this blog article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use. It is for information purposes only and expert advice should be sought regarding how this issue might affect your particular project.

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