Water Tight Blog

The 6 Step Owner Builders guide to working with tradesman (Particularly plumbers in Canberra)

three workers with hard hats working on a plan


Lets face it, you don’t have to do too much research on the internet to find out that there have been endless complaints from owner builders about tradesman and the troubles they have had throughout their owner building experience. The same also goes for tradesmen that become frustrated with owner builders that are inexperienced and not well planned. By having a clear guide, both parties can have the same expectations and can avoid these problems in the first place.


Step 1 – Decide if owner building is right for you


There is no doubt about it that done right, being an owner builder is an extremely rewarding experience both physically and financially. However done poorly, it can end up costing you time, money, stress, and your sanity.


Renovating or building is extremely time consuming and will require regular meetings, both on the phone and on site. If you already have commitments first thing in the morning and don’t get home until dinner is on the table, then meeting with plumbers for quotes or being on site for deliveries is going to be a problem.


Step 2 – Budget


Have you got the funds to complete the project? Managing your own project is likely to save you money however if you’re planning on completing a renovation for half the price of a builder’s quote then either your builder was planning a nice holiday and a second quote may be required, or you may have missed something in your budget. Whilst I am not a builder it is my understanding that they generally mark up on the tradesman for work being done somewhere between 15% and 30%. This mark-up covers their cost for managing the project.


Running out of funds on a job is never a fun experience for both yourself, and the tradesman that still need to be paid for work to date. Make sure you have a well-planned budget that includes an allowance for unplanned expenses.


Step 3 – Plans and Planning


Planning is critical. Whether your building project is large or small you are going to require some detailed plans. It is these plans which will help you get competitive and accurate quotes. You can make the plans for smaller projects yourself by hand or by using a simple computer program, just make sure they include detailed measurements. For larger projects, plans should be designed by a draftsman or architect in CAD.


Have a set of these plans laminated and stick them on the wall on site so that everyone is working to the same measurements.


If plans change, which can happen, ensure that all of the tradesman are emailed the latest copy and include a list of things that have changed. Don’t forget to update the laminated on site plans at the same time. Doing so will prevent any unnecessary expenses.


At this point you should also be picking out your fixtures and fittings (toilets and tapware for plumbers, fans etc for electricians, tiles for tilers….) I would recommend both emailing and having a list onsite of all fixtures that you will be using.



All plumbing, drainage and gasfitting products in Canberra and the rest of Australia require approval known as a WaterMark. This is a quality assurance check. If you’re purchasing cheap tapware off the internet or from dodgy retailers and it does not have a WaterMark stamp on it, no licensed plumber will install it.


I recommend Reece Plumbing supplies for all plumbing fixtures and tapware in Canberra. Speak to Chloe at Reece Belconnen and tell her Tom from Water Tight sent you to receive trade price on your total order.


You should also create a draft project timeline with a rough sketch on who needs to come in and in what order.  


 Step 4 – Picking a team


Having the right team of high quality, honest tradesman that are willing to work together will make your job considerably easier. Make sure they enjoy working with owner builders and have experience doing the sort of work they are taking on.


The last thing you want is a carpenter drilling through a water pipe and not telling the plumber, a tiler that washes his glue out in the plumber’s drainage pipes or an electrician that drills through the wrong place in the carpenter’s structural support. (Note, Canberra Plumbers are never the cause of the problems ;). Problems like this can be common with poor quality tradesman.


For more information on finding great tradesman see our online guide, however a few quick points


  • For licensed trades such as plumbing and electrical always ask to see their license.
  • When comparing quotes make sure you are comparing apples with apples, ie one is not using cheap inferior products whilst the other is using high quality or if one is including fixtures, and the other is not.
  • Always ask to see their insurances. As the builder you have an obligation and may be liable if a tradesman you hire is at fault and does not have adequate insurance.
  • Always seek current customer testimonials and reviews
  • Do a quick google search on their company as this will often bring up unhappy customer complaints etc.
  • Ask for referrals from friends or current tradies


When you have picked your team members ask them to look over the draft project timeline so that they can confirm the sequence of events is suitable for them.


Also, put together a contact sheet with all of the trades and phone numbers and keep onsite near the laminated plans. It’s a good idea to email this to your trades at the same time.


Step 5 – Access


Make a plan for how tradesman are going to access the property if you’re not around. My recommendation is to use a lock box where possible, so that there is always a key on site. As a tradesman I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than booking time to complete a job, only to find that we are unable to access the site as someone forgot to leave a key out etc.  


Step 6 – Let the team know we are all systems go and book in your start dates.


Note for working with Licensed Trades

One vital mistake I have come across that owner builders often make is assuming that the more of the labour work they do, the more they will save. Whilst this can certainly be true, it is vital that you understand what work must be done by a licensed tradesman, and what work does not have to be done by a licensed tradesman.

Plumbing is a licensed trade, and a licensed plumber in Canberra must be registered with ACTPLA as an Advanced Plumber, Drainer, Gasfitter. Without this ticket you are not allowed to complete any work on the plumbing, drainage or gasfitting systems. Licensed plumbers in Canberra are required to have their license number on all forms of advertising including websites and vehicle sign writing which should make it easy for you to check them out on the ACTPLA website.


Water is the number one cause of damage to buildings and repairs to water damage can cost 10’s or even 100’s of thousands of dollars. Sanitary Drainage installed incorrectly can cause major health problems. DON’T RISK IT. USE A LICENSED PLUMBER.


No reputable plumber in Canberra will risk their license, insurance and business, by signing off work completed by an unlicensed worker. When you sell the house and move on, we are still liable for work that has not been installed in accordance with the Plumbing Code of Australia.  


There may be areas of labour work you can complete to save yourself money such as digging, if you’re handy with a shovel, however always ask your plumber before starting work.


Other licensed trades include all electrical work, structural building work and waterproofing.


Well I hope this helps you with your building project.


Please keep Water Tight Canberra in mind for your reliable Canberra plumber. In addition to this we have many other trades that we would be happy to recommend including electricians and tilers. For a quote or recommendations please use the contact us form now.




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