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Pudding Lane Building Surveyors
ABN: 15 623 416 722

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New Town,
Tasmania  7008

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Learning & Resources

Good design good construction

By Alex Wood

By Danielle Warfe

23 October 2019

Planning for your construction project can be time-consuming and costly, and that’s before you’ve even put a spade in the ground. These costs can feel hidden, because there’s nothing physical to demonstrate the expense, and onerous, because they feel like they’re adding to the overall financial limit of your project that you had mentally fixed upon. It can be tempting to scrimp on the design to save money and get started sooner, and figure out any problems later during construction. However, there’s good evidence to show this is likely to cost substantially more in the long run.

A report by Engineers Australia, Getting It Right The First Time, documented the findings of an industry task-force investigation into design quality in the construction sector. Their findings included:

  • The quality of design documentation had markedly declined over the preceding 15 years, and was accompanied by a 24% drop in design fees.
  • Poor design documentation was responsible for 60-90% of project variations, and increased overall project costs by 10-15%.
  • When design fees are below what it costs to do the work properly, then design inefficiencies multiply and project costs escalate.

They also noted that the quality of design documentation was considerably better in the resources sector. Here, owners have an interest in minimising costs and maximising both reliability and operational safety over the lifespan of their investment. It’s worth noting this report was published in 2005 and supported earlier findings from CSIRO.

More recent research has also found that poor design documentation can cause multiple problems. These problems impact the effectiveness with which concepts are transformed into reality and increase the overall time and cost of a project:

  • Problems in design, e.g. poor integration among design disciplines.
  • Problems in approvals and tendering, e.g. more requests for information and delays.
  • Problems in construction, e.g. more variations, defects and non-compliances.
  • Problems in operation and maintenance, e.g. more repairs and poor performance.
  • Problems in liability, e.g. more safety incidents, insurance costs, and legal claims.

Not only do these problems increase direct costs to owners, designers, builders and subcontractors, but also indirect costs in the form of rework, stress and disputes, making the industry itself less efficient.

According to both industry and academic research, design errors are caused by insufficient time and attention on the design, often to meet the demands of clients. And errors that germinate in design tend to propagate through construction. By scrimping on the design, you might think you’re saving money, but you’re not. The best insurance for keeping your project costs down is to value and pay for good design documentation at the outset.

As always, we have the papers on this, so feel free to get in touch for further info.


Alex Wood

Building Surveyor

Alex is a fully qualified and licensed Building Surveyor (Open) with experience across all sectors. He has been practising building regulation for over 20 years, and is a trusted and professional operator.


Danielle Warfe

Building Surveyor (Limited)

Danielle is an experienced researcher, skilled in communication, risk assessment, and the evaluation of evidence. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Building Surveying and Certification.