Bringing it all home with SketchUp

SketchUp is not just for Pros! It is the perfect weapon for Home-owners looking to renovate or build. Not only will it let you communicate like a Pro (so you get what you want) – but it will also save you thousands!

Martin English is a Corporate Account Manager at BuildingPoint Australia. Based in Melbourne, he and his family recently undertook the arduous task of building a new home.

As a BuildingPoint employee, it was only natural that he would turn to SketchUp (one of the many Trimble products that we sell), but just how much it helped him is quite stunning. In fact, we couldn’t shut him up about how much he loved it (just joking) – so we thought we should sit down with him and share his story. To be honest, until now we have not highlighted how much SketchUp can benefit Home-owners/DIYers, so this topic has been a long time coming!

“I knew a bit about SketchUp, but not a lot. I really only thought about using it because the new site has a 5m fall from front to back and I wanted to work on some landscaping ideas. But I didn’t think it would amount to much more than just a quick play,” he said.

“However, as soon as I started building with it, I felt that ‘aha moment’ – and I knew that it would change everything for us.”

“So I immediately took the 2D CAD plans from the builder and put them into SketchUp – and from there I could draw over them in 3D.”

Martin said he and wife Sarah quickly found they could better visualise the home and also identify and solve issues.

“Because we could see it in 3D, it meant we could actually understand the design and then better communicate any dislikes, issues and solutions to the builder,” he said.

“You rarely have enough time during a site visit with the builder to sort all of the little things out. Using SketchUp meant we could not only show the builder on an iPad with the SketchUp viewer on site, but we arrived at the meetings with everything already solved and ready to show them in a way that we knew they would immediately understand (everyone understands 3D).”

Martin began simply at first.

“I created the exterior of the house to see how it would fit on the site and from there started to create the interiors to see how they would work for my family,” he said.

“I had no SketchUp experience before this and was basically self-taught with a little help from online tutorials as well as some guidance from BuildingPoint Australia’s Division Manager – A&D, Drew Povey.

Martin said elements of the home and issues investigated and solved with SketchUp included:

Ducting: Three voids for ductwork that were part of the evaporative cooling system were removed so they didn’t affect the view of the Dandenong Ranges from the rear of the home’s upstairs activity room. Martin and his wife were able to rearrange the structuring, have that validated by the builder and then adopted for the build.

Tiling: While the tiles were chosen in real life, Martin could overlay the design, style, colour and joins/grouting into the SketchUp plans to see how they would look in situ. These were shared with the tiler which made communication seamless and quicker.

Skylights: the positioning of two skylights in the home’s raked ceiling was altered when the SketchUp plans revealed they were too low on the roof line. Using the SketchUp plans allowed correct placement and the communication of the correct positioning – allowing them to align over the kitchen island bench below.

Walk-in robe, master bedroom: Martin wanted to widen the room to allow the inclusion of doors on the robes, increasing their widths from 450mm to 600mm. The bedroom wall had to be moved to incorporated that, whilst leaving a steel load-bearing post supporting the upstairs in place. Using SketchUp Martin was able to design new cabinetry around the post and present that to the builder and cabinet maker to be validated and then constructed.

Fireplace and TV: Martin wanted to incorporate a TV above the gas fireplace, which required 300mm between the items for fire safety, and the inclusion of a mantle, which they didn’t want to have. Using Sketchup, the positioning of the TV initially showed it would be too high to be viewed comfortably from the couch. Using the model, the relevant sized TV – 65” – was virtually placed on the wall and positioned in the right height for comfortable viewing. A fireplace that was narrower and slimmer than the original was then selected for underneath. As it was recessed a mantle was not required. Martin designed the TV framing in SketchUp – the adoption of a second alcove behind the TV accommodated the TV bracket and cabling so the TV is flush with the wall and incorporate room for a centre speaker too. These plans were then shared with the builder for validation and to easily communicate the framing dimensions, etc.

Barbeque structure: Martin designed his Gas and wood-burning BBQ’s from scratch. He wanted to include it as part of the alfresco area – and construct it with brick. It rises from ground level to the deck’s 1.5m height from the ground and continues up through the roof – so it was important to get it right.

Chimney Cap:  After the brick layer advised a chimney cap would be needed for the BBQ, Martin found one that suited – but it was only available from the US and emails to that company went unanswered. So, he decided to design it himself.

After he had designed a similar cap in SketchUp, he then contacted a local steel fabricator, providing them with the SketchUp plans and dimensions. Less than a week later the cap was delivered – and was perfect to the millimeter.

Ceiling fans: Using the SketchUp model meant the location and height of two fans planned from the living room could be decided upon. By ‘walking’ through the model, Martin and his wife could see if the fans intruded on sight lines when entering the rooms and choose one of three heights available via extension rods that had the best effect.

Cabinetry: Martin designed the kitchen and bathroom cabinets among other cabinetry in SketchUp. It allowed him to increase drawer dimensions in height to better suit the family’s needs, an alteration that would have been more difficult to communicate and validate otherwise. The plans formed the basis of the cabinetmakers’ work.

Selection of materials, etc: While such items as bench tops, tiles, door handles and light fixtures were made ‘in real life’, Martin used SketchUp to place them in the virtual home, allowing a better idea of how they would work within the finished environment. For instance, a pendant light for the living room was chosen and Martin found it was available as an object from the SketchUp Warehouse. He then placed it in the room and could adjust its height and location to see how and where it would work best. This information was then shared with the electrician so they could install the light in precisely the right spot and the right height. Likewise, the bench tops were ‘tested’ by Martin loading photos into the SketchUp plan and ‘draping’ them over the benches to see how they worked with the chosen colour schemes of the kitchen.

Another tool from the BuildingPoint Australia offerings also gave the family greater insight into their finished home long before that day arrived:

“We used a XR10 Hololens2 to walk around the home virtually when it was at the frame stage,” he said.

“It was stunning to see the home as it would be and gave us more information and a greater understanding of the finished structure.”

And what about the landscaping?

“We’re still working on that,” Martin laughed.

“We are using the new SiteVision AR tool to take the SketchUp model into the garden and play with the design in situ.

“It’s a great help to visualise the actual design on site and see how it fits with the house and surrounding landscape.”

Martin said SketchUp had literally been invaluable for his family before and during the build.

“While SketchUp may be software aimed at professionals, it is also a great asset for anyone, as we found,” he said.

“It is an easy program to use and is so good for exploring and expressing your plans and ideas to your builder, who can then effectively communicate that to the tradies.

“It means you won’t have any ‘we can’t do that’ conversations with builders because you can show them how it can work, and it eliminated that ‘we’ll work it out on site’ attitude that always end in a poor compromise in my experience”.

“It’s an investment that pays for itself many times over – we know we were able to achieve the result we wanted because we were using it.

“There’s no doubt SketchUp saved us money, time and stress. If you’re building your own home its simply a must-have and I can’t recommend it enough.”

SketchUp is the perfect tool for Home-owners looking to renovate or build.

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