5 things you need to know before building in the Illawarra

  • 3 June 2019

With more than 20 years’ experience building homes in the Illawarra, our team at GN Williams are experts in building to suit local conditions.


Thinking about building in the Illawarra?

Why wouldn’t you! The beaches, the escarpment, our region has such a lot going for it, but when it comes to building your forever home, there some important factors to consider to ensure your home is protected against the harsh coastal conditions (yes, even if you’re not right near the beach!). We want to ensure your home looks as good and functions as well in the future, as it does when you first move in.

We’ve seen some less-than-ideal examples over the years, houses that just don’t stand up to our coastal environment and cause their owners endless problems. If you don’t get the important details right, your saltwater dream can turn into a rusty, waterlogged nightmare. So we’ve put together this list of the top 5 things you’ll need to know to make sure your Illawarra home stays in top shape for years to come.

Credit: Kramer Photography


The environment will choose your materials for you.


All building materials are adversely affected by the ocean — yes, even concrete and brick — with metal of course being particularly vulnerable. Even wood is susceptible to leaching or waterlogging as it is exposed to salt-laden winds blowing off the ocean. When you build, you’re going to have to adapt to this environment. That doesn’t mean that your only option is living in a giant plastic bubble if you want your coastal home to stay upright. With an intelligent approach to the design, building and finishing, you can achieve a hard-wearing result that’s still aesthetically on point.

Some ways we safeguard our client’s houses for the environment are to:

  • Ensure fixings (brackets, screws etc) are compatible with the building materials and the elements
  • Select hard-wearing timbers, for example, Australian hardwoods like spotted gum and grey ironbark
  • Choose an exposure-rated brick with high resistance to soluble salts
  • Minimise “exposed” steel and metal components
  • Use brickwork mortar that meets Australian Standards
  • Construct super strong suspended concrete balconies that have more than the minimum concrete cover over  the reinforcing steel


Modern hamptons style concrete home


Corrosion is your enemy (and it’s a sneaky one).


If you think you only need to worry about corrosion if you live right on the beach, think again. The Australian Standard on masonry categorises everything within one kilometre of an ocean coast as a ‘severe marine’ environment — the highest rating for corrosion effects you can get. Needless to say, that severe marine zone includes many Illawarra suburbs, which makes corrosion resistance one of our top priorities when we design a home. You may have chosen walls and doors that stand up to the coastal environment, but what do they all rely on? Small (often forgotten) fixings: the brackets, screws and so on that keep everything together. If these corrode and fail you can end up with thousands of dollars’ damage. Don’t let the smallest part of your house cause a huge headache down the track. It’s imperative that your builder selects the right grade of material.

For example:

  • Stainless steel ties for all brickwork
  • Stainless steel nails for cladding on the outside of your home
  • Prepped and epoxy-coated lintels that span the top of your window and door openings in the brickwork (not just “off the shelf” galvanised lintels)

Finally, ensure you keep up with the manufacturers’ maintenance guidelines so as not to void their warranty specifications, and to get the best life out of the products.


If you want the view, you need to protect yourself.


So you have sensational ocean views, fantastic! Just remember that if you’re facing the ocean, you’re going to bear the brunt of literal gales, and if you’re not careful, that can lead to wind and water damage. One solution is to have fewer windows facing the ocean. Curiously, most people aren’t keen on that idea. The better approach is to design smarter, and unsurprisingly it once again comes down to attention to detail. Correct selection of windows and doors is critical, but just as important is the way they are installed, including correct flashings, angles, wind and water ratings etc. A job done right will certainly help minimise maintenance in the future.

Wollongong builder modern home with ocean views

Wollongong builder thirroul living room with large glass doors


Your standard verandah probably won’t work.


Extra-large verandas, indoor/outdoor living areas and outdoor kitchens are becoming increasingly popular, and why wouldn’t they when you live in the Illawarra? Just because it’s an outdoor living area, doesn’t mean it’s exempt from the issues that arise from living near the coast. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on a dream feature to live with the ocean. We have designed and constructed alfresco areas on upper floors, with uninterrupted ocean views, and amazing cantilevered rooves —with every detail hand-picked to outlast the harsh coastal environment. A good designer will be able to create a stunning alfresco area that offers you great views, expansive outdoor living, great breezes, and the right amount of sun, PLUS minimise the damage that the coastal weather causes.

wollongong builder thirroul facade


There’s no such thing as zero maintenance.


It is very important to keep on top of the maintenance of your home, and let’s face it, even when using the correct materials, they’ll need ongoing maintenance to prolong their working life.

A few of the ideas we give clients to facilitate hassle-free maintenance are:

  • Install a garden tap on your balcony to make frequent cleaning easier
  • Hose down the facade regularly to prevent a build-up of salt
  • Get the drainage designed well to prevent overflows during storms


It’s a lot to consider, and we understand sometimes it can be overwhelming. That’s why we work closely with our clients to make sure the end product is — and stays — beautiful and functional. We’ll stay in touch to give you some more tips as you embark on this journey to build your own home.

If you’d like to get in touch to talk about your project, we’re always happy to hear from you. Call the office on 02 4256 8290.