Building a House in Indonesia

Last year, my wife’s family bought a house and renovated it, although rebuilt would be a better word when taking into account the amount of work involved. The house was very old, being built in the 1950’s and in bad shape, functioning as a home for a big family that had lived there since it was built but who were heavily in debt. The house had a small canteen in the front selling simple food. Water leaked through the low ceilings and the walls were damp and mouldy. Too many rooms with bad air circulation contributed to this problem, together with a very old and leaking roof.

However, the house was sitting on land close to the center of the city and was very cheap. The price was negotiated down even further, the owner agreed to pay all the Notary Public ‘s fees, and the sale signed afterwhich four contractors were invited to give quotations to renovate the house.

The going rate for building a house or for major renovations is Rp2 million per square meter for low quality, and Rp3 million for medium quality. With a land size of just over 200 m2 and a building size of about 150 m2 downstairs and 50m2 upstairs, quotations mostly in the range of Rp400 to Rp600 million were received. After negotiating with the contractors a quotation of Rp280 million was decided and a contract signed.

This thread outlines the renovation of the house from start to finish describing problems encountered along the way and with photos.

These are some pics of the house during a visit and before purchasing. The cost of the house was just a few hundred million rupiah and perhaps it looks alright to some. But, the interior of the house was a lot worse.

This was the living room with a bedroom on the left and the entrance on the right.

Another view of the living room.

Living room ceiling was made from plywood and pretty rotten.

Another view of the living room.

The Dining Room

One of the four downstairs bedrooms.

This door leads to the kitchen and bathroom areas at the back of the house.

The bathroom was on the left, and the kitchen in the dark area at the back.

The kitchen was in need of an upgrade.

The Utility area.

The aim of this project was to retain as much of the existing building as possible, while removing some walls in order to open up the house and create a better airflow, raising the ceiling, retiling all the floors, rewiring the entire house and redoing the plumbing system. Parts of the house had pillars in awkward places so these were to be removed and steel H beams used to support the ceiling. In addition, the front facade of the house needed to be remade. The house also needed new bathrooms, kitchen and a new roof. Upstairs, the kost rooms had to be renovated and each kost was to be given it's own small bathroom.

The original layout of the house was pretty much as per the sketch below, approximately 10m x 15m in size on the lower floor, although proportions are a little out in the sketch.

I don't know if you have any notion of building or renovating and house here or if you use an architect.... So here are few point you should really take care with... 

I have some experiences in renovation,  I renovate myself my apartment in Paris, and as it certainly same in your country, have to be approve by the architect and control by some technicians of the City, especially for electricity...
Here I renovate some houses, shops, factory and learn a lot on how people can cheat you or make mistake by lake of knowledge even they thing knowing there job well.
In fact i never find one who really is a professional on is job...

You'll have to be on site very often to control everything, it's what I always do to be sure to get what I want.

You have to take care of the plumbing, where they pass the pipe, their diameter... for example, the connection of a pipe just on the top of a big electric connection box... if leakage, you get short cut and fire in the worst...

Electricity, they have usually not a very good knowledge and rarely use the right cables, derivation boxes,  connector... in fact they never use connectors, and very rarely make an electric scheme first...

they only respect some rules it in the area you can easily control , that can be dangerous, or just a hell if on the future you want add a stop contact or whatever...

it's sometime very stressful to talk with the workers, to ask them to do thing like you want, as they are use to work in one way and mostly even you prove them it's wrong, refuse to change...

This depend of your contractor, some are very serious and have very good worker, those usualy working on big building or for the malls, there they have to respects some very strict rules.

Good luck.

If you need help or just advice, you can contact me, I will be glad to help you.

Thank you for your kind offer Fmestre. Actually I renovated an apartment in rue Pergolese in the 16eme Arondissement in Paris some years ago where I later lived, and a total renovation of a small villa/castle which was the former workshop of Coco Chanel in Biarritz, using Basque contractors and also some other houses and villas in the Pays Basque. The french contractors can be difficult but if you pay well and have connections then you can get the work done.

But I have many years experience in renovating apartments in Malaysia from bare units to ready to rent out, in fact every aspect of renovating. I am very familiar with many of the tricks of contractors. And I also dealt with contractors who I appointed for repairs and renovations for several condominiums. I still need to renovate apartments in Malaysia such when the need arises.

In Indonesia all the materials are being purchased directly, not through a contractor. This means sand, bricks, cement, piping, electrical cables and everything else. When the trucks arrive with sand it is measured with a yard stick and calculated before paying. All building materials are bought directly from building material suppliers.

I would however recommend that anyone with little or no experience in house building or major renovations employ an architect to design the property and a general contractor to build it. House building and major rebuilding aren't for the faint of heart and can be seriously stressful unless you know exactly what you are doing. Making changes along the way can push the price up so you really need experience to complete a successful project.

Here in Indonesia there are several ways to work:

1. Through an architect
2. Employ the services of a General Contractor
3. Work directly with a mandor to supervise and his tukangs to do the work

And when choosing the third option there are several ways to pay:

1. Pay the workers daily (actually paid at the end of the week)
2. Pay for the entire project inclusive of materials
3. Pay for the entire project excluding materials

In Bandung the typical cost for a mandor is Rp150,000 per day and for tukangs it is Rp120,000. A team of 8 - 10 tukangs is usually required to build a medium sized house and building time 5 - 10 months depending on the design.

Now as long as you have the time to be on site and you know exactly what you are doing then the best and by far the cheapest option is to pay the tukangs daily and pay the suppliers directly for the materials being delivered daily. Payment to the building suppliers is made daily against checks and receipts.

By working directly with an experienced mandor and team of tukangs, you will save 30% to 50% on the overall cost. Contractors mark up on prices when they buy from the building material suppliers. That will happen.

But key to a successful project is firstly knowing about building or renovating. And as you said, being on site most of the time. And very importantly is to work with a team of tukangs where you are satisfied with their past projects and ones that you can trust.

An architect may quote Rp1.8 miliar to build a house that he has designed and his profits are built in everywhere. A General Contractors quote will be based on a square metre basis, Rp2 million/m2 for low quality and Rp3 million for average quality, and might be around Rp1miliar for the whole project. Working directly with good tukangs will knock off a lot more and the final price may be around Rp600 million. Contractors usually build in another 20% or more onto the price of materials which also pushes up your costs.

All of this information doesn't really apply to this particular project, as a general contractor was used, and it has already been completed, and you will hear about problems and solutions a little later. But as there are other ongoing projects in motion that do apply the above principles then that will be discussed later.

By the way, we have architect friends here in Indonesia, one was my wife's classmate and she consuilts with him continually on the other projects.

Again, thanks for your kind offer.

I have to say that if I bought that house, I would have totally demolished it and started over.  And, I have little doubt that tearing it down and starting over would be a lot cheaper as well.  Moreover, I'd never consider keeping the original floor plan.  I would feel like a rat in a maze living there. 

If the house was really old and historic, OK fine, I'm all for historical preservation, but holy cow, what a mess!

Yup you're right, it probably should have been demolished. The original floor plan was changed a bit.

Now the house next door did get demolished because the condition was worse, and work on the foundations of that house began a few days ago. That house was even more of a dump than this one.

The one thing that's common with all building projects in Indonesia is that it's always a live and learn experience, and no two projects are ever the same.


Hi Hansson,
Thank you for all your information.
I'am just seaching some info and advises because:
I 'am président of an NGO in France and we build 10 years ago an orphanage in Samosir Sumatra.
Near our orphanage we want now start an project business-social-eco tourisme.

so this mean that we want to build and hotel and this hotel will be at the same time an social project for young people to have theire first working experiences. This mean for young people who finished their éducation and need to have working axperience. In thies project we will also have an restaurant, an garden with bio vegetables, an salon beauty salon with massages.
We already have the ground of 6.000m2 and we are on the bord of the Lake Toba, so we have an fantastic vue and the hotel will be Pangururan.

so it will be very nice and helpful if I can contact you; because I'am sur that we will need some help to bild our project!!

Sylvia Wilson

Hi Sylvie,

It's great to know that you built an orphanage in Sumatra as my wife works with a lot of orphanages and unofficial schools in remote areas for donations including some in Sumatra. However, I am unfortunately unable to help you with your building project although it really does sound like a good idea to build a centre for helping young people get working experience. I do wish you luck.


In Bandung, the distance between the edge of the road and the front facade of the building must not be less than 4 metres. That space can be used to build a veranda, carport, garden etc.

There was a small veranda at the front of the house.

At the back of the house there was a stairway leading up to some rooms on the second floor which had been used in the past as kost.

The upstairs rooms had a shared bathroom/toilet.

This project was to try to rebuild a new house while trying to keep as much of the original structure as possible, and doing it all within a fairly tight budget. This would include raising the level of the floor and building all the walls higher to provide a new ceiling height of around 3.8 metres.

The first step was for the contractor to demolish the entire roof and all the ceilings and to demolish the front of the house. At the same time, the bedroom at the front of the house was to be demolished as it blocked light from entering the house and made the living room too small.

This is the view from the kitchen. Wood is piled up in the dining room area and looking beyond that you can see a very steep stairwell on the left. The worker has started to demolish the wall of the bedroom that was at the front of the house. There was also a wooden pillar supporting a wooden beam which was unsightly.

One of the bedrooms on the right of the picture was deemed too narrow and the old wall was demolished and a new wall built making that bedroom 80 cm wider. Concrete pillars using rebar or steel reinforcing bar were constructed at each end of the new wall.

In the picture below, the "L" shaped section of wall on the left is the remaining part of an old bedroom that was at the front of the house and which was blocking light from entering the house and making the living room much too small and claustrophobic. This wall would eventually be completely demolished. The new red bricks are for a new wall that would make one of the bedrooms wider.

A new concrete foundation wall was built along the front of the house raising the floor level an additional 30 cm in height. Rebar was used for new concrete pillars to be built at the front of the house. When building a house using concrete and rebar the space between the pillars should not exceed 5 metres. This could have been overcome by using a structure of steel H sections, however the cost would have been a lot greater although time saved.

Thank you very much!

temanteman :

Thank you very much!

You're welcome!

Hello Hansson
Glad to hear you in Indonesian forum.please can you tell me  about life in Indonesia compare to Malaysia as you have lot of  experience.
thank you.

I'm unable to view any of the photos attached to your messages. I just signed up to to see if that would enable viewing, but no luck.

rbrothers :

I'm unable to view any of the photos attached to your messages. I just signed up to to see if that would enable viewing, but no luck.

He deleted his photo sharing account when he left the forum.
Most were shots of a house in various states of renovation.

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