Building your dream home: A step-by-step guide to get started
You’ve been searching for the perfect house. No matter how many you tour, not one of them quite suits your needs. The mantra in real estate is “location, location, location”. While location is important, can you really discount the importance of all the other items on your wish list?
What other option do you have? Perhaps self-build is the only way that you’ll get everything you’re looking for; however, there’s a lot to consider. If you’ve never built a house or planned an extension, that thought may be daunting and it may be easier to compromise.
It’s true, embarking on such a project requires consideration but with careful planning and research you have the potential to bring your vision to life while avoiding common mistakes.
Define Your Vision and Set a Budget
Before you pick up a hammer or contact a contractor, take the time to define your vision for your dream home. Consider factors like the style, size, layout and features you desire. Create a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Throughout the project, remind yourself of the most critical reasons for embarking on this project. There are a lot of decisions to make throughout a design and build, and it’s easy to lose sight, so be clear with yourself and your entire project team about the motivations.
Don’t forget to include your budget in your project brief. Be realistic about your budget. Your budget is a key component of your brief. You’ll need to consider your construction budget, which includes for groundworks, build costs and contingency for unexpected expenses. Your total budget will additionally include professional fees, regulatory fees and landscaping.
Research is essential to gain inspiration and knowledge about the building process. Visit home shows, browse online platforms, read design magazines, and explore architectural websites to gather ideas. Take note of elements that catch your eye and discuss this with your developer or contractors.
It is important to secure financing for the project to confirm project viability. Consult with lenders and compare mortgage rates to find the best option for your budget. There are companies that specialise in financing for Self-builders who have products specifically designed for the cash flow requirements of building your own home.
Choose a Suitable Site
Selecting the right location is paramount to the success and enjoyment of your new home. Factors to consider include proximity to essential amenities, school districts, local planning requirements and the overall neighbourhood. Conduct a thorough analysis of potential areas to ensure they align with your lifestyle and long-term goals.
Also essential is the site’s suitability for the project you wish to develop. There are differences in soil conditions that can affect bearing capacity as well as drainage. Natural features on the site (for example, water courses, vegetation, land form, sun path) will all inform your design – providing both limitations as well as opportunities. Early engagement of your design team, including architects and engineers, is helpful in navigating these considerations.
Engage with Professionals
Seeking professional guidance is crucial during the planning phase. You will need to engage an architect or architectural designer and structural engineer. Depending upon your skill sets and the complexity of the project, you may also need additional consultants. These can include project manager, quantity surveyor, planning consultant, interior designer, lighting designer, landscape architect and mechanical engineer.
In the early stages, your architect will assist you in turning your project brief into a 2D/ 3D design proposal and guide you on the decisions that need to be made leading up to planning submittal. Your designer should initially provide you with options and help you visualise your future home. They will assist with submitting an appropriate and well-considered planning application and liaise with the local planning authority to confirm whether your project is viable relative to local planning regulations.
After the local authority has granted planning permission, you are now ready to move into the technical design phases. Your architect will prepare and submit the drawings and specifications for review by a Building Control Officer. This process ensures your home complies with building codes and regulations before you begin building on-site and thereby eliminating risk during the future construction stage. Once comments are received and conditional approval is received, your architect will prepare the production (or construction) documentation for you to obtain accurate quotations and begin the build on site.
Throughout these stages, it is important to continue to validate costs. This can be done by engaging with a quantity surveyor or by obtaining quotes for the large cost items like building kit, windows and groundworks.
Define your low-energy goals
The majority of self-builders are looking for a home that has lower running costs to many of the houses on the market. There are also a growing number of self-builders interested in developing a sustainable home. With regard to low energy, what would you like to achieve? The goal may simply be an improvement in building regulation requirements. Alternatively, some self-builders are motivated to achieve Passive House Certification. And, of course, there is a range of approaches between these two as well.
It is important to define these goals as they will affect material selection, build method and form of the building as well as having cost implications. If not considered in early design stages, these goals may be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
Obtain planning permission
As noted earlier in this discussion, obtaining planning permission is a component of the early design stages. Depending upon the project, many different approaches exist to apply for this permission. Many factors are related to the level of risk in a development. You may have a plot that is an obvious candidate for development, while another plot may be more nuanced.
The particulars of your plot and your intended proposal may lead you to the route of pre-application enquiry or outline planning rather than applying for full planning permission from the start. Each process has typical decision timescales, so when it comes to multiple planning applications to achieve final planning approval, you may need to factor in when you anticipate getting started on your project. In some cases, a lengthy planning approach provides the greatest chance for success and for reducing the risk in a project.
Select your construction method
Although it is not necessary to select your build method before starting your design, it is helpful if you’ve considered your options so you are in a position to make an informed decision as you approach the technical design stages. Modern construction methods – such as SIPS, ICF, timber frame kit and solid wood construction – provide an off-site approach to fabricating your building envelope and assembling on-site. This provides key benefits related to quality assurance, limited cold bridging, maximised thermal qualities, and air tightness.
There are benefits and limitations for each of these construction methods, which are related to your individual site, your house design and the energy performance of your house. An architect and engineer with experience using modern construction methods can guide your decision-making process and design with efficiencies specific to the chosen construction method. The earlier the construction method is selected, the greater the opportunity for design and cost efficiency.
Obtain building control approval
The first stage of technical design is intended to progress your design and prepare the necessary documentation for building regulation compliance. At this point, you should already be working with an efficient design and have planning approval. At this stage, the construction method, kit manufacturer and building performance must be defined. The design will incorporate the structural design as well as specialist design components provided by the MVHR contractor and UFH heating contractors for example.
Once the architectural and engineering has been documented, you must notify a Building Control body. This can be done via a Building Notice where they will visit the site to review works, or via full plans application where they can review the documentation and provide conditional approval before starting on site.
This conditional approach provides you with assurance that building regulation compliance is considered before getting started on the building site. Simply notifying the authority via a Building Notice can involve more risk.
You have two options for building control: submit directly to the local council for review or appoint an independent building control body. Working with an independent building control body, gives you one point of contact for building compliance and warranty. This service can often be bundled with the structural warranty. LABC (Local Authority Building Control) now offer a structural warranty service giving you flexibility to explore options. The process in England covers Wales, and the regulations vary between authorities across the UK, with guidance documents available for each region for reference.
You will need to obtain Building Warrant Approval prior to starting any warrantable works on site (some minor works are exempt). This requires an application to the local authority so they can check and approve the drawings and specifications to ensure compliance before works start on site. In Scotland, it is a criminal offence to knowingly progress warrantable works without a Building Warrant in place.
Once the approval is in place, you will be issued with a compliance notification plan, confirming which stages of the build the local authority wants to see and when.
Determine your project delivery route
The level of involvement you choose to have in your self build project can vary based on your preferences, expertise, and available time. Some people prefer to be highly involved in every aspect, while others may prefer a more hands-off approach. There are many different options for you to consider:
- Project Manager (High Involvement): If you have the time, knowledge, and organizational skills, you can take on the role of the project manager. This involves overseeing all aspects of the self-build, from hiring contractors and managing the construction schedule to purchasing materials and handling permits. Being a hands-on project manager allows you to have full control over decisions and ensure the project aligns precisely with your vision.
- Consultant-Based Approach (Medium Involvement). You can opt to hire individual consultants for specific stages of the project. For instance, you may hire a quantity surveyor for cost estimation and a project manager to oversee the construction. In this approach, you are still involved in decision-making but rely on experts to handle the technical details.
- Turnkey Approach (Low Involvement): If you prefer a more hands-off approach, you can hire a main contractor who will handle most aspects of the project on your behalf. With a turnkey approach, you provide your requirements, and the firm takes care of everything from design to construction, often delivering the completed home at the end.
Ultimately, the level of involvement you choose should be based on what aligns best with your skills, preferences, and availability. Regardless of your chosen level of involvement, it’s essential to stay informed, maintain clear communication with the professionals you work with, and visit the construction site periodically to monitor progress. Building a home is a significant undertaking, and seeking professional advice and assistance can be invaluable for a successful self-build project.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Rushing the planning phase. Take the time to plan and design your home thoroughly. Changes made during construction can be costly and may lead to compromises.
- Ignoring budget constraints. Stick to your budget and avoid impulsive decisions that could strain your finances.
- Overlooking energy efficiency. Incorporate energy-efficient features and materials to reduce long-term operating costs and your environmental impact.
- Forgetting about future needs. Plan for the future by considering potential life changes, such as expanding your family.
- Neglecting local planning requirements and building regulations. Failing to secure the necessary permits and adhere to building codes can lead to costly fines and delays.
Building your own home is an incredible adventure that requires meticulous planning and thoughtful decision-making. By defining your vision, researching, working with professionals and avoiding common mistakes, you can create a home that perfectly suits your needs and becomes a haven for you and your loved ones for years to come. Embrace the journey and enjoy watching your dream home become a reality!