TOP 10 TIPS: EXPERT ADVICE FOR SELF BUILD SUCCESS
With the government looking to significantly increase the number of Self Build housing projects in the UK, where do novice Self Builders start – especially if they have no prior experience within the construction industry? Here are our Top 10 Tips for a Budding Self Builder:
1. Self Build Lessons – Do Your Homework!
Every building needs a solid foundation, however, in terms of planning, there is nothing quite as strong as meticulous research. Look into Self Build events and exhibitions, speak to people who have built their own homes before, and do your reading on exactly what the entire process involves.
There are a number of exhibitions and shows throughout the year that help educate prospective Self Builders in what to expect from their project. Across the UK, shows from Homebuilding & Renovating, Grand Designs, Eco Build and BuildIt – to name but a few – invite keynote speakers from the Self Build industry to deliver talks on the various stages of the planning and building processes. These take place several times each year, either in one location, or moving around the country.
Attending Self Build seminars can also be extremely beneficial, and these are usually whole-day events put on by individual companies or experienced trade organisations. For example, AC Architects contribute to Self Build seminars provided by SIPS Industries – held in Birmingham, Fife and Aberdeen. At these seminars we talk about the full build process, including working with individual contractors, energy efficient designs, costs, as well as programming and scheduling.
These seminars are not focused on individual construction methods, but spend more time on teaching the attendants to become confident in Self Build. The talks allow potential Self Builders access to specialists – from architects and engineers, to contractors. There is also a chance to talk over your project with around 20 other people who are in the same position as you!
Think about what you hope your Self Build project will achieve, and compile some detailed research into the costs you think your ideas might accrue. Compare the details of what you want, with what you need from your Self Build, and always consider the timescale of your project. Attending the shows and seminars will give you the background knowledge of exactly what you need to consider, and who you need to approach going forward.
2. Recruit Your Self Build Team
Contrary to what Grand Designs might have you believe, a Self Build project is building for yourself, not necessarily building by yourself. Unless you have trained extensively as an architect, or you are skilled in a construction trade, it is always best to seek professional help. By recruiting an experienced project manager, Self Builders can save themselves time and money by having things taken care of professionally. From finding a plot of land to designing the house, and from budgeting the project right through to its construction – recruiting professional advisors is always a wise move.
The minimum team your Self Build will require is an Architect and a Structural Engineer. However, if your project is on an awkward site, or has potential planning issues, then you should think about adding a Planning Consultant, a Geotechnical Engineer, and a Topographical Surveyor. If you are looking to acquire bank funding, then you will need to speak to a specialist Mortgage advisor as well.
It is always suggested Self Builders hire specialist professionals who deal with this type of project, rather than just hiring a local general architect or engineer. If you are pursuing an energy-efficient Self Build, hiring a specialist in eco design will save you more money over the life of the project than they will cost!
3. Create Your Self Build Brief
Before your architect can start designing your dream Self Build, you need to prepare a design brief for them to work to. Creating this brief is one of the most important things a Self Builder will do, and not taking time to consider it carefully can be detrimental to the success of the project.
The brief is an ever-evolving document, which first sets out a ‘wish list’ of priorities your dream home should include. As a minimum, it should cover the basics regarding your Self Build design, such as the number of rooms required, or the architectural styles you like (or dislike), for example.
How you and your family live in your Self Build is an important factor to keep in mind too. For instance, do you come home from work and all congregate around a breakfast bar in the kitchen – with the kids completing homework whilst mum and dad cook dinner? These types of scenarios are fundamental to thinking out your design brief criteria. Consider how your Self Build will function as a family home, and what spaces need to be your priority.
To help your architect design your Self Build home with a stronger understanding of your lifestyle, try compiling a folder of magazine clippings, or utilising an online collection through the likes of Pinterest, to share your vision via a virtual inspiration board.
Your design brief document should evolve as your demands and requirements change throughout the life of the build. Things will not always follow your original plan, so being flexible with your design brief is very important.
4. Map Out Your Self Build Plot
The prospect of building your own home is an exciting one, but it is important not to get too carried away when envisaging what your Self Build will look like. Concentrate on acquiring the plot you will have to work with before considering any design planning. Once the right plot with the required permission is yours, you are ready to work with the architects to design your Self Build home. Don’t give yourself the frustrating and disappointing scenario of having an elaborate Self Build design in mind, and nowhere quite suitable to build it!
Part of your budgeting should include the cost for a plot of land, and the cost of this will vary depending on the area you select for your Self Build home. A lot of time can disappear when exploring the country for land, so it is essential to identify suitable areas prior to searching for your plot. Sit down with an Ordnance Survey map or consult Google Maps for desirable areas within appropriate travelling distances to work or family.
Once you have settled on some areas, spend time visiting them to get a feel for the location. Score the specific areas on things that matter to you – for example, is it important to be secluded or near a village? How close are the shops? Are there good commuter links? Where is the nearest pub? The location of your Self Build is just as important as the design, so it is worth tackling these questions early on so you can get the most out of your new home.
There are a number of ways to source sites for your Self Build – some are well established, with some slightly more adventurous. Typically, Self Builders register with Plotfinder, which has access to the largest selection of sites for sale in the UK. Contacting local estate agents with experience in land sales can also offer a good selection of area-specific sites.
The more unorthodox, but effective, methods for finding sites include putting ‘Land Wanted’ adverts in local newspapers – or appealing to locals with leaflets enquiring if they have extra land available suitable for a new home. Some Self Builders also knock on farmers’ doors to negotiate the sale of a portion of their land for a new house. You will never know if your ideal Self Build plot is available unless you ask!
Some real Self Build adventurers have even gone to their local helicopter flying school to hire a helicopter for an hour. It can be surprising how out of date Google Maps can be in some areas, so getting a good look at a large area in a helicopter can be a valuable investment at around £200 for an hour!
Before the Self Build can begin, it is sensible to consider the following when acquiring a plot. Upon finding a plot you might like, have it properly surveyed by a fully qualified land surveyor, especially if the site does not have planning permission. It is always a good idea to have the boundaries checked, as doing so could save you from any costly neighbour disputes further down the line.
Finding a suitable and affordable plot can be difficult in certain areas, so looking into a group Self Build project on a larger plot can sometimes be a cheaper alternative to doing it alone.
5. Set Realistic Timescales
Depending on planning and permission, the time between first visualizing your ideal Self Build to the day you move in can take anything from 10 months to 10 years. It is important to set realistic timescales, as this will affect your borrowing requirements and also your living arrangements in the meantime.
Lots of Self Builders make the mistake of setting an unrealistic completion date, based around a family occasion or a key birthday – this is never a good idea as it can add undue stress to an already demanding process. Prepare yourself for the Self Build roller coaster – there are huge ups and downs throughout the process. From purchasing the plot to planning issues… be prepared!
6. Set a Self Build Budget
Depending on whether you want a particularly energy-efficient Self Build, or have elaborate plans for a ‘grand design’, your brief will help you select your architect – and lets your architect tailor their service to your requirements. Your Self Build brief should also include the preferred timescales involved, as well as the other essential factor – your total budget. Your architect needs the budget so that they can design your Self Build at a price you can afford. A good architect will not hold back in telling their client that they cannot afford something!
With the help of your professionals, work out a realistic budget for your Self Build project. Money won’t always be spent the way you think it will, and you should always prepare for any mishaps. A minor problem at any stage of the Self Build process could involve unexpected costs, so factor in some contingency funds. Work out what you can afford, and speak to mortgage providers to see what they might lend you. Like feeding a fire coal, or plant water, the money you budget is the fuel that keeps your Self Build project moving from blueprint to building.
7. ‘Keep Calm and Self Build On’ – Assess Your Self Build Site
Once your Self Build designs are in place, another good way of checking you are happy with the plans is to mark the layout of the building to scale – using tape or posts, for example. Visiting the site to do this allows you a chance to discuss any queries you might have with the architect. When you peg out the shape of the building or the room sizes, don’t be worried if you feel like the floor plan of the Self Build seems small. This is quite a common worry for Self Builders when the foundations go in. However, do not panic – as soon as the walls go up you can start to get a sense of volume and scale.
Marking the layout of your Self Build also gives your neighbours-to-be the opportunity to see your plans. Getting the green light from neighbours early makes the planning process a lot smoother in the long run, so making the effort to have site meetings can make a significant difference.
Standing on site with the plans in hand is a great way to confirm that your Self Build will capture the desired views from the windows. A good tip is to (carefully!) take a ladder or scaffold onsite, so you can see the view from your first floor windows. If things aren’t right with the design, this is the time to tweak things, rather than when you start constructing the Self Build.
8. Make a Detailed Self Build Shopping List
Finding suppliers who can give you the best value for money on materials isn’t always easy, but having someone on your team with good negotiating skills can be an invaluable asset to your Self Build venture. Take the time to get as good a deal as possible for your materials, and avoid settling for the first quote you receive. It all adds up: the smallest savings along the way can help keep your Self Build on budget.
Make sure your architects and engineers provide you with enough information as part of the drawings or specifications for you to be able to quantify the amount of materials your Self Build will require. It is really important that you know as many of the quantities as possible, as this will remove any grey areas where suppliers might have to estimate.
Consult all available websites and don’t be put off buying from eBay stores – lots of big brands offer cheaper prices on their eBay stores for a lot of the same products.
Self Builders Beware: if you are going to be making large orders with a particular supplier, spend some time checking them out online. A quick check on Google or with Companies House will flag up any past transgressions!
9. Be Sensible With Your Eco-Friendly Self Build
If your Self Build development includes environmentally friendly aspects, have a think about how you incorporate these into the design. Do not rely on ‘Eco-Bling’ products – such as ground source heat pumps – if your Self Build doesn’t need them. These are hugely expensive pieces of kit – costing on average £12,000 – and are great if you have no other form of heating. However, if you can use mains gas, use it! It could cost around £1,200, saving you over £10,000.
Investing in the ‘Fabric First Approach’ helps to lower your energy costs once your Self Build home is complete. For example, instead of installing large solar panels on the roof, you might actually save more money and energy by focusing on the insulation.
Simple adjustments can be made to enhance the energy-efficiency of your Self Build. Having smaller windows on the North elevation (where there is less sunlight) will reduce costs as well as the amount of heat lost through the building. Larger windows on all other elevations will take advantage of the natural solar gains.
Professional help is always at hand to assist with calculating the most energy-efficient methods, so it is worth considering different eco-friendly options.
10. Stay Involved – Self-Build Your Self Build!
Finally, have an active part in your Self Build project. This doesn’t mean you have to help with laying the bricks or plastering the walls of your Self Build, but keep track of progress, and take an interest in each stage as it is happening. Remember, you have the most invested in the project and it will be your home at the end – so take charge; if you see something that you do not like or you think is wrong – say so!
This is your project, your Self Build home, so going to site meetings is a great way to monitor how things are developing. Regular meetings with your project manager, joiner, or professional team will limit any issues or problems, and if there are any they can be picked up early and quickly rectified.
Try not to make too many changes once the build starts. Keep in mind that changes to paper drawings are relatively cheap – changes to anything on site will be a lot more expensive!
There are many lessons to be learned throughout your Self Build journey, so build on them, and take the experiences into other aspects of your life. You might catch the bug and fancy another Self Build development in the future, so learning from your mistakes might prove important moving forward.
Overall, tackling a Self Build home tends to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; therefore it’s important that you take as much enjoyment from the process as you can. Communicate with your team as often as possible, be flexible – and always have a ‘Plan B’!