Self Build for Beginners – FAQ – Part 2
At the beginning of the year, Allan was invited to take part in the ‘Self Build for Beginners’ Q&A session at the Ask the Experts Virtual Event hosted by Laura Crombie from Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine.
The event was really successful and Allan received lots of interesting questions from people who were interested in building their dream home. In this mini Self Build for Beginners FAQ series, we will share with you answers to the questions asked at the Q&A session with Allan.
This is the second part of the series. You can read the first one here.
List of the Self Build for Beginners FAQ questions in this article:
– At what point in the process should I get an architect involved?
– How can I avoid making the wrong decisions when it comes to choosing my team?
– Is there a checklist of important actions before I start things like insurance and warranties?
– What are the advantages and disadvantages of SIPS and timber frame construction systems?
– Do you have any recommendations for specific SIPS suppliers that you would want to work with?
AT WHAT POINT IN THE PROCESS SHOULD I GET AN ARCHITECT INVOLVED?
The key thing you really need to work out yourself are: budget – what you can afford, what you’re willing to spend, and what actually do you want? You need to work out a project brief and do that as a family. List all the key things that you want to include in your house, the four or five key aspects or things that you do as a family around the house. You may want to have an open space living/dining area to spend time together. If you like outdoor activities and want to hurtle down a mountain on your bikes, and then drive into the garage, clean the bikes, take the kids’ clothes off in a wet room and throw the stuff into the washing machine.
You are creating your own home so you can have things bespoke to you. It’s essential to work out the budget and the brief before you start speaking to an architect or a designer. Speak to the best person you can and to somebody who does your type of project. It might be an architect, chartered architect, designer, and maybe a technologist, depending on where you are and what you’re doing in your project. But speak to the people that do this regularly and the best that you can afford.
As with most practices, we do free initial consultations. Get that done relatively early on. You should get free advice upfront that will really guide you down the right path and allow you to avoid mistakes. As architects, we give you a bit of free advice, and we help you, and there is hope that we will then get the chance to provide you with a quote and work with you.
HOW CAN I AVOID MAKING THE WRONG DECISIONS WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING MY TEAM?
There are good and bad specialists in every profession. There is no reason for a bad purchase these days because even in the times where we can’t go and meet people face to face, you can still do so much research.
First of all, start with checking whether they are members of the right professional bodies. It is important because it’s usually a sign that they’ve got the process set up in the background and the right indemnity insurance. Also, speak to their clients. Don’t ask for testimonials. All practices have five or six testimonials that they can point out and get good reviews from. Speak to the people whose projects are in progress at the moment instead. That’s a really good test to see how good the practice has been. It will show you what happens when things go wrong or if there’s a problem, and believe me, there are always problems because you’re dealing with loads of different humans building.
It’s important to know that there’s a team structure there with your architecture, engineers, quantity surveyors, builders, and when there’s a problem that they work together to fix it. In commercial construction, there are big issues with pointing fingers and claims. When you’re building your own home, you just want it to be right. Everybody wants to work together, and there’s no romance to it. People really want to get paid and get on to the next job. That’s what it comes to, especially with contractors.
Make sure you’re speaking to people that do that type of project. Don’t work with a commercial architecture firm that does office buildings. Work with one that does residential homes, one-offs, passive houses, or whatever it is that you specifically want to do.
We work closely with our partners in SIPS, timber frame and ICF. As a practice, we will design you the most efficient form of that building you can achieve, so you’ll get more for your money. If you’re not working with practices that don’t regularly build the homes like yours, then there can be problems later on in the project.
Also, work with companies that will give you a fixed quote rather than a percentage. Traditionally, architects would only give you a quote based on a percentage of construction cost. In this case, there is no benefit for them to save you money because their fee goes down. We work on a fixed cost. We should be able to accurately work out how much time it will take for each individual to work on your project. You as a self builder will, not doubt, be pushing your budget to the extreme, so you need to make sure throughout the project you’re getting fixed costs.
That’s probably the key things you should do – review references, get fixed costs and speak to the right people that do this regularly.
IS THERE A CHECKLIST OF IMPORTANT ACTIONS BEFORE I START THINGS LIKE INSURANCE AND WARRANTIES?
There are key things that your architecture designer should be guiding you through. The whole process and all of the stages will be split into different parts from initial design, planning, building regs etc. You should be informed about each of these. Stages and when you need to deal with CDM for health and safety, insurance costs, warranty providers etc.
Our ‘Introduction to Self Building’ eBook, which you can download from our website, acts as a checklist for going through each of the stages and explaining it. But you really need a good professional that knows self build. Working with clients in a self build project is different from a traditional architect/builder relationship. When you self build, you take on the responsibility for many elements yourself, and you need help and guidance, throughout the stages, from a professional.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF SIPS AND TIMBER FRAME CONSTRUCTION SYSTEMS?
We have designed more SIPS buildings than anybody in the UK, in terms of architecture. That’s only because of its very simple, easy construction methods. All of our projects are fabric first as we are really concerned about airtightness and structure, which are directly linked back to the quality of build.
Taking a like-for-like cost on a SIPS quote compared to a closed-panel high-performance timber frame, generally, a SIPS home would be about 10% more expensive than a timber frame home, but it would take three or four weeks less to make it completely airtight. The key benefits for both systems are that you are getting something that is built in a factory. This means that the tolerances will be far more accurate. You can order your windows and doors from the kit drawings, which accelerate the building time by up to 10 weeks as you don’t have to order your doors and windows after the kit is up. So typically, in a SIPS build, in week 3 or 4, you would be wind and watertight.
The other benefits, especially of SIPS, is that there is not much settlement or movement of the building as it becomes a glued and screwed monolithic structure. The timber frame homes still have this problem, especially when they have more storeys. Therefore, with SIPS, you shouldn’t have issues with the tell-tale cracks in your decorating.
I am an advocate of modern construction methods, which are timber frame, SIPS and ICF. It is also essential to get the right kit from the right supplier. It is really important to work with the supplier that knows what they are doing and ideally do it all in-house. The bigger companies buy raw material; they will design, press, engineer, cut it in the factory, deliver it and erect the house on site. This is far more important to me than a cheaper company that says they will do the same thing but subcontract everything out.
When you choose a company, make sure that they do as much as they can in-house. If you want big open plan rooms or big opening in windows, you may need a steel element. If you can find a company that also does it in-house, that is a big bonus.
If the budget is not a big concern, we would always recommend a SIPS kit from one of the six or seven big suppliers in the UK. However, there are obviously very good timber structures out there too. You need to prioritise what is important in terms of budget, speed of erection and airtightness.
You also need to think about the grand scheme of things. The most important is the quality of the kit and how big an impact that is going to have on the life costs of the building. Your aim should be getting it, as close as possible, to zero heating.
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SPECIFIC SIPS SUPPLIERS THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO WORK WITH?
We work closely with a company called SIPS Industries. SIPS Eco Panels, SIPS@Clays and Kingspan Tech are also big companies, and there are pluses and minuses to all of them.
You should ask them what is insourced and what’s outsourced, and the airtightness value they build to. It is good to push on getting an airtightness value of between 1 and 2.