Self Build for Beginners – FAQ – Part 3
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 third part of the series. You can read the first one here, and the second one here.
List of the Self Build for Beginners FAQ questions in this article:
– Can I save money on doing some of the jobs in my project such as carpentry?
– How much more expensive is passive house in comparison to traditional house and can I find a low-cost passive house type build in the UK?
– What stage do I need to get all the deeds and covenants checks for my garden? And who can I get advice from before I can build?
– What’s the reason that houses in the UK don’t normally have basements?
– How helpful is the Right to Build in finding a plot?
CAN I SAVE MONEY ON DOING SOME OF THE JOBS IN MY PROJECT SUCH AS CARPENTRY?
There is only a small portion of self builders that are doing all of the work themselves. The majority of people are heavily involved in design and then subcontracting out the work. But then there is a group of people, and it’s becoming more popular probably because of furlough and of what’s going on in the world at the moment, who are trying more things as they’ve got more capacity and time to do them.
I would suggest don’t try anything that’s a finish – plastering, fine joinery work etc. – leave that to professionals, because you will see every detail that wasn’t done properly. Get a professional to do everything that is visible.
There are many things that you can do yourself. A lot of our clients do the first fix electrics, the first fix plumbing, where you’re pulling wires from one point to another, there’s no skill involved in that. You can also put up the timber studs too. We’ve had clients that have gone on metal standing seam roof courses to save money. There are a whole load of thingsthat you can learn through online courses. For example, if you want to do project management, and be involved in the health and safety and running of your site, the National Self Build and Renovation Centre in Swindon has lots of good courses you can enrol in.
We sometimes get initial designs from our clients, prepared by using software such as Google SketchUp, to give us their design ideas. There is a whole range of stuff that you can do from start to finish in the project, but I would recommend leave the finishing elements to the professionals.
HOW MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE IS PASSIVE HOUSE IN COMPARISON TO TRADITIONAL HOUSE AND CAN I FIND A LOW-COST PASSIVE HOUSE TYPE BUILD IN THE UK?
If you would like to build a certified passive house, you need to add between 10-12% onto your construction costs (according to the Passive House Institute). You will also have to add about £5000-£6000 onto your professional costs. We have a certified Passive House Designer in our team. We add that as a service to do the design, all the detailed calculations that need to be done, the certification and all of the site visits to make sure everything is done correctly.
You can create a passive house out of any construction method. The first certified passive house in the UK was brick and block. We have now moved away from the traditional brick and block methods. That’s only going to become more prevalent as we’ve got skill shortages and we need to build more houses and quicker in the UK. We can only do that by utilising modern methods of construction, and more of them modular and completely built in factories.
The most cost-effective will probably be SIPS or timber frame, but you can still go down the brick and block route with lots of insulation. There are some really good sprayed membranes that you can spray on the outside that cover up all the little holes that we get in brick and block.
If you go onto the Passive House Institute’s website, you will find a lot of useful information on what will be the most cost-effective. However, if you’re going to go for a certified passive house, you are always going to add £5000-£6000 extra in terms of professional costs. There is so much more work that goes into the detailing and making sure that the house is built 100% accurately.
The goal is to get all of the holes in all of the bits of construction down to the size of the 50 pence coin. This is a massive challenge in terms of quality of workmanship. The houses that people are buying from regular developers have cumulatively about size of an A4 page in holes.
You can get a list of the passive house designers and certifiers on the Passive House Institute’s website.
WHAT STAGE DO I NEED TO GET ALL THE DEEDS AND COVENANTS CHECKS FOR MY GARDEN? AND WHO CAN I GET ADVICE FROM BEFORE I CAN BUILD?
First of all, you need to make sure that there is a planning principle and policy for back garden development on your plot. Check whether you can get approval for it. You can do it by getting a pre-application enquiry done with the local planning authority to get some formal feedback on the principle. It is easy to look on Google Earth, or Street View to see whether there has been any precedent for someone doing this before in your street. Make sure, before you start spending lots of money for professionals and then changing deeds etc.
After you have confirmed there is principle, you can focus on the process. The process depends on how you own your house. If it is mortgaged, because you are separating part of the deed off, it will have an impact on the value of that and the equity. You need to speak to a solicitor, an estate specialist and a tax specialist as well, because as soon as you change that over, you’re going to have potential tax liability.
It would be useful to get consultation with an architect to start with, just to going through all of the processes. The danger is you can potentially cause yourself tax issues or deeds issues, if you don’t do it in the right order.
WHAT’S THE REASON THAT HOUSES IN THE UK DON’T NORMALLY HAVE BASEMENTS?
Cost and insurance are a big problem. There have been a couple of high-profile failures of basements in London that have really caused problems, both in terms of insurability for you as a homeowner, and also the professionals that are designing them.
You work below ground, which is always more dangerous, and you have got the water issue. Usually, you have to prove that you have two means of protection from water ie. you are not letting the water in, and if the water does get in, you have got means for pumping it out.
All of these things add cost for professionals, insurance, and the cost of construction. A lot of people who have a site in a high density area, for example London, often dig under their home and build a basement in an existing setting. Because the land value is so expensive, it is worth the investment in building a basement.
Generally, it is not usual to find somebody that has a normal flat site, putting a basement underneath, because it’s far more cost effective to build up. If your plot is on a sloping site, it can make sense to use the slope to build a basement, but it is usually down to the cost and there can still be some issues with insurance too. Once things are below ground and you have covered it up, it can be difficult to get back in and remediate an issue. If we are doing a basement, we usually go for Insulated Concrete Form. ICF helps you get your insulation, your structure, and then it is waterproofed on the outside with some means of getting the water out if you do have a failure.
HOW HELPFUL IS THE RIGHT TO BUILD IN FINDING A PLOT?
I know a lot of people that got help from the Right to Build register. Some councils are far more active and do a lot to facilitate their housing requirements and other local councils are not that helpful. We work heavily with Custom Build Homes who are the market leaders in bringing custom build developments. They maintain their own register as well as the Right to Build register. They’re a really good company to go and speak to and they have lots of plots available.
I would urge anybody who is looking for a plot to register with a local authority. They legally have to make a plot available within the three year period. So far, the Right to Build register is only available in England. We don’t have it in Scotland but we are actively campaigning for it. The Welsh Government are also very proactive in this matter. The English Government and Richard Bacon MP made a really big effort to get it to this point. So please use your Right to Build and pester your council and get yourself on all of the registers within the areas that you want to be building.