Discovering former mining in your area, having to tear up your plans on site, coping with miniscule budgets: these self builders have overcome these obstacles – and more – to achieve the homes of their dreams on tight budgets.

A Tiny Home for £59,000

Anyone looking to take their first step on the housing ladder can take heart from this self build in Ayreshire, Scotland. It shows what can be done when building on a tiny scale — without sacrificing characterful features or living and storage requirements.

blue panelled self build with corrugated roof in scotland

The roof of this tiny timber home, which exceeds current regulations and is eligible for mortgage lending, is constructed from Prelaq Nova, a fully recyclable pre-painted steel that costs around £9/m²

The energy-efficient 40m² home was constructed on an existing plot for just £59,000. The sum includes the construction, delivery and erection of the house, including the foundations (2013 prices).

“At the time, Mark (my partner) and I had been looking at how we could get a mortgage and whether we could afford a place of our own, when I suddenly realised the most obvious answer was to design a scaled-down house,” says self builder Jennifer Hope.

How they built to a budget:

  • Kept the footprint and dimensions down reducing all material costs.
  • Used a prefabricated structure that minimised time on site (just six weeks).
  • Multifunctional spaces: such as the porch which doubles as a storage area.

“Essentially it’s a self build home for people who don’t have time to self build,” says Jennifer, who now runs The Wee House Company providing similar affordable homes for others.


£68,000 DIY ICF Self Build

small red brick home self build with porch and dormer windows

The site was previously a garden belonging to the next-door neighbour, which proved useful in the early stages for water and power supplies

First-time DIY self builder Richard Baldwin overcame a frustrating series of legal and planning hassles to create this efficient, stylish home near Chesterfield on a remarkable budget of just £68,000. He found his plot via RightMove; it was formed from the garden of a house and split into two. Each plot came with detailed planning permission for a traditional-style brick-clad dormer bungalow. With an agreed price of £60,000 for the plot, Richard had a tight budget to get the house habitable.

The finished ICF structure achieves a U value well below 0.15 and an airtightness rating of 5 (“without even really trying,” says Richard), and lent itself to this DIY build. There is also a three-zone underfloor heating system run off a simple gas-powered combi boiler, and a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system.

How he built to a budget:

  • Took on as much of the build as he could with some friends, including pouring the concrete strip foundations to building the insulated concrete formwork (ICF) walls, external brickwork, fitting windows, internal carpentry, plumbing, joinery and decorating.
  • Used off the rack B&Q units, eBay finds and upcycled carcasses to build the kitchen himself.
  • Internally, Richard used a mix of astute shopping and design solutions to come up with a quality look that belies the budget.
white modern kitchen with glass and wood table

Removing the collar ties in the roof structure (in most cases, they serve no structural purpose) enabled Richard to gain height in the master bedroom and en suite built into the loft

Early dramas threatened to blow his meagre budget out of the water: when he submitted the building drawings for approval, the local authority told him that as the area was subject to historical shallow mining, he’d probably have to install piled foundations at a cost that would have scuppered his project before it had even started.

After shelling out nearly £1,000 on trial holes to assess the problem, he managed to avoid the need for piling, although he had to go 2m down on one elevation.

“There was more,” he says. “When I bought the site and saw the plans, I hadn’t really given too much consideration to the slope (across the site) and kind of guessed I’d need two 20 tonne lorries to take it all away. I ended up needing 27, which was a real blow.”

“I’ve really enjoyed building the house and learned a lot,” he says. “The paperwork and legal side of things were hugely difficult, but I got there in the end. The house is amazing and more than I could have hoped for.”


A Shipping Container Home for £135,000

This budget self build has been built using shipping containers

When people think of striking contemporary homes, they often assume that a hefty price tag is attached. Architect Patrick Bradley’s own project along the bank of the River Grillagh debunks this myth. He used shipping containers as a cost-effective construction method, creating an award-winning home on a modest budget of £135,000.

“The use of shipping containers as a construction material was queried at first by the planners, but as these were merely to be used for the construction, and because they met Building Regulations, there was no issue,” says Patrick.

The design takes its cue from the surroundings, with the four 14m containers clad in a powder-coated grey metal mesh, with Corten (pre-weathered) steel to the lower sections of the building.

How he built to a budget:

  • Built a home with a modest footprint of 115m².
  • Used shipping containers which offered a ready made shell which was transformed into a home in just nine weeks.
  • Found a main contractor who could take on all the work on site from roofing and glazing to opening up the containers, which kept costs down.
Large expanses of glazing bring light into this open plan home

Wishing to capture the view as well as promote solar gain, aluminium-framed glazing features heavily on the top floor, while the windows to the bedrooms and more private accommodation on the lower floor look out over the fields. “I wanted 360° views and to feel elevated over the treetops,” says Patrick. This framing of the view has also translated into the design of the structure itself, with one elevation lending itself to the shape of a camera lens, emphasised by a series of cantilevered metal thins.


A Loch-Side Cabin for £142,000

A small budget home in Scotland sits within a woodland setting

After reading in Homebuilding & Renovating how Jennifer Higgins self built a home (see above) and then went on to set up The Wee House Company, Ewan Colville and Jennifer Gilmour contacted Jennifer about designing their own ‘wee house’ on a loch-side plot.

“Once planning consent was in place, we began our customisation meetings to help the clients decide on internal fixtures and fittings such as kitchens, bathrooms, flooring, light switches and socket placements,” begins Jennifer Higgins.

“While we have our classic layouts in our brochure, in the majority of cases, the layout and design of the house is tailored to suit the plot and the client’s needs. With this project, the site benefits from a tranquil setting with fantastic views over the hills and the loch, so the house was designed so that the open plan kitchen/living/dining space and both bedrooms face out on to the loch to maximise these views,” she continues.

How the home was built to a budget:

  • A prefabricated kit (with custom elements) was opted for, keeping time on site and wastage to a minimum.
  • A highly insulated envelope to boost thermal performance will keep running costs low.
An open plan kitchen living space in this budget self build in Scotland

Once groundworks were complete, the 75m2 house took eight weeks to build – five weeks in the factory and three weeks on site – and the entire project, including obtaining all necessary consents, service connections, groundworks and, of course, the build itself, was completed for a budget of just £142,000.


An Oak Frame Bolthole for £150,000

An oak frame budget self build from Border Oak

When the homeowners of this project first came across the roadside plot, within a historic Conservation Area in Herefordshire, surrounded by medieval oak framed buildings, it was evident that whatever was built had to display exceptional levels of quality, design and materials to sit within the sensitive location. The clients worked with Border Oak to come up with a cost-effective, modest design concept, utilising an exposed handmade oak frame, handmade clay tiles and bespoke fenestration.

How they built to a budget:

  • The 88m² cottage was kept deliberately simple — a traditional rectangular ‘bay’ format with a single ridge line was utilised for the plans.
  • The palette of materials was kept to a minimum and handmade softwood joinery with a painted finish was used as a cheaper alternative to oak.
  • Internal divisions were minimised to reduce materials and labour costs, while a solid oak floor was used throughout the ground floor (meaning minimal waste and simplicity of fitting.
  • A large family bathroom was chosen instead of expensive en suites which kept plumbing and sanitaryware costs down.
  • Dormer windows were only used on one elevation, with rooflights on the rear as they are less expensive.
A stylish budget build features elements of exposed oak frame in the interiors

Meanwhile, architectural features such as the first floor vaulted ceilings and the inglenook fireplace provide character, and a sense of space and craftsmanship. The features also meant that the clients didn’t have to spend a lot of money on additional decorative finishes. Thanks to the careful design considerations, the project cost £150,000.


City Home Built for 90,000

contemporary white home with wooden features

Faced with the prospect of demolishing a 60m² paint store and building a replacement family home for a tiny budget, many might simply walk away. Not product designer Jason Thawley, who spent £80,000 buying the store with planning permission for a replacement two-bed house on a tight triangular plot in Brighton.

That left just £90,000 of the self build mortgage for the build. Luckily, Jason was confident about using CAD software to design the house. “A lot of what I do is proportion based, so I followed the same principles here. Although I understood the technical detail, I still had to spend hours online researching how to join this bit to that!”

How he built to a budget:

  • Carrying out much of the practical work, including demolition of the paint store which would have cost £5,000 if done professionally.
  • Working with a structural engineer friend, Jason designed a reinforced slab foundation for the site which he was able to build himself for just £5,000 rather than the estimated £20,000.
  • A closed-panel timber frame was used which was built quickly and offered a fixed cost of £35,000.
  • The structure was highly insulated meaning it can be heated with a woodburning stove, mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, solar thermal panels and an electric tank, instead of a £9,000 underfloor heating and combi boiler option.
  • Re-used any waste materials produced throughout the build.
white and teal contemporary kitchen with triangular shaped island

The kitchen units are from IKEA but the triangular island was designed and built by Jason using wood left over from the build

Internally, many of the fixtures were designed and built by Jason, including the plywood staircase (for around £150) and the rooflight in the living area using a steel frame and two window panes (£1,700 instead of £10,000-plus for custom made equivalents).

During the project, Jason threw nothing away, instead creating a ‘waste pile’ of reusable materials. Leftover plywood from the flat roof deck was even made into the window sills. “It’s how I’ve gone about building things since I was a kid,” he says. ”In this project I’ve saved thousands of pounds.”


A £135,000 Oak Cottage

rectangular shaped self build home with central oak porch and light blue fixtures

The couple spent £135,000 up to the second-fix stage of this oak frame (provided by Border Oak) and render self build. A further £30,000 was spent on extras including internal fit-out, decorating, flooring, carpets, kitchen, bathrooms, landscaping and lighting

Although the design is simple, care has been taken to create interesting focal points – such as the porch – on this self build project in Herefordshire. Structural insulated panels (SIPs), were chosen to ensure high levels of efficiency and low running costs long term.

“SIPs and oak can be expensive materials but using them together creates significant efficiencies. Here, we were able to use less of each material — for example, the oak frame has been pared back to its structural members but as the beams are all exposed the perception is of high quality,” says Merry Albright of Border Oak.

How they built to a budget:

  • Simplicity of design (a simple rectangle with a single roof ridge line and mini-truss) kept costs down.
  • The home is just 130m² and using an open plan configuration downstairs cut the costs of internal walls (and the doors, door linings and extra skirting that is needed for each wall).
  • Quality was paired with bargain finds. For example a quality deVol kitchen was paired with ex-display cooker and dishwasher.
  • Other bargain options included the oak flooring, sourced for just £20/m².
  • The owners took on what they could, including brickwork, exterior landscaping, painting and decorating.
oak beamed living space with white and light green interiors

“You need to be confident and stick to what you have decided — don’t think about limestone flooring or a whirlpool bath if you can’t afford them,” says Merry.

The home has also been designed with energy efficiency in mind. “The client’s brief stated that they wanted low running costs: there is no point in building a house on a tight budget if there are high running costs year in, year out,” she adds.


A Welsh Cottage for £150,000

A timber-clad home built on a budget by Welsh Oak Frame

Looking to build their own home in Wales, and with a plot just three miles from oak frame manufacturer Welsh Oak Frame, the Williams family looked to the company to provide a family home within their budget of £150,000.

“With a budget like this it was a case of working with the client to understand what was important and what was frivolous in order to design a home which realistically met their requirements and managed their expectations,” says Mark Jones, managing director of Welsh Oak Frame.

How they built to a budget:

  • A hybrid frame of softwood and oak was used, with oak chosen for the areas where it would have the most impact, such as the vaulted ceiling and living room.
  • The exterior was finished in a softwood feather-edged weatherboarding which is the most cost-effective timber cladding option.
  • DIY was used by the owners wherever possible and the favours of family in the trade called upon where needed.
  • Using an oak frame supplier that was so close by saved on delivery costs.
An L-shaped layout adds interest to an otherwise simple budget build in Wales

“Delivery was cheaper, and the lads working on site didn’t need to charge for accommodation as they could go home at the end of the day,” says Mark.

The end result has left the Williams family with a beautiful cottage that bears all the charm of a traditional oak frame home, with internal spaces designed to suit their needs and make best use of the plot.


A Decade Long Self Build for £140,000 Budget

timber clad self build home in rural scotland

The owners of this Highlands budget self build took on most of the building work themselves, after earlier work to renovate and extend the original 200-year-old granite building was abandoned

One of the most important ingredients for a successful self build on a limited budget is the ability to take on most, if not all, of the on-site work, as this project – which came in for an impressively low £140,000 – shows.

Initially, the owners of this timber-clad 250m² home in the Highlands of Scotland planned to renovate the original property ­— 200-year-old kennels for working dogs, with later conversions and additions in the 1930s and 1960s to make the building habitable.

Plans were drawn up, permission granted and groundworks started, until the discovery of totally unsuitable 50mm foundations installed in the 1930s made demolition and rebuild the only viable option.

How they built to a budget:

  • David Barker and his wife Val took on 90 per cent of the build work for this project, completing it on a DIY basis over 10 years.
  • They avoided lavish spends, but didn’t scrimp — their budget was allocated to things they deemed most important, such as slate for the roof. They then shopped around for deals on things such as flooring.
  • All five bathrooms were finished in the same materials to negotiate bulk deals.
living room in self build with tiber beams and red settees and large wooden windows

Where possible, the couple rebuilt the original 600mm granite walls and pillars at the rear of the house, building elsewhere with Thermalite insulated blocks. Externally, the property was originally destined to be clad in rough cast cement, the local vernacular for most new homes in the area, but the couple were unenthusiastic.

“To start with, I didn’t have the skills to do that job and I wanted to do what I could,” says David. The Barkers also felt that Douglas fir and larch would be more suitable cladding materials for the home’s woodland setting — luckily, the planners agreed.

The couple had originally planned to retire here but during the build decided to run the property as a bed and breakfast.“Many of our guests’ first words are ‘wow’, which gives us great satisfaction,” says David.


Dramatic £145,000 Oak Barn

evening shot of self build barn with fir pit

Designing a simple external structure and taking on almost all of the labour helped keep costs down on this project, which now operates as a holiday let (cruckbarn.co.uk)

Even when working within a slim budget, it’s worth creating at least one stand-out feature, whether that’s through a particular choice of materials, a lovely view or a sense of delight in the space itself. For the owners of this property, a simple cruck barn on the Herefordshire/Shropshire border, the drama comes from the vaulted oak structure and its wooded location.

A more subtle sense of quality is generated by the artisan feel of many of the pieces of furniture and fittings, made by the property’s co-owner John Williams, an architectural designer for Oakwrights and furnituremaker.

How they built to a budget:

  • John used his skills and role to save money on design and craftsmanship.
  • He took a break after the dry shell stage before installing services to spread the costs over years rather than months.
  • Going directly to suppliers – for things like the flagstones from a local quarry and sourcing oak logs from a neighbouring woodland owner – kept costs down.
  • They stored ‘waste’ materials to re-use later rather than sending them to landfill. Off-cuts of beams originally used as decking during works on the upper storey later became oak floorboards in the property.
living room in barn self build with high timber frames

“Rather than going for obvious solutions that can sometimes be costly, thinking creatively can often save you money as well as producing a more original result,” says John. “As well as using your own labour, look at ways to focus on space, light, views and materials.”

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