Whenever you try something new, it is always comforting to get advice from those who have been through it before. Building your own home is no different, so we have gathered top self build tips from homeowners we have featured over the years.
From cost saving advice to project management hints, here are 45 things you might not have considered that will help bring you project success.
2. Don’t pay in advance
Don’t discount an overgrown site as it might look different in winter. Also don’t pay anyone in advance; we lost £1,800 to the firm doing the glass on the balconies as it went bust part-way through and we’d already paid in full.
Rob and Jan Pearce
3. Choose your professionals carefully
Make sure you choose an architect wisely, hire a quantity surveyor, and also make a big effort to get on with your builder.
Liz and Jonathan Toomer
4. Plan, plan and plan some more
Plan every last detail in advance as though you are working from the inside out, so all the measurements can be calculated precisely. We would also recommend making a decision and sticking to it — don’t change your mind, or it will throw everything into confusion.
Melissa Gallimore and Tim Banks
5. Trust your tradesmen
Don’t underestimate the knowledge of tradesmen — they always know a lot more about price. In our case, we took their advice and saved a lot on the exterior downlighters — they were a fifth cheaper than the ones we first thought about; ask your electrician.
Alex and Ffiona Crawford
6. Don’t hire your friends
Overall, we paid around a quarter to a third extra by not being as well prepared as we might have been. We should never have got the initial designs drawn up [by a friend] as a favour — thinking you can save money on the architectural work is a mistake. Someone doing it in the evenings and at weekends is not the best way forward. Don’t get your mates to do your work!
Lauchlan and Charlotte Maclean-Bristol
7. Keep the project moving
Plan carefully with the contractors about when materials are needed, and manage cashflow carefully so there are no delays in getting supplies on site; idle builders delay the project and cost money.
Paul Constable and Lucy Fallon
8. Be realistic
We wanted a curved grass roof but it would have cost another £25,000. If we had put one in we would never have completed the house. Also, keep on top of your paperwork as it’s a massive job to reclaim the VAT on a self build.
Steve and Lisa Attfield
9. Dedicate time to design
Take time at the design stage to make sure you get it right, and prioritise what you really need. We were literally moving walls by a few millimetres to squeeze every last bit of space out of the house and maximise storage — important if you want minimalist interiors that you can live with!
Stephen and Cecilia Blowers
10. Find an architect who understands the site
Find a good architect who will design a house to work with and complement your site.
11. Sort your finances first
Get your finances sorted before you do anything. Banks are so risk-averse now, yet they should be embracing modern building techniques.
Andy and Natasha Righelato
12. Factor in resale even though it might be your forever home
Make sure you’re building something large enough to make the initial outlay worth it. We didn’t really need six bedrooms, but we had to factor in the resale potential of this build to make the sums add up.
Stephen Evans and Philippa King
13. Plan your electrics down to every last switch and socket
One thing we didn’t get right is the electrics. There are so many options and it all needs to be worked out from the outset. Know exactly what you want in terms of every fitting, switch and shaver socket right at the beginning.
Neil and Mary Gourlay
14. Stick to your guns
If you’re going to build your own house then get professional advice but ultimately stick to your own decisions, because everyone has a different opinion.
15. Invest in the essentials
Don’t scrimp on the most important details of the design. We spent a lot on the insulation, and the house performs so well in this regard as a result. The glazing was also expensive but it’s really fantastic that we can use many openings as doors as well as windows.
Louise and Ivor Nicholson
16. Make life easy for your tradespeople
We learned the importance of providing unimpeded access to enable tradespeople to get on with their work. If you are paying by the day, you want to make that day as productive as possible. On the other hand, if you’re paying for the job, you don’t want to make the job difficult. Frustrations with the client are likely to reflect in the tradespeople’s motivation and commitment to the job.
Michael and Pippa Goodhart
17. An amazing architect is worth every penny
Stay calm, be determined to complete your task, and be patient. Hire a fantastic architect who can interpret your vision and bring it to reality. The architect must be multi-talented in order for you to achieve your dream. We were very lucky, as in retrospect we didn’t really spend as much time as we would have liked in the selection process — like most people in our situation we were very naïve. You are spending an enormous amount of money so getting it right at the start is probably the most important decision you will make.
Tim and Ceridwen Coulson
18. Trust your instincts
Tell the architect the budget is about 30 per cent lower than it really is! Seriously, take some time deciding on the right builder. You need to connect with them, and always go with your instinct.
Gareth and Lisa Maxwell
19. Be strict with your budget
This project was not something that we threw cash at. We were strict at controlling the budget. If we had an overspend on one section of the build, we had to make sure that we clawed it back on the other build elements without compromising the overall vision.
One piece of advice we would offer is that if you are self building, give yourself a reasonable contingency sum. We allowed 20 per cent contingency [the build cost was £160,000], all of which we used apart from £1,500, which we had left at the end of the build.
Gerry and Susan Goldwyre
20. Think about detailing before you get asked to
Take time to consider all the details early on, as you’ll be bombarded with questions once the build starts. Go with your gut feeling. The amount of decision making for us on such a large house was incredible and sourcing everything turned into a full-time job.
Viv and Mike Edwards
21. Simple — trust your own judgement
Marcus and Fiona Harling
22. Pick your bricks carefully
We took particular care with the brick detail because the bricks are 5 per cent of the cost [of a self build] but 75 per cent of the look. Also, no one could recommend a brickie to us, so we advertised locally and looked at previous work and asked them to build sample panels.
Simon and Louise Sturdy
23. Loyalty to companies works both ways
Once I’ve found a company that gives good service I stick with them rather than shopping around all the time. Loyalty and aftercare are more important than shaving a few pounds off the price.
24. Get more than one quote
Never accept the first price you’re quoted. We estimate we saved around £50,000 by shopping in this way.
Heather and Stewart Orr
25. Simple = cheaper
I was keen to design the house to be as cheap to build as possible and my father helped me come up with a plan to place all the plumbing in one corner, with the bathroom, kitchen and en suite all stacked on top of one another, and all the windows, doors and fittings were to standard sizes and off-the-shelf.
26. If you invest in beautiful materials, invest in good craftspeople too
We chose some beautiful materials, but the most important thing was the craftspeople who installed them so carefully. The most critical thing is to choose your team well. Take time finding your first craftsperson, and they will know which other trades are worth employing.
Stuart and Diane Wilkie
27. Use a quantity surveyor
You cannot spend too much time on the design as it will save you expensive alternations. Work out and monitor your budget — we used a quantity surveyor for this and we feel that the resulting discounts more than covered his cost. Ask for fixed-priced quotes from the trades and avoid making changes.
Maurice and Christine Prové
28. Have a cast-iron schedule
Focus on airtightness and space heating at the design stage, and treat your build programme as a cast-iron schedule that can’t be changed if you want a fast build time. We also turned the garage into a site hut and stripped the garden to make a temporary hardstanding area, which meant we could store materials there without it becoming muddy.
Roger and Anna-Stina Ponsford
29. Keep checking for deals
Always buy your own materials and just hire labour. Although they get a trade discount with the suppliers, builders often won’t go the extra mile to get you the best price. Once we knew what we wanted, we bided our time until the right deal came along. For example, we had our eye on oak-veneered Wickes doors and checked every week for an offer; eventually they came on sale and we quickly bought them up. We also bought masses of mineral wool insulation when we saw it on offer for £1 a roll.
Ian and Helen Hardy
30. Be prepared to part with anything that doesn’t match the look of your new home
One of the main challenges with the design was what we call ‘bringing it all together’. When you have an interior like ours, in which rooms and levels all flow into one another, you really have to plan the look as a whole from the outset. Throwing out things we’d loved and cherished over many years was hard; change comes very reluctantly when you’re in the second half of your life. But if you wish to change your lifestyle, you have to make some hard decisions. We did, and we don’t regret it.
Trevor and Judi Higton
31. The smallest details count
We went to a lot of trouble to find one of the old traditional profiles for the weatherboarding, with a distinctive moulding. It’s the small details that you tend to notice and which can bring a real sense of achievement.
Peter and Rita Hutchinson
32. If you are using salvaged materials, design around them
It’s important to include salvaged building materials at an early stage in the design process if you can, because recycled goods don’t usually come in standard shapes or metric sizes, so the building often has to be adapted to fit the salvage.
33. If a quote seems high, can you DIY?
We were quoted £10,000 to take away the old shell, but completed it for just £500 — the cost of two skips, plus hours of our labour and backache. It was great fun and most of the bungalow was recycled as hardcore under the new drive, so nothing went to waste. Even bricks from the fireplace were salvaged and built into a wall in the kitchen.
Richard Balson and Allison Sturges
34. Keep a log
The most important thing for us was to keep an accurate diary, including all decisions, telephone calls and meetings, which was useful in resolving any issues.
Tony and Valerie Bradley
Our policy was that anything over £100 deserved a second phone call to try to get a better price. We were particularly pleased with the painted kitchen, and added oak and granite worktops to give it a more expensive look.
Jonathan and Nicola Marsh
36. Study your plans
So many people rush into the construction element of the project and end up disappointed because they didn’t pay enough attention at an early stage. We knew that the end result for us was everything, and so we studied the plans for hours to see how they would best suit our lifestyle. For instance, on one of the early drafts, the central dining hall atrium space, which was one of the things we loved most about Oakwrights homes, was compromised by a large central staircase, which seemed to block out a lot of the light.
We went back and forth with the plans several times, and every time it got a bit closer to what we wanted. Luckily Oakwrights provided us with a 3D virtual walkthrough of the scheme, which was a great tool — it really helped us visualise how the house would work.
Mel and Pauline Lewis
37. Give your trades room to do their jobs
Once you find people you’re happy to work with, you need to give them a certain amount of autonomy — nobody wants someone breathing down their neck the whole time (although by the end of the build we probably did become quite annoying!). Choosing a considerate and respectful builder was important because we were building so close to other homes; we were lucky to have a great contractor and that we didn’t fall out with our neighbours.
Adam Glabay and Shauna O’Handley
38. Get to know your plot
We were lucky enough to have lived in the original bungalow on the site for over two years before we started to build, so we understand the area, the neighbours and – perhaps most importantly from an energy-saving point of view – the movement of the sun through the seasons.
Nicky and Robin van der Bij
39. Catch up regularly with your architect
Find an architect who listens to what you want and then go for it! We had weekly meetings with Annie [of Annie Martin Architects], who was extremely thorough on every detail. We wish we’d built this house five years ago; we dithered for a long time.
Melissa Brooks and James Warner
40. Buy a digger
One of the first things we did was buy a mini-digger.
Simon and Debbie Palmer
41. Get thorough quotes
Make sure that you have every item priced fully before signing a building contract rather than relying on provisional sums. If at all possible, select an architect and a builder who have worked together before.
42. Look for quality fittings
We put a lot of money into buying quality fittings throughout. We have Fermacell board instead of ordinary plasterboard — it’s much heavier and is great for soundproofing. Also, things like having the brickwork done using a Flemish bond with white mortar gives the house an older, more weathered look.
It must have worked because we recently had the house valued and the estate agent asked when we had finished the barn conversion.
Martin and Kelly Guest
43. Simple shapes and forms are more cost effective
We started with a simple shape and roof form — something that would be relatively easy to build and cost-effective. Once we decided how big a building we could afford, we squeezed as much out of it as possible.
Alan and Gill Dickson
44. Work with the landscape
Thinking about the site and its orientation is the first step to designing an energy-efficient property, because heat from the sun can play such an important role if north-facing walls are minimally glazed and the majority of the glazing faces somewhere between south-west and south-east. We live in a hilly area, and making use of natural hollows in the land to form a protective wind-break is another way that a site can work for rather than against you — it just takes a little thought.
Jo and Peter Roberts
45. Don’t restrict your architect
We were determined not to stifle our architect’s [Adrian James] creativity by giving him a detailed brief. To put restrictions on an architect of his calibre would have been pointless.
We wanted a house of architectural significance, not a watered-down version. We needed four bedrooms and an open plan living space, and the rest we left to him.
Nick and Sarah Paine