There are many different self build methods or construction systems that you can choose from when building a new house.

If you are less concerned with how your house looks ‘under the bonnet’, you can quite easily opt out of making a choice at all and go with your builder’s default settings or leave the decision to your architect and/or structural engineer.

In most cases, the material the superstructure of your home is built from will have little impact on how it looks as your choice of construction method often doesn’t impact on the outside facing of the house.

For an overview of each method, skip to:


On site blockwork and brick

Blockwork or masonry is the most common choice in England, perhaps because every bricklayer is familiar with building in masonry, maximising your labour pool.

There is an array of choices available including:

  • standard dense blocks
  • lightweight blocks with air pockets for better insulative qualities (Aircrete)
  • clay honey-combed blocks that increase thermal performance (Porotherm)
  • large-format (thin-joint) blocks to minimise laying times

What’s the difference between
a build method and a build route?

The build method is the construction system
you choose for your self build’s superstructure.

The build route is how the build project will be managed,
on a DIY or professionally-managed basis for example.

Timber Frame

Timber frame houses can be built on site – known as ‘stick build’ – or prefabricated off site in factory conditions. The latter option tends to be more common when building new homes, with panels delivered to site ‘open’ (with insulation and joinery added on site), or ‘closed’.

It tends to be easier to accommodate insulation into timber frame walls (as compared with masonry), meaning thinner build-ups for the same result.

Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

ICF self build built on a DIY basis

Richard Baldwin built his stylish ICF home for £447/m² and it is so well insulated
that it is impressively cheap to run

Hollow polystyrene blocks or formwork fit together (a bit like Lego) into which concrete is poured. The polystyrene is left in place to create both the formwork and an insulative layer. This is an on-site method of building, but the result is very airtight, warm houses.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

A Barn Style SIPs Self Build

This barn-style home was built using SIPs to help meet the brief for an energy-efficient home

Typically two sheets of OSB sandwiching an insulative core, SIPs result in very fast build times, high airtightness and good energy efficiency levels.

SIPs construction particularly lends itself to creating vaulted ceilings and ‘room in the roof’ structures.

Oak Frame

oak frame self build on wooded semi-rural plot

This self build in Cambridgeshire features an oak frame and is clad externally
in untreated horizontal oak weatherboarding to fit its semi-rural setting

Building modern houses out of the oak frame structures of years gone by now requires most frames to be encapsulated in SIPs or similar. This is a popular choice, often due to the character the exposed frame brings.

Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)

CLT extension to a listed barn conversion

Jonathan and Zahra Chambers have added a CLT extension to their home for extra space

Cross laminated timber, often referred to as CLT, is an engineered timber product that sees kiln-dried spruce or pine boards stacked at right angles to each other and bonded by an adhesive in panels of three, five or seven layers.

It’s a lightweight, off-site construction method that is produced to such tight tolerances that windows and doors can be ordered from the technical drawings.

Natural Materials

The use of straw bales, hempcrete and even cob enjoys a tiny but significant take-up among self-builders, who enjoy the excellent insulative qualities and sustainability of using natural materials.

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