Deciding to self build can be a daunting but rewarding experience. Whether you are looking to maximise the space you can achieve for your budget compared to a developer home, or want to create a sustainable home with impressive eco credentials, taking on a self build will allow you to create an individual home that is precisely tailored to your needs and budget.

The self build process requires numerous preparatory tasks to be undertaken before you start building and there are key decisions to be made. These could include which build route you are going to take or which construction system to wish to use.

This ultimate guide takes you through the self build process, highlighting all the key stages, from finding land and securing finance, to gaining planning permission and choosing the best build route, all the way to snagging and reclaiming VAT on all eligible items at the end of the project.

What is a Self Build?

A self build is an individual house that has been commissioned by an individual homeowner to perfectly fit their exact requirements and tastes.

But while approximately 11,000 self build homes are built each year, less than 10% of those homeowners were physically involved in the process by taking on the building work.

Home for life self build on a budget

David Snell has just completed his fourteenth self build on a budget of £130,000

The majority of self builders choose to be much more involved in the creative process, taking part in the design stage, choosing the tradespeople and deciding on finishing touches.

(MORE: Starting a self build? Make sure you are aware of these essential resources)

How Much Does it Cost to Self Build?

On average, your self build costs will be somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000/m².

You will also need to be aware of all the factors that may cause your build costs to go through the roof:

  • Location: land prices and labour costs will vary across the country
  • Size: the bigger the house, the more expensive it will be to build (although careful design can help achieve some economies of scale)
  • Plan, shape and layout: the simplest and most cost-effective floorplan is square
  • Number of storeys: multiple storeys make better use of the land and can reduce foundation and roof costs per m²
  • Specification: if you want premium products, expect your build costs to rise considerably
  • Involvement: depending on how much of the work you are capable of taking on yourself, you can substantially reduce your build costs

(MORE: Self Build Homes for Every Budget)

Why Do People Self Build?

  • You can usually save up to 30% on the market value
  • You can usually build something bigger than you could buy for the same money
  • Your home will fit your exact needs and preferences
  • You can add the latest home technology or sustainability measures at the design stage
Passivhaus self build in London

Elizabeth Sharp chose to self build on the site of her former home’s garage and rear garden, creating a Passivhaus that offered incredibly low energy bills

Is Self Build an Option for First-time Buyers?

While more traditional self build routes require time and financial input that is unfeasible for first-time buyers, the idea of custom build may suit. This route alleviates some of the obstacles faced by self builders, including finding land, securing planning permission and getting services to site.

This is also a more hands-off approach, but still offers the chance for an individual home that meets individual needs.

(MORE: How to Custom Build)

Self Built Modern Family Home

Ed and Anna Chipperfield have succeeded in self-building a new home that marries simple contemporary design with a family-friendly layout

How Can I Finance a Self Build?

Most self builders will need to borrow some money in order to build their own home, but a traditional mortgage where the finance is released in one lump sum at the end of the project is not feasible. But there are specialist products available that have been specifically designed with the self builder in mind.

Self-build mortgages differ from traditional mortgages in that the funds are released in stages (either in arrears, where the money is made available after a stage of the build has been completed; or in advance, when it’s released at the start of each build stage).

Self build home with build costs of £100k

Robin Cochrane built his own home for £100,000 in the Scottish Highlands

Remember, you’ll also need to account for the cost of your plot, which will consume a sizeable chunk of your budget and set aside between 10% and 30% of your budget as a contingency.

The Golden Rule:

Build cost + plot cost + contingency = <the value of your finished house

Finding Land for a Self Build

contemporary family home on the site of derelict garages

Darren and Lucy Henderson saw the potential in a small brownfield site in Bournemouth that housed four derelict garages. It is now the location of their contemporary family home

Specialist plotfinding services (like plotfinder.net) are incredibly useful when it comes to finding land, but they shouldn’t stop you from being proactive.

  • drive around the area you’re looking at to spot any potential opportunities
  • get on the website of local authorities and scan through the planning applications
  • use Google Maps to identify any potential infill plots or where there might be room to build in existing gardens

Plots will rarely fall into your lap, so you’ll often need to be savvy to secure one.

(MORE: The Complete Guide to Finding a Plot)

Also, make sure you register with your local authority under the Right to Build, which requires local authorities in England to keep track of the demand for serviced plots in their area.

Self build home on awkward plot and tight budget

Faced with an awkward plot and a tight budget, Tom Allen and Natalie Scroggie have self built a striking contemporary home for £170,000

Choose a Self Build Route

The self build process is flexible enough that a self builder can decide just how involved they want to be in the project. Make this decision early as it will have major cost implications.

The majority of projects are handled by a main contractor/builder or subcontractors project managed by the homeowners, but you can choose different routes for different stages of the project, depending on your skills or available budget.

Choose a Self Build Construction System

oak frame self build

Homeowners Sheila and Geoff McGaughey chose oak frame as their construction system for their self build project in Surrey

While your choice of superstructure material will have little impact on how your finished self build looks, it is well worth considering the available construction systems:

  • Masonry
  • Timber frame
  • Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)
  • Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)
  • Oak Frame
  • Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)
  • Natural materials, using such materials as straw bales, hempcrete and cob

Some self builders are less concerned with how the house looks ‘under the bonnet’, and are happy to leave the decision with their architect or structural engineer.

Designing a Self Build

Most self-builders will employ the services of a professional when it comes to the design of their house — whether that’s an architect, an architectural designer or an in-house designer at a package company.

Do I Need Planning Permission to Self Build?

When you self build, you’ll have to apply to your local authority for planning permission.

All planning permission is granted with conditions attached. Failure to address the conditions will invalidate your consent, making any work done illegal. 

You’ll also need to submit detailed building drawings for Building Regulations’ approval (or a Building Warrant in Scotland).

Find the Right Builder

Much like finding a designer, choosing a builder requires plenty of research on your part. Ask your designer, friends, building control, neighbours and anyone else you know who’s had building work done for recommendations.

Meet and interview as many as you can and ask them to quote on your project based on tender documents that your designer should have helped you prepare.

(MORE: 5 things you should never say to your builder)

Insuring Your Self Build Project

As soon as contracts are exchanged on your plot, you will need to have insurance — usually a specialist policy for self-builders. A comprehensive self build policy is advised and will cover any public liability, building works, employers’ liability and personal accident.

Get a quote now to protect your self build

Bring Services to Site

Getting services to your site (if necessary) can cost between £500 and £10,000+, depending on your situation and whether the connection needs to be made across private land (where you’ll need to secure a wayleave to grant access to dig) or public highways (which may involve road digs).

Though electricity and gas are not essentials during the build, a water supply is needed early on.

A £200k Oak Frame Self Build

Michael & Katie Walker have self-built an oak frame home for £200,000

Where Will You Live During the Project?

Very few self builders are in the position to remain in their existing homes while building a new one, so you will need to consider where you are going to live while you build your dream home.

  • Staying with family/friends: the average self build project takes around a year on site, so if you are planning on staying with friends or family, make sure that you are realistic about the timescale of the project
  • Renting temporary accommodation: this is an option, but an expensive one (even more so if your project hits any unforeseen delays)
  • Living on site

How Long Does it Take to Self Build?

Once you’re finally ready to start on site, you’ll need to know what happens and when, regardless of how physically involved you are in the process. This typical self build schedule will give you an idea of what to prepare for and when.

Create a Snag List

Despite lacking a concrete definition and not being part of the JCT suite of building contracts, it’s generally accepted that snagging concerns identifying parts of the work that have been completed, but may require remedial action prior to official sign-off.

Reclaim VAT

oak frame self build in Hampshire

Homeowner Shelagh Krasno was able to reclaim £18,000 when she completed her first self build project in Hampshire

If you’re building a new house, the DIY Housebuilders Scheme allows you to reclaim from HMRC some of the VAT that you have paid out for your project. 

You can only make one claim and that must be made within three months of the project completion.

Obtain and keep hold of all VAT receipts to submit with your claim.

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