In the August issue of HB&R, Ted Stevens, chairman of the National Self Build Association (NaSBA), asked why are there no low-cost kit homes available. ‘Why can’t the industry rise to the challenge and produce a really cost-effective starter home?’ he writes. A very good question indeed. I ponder it after reading his article.
But then, the following morning, I began trawling through some of the questions posed on the HB&R forum, where there are numerous examples of the trials and tribulations of today’s self-builders. One that struck me was a guy lamenting the fact that he had to pay £3,000 to a consultant so that his self-built home complied with Level 3 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.
‘In comparison,’ he writes ‘our conglomerate facings, i.e. heads, cills and mullions, are only costing £4,225 inclusive of VAT. And here we are, receiving a tangible product to assist our build.’ He carries on: ‘Why oh why are we being shackled by pen pushers sitting at desks?’ Another good question.
Then, a rant from a self-builder in dispute with his building inspector about a disabled access ramp. He has provided a level access via his garage, but the inspector insists it should be via the front or back door and won’t sign off the job until he sees the work completed. ‘Is this a case of discrimination against the able-bodied?’ he writes. No, but it sure makes for a huge amount of frustration and added expense.
So, when Ted references self-built houses constructed cheaply in the 1980s, we’re talking about an era before many of these rules and regulations were in force. Simple they may have been to build, but the walls weren’t wide enough to incorporate all the insulation required today, they didn’t meet the disabled access requirements, and they certainly didn’t comply with the Code for Sustainable Homes which only came into being in 2007.
The Code includes a series of features which a house should incorporate in order to be judged ‘green’. Not only do the homes have to be more energy and water efficient than minimum standards set out in the Building Regulations, but there are also points to be won for such items as bicycle racks and wheelie bin spaces.
And all this stuff can’t be self-policing — you have to hire a Code Assessor to check your home meets the required level. The £3,000 mentioned previously is just the consultant’s fees — it’s not for the extra cost of installing all the sustainable features you may need. Ouch.
The Code itself is not even mandatory. It’s the local authorities that often insist on it as a condition of planning permission. Double ouch.
On the other hand, a house built to the higher levels of the Code costs little to run, is going to be very comfortable to live in and will probably be worth more, rather than one built to minimum standards.
It’s all very well building a cheap house, but is that actually what all self-builders want these days? Perhaps not. It’s land costs which are really crippling us — but a little bit less red tape would also be very welcome.