Many self-builders – perhaps even a majority, and especially those on a low budget – choose to build using subcontractors.

In some ways this is like learning to swim in the deep end: choosing to build without the backup of a builder and taking on a project that in most cases is way outside their normal life experience. Most are successful. Most experience a very steep learning curve that involves mistakes, delays and misunderstandings on site, which the repeat self-builder will make certain never happen again.

Learning the sequence of events on a building site is invaluable. Learning what each trade does and where their responsibilities begin and end is vital. And learning that the critical path in building can so easily be thrown off course – and how to get it back on track again – is essential.

Listing the tasks of each trade is one thing. But all but a very few overlap to some degree and it’s important to understand the grey areas between, which can be the responsibility of a builder but which, in their absence, often falls to the self-builder.

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The Bricklayer: What do they need on site?

Bricklayers are invariably labour only, supplying only their own hand tools. All materials and especially the sand of their choice must be ready on site together with: water in a butt, a mixer, spot boards to put the mortar on and scaffolding — preferably hire and erect. If they’re not building joinery straight in, they’ll need profiles.

Who do they work with?

  • They may work alongside the groundworkers for the foundations
  • They’ll need carpenters available at first floor joists, if they’re timber. If they’re beam and block they’ll need to liaise with the groundworkers, unless they’re doing them
  • They work with the carpenter to bed the wall plates
  • They wait for the carpenter to sling the end trusses to establish the rake up the gables
  • They work with the plumbers and roofers to point in any flashings
  • They fit in with the groundworkers on hard landscaping

What do they do?

  • Lay blockwork foundations to dpc
  • Build honeycomb sleeper walls (suspended timber floors only)
  • Build in below-ground drainage exit lintels
  • Build in cranked ventilators for beam and block floors, or airbricks and cavity sleeves
  • Bed dpc
  • Bed plates (timber suspended floors only)
  • Position floor beams and lay infill blocks
  • Brush grout flooring
  • Build superstructure brickwork and blockwork
  • Install cavity insulation as work progresses
  • Create openings for windows and doors
  • Install cavity closers
  • Fit windows and door frames if appropriate
  • Build in meter boxes
  • Bed lintels
  • Lay padstones
  • Position steel joists and beams
  • Lay first floor beams and infill with blocks
  • Install cavity trays where necessary
  • Bed wall plate
  • Build up gable ends
  • Build chimney through roof
  • Build internal brick features and fireplaces
  • Point up flashings and trays
  • Fill putlock holes
  • Build feature walling to garden


If they’re laying the foundation blocks they’ll need to be on site at the end of the first week.

  • Even if they’re not it’s as well for them to check levels and square for the subsequent superstructure
  • It will take five to six weeks to get to roof level on a normal house, perhaps twice as long on a larger or more complicated one
  • They’ll need to be available for a day or two to liaise and work with the plumbers and roofers
  • A day might be needed to fill in putlock holes
  • Fancy brickwork such as fireplaces or decorative internal walls will be done on daywork
  • They may need to come back at the latter stages of the job to build walls

What do they cost?

Around £145 per day per bricklayer, plus £90 for a labourer. Bricklayers often quote per 1,000 laid bricks — often around £350-400, or £10-12/m².

Grey Areas

  • Whether or not they’re responsible for beam and block floors
  • Whether or not they’re doing the foundation blockwork
  • Bedding the plate and pointing in leadwork

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