We’ve recently moved home again — this time into our 12th self-build project. It’s easy to think that by now we’re getting blasé about our exploits. It’s also tempting to feel that those who chronicle their self-build exploits in H&R are nothing really special, and that we’ve seen and done it all before. But it’s not like that.

We’ve self-built 12 times, but the excitement is still there and in a way we’re just the same as all other self-builders who are doing it for the first time. We still make mistakes. We still have to compromise when the planners won’t let us have this or that. We still have to put up with those building mistakes which, although the fault of tradesmen and others, we have to learn to live with because to do otherwise would throw out the critical path we’re locked into, or cost so much to put right that rectification really can’t be justified.

Unlike the beginners, however, we are old hands at the builders’ merchants. There’s a sense of smug satisfaction as we see laypeople struggling to make their needs known to counter staff who are less than helpful – before a cheque book or wallet is brought out – as they don’t have an account. Where as we walk up to the counter and the chap greets us and types the entry into his computer without even having to ask our name or account number.

But when it comes to the out-of-town stores – from whom it must be said, really good bargains can be had that better the merchants – we’re in amongst all the rest. In these stores we are amateurs dealing, unfortunately, with salespeople who are just as amateur and care even less. So we run into an all too familiar saga of, say, ordering 60 boxes of tiles and paying for them. We then explain that as we’re in a sports car, they’ll have to be delivered and that, in any event, this will ensure that the tiles will all be of the same batch. Well, you’d think so wouldn’t you?

You’d be wrong, and unless you’re there or you’ve got your glasses on when they’re delivered you won’t notice the tiny change in the code number beneath the identical description. And it’s not until the tradesman putting them on the wall reaches down to pick up another tile and it doesn’t fit or it’s a different colour, that you realise you’ve got a mismatch. So it’s back to the store and a vain attempt to find a manager who’ll take responsibility. “We’ll swap them,” we’re told. “Bring back those that are wrong and we’ll change them.” “But they’re on the wall,” we say. “No matter, chip them off.”

They get changed. In the end everything’s all right. Apart from the fact that nobody seems to recognise that the tradesman who spent a whole day putting up the wrong tiles and then taking them off again has to be paid. And will the store pay for that? Of course not. That’s way beyond the remit of the chap who purported to be the manager and now retreats into a junior role. In the end you have to give up. If you didn’t you’d go mad and spend so much time on the principle rather than the problem that your home wouldn’t get finished.

Similarly, unpacking the kitchen units is always fun. “Sign here,” says the driver. “But we haven’t seen what’s in the boxes.” “Sign ‘unseen’,” he replies. And then, days later there’s a bit missing, a unit without legs, a sink top that’s the wrong hand. It’ll all get put right but that’s another day taken up with explaining and another week before the replacement items finally arrive. Meanwhile the guys making the granite worktops have to be put off. But it all comes together. And despite the niggles there’s still a sense of wonder and pride when what was a building site metamorphoses into a home.

We spend the evenings before the move cleaning and polishing, only for it to be made just as dirty and dusty the next day. But no matter. It’s almost as if we look for an excuse to simply be there in the 11th home we created ourselves.

Then we move into the 12th — and notice the patio slabs where the rain collects in puddles. We complain and over the next two days one chap lifts them up and puts them down to the correct fall. We don’t have to pay him but we do have to pay for the broken slabs and the sand and cement that’s wasted.

But really, despite being old hands, we’re like two kids in a sweet shop. We’re just as excited as we ever were… and as those who have never done it before. And when it wears off, as it will? Well, we don’t know — but we’re certain we’ll miss it.

  • Neil Bruce

    Hi David, Many thanks for speaking to us yesterday and giving the Toolstop podcast an interview for our blog. It was very interesting to hear your insights into self building and to hear you are still so passionate about it after all these years and so many builds. All the best and please look out for the interview on our blog.

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