Thousands of people dream of building their own home, but very few people reach the stage where it becomes a realistic possibility. If you have acquired some land for a self-build, or you are seriously considering building your own home, then please accept our congratulations! This is going to be the most exciting and rewarding time of your life!
We have written this guide to provide clear information about what building your own home entails. There are a lot of things to think about and it can be off putting for many people. In fact, it is extremely difficult to know where to start – and that's why we have broken the process down into a checklist of 9 distinct steps.
After reading this guide, you may be pleasantly surprised at how straightforward and achievable self-building is, especially with the right design and construction team on hand to provide excellent support and top tips. We hope you will come away with a renewed enthusiasm for your project, with a few less worries and determination to make it happen!
We are at the end of the line if you have any questions – and would of course love to be involved with your project!
As architectural designers and construction contractors, we offer an end-to-end self-build service, taking all the time and stress out of building your own home. You can find out more by visiting our website, or you can send us a message to arrange a call back from one of our consultants.
Before we go into the details, let’s briefly discuss how much a self-build costs. You have probably already given some consideration to your budgeting costs, however as a general rule, the overall cost of your project will largely depend on the size and nature of your property.
On average for a new house you should allow approximately £1,200 per square metre. This will cover labour and raw materials. On top of this you will need to factor in VAT at 20% as a new house is exempt from VAT. Then there are additional costs to turn your house into a home.
So consider budgeting for:
- Outdoor features such as fencing, turfing, patting, paths
- Service applications such as insulation, heating systems, solar panels
There may also be professional expenses to consider, such as:
- Building control fees
- Structural warranty
- Estate Agent and solicitor fees
It's important to go into a self-build with a realistic appreciation of the costs involved, as well as a firm understanding of your budget to ensure you get the best value for money and you don't accidentally overspend. Self-building is a liberating experience but it isn’t for everybody. You may want to discuss alternatives to self-building, such as building an extension on your current property, or undertaking a loft conversion.
The following section will explain the 9 most important steps you must consider when conducting a self-build. It starts with understanding the planning history of your site, and concludes with the construction itself. This is an introductory guide only, so please call us with any questions and be sure to check with your local planning authority before making any purchase decisions.
Most new builds will require planning permission by your local council. Rather than jumping straight into the planning application process, we recommend you start by looking into the planning history of the land you wish to develop.
- Does your land have any current permissions?
- Is there a history of planning applications, and if so, which ones were successful and why?
- Has someone tried a project similar to yours and been approved?
- Have similar projects been rejected, and if so, for what reasons?
- Are there any planning restrictions on the land you seek to develop?
Fortunately, this information is easy to find. The first place you should look is the council’s planning portal website, although please be aware that the data stored online only goes back so far. You can also call their planning department and request a full planning history for the site.
If you are unsure which local authority the land falls under, you can search the national register of planning decisions on Gov.uk by entering the postcode. This will direct you to the planning website of the appropriate local council.
The land itself will affect the kind of structure that can be built on it, so before you purchase a plot we recommend you assess its suitability for building.There are several important factors to consider. For simplicity we have grouped these into drainage, environmental, planning and design factors.
Building a property on land that has insufficient drainage can wreck havoc with your foundations, affect your waste-water and water utilities, and may even cause local flooding.Drainage is affected by the soil type, the water table level and the presence of trees and other buildings. When accessing the suitability of the land it is important to contact the local water authority to see if there are any drains or sewers running through the site. You can find your local water authority by visiting Water.org.uk.
Here are some environmental factors you should carefully consider before starting the project:
1. Is the land located near a flood zone? - Check if there are any local rivers or coastal areas susceptible to flooding. You should also research the area's local flood history. This information should be easy to find, especially for flood-prone areas in Wales as well as the South East / South West of England. You can access an Environment Agency Flood Planning Map by clicking here. The map shows Zone Three and Zone Two flood risk areas, as well as areas benefiting from flood defences.
2. Is the land contaminated? - A contaminated site refers to an area of land that contains a type of pollutant such as asbestos, heavy metals or radioactive / chemical substances that could cause harm to humans, property, underground water supplies or wildlife. Land is at risk of contamination if it has been previously used as a factory, workshop or for landfill. Your local council or the Environment Agency will decide whether or not your land is contaminated, following a site survey. You will need to deal with any contamination issues before planning permission is granted. Take a look at this website for further information on contamination risks.
3. Is it a coal mining area? - If your land is situated in a current or previous coal-mining area, the presence of any underground mineshafts will need to be determined before development can start. It may also increase the risk of land contamination.
4. Are there any wildlife conditions? - The presence of protected species, such as bats, newts and badgers will require special action to be taken prior to building work commencing.
5. Are there any tree preservation orders? - Protected trees may not be removed, damaged or obscured by building development, so any plans must take this into account.
6. Is it in a conservation area? - Conservation areas and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are subject to certain additional planning restrictions designed to preserve the character of the area. For instance, there may be some restrictions on the style or size of the properties permitted in the area. Please check with your local planning authority for details.
Local authorities apply general principles when granting permits to ensure that new building developments respect the character of the local area. All councils adhere to local and national policies, which should be confirmed in advance. However, local authorities also follow precedents set by planning decisions made in other jurisdictions. Therefore, if you cannot find information about similar projects in your vicinity, look further afield for information about likely decisions.
You should also do an informal survey of the local area, taking note of:
Practical considerations will also affect the area's suitability for building developments, such as health and safety restrictions, proximity to bus routes, shops, car parking and other facilities.
If you have concerns about your plot, we recommend you apply for a pre-application service through your local council before seeking planning permission.
Pre-application is a specialist enquiry service where your building plans are reviewed by a local Building Control Officer for suitability. They will be able to provide specialist advice about the site and the requirements you will need to meet in order to be granted building permission.
For many self-builders, pre-application provides an added level of assurance, however there is usually an additional cost, which varies from council to council. Pre-application can also be a drawn out and time-consuming process.
It is not always necessary to undergo pre-application, especially if your site already meets most of the criteria stated above. If in doubt, please get in touch with one of our advisers at BDS.
Self-build homes fall into one of two categories: some people buy so-called kit homes, which includes all materials and labour included. Others prefer a custom home designed in conjunction with an architect, where all the building materials are sourced individually. In both cases, the property owner is responsible for organising the appropriate planning permission.
Local authorities have become a lot more amenable to applications from independent self-builders in recent years, resulting in a more streamlined process with a higher likelihood of success.
The Self Build Portal is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in building their own home. It is sustained by the National Custom and Self-Build Association (NaCSBA) and is endorsed by the government.
A planning system involves several tiers of policies, they include:
Sub-national Planning: Joint policies issued by local councils in conjunction with other authorities. These cross council boundaries can influence planning decisions in more than one area.
Local Planning: This is where the majority of planning policies originate. Planning permission is based on the local district's policies or their unitary council.
Neighbourhood Planning: This recently introduced tier means that different towns, villages or even streets can have their own specific planning policies, in addition to those imposed by higher tiers.
When you are ready to seek planning permission, you have the option of submitting either a detailed or outline application.
We will discuss the relative benefits of each approach below.
Outline Planning Permission: This approach is used to seek a general permit for residential building development for a site. You need to submit the approximate overall size of the building and the approximate position on the site, but you only need to give an outline of your plans, rather than going into details.
This approach has a couple of advantages. Firstly, this method gives you a quick decision on whether permission will be granted or not, which is useful if you have any concerns about your land. This method is also adventurous for those who want to secure planning permission, but haven’t yet finalised the design details. It gives you flexibility to review your plans without having to submit a completely new application. However, Outline Planning Permission is not sufficient on its own to commence your build. You will need to follow it up with a more in-depth plan for your self-build which will involve a second application fee.
Detailed Planning Permission requires far more information about your plans and design. You will need to submit details of the floor plan, building elevation and details of landscaping, as well as the final layout and appearance of the property.
Many self-builders prefer to go straight to the Detailed Planning Permission phase as this approach avoids the hassle of having to pay two application fees. This method doesn’t give you as much flexibility to change your mind, but if you already have a finalised design, it can save you time compared to the Outline Permit. Of course, Detailed Planning Permission applications are more susceptible to public objections, so it is important to fully understand local planning policies before you begin.
The main difference between the two approaches is timing. You still need to provide concise detail with an Outline Planning Permit, but you are free to submit the details at a later stage, whereas you need to do this upfront with a Detailed Planning Permit. It all depends on your circumstances and time frame for the build.
Once detailed planning permission is granted, which can take anything from two weeks to several months, you are almost ready to start the fun part of the build – almost. Before you can commence the build there are normally a number of conditions that need to be fulfilled first.
These can be as simple as confirming the materials that you will be using, or arranging access for construction personnel, or they may involve further site surveys and the removal of hazards. Your preconditions will depend on how the national, sub-national, local and neighbourhood planning policies apply to your building development project.
You may have to adjust your design or construction plan for one of the following reasons:
- Landscaping - including gardens, driveways and road access
- Boundary treatments - arrangements to make sure your neighbours are respected
- Confirming materials - to ensure environmental sustainability and adherence to the character of the local area
- Access arrangements - how will construction affect local traffic, buses, school routes and businesses?
- Further investigative work - sometimes you may need to do more contamination testing, or identify and remove asbestos from your site.
6) Working Drawings
Once you get to this stage, you can make yourself a cup of tea (no champagne yet – that comes later) and breathe a sigh of relief. In conjunction with your architectural designer, you’re now ready to transform your initial design into full, detailed working drawings.
This is where you finalise the full specifications of your project, taking into account any preconditions and adjustments. This is always an enjoyable part of the project. We love creating working drawings, as at this stage you really begin to see a property take shape.
Working drawings do more than simply provide the layout of the property. They are detailed, technical blueprints that provide a wide range of information, which is subsequently used by your project manager and construction team to make your home a reality.
Traditionally, these 2D drawings were hand created by architects. Some designers still do this, although many architects prepare working drawings using computer design platforms. Some architecture firms also use Building Information Modelling (BIM) to create a 3D projection of your build with all the components you need for construction. This type of software allows you to take a virtual tour of your building in 3D, seeing where everything fits in together.
Your working drawings will include accurate production information covering the following:
- Construction materials - a 10 year structural warranty is applied for at this stage
- Timber sizes
- Foundation specifications, including depth and composition
- Floor designs
- Fire plan
- Heating systems
- Electrical installation
- Water & gas main access (including drainage and other utilities
- Sustainability / Eco-Friendliness – including SAP heat loss calculations
With working drawings in place, the construction management phase can begin. However, before the first brick can be laid, two additional plans should be taken into consideration to cover health and safety and structural engineering.
If anyone other than you is involved in your self-build project, the Construction Design & Management Regulations (CDM) stipulate a number of health and safety responsibilities must be adhered to.
The CDM was primarily designed with commercial construction projects in mind, but there are some things that self-builders need to know. As the client, you are responsible for ensuring suitable health and safety plans are in place.
This includes appointing ‘duty holders’, preparing and disseminating all relevant health and safety information, allocating sufficient time and resources to the project, and providing adequate welfare facilities for your contractors.
All building projects now require a CDM co-ordinator to be appointed as well as a principle designer and principle contractor. It is also the responsibility of the self builder to appoint a CDM co-ordinator to prepare documents that meet the HSE requirements. The main document which the CDM co-ordinator needs to prepare is the Construction Phase Plan. This sets out how the site will be run and all the safety requirements and logs.
Fortunately, as a domestic client, self-build property owners do not usually have to shoulder the full burden of these responsibilities. There are two options available:
|You can devolve client responsibilities to the construction contractor, if you are using a single provider, or the principal contractor, when using more than one supplier. This takes a lot of the stress out of your hands, but still leaves you as project manager.|
|Alternatively, you can set up an agreement with your designer to carry out the client duties on your behalf – therefore essentially acting as a project manager.|
At BDS our focus is to make your build as easy and carefree as possible. Some of our clients enjoy being a bit more ‘hands on’, while others prefer us to take care of it all. When putting your drawings together, we’ll chat through all your options and come to an arrangement that suits you.
We do recommend you (or your designer) appoint a Health & Safety Coordinator as soon as possible. You can do this before or after the working drawings are produced, but having this discussion before the drawings are made means all aspects of health and safety can be incorporated into your design. This usually saves time and ensures your project runs smoothly.
A health and safety plan should ensure the welfare of everyone on site or involved with your build, including contractors, delivery personnel and members of the public.#
A property is built from the ground up. It is therefore crucial that the foundations of your property pass a full suitability check. If the working drawings deal primarily with what goes on above ground, your structural engineering plan deals with what's happening below ground.
Foundations are not the most glamorous side of architecture, but they are crucial nonetheless. The foundations must be a minimum of 0.9 meters deep, but this can stretch up to 3 meters deep, depending on the weight and size of your property.
Laying the foundations of a property is a big project in itself, involving construction machinery and multiple workers. There could be many tonnes of soil and rubble to remove, so an effective structural engineering plan and safe access to the site is essential.
Most domestic builds employ a raised perimeter foundation, which supports the external, load-bearing walls and the individual floors of the property. There are three types of foundation commonly used in the UK, however other more innovative techniques are gradually becoming more widely available. The three most common foundations include:
This type of foundation is made from poured concrete, sunk into deep trenches and reinforced by steel rods. Foundations will also include vapour barriers, damp proofing and insulation. Some developments also employ flat concrete slabs, secured by anchor bolts and steel wire mesh.
Some soft soil profiles are not suitable for deep trenches, meaning that the weight load must be spread over a wider area. Strip foundations achieve this by using a network of thinner foundations (as little as 30 cm thick), with less concrete but with a greater reliance on bricklaying to support the trenches.
These overlapping, terraced foundations are necessary for buildings on sloping or uneven ground.
Choosing the foundations of a property can be extremely stressful for some homebuilders. When providing quotes, contractors will often underestimate the amount of time and materials involved to lay a suitable foundation, leading to delays and increased costs.
When working with BDS, we incorporate structural stability into your project plan from the outset. Using BDS for both architectural design as well as construction also reduces the number of contractors involved, and therefore ensures a less problematic build.
After completion of your working drawings and supporting plans, our work – as designers at least – is complete. If you’re working with an independent building contractor, now is the time to choose them carefully. We recommend you choose contractors based on four factors. These factors have been organised in terms of importance:
1. Expertise and experience
2. Professional reputation
3. Capacity (for instance, have they got the time and manpower to take on the job?)
It is essential that your chosen contractors have the knowledge and ability to carry out their task effectively. Your contractors must also be reliable enough to complete the task within the given time frame and budget. We recommend you insist on a binding quote from the outset, rather than an estimate, so you keep control of costs.
We also recommend you agree a payment plan whereby the amount is paid in instalments, with a final sum on completion. Be wary of contractors that insist on full upfront payment, as in our experience this is a recipe for payment disputes.
Verify the qualifications and reliability of your contractors through sourcing independent testimonials from customers similar to yourself. We also recommend you choose an established, VAT registered limited company as your contractor. You may want to verify the financial stability of your contractor to ensure they have the capacity to finish your job.
To paraphrase an old saying, the more cooks you have in the kitchen, the greater the likelihood that things will go wrong. The same logic applies to construction. Although the CDM regulations stratify construction project management and make it easier to handle, the more contractors you use, the greater the workload. The chances of miscommunication, errors and delays also escalates if you are dealing with multiple contractors.
This is why, at BDS, we offer a combined architectural design and construction service. We take care of the whole project, from initial consultation to laying the last tile. Our quote includes construction materials, insurance, foundations, technical drawings, project managers and whatever third-party support you need on site. We take care of everything.
Taking this approach will definitely save you time and stress. It will also probably save you money. As part of a government initiative to encourage new builds - new houses are exempt from VAT if you employ one contractor. This amounts to a formidable saving of 20% on materials and labour. If you choose multiple contractors for your build, then you will need to pay VAT on your materials to HMRC within three months.
There are a lot of things to think about when building your own home! In this guide we have hopefully given you a flavour for what is involved. The list may seem intimidating at first glance, but it is actually fairly straightforward when you take all the planning and design factors into consideration.
Our advice is, if you have the budget and the vision to build your own home, then go for it!
Don’t let anything stand in your way. Self-building is an adventure. There is no denying that there will be challenges and a lot of excitement along the way, and sometimes a bit of frustration; but we have never met anybody who has regretted their decision to self-build.
Almost all the common issues experienced by people building their own home can be avoided by working with an experienced architectural designer and qualified construction contractor, such as BDS.
This is why we would like you to come and talk to us! We know the planning process like the back of our hands, having worked with dozens of self-build clients over the years. We can help you with the entire process, from choosing a suitable site, through to the completed build.
As we offer both architectural design and construction services, you will only ever need to deal with one point of contact. This removes the frustration of having to deal with multiple suppliers and, as we have seen, also comes with a tax advantage!
Our objective when working on self-build projects is to help our customers get the best value for money from their budget, in the shortest time frame, with minimal hassle. The joy of self-builds is the fact that no two projects are the same!
So the most important part of the process, for us, is our initial consultation with you, which we provide for free! We don’t come to the table with preformed ideas that we expect you to buy into.
Our job is to determine your requirements, your preferences, what you need from your home and what you’d like it to look like. Answering these questions will form the basis of a bespoke design built around your lifestyle.
Our team at BDS will then guide you through each of the 9 steps explained in this guide, consulting with you at every stage and ensuring the planning process works to your advantage.
If you also choose BDS to construct your property, then we will project manage the complete build, taking care of all the details for you.
Working with BDS as your combined architectural design and construction service gives you:
- An account manager you can turn to with any questions
- A knowledgeable team with expertise in planning, design and construction
- Transparent pricing and one simple invoice – no hidden expenses or escalating costs
To start making the adventure of your lifetime a reality, pick up the phone and let’s arrange a chat! We can come out and visit you at a time of your convenience, plus your first consultation is free with no obligations!
So whether you are planning a small rural retreat, a modern flat or an impressive ecomansion, we would love to talk to you about your ideas!
With BDS Architecture, your self-build project is in safe hands.
Get in touch today by phone on 01332 830313, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.