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New Registers to Facilitate Residential Land Supply

Can redeveloping more browfield land help to solve the housing crisis? 

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Self-Build as Housing Market Fix

Capacity in the Homebuilding Industry: How the UK is falling short with self-building 

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Can you design a quality home on a tiny budget?

NaCSBA launches 2017 ideas competition to create a low cost retirement community or granny annex

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Case Studies

Contemporary Timber Frame Home

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Passivhaus Family Farmhouse

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Steel Farm

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Merlin Haven

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Timber Frame Home, Ventnor

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Aldcliffe Yard, Lancaster

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Walthamstow Social Rent Scheme

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Prefabricated Passivhaus bungalow

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Cookham Dean, Berkshire

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Harvest House

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Bickleigh Eco Village, Devon

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Stoke-on-Trent Serviced Building Plots

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Forevergreen House

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Housing People Building Communities

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Sülzer Freunde, Cologne

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Berlin - 'Building Groups'

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Manor Farm, Kirton

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Straw-baling, Perthshire

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Almere, Holland

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Top tips

Kevin McCloud's
Top Tip

Kevin McCloud's Top Tip Read more

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Self build one-off home

A full self build project is a major undertaking, and only a relatively small proportion of people actually take this on. It tends to suit people who have built before, or who have some link to the construction industry, though there are plenty of examples of people doing it with no previous experience – so don't be deterred


  • It usually works out cheaper – saving typically 20-40%
  • You get what you want
  • Your know the building inside-out and are sure it has been well built


  • It is riskier – and unless you know what you are doing there is a chance you could make some costly mistakes
  • It is very hard work – you'll be on site working long hours every day for many months
  • Building a home is complex and complicated, and there are lots of formal approvals and certification issues to wrestle with


  • Find and purchase a suitable site
  • Secure finance for your project
  • Hire a suitable architect/designer. You could, of course design it yourself, but don't underestimate how tricky this is
  • You will need to project manage all the construction work, find good suppliers and negotiate with suitable sub-contractors and check the quality of their work
  • Usually you will also do a lot of the hard physical labour yourself – so, for example – you might do all the brickwork or roof tiling, plus the plumbing, the landscaping and decorating. So you may need to improve your building skills or attend a few courses



Find a plot of land

You may be lucky enough to already have a site. If not, your first job will probably be to find a suitable plot.

While you are searching for your site you should try to get to see as many other self build projects – while they are under construction or near completion – as you possibly can. There’s no substitute for walking around sites with other self builders and picking up tips and advice from them. You should also be avidly reading the various magazines and attending the key trade exhibitions to build up your general knowledge of self build. Click here for tips on this.

Appoint a professional team

Once you have secured a plot you will almost certainly need an architect or a qualified designer to draw up the plans for your project. You will probably also need other professional help – for example a structural engineer and/or a quantity surveyor.

Sometimes self builders appoint a project manager to run the entire project for them. They would appoint the rest of the professional advisers and organise a contractor for you, then manage their work. The Chartered Institute of Building may be able to point you towards local contacts. But there's really no substitute for personal recommendation.

So, if you are undertaking the work yourself, the best way to find good professionals is to ask other self builders in your area if they’d recommend the people they used. Sometimes self builders part company with one or more of their design team during the self build process and this can be costly and disruptive.

So spend time searching, interviewing, visiting projects built by designers you are considering using, and taking up references. This investment in selecting the right people will reap benefits later on. The Royal Institute of British Architects has a free referral service which will help identify suitable architects near to you. Similar services are also available from the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists. If you are seeking a surveyor, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors can assist and for structural engineering advice, The Institution of Structural Engineers will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Once you have appointed your design team you may need to negotiate with them over their fees. Some professionals are keen to link their fee to a percentage of the eventual construction cost. Be wary of this, as it can then be in their interest to design something that will be very expensive to build. So you may be better negotiating a fixed fee for an agreed level of service.

When you have appointed the professional team you’ll need to brief them clearly about what you want. Don’t be too prescriptive; you’re hiring professionals who have a lot of creative talent, so don’t handcuff them by telling them exactly what to do. ASBA - the Association of Self Build Architects (currently has 30 members, spread evenly across the UK) has some good advice on how to prepare a brief for a design team.

It’s at around this stage that you need to decide the preferred method of construction you want to use, and how 'green' you want to make your home.

Apply for planning permission

Once you are happy with the design it’s time to submit it for planning permission. Usually design teams will have held some preliminary discussions with the local planning department to gauge what will, or won’t be acceptable. Once you’re confident that your design works for you the plans can be submitted. Usually it takes 8-12 weeks to get planning approval. There is lots of good advice on how to make this process as straight forward as possible on the Planning Portal – this is the Government's independent website and it provides guidance on a wide range of planning and Building Regulation issues.

When you have been granted planning permission you then have to get Building Regulations approval – there's information about this on the Planning Portal too.


If you are going to use sub-contractors to build part of the house (for example an electrician) you need to be trying to identify good ones at this stage and start lining them up/getting in prices. There’s no substitute for a good recommendation from other self builders who have used them. Don’t try to hire people direct from the internet or via Yellow Pages! Most people recommend that you get three or four sub-contractors to prepare a formal price, and then you select the one that offers the best all round solution for you. Remember it may not be the lowest price that matters; quality, reliability, experience and speed of construction may all be factors to consider alongside the bottom line cost. Your negotiating skills will be important here – it's often possible to haggle a bit and get a keener price.

If you cannot find local sub-contractors you could try Build UK. They should be able to direct you to the various bodies that represent the key construction trades – like electricians, plumbers, and plasterers. And many of these organisations have a member's directory or a free service that will put you in contact with their members near to you.

You may want to look out for sub-contractors that display the TrustMark – this is a vetting scheme run by the Government.


When you finally work out which contractor you want to use you will need to draw up a contract. Your professional team should be able to guide you on this. The Joint Contracts Tribunal is a well recognised authority on construction contracts and has a number of standard documents available.

You can also get simple contract documentation specifically aimed at self builders from RIBA Bookshops and the RICS Shop. Try the ContractStore too with a 20% discount for users of The Self Build Portal - they also have a useful guide available.

What else?

One of the best things you can do is read up on the whole process. The best book is 'The House Builders Bible' – which is readily available on Amazon and in good book shops. 'Building Your Own Home' is also a very good guide.

You should also get up to speed with project management and building estimating techniques.

There are hundreds of different companies and suppliers to the self build industry. Our Suppliers Directory offers a listing which you may find useful.

You could also go on one of many courses aimed at self builders.

CITB-ConstructionSkills is another organisation it may be worth contacting as they have a portal that identifies most of the training courses available to people nationwide.

There are many other sources of useful information – such as exhibitions and the various self build magazines.

Case studies

Straw-baling, Perthshire

An award winning eco-house, built with straw for insulation, and sustainability.

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Castle Ring Wood

Castle Ring Wood

An award winning woodland self build that delivered a fantastic home (including the site) for just £100,000.

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Trefeglwys in Powys

Trefeglwys in Powys

This new three bedroom house was built by a single mum with help from her teenage sons. It cost just £105,000.

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