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Dream and plan at Grand Designs Live on 5-13 May

The hugely popuplar Grand Designs Live comes to London’s ExCel on the 5-13 May for nine days of inspiration and practical advice.

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Kickstart your dream home project at the National Self Build & Renovation Show

The National Self Build & Renovation Show, 11–13 May at the NSBRC is an essential in the show calendar, offering a wealth of information, whatever stage your Custom o....

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National Custom and Self Build Week 2018


Brought to you by NaCSBA, National Custom and Self Build Week 2018 takes place between 7-13 May, with events at Grand Designs Live, the NSBRC and Graven Hill

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Build your dream at Graven Hill with pilot mortgage scheme

Cherwell District Council has announced a pilot mortgage scheme offering self-builders the chance to apply for a mortgage through their local authority with just a five per cent....

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London Mayor brings on small sites for self and custom building

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has created a new website for selling  small publicly-owned sites as a pilot for providing plots for the capital’s small- and medium-enterprise....

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Case Studies

Bath Street Collective Custom Build

Bath Street Collective Custom Build

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Planning for retirement with Potton

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Beattie Passive house

Manx passive home

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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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Manor Farm, Kirton

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Straw-baling, Perthshire

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Almere, Holland

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Top tips

Land Banking Schemes — How to Spot a Scam

Land Banking Schemes — How to Spot a Scam Read more

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Contractor built one-off home


  • You get exactly what you want (provided the planners are happy to approve it)
  • If the design is straight forward and the project is well managed it can be reasonably cost effective


  • Sometimes costs spiral – especially if you make changes to the design as the construction work progresses
  • Professional fees can be a significant portion of the total cost, so you may want to negotiate fixed fees


  • Find and purchase a suitable site
  • Select and commission a suitable architect/designer. You can, of course, design the home yourself or select a design you like from one of the many books of designs
  • Select and appoint a suitable main contractor



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.

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. Sometimes you may 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. There is currently no directory of independent self build project managers, but 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 normally then ask suitable building contractors to prepare a price for building your home. But before then you need to be checking out good local builders (again, personal recommendation from other self builders is usually the best way). Find out if they did a good job, and if so, whether or not they might be available to build your home. Really good contractors are in strong demand and they may not be able to build your home straight away. This can be frustrating sometimes - but it is arguably worth waiting in the queue if the contractor you really, really want to use is busy. Your professional advisors should also be able to recommend suitable contractors.

Most people suggest that you line up three or four 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.

If you cannot find local builders yourself you could try the National Federation of Builders who offer an advisory service on how to choose a contractor. The Federation of Master Builders has a very useful 'Find A Self Build Contractor' matching service.

You may want to look out for builders that display the TrustMark – this is a scheme run by the Government that vets builders.


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.

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.

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

Case studies



This large architect-designed high specification home includes many quality features. It cost £625,000.

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The Camberwell Curve

The Camberwell Curve

Good sites are hard to find in urban areas. This home is shoe-horned onto a small pocket of land and cost just £232,000 to build.

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