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How to Build Your Own House: 8 Steps to Your Dream Self Build Home

How to Build Your Own House: 8 Steps to Your Dream Self Build

So who’s watching Kevin McCloud’s latest TV programme on Channel 4 – Grand Designs: The Street? If you’ve missed it, then it follows 10 self build pioneers creating a whole street of Grand Designs on a former Ministry of Defence site, near Bicester Village. It’s a truly ground-breaking scheme. In a country where larger plots of land tend to end up in the hands of big developers churning out their tried and tested cookie cutter one-size-fits-all homes, it’s inspiring to see a council make the dream of self-build attainable for the many.

Seriously though, who hasn’t dreamt of building their own home? Light-filled rooms, bespoke detailing, the perfect family kitchen that opens out onto the garden – home to feel truly proud of.

But just how do you go about building your own home? We’ve decided to answer the most common questions we get asked by our self-build clients and give you an insight in how to start your dream.

1. Self-building a house – Is it worth it?

It all depends on how you define ‘worth’. Are you doing it to add value to your quality of life or to make a financial return. If you’re actually asking if it’s cheaper to build your own home then there’s no straight answer. You’ve got to cost absolutely everything out and do a huge amount of research before you can compare that sum with comparable properties in the area.

Architect fees, engineers fees, materials, labour, additional living expenses, mortgage repayments, legal expenses and then add at least an extra 10 percent (ideally twenty) for those things that you can’t plan for. Don’t get caught up in the common trap of thinking it won’t happen to you, 9 times out of 10 there’s always something unpredictable that blows the budget.

Our project Chalk House has seen a couple realise their dream of self building a contemporary Passive House that has minimal running costs.

2. How Can I Find A Plot

A good starting point is to go and visit some local estate agents and check land auctions. It’s also worth getting hold of your local council and checking the Homes & Communities Agency website to see if there are any plots that might be right for you.

Contacting local farmers, land developers and even utility companies is a good idea to see if they’ve any undeveloped land they’re interested in selling off.

3. Is It The Right Plot?

This requires some informed analysis! Is the land accessible for deliveries? Is it on a flood plain? Flight path? Any planned developments nearby? Legal covenants on the land? Public rights of way across it?

Also find out what’s in the ground. Groundworks can often be an underestimated cost. Are there any drains to consider? Is the site level? If your site is on sloping land you may face more challenges and ultimately more expense than a flat site.

And that beautiful tree-lined plot might seem the picture perfect place to build your house but be aware that you’ll require deeper foundations close to trees because their roots affect the moisture content in the ground.

4. What If I Don’t Get Planning Permission?

Without planning permission your self-build is nothing more than a nice idea, sorry. You’ve no legal right to build without it, so purchasing land without planning permission is huge risk. Therefore its always a good idea to find land that has outline or full planning permission to begin with.

However, navigating the planning system doesn’t have to be that hard. Early engagement with the local planners and a good architect who understands the planning system is the best way to figure out whether your self build project is viable. Most local authority planning departments offer ‘pre-application advice’ (some will charge for this service).

This can help you get a strong idea of what your local planning department will and won’t accept in terms of style, size and materials. It’s a great way to make sure you stand the best chance of getting planning permission for your dream home and that help to save money and the stress in the long run.

family bungalow with modern charred timber extension

At Fir House we used our knowledge of the local planning system to achieve planning for a contemporary self build extension to a bungalow near the New Forest.

5. Do I Need An Architect?

Well obviously I’m going to answer that with a loud resounding yes! An RIBA Chartered Architect has the expertise to consider the small things that’ll make the big difference.

A good architect will be able to do more than just draw your plans on a computer. The best architects will be able to see the potential where others don’t. They will consider every part of your self build design, applying creative and impartial thinking to a project. An architect will work with you to understand the way you live and develop a bespoke design that reveals your personality. They can develop your design with clever solutions to make the most of the space, views and your budget.

As well as design expertise, a good architect will have established relationships with the local planners. Architects have the best tools to present plans in a clear and easy to understand way. Through our 3D & augmented reality presentations, we take away any of the ambiguity of understanding a traditional drawing by creating a truly photorealistic image that can be explored & analysed. This can help secure planning on more contemporary dwellings, and save time and money by helping prevent any misunderstandings with your builder on site. Perhaps most importantly a good architect can help to ensure your new home is legally compliant with the necessary Building Regulations.

Also bear in mind that to call yourself an architect in the UK you must be registered with the Architect’s Registration Board (ARB), who is there to protect your interests as a member of the public. Its members must adhere to their professional code of conduct. You can check whether your ‘architect’ really is an architect on their website here:

At Floating House, we helped the client to develop an area of land that was thought to be undevelopable. This cool floating extension cantilevers over the protected tree roots, leaving them completely undisturbed, therefore satisfying the planners. This maximised the value of house, delivered the space the client required and allowed them to take full advantage of the spectacular sea views.

6. Can I Get A Mortgage on a Self Build?

Yes, lots of lenders offer self build mortgages but you’ll likely need a larger deposit than a standard purchase and the interest rates are usually higher. Although some lenders let you switch to a lower rate once the build is completed.

With this type of loan the lender often releases the money in stages as the build progresses, so you won’t be accruing interest on borrowed money you don’t yet need. The bank can satisfy itself that the finances of the self build are being managed and it’s progressing well before they handover more cash.

If you’ve got some experimental building materials in mind for your self-build design, just bear in mind that some lenders will refuse to loan on certain types of construction that they may consider to be non-standard.

7. Will I Need Insurance?

Yes! Most definitely. You’d be surprised at how many trades people don’t have adequate insurance and you don’t want to be forking out for someone else’s mistake or getting sued for something that happened on your site. Just make sure your policy covers the following –

Contractors All Risk – this covers general things like fire, flood, storm damage, vandalism and theft.

Employers’ Liability – Anyone working on your site is working for you and as such you’re liable for their welfare if an accident arises.

Public Liability – this covers damage, injury or loss suffered by third parties and members of the public. You’ll also need cover for damage or injury caused outside the site if it’s caused by activities on your site.

Legal Expenses – this will cover you for action taken against you by others or for you to take action against third parties.

8. How Long Will My Self Build Take?

Well, every project is different but typically it takes about 2-3 years, and the majority of that time won’t be spent on the build. It’ll be the paperwork and planning necessary to get things going. Some self-builders choose timber frames and structural insulated panel SIPs systems. These beat bricks and mortar in the race to erect a weatherproof shell. However the lead times can be longer, as they’re prefabricated off site to your specification, and are usually more expensive. But the time saved on site can outweigh the initial cost of the system.

We’re always delighted to have the opportunity to discuss all things design, so feel free to contact us to see how we can help your self-build or renovation project progress.

new build black timber family house

At Dentist House we used high performance SIPs to speed up the build and deliver a warm, super insulated family home.


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