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Posted on 7th October 2022

Ed’s thoughts on ‘self-building for less’

Decide on your level of involvement in the build project, this will have a substantial impact on the overall cost of the project.

The more involved you can be, potentially, the less your build project will cost. The most hands-off and probably the most expensive approach, is to employ an architect to manage the build project from beginning to end. Otherwise, an architect will happily just be involved with the design stage of your house and submission for planning permission, costing considerably less. The architect can also recommend building contractors.

But there are other options.

Without an architect you can employ an architectural technician to draw up your own design, meet building control regulations and submit for planning permission. You would then need to select a building contractor to manage the building of your house, bringing in their preferred tradesmen.

Without a building contractor you can select the tradesmen yourself. They can normally advise on types and quantities of materials and where to buy them.

They will probably also advise you on the order and timings of when they are needed.

If you buy the materials and select and direct the tradesmen yourself, you are effectively taking on the role of the building contractor. Be warned, this will require a lot of your time.

Although building regulation inspections will ensure the essentials are done correctly, you will have to have a pretty good idea of what is needed to build a good house.

The following suggestions are also money saving ideas when building your house.

1. Employ tradesmen who don’t mind you helping (saving them time) doing the less skilled aspects of a job. e.g. moving materials to the point of use, mixing or prepping materials for use, laying pipes and cables ready for the terminations to be made.

2. If you have a natural leaning or interest in an aspect of the build, develop that skill and take on that part of the job yourself.

3. If you have a friend or member of the family who has one of the skills required for your house build, you may be able to trade a skill you have which they need, e.g accounting, childcare, or they may simply do the work for you on ‘mate’s rates’.

4. If you can afford a long lead in time before building your house, look out for your building materials on the secondhand or ‘surplus to requirements’ markets, e.g. Facebook Marketplace and Freecycle.

5. Consider building a relatively conventional house, using materials that are readily available and normally cheaper. The tradesmen will be familiar with this sort of construction and materials and will therefore do the job more quickly. You can then have fun personalizing features which are not intrinsic to the performance of the house, e.g. front door and porch, the garden gate and path and garden planting. If using trellises, ensure fixings to walls are stainless steel so the trellis can easily be renewed in the future.

6. Consider copying the design of an existing house that you like and ideally getting hold of the house plans.

7. Heat pumps, in my experience, are effective for space heating (underfloor or within walls) but they lose efficiency reaching for higher temperatures, so are not the best device for the upper temperature of domestic hot water. Consider also incorporating solar thermal for your hot water needs.

8. Sign petitions to encourage the government to subsidise insulation of homes and the installation of energy saving equipment.

9. If you have some flexibility around where you can live, consider joining a housing cooperative where the owners are building their houses together. This allows building materials to be bought in bulk and skills can be readily shared.

10. It’s a longshot but you could film your project and share it with others on the internet. Many people enjoy following building projects. If your film is popular, you can generate an income.