Building your own home

Understanding the nitty-gritty of self building

What is a Self Build?

The term ‘self build’ can be used to refer to a range of approaches to creating a bespoke home that suits your needs. If you’re considering to self-build it is a great way to create a home that is tailored exactly to your needs and preferences. As well as this, to go down the self-build route indicates that you can tailor the process to suit just how much time and budget you can devote to your project.

On average, a self-build house costs between £1,000 and £3,000/m². However, prices may vary and this is down to, location, plan, shape and layout, size, specification, involvement and the number of stories.

Why Self Build?

The total costs of a self-build home can be significantly less than buying an average property outright, in fact for the same amount of money you can usually build bigger as well as saving up to 30% on the market value! Most self-builders can typically enjoy a 25% profit on their investment. There are obviously a lot of added benefits with self-building, as your home will fit your exact needs and preferences. You have the choice of adding the latest home technology as well as putting sustainable measures in place at the design stage.

How to finance a Self Build

You’ll need access to money to buy a building site, to pay for professional services such as architectural designers’, site surveys that maybe required, legal fees and to fund the build itself. The money may come from savings, equity in your existing home, through a self build mortgage or a combination of all three.

Surprisingly few high street banks provide formal facilities for self build finance so you’ll likely need to approach a specialist self build mortgage provider. A traditional mortgage (where the finance is released in one lump sum at the end of the project) is not feasible. Self build mortgages differ from traditional mortgages in that the funds are released in stages (either in arrears, where the money is made available after a stage of the build has been completed, or in advance, when it’s released at the start of each build stage).

Remember, you’ll also need to account for the cost of your site, which will consume a sizeable chunk of your budget and set aside between 10% and 30% of your budget as a contingency.

The Golden Rule

Build cost + site cost + contingency =<the value of your finished house

Reclaiming Valued Added Tax (VAT)

One major benefit of self building is that you can reclaim VAT on most of the building materials used. In general, you can reclaim for all materials that are fixed into the house. Self builders can often overlook the fact that they can reclaim VAT on a new build project.

What materials can you reclaim VAT on?

In order to figure out what you can reclaim VAT back on, think if you turned your new build upside down and shook it, anything that fell out would not be eligible. Things such as tiles, kitchen cupboards…etc. would all be qualified.

Choosing a Self Build Route

There are a wide range of routes a self builder can take to create their dream home. The self build process can be fairly straight forward and flexible to allow the self builder to decide just how involved they want to be in their project. However, this decision needs to be made early as it will have major cost implications if you don’t want to be heavily involved.

There are many self builders that choose to ‘project manage’ their new build. This means overseeing all areas and coordinating them, to ensure their home is built on time, within budget, and of the highest quality throughout all the different stages. Alternatively, others might engage with a professional to take care of the project management aspect, whilst some leave the project management completely in the hands of their main contractor until the project has been completed.

Types of Self Build routes

There are six main routes to self building you can go down.


Doing all of the work yourself or as much as you possibly can. This allows you to make big savings on your self build. This will give you the pride of building your own home, as well as knowing your new home inside out.


Managing your own self build project means you are able to delegate the tasks you aren’t able to do yourself. You will still have a large proportion of responsibility for the build, but you will receive some help along the way.


There is a big appeal to having your project professionally managed. This is due to the homeowner only having one point of contact throughout the project. The homeowner communicates everything they want for their home and the project manager co-ordinates all the stages and tasks involves.

Main contractor

If you know what you want when it comes to the design of your self build, but don’t necessarily have the available time to manage your own project, you may want to consider this type of self build route. When you employ a main contractor they will be in charge of running the building site on a day-to-day basis.

Package / Kit

This route is worth considering if you’re short of time and can’t get the self build finished by yourself. The package route will offer design, labour/construction and material supply as part of a fixed-price contract. This provides the most hands-off way of self building.

Custom Build

Custom build homes are self build homes facilitated in some way by a developer. This still offers the chance to have a unique home that suits your needs, lifestyle and design preferences, but through a more hands off approach than a traditional self build.

Choosing a Self Build Construction System

When it comes down to how your self build home is built, choosing the correct construction system is an essential decision.

Whilst the choice of the material you choose to build your home will have little impact on how your finished self-build will look, it is well worth taking into consideration the construction systems available:


Blockwork or masonry is the most common choice, perhaps because this method is ingrained in our mind and most people appear to feel more comfortable putting their faith and money in bricks.

Timber frame

Whilst masonry (brick and block) has previously been the most common way of building in the UK, timber frame is now the most widely used structural building method in the world, and has grown substantially in popularity. Timber frame tends to be easier to accommodate insulation into timber frame walls (as compared with masonry), meaning thinner build-ups for the same result.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) are pre-insulated panels that can form part of a building or whole buildings. These panels are made of either Cement Particle Board (CPB) or, more commonly for self build, engineered wood-based sheets known as Oriented Strand Boards (OSB).

Although people may think it is an expensive way to build, there are savings such as:

  • Fast construction
  • Design flexibility

Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

If you’re looking for an intuitive, quick structural system with impressive energy performance, then Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) could be a great choice for your self build project. The hollow polystyrene blocks or formwork fit together (a bit like Lego) into which concrete is poured.

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