What's involved and what's needed to get in place before the build?
The Good the Bad and the Beautiful Reality of Self-Building!
Finding and buying your site
How much can you do yourself?
Finding and buying your site
Finding the ideal site can take many years, it very much depends on your personal preference and circumstances.
How flexible are you in relation to location, size and price?
Would you be willing to compromise?
Be proactive, get on your walking boots, Sherlock hat and get out there.
The best bargains need to be found, they are seldom advertised.
Don’t be afraid to ask and don’t be offended if doors are shut in your face and you’re told “get off my land!”
Speak to locals; local farmer, local shop owners, land owners, community land owners, members of community associations and generally anybody who will listen.
Network, make relationships, follow up all leads and be persistent. Don't give up!
Spread the word that you are looking for a site to build an eco-home and let the gossips do some legwork!
Place adverts in local shops and newspapers, go online, search "land for sale", look for leads in self-build magazines, use social media and network galore.
Contact estate agents and solicitors’ property centres.
Get out there, be determined, be persistent, be prepared to pester, expect knock-backs and don't give up!
Find a reputable solicitor to help you through the legal process.
A simple field may contain a minefield of legal conditions with ancient legislation only comprehensible and decipherable by a competent solicitor.
A good solicitor should provide a safeguard to ensure that you do not enter into a legal obligation to purchase a site which is unsuitable for a self-build.
If a site has never had a building on it and has never had planning permission granted, you may not be able to build on it.
Seek advice from your local planning department. They may advise you to apply for outline planning permission.
Anybody can apply for outline planning permission, you don’t have to own the site.
Pre-planning advice can save much time and trouble and the best place to get this is from the horse’s mouth, the local authority.
Some planning departments will provide a planning officer to visit your site.
They will make you aware of potential problems and provide guidance to help you submit a successful application.
You may be advised on the best place to site your house, possible difficulties such as with roads and access etc.
You may also be advised on any restrictions and conditions of building in specific areas e.g. Areas of Great Landscape Value or flood risk.
If in doubt ask; each local authority provide their own guidance.
Check out your Local Plan, it can usually be found in public places such as libraries and community centres.
Conditions may also contain restrictions attached to your Title Deeds, predetermined by the likes of current land owner or community council legislation
Seek independent advice if you think you are not receiving fair treatment.
For free, independent and impartial advice check out
Planning permission is controlled by central government and administered by your local authority.
They provide permission or permission in principle for you to build on your chosen site.
It need not be a daunting process. Persevere and never give up at the first refusal.
The planning authorities are interested in
environmental aspects such as how your build will look,
fit in with and affect the local environment.
The more research and consultation advice you receive prior to submitting your application the better the chance of permission being granted.
Planning permission usually comes along with a list of site specific conditions you must abide by such as time limit to complete, external materials to be used for finish, type of boundary fence or conditions relating to access road such as upgrading to allow for a passing place and so on.
Central Government produce a specific set of building control rules and regulations to which your local authority building control officer is bound.
Their purpose, in brief, is to ensure that buildings are structurally safe, energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.
Building Control ensure you comply with the latest fire safety provisions, weather protection, sound insulation, heating and ventilation, drainage, energy efficiency, disabled access etc.
Nerves of steel may be needed to get you through the procedure of compliance.
On meeting all conditions and standards, permission to build will be granted in the form of a building warrant.
If you have the capacity and inclination to decipher legislation, you can look up your local building control
Take note - building control are responsible for inspecting your finished build and granting you a completion certificate. If you make changes whilst building, you will need to send amended drawings to building control. Once in receipt of your completion certificate, you can move into your new home and apply to reclaim your *VAT.
*The majority of materials used in a new build are exempt from VAT, be sure and keep all receipts in a logical order, in a safe place, and be ready to reclaim once you receive your completion certificate.
It’s well worth taking time to reflect upon your own skills.
What skills do you have already?
How, what and where can you learn?
How much can you afford to spend?
How much time can you spare for learning and training?
As a general rule of thumb, the more you do yourself, the less your build will cost.
Labour accounts for around 30 per cent of a build cost, but time also costs money and self-build takes time.
What skills can you recruit or trade amongst family, friends, neighbours and colleagues?
Make a list and an action plan. Write down what you can do, what you need and an action plan of how you could make this happen.
You may be surprised at the number of skills and opportunities that are readily available to you.
To conduct site and soil tests such as contamination and percolation tests for drainage.
To make build calculations, check, sign and verify that your house will be structurally safe and sound.
ARCHITECT / ARCHITECTURAL TECHNICIAN
To discuss and support you to develop design ideas and transform them into detailed drawings.
Submit drawings for permissions and completion certificate.
Amend drawings if and when needed.
Prepare contracts, check on progress, provide general advice, support and project manage if required.
For manual work and general labour.
Such as a digger driver to clear and prepare site for access, services and foundations.
Depending upon your own skills, budget, time and capacities, you may want to hire builders or natural build specialist for specific stages of your build.
There are many natural builders who will design and build your home. In addition to this they can provide training workshops as part of your build.
These are fantastic and fun opportunities for you to learn whist building your own home and get loads more folk involved in the build at the same time!
You may even discover a local builder or two who would like to learn more about natural building and find yourself effortlessly promoting natural building whilst achieving a home of your own!
Design and build can be very cost effective, as your build company has designed the house, they know exactly how and what to build. No hidden surprises or “how are we supposed to build that on your budget” moments!
SPECIALIST TRADES and SKILLS
You may well need assistance from specialist trades such as plumbers, electricians, joiners, bricklayers, stonemasons or roofers.
When choosing your specialists, remember to check out credentials and ask for recommendations.
Ask around and choose local if and when possible. Not only does this keep your carbon footprint down, it's very useful for future maintenance and repairs too.
One of the best places to find a natural build specialist is at www.naturalhomes.org, they have a Market Place filled with specialist natural builders.
Natural Homes are one of the most popular self-build sites in the world (very impressive!) and have many active discussion groups like “Talking Natural Homes" filled with natural builders willing and able to answer many questions and queries.
Proper planning and preparation can save both time and money. Invest time and save money.
Most affordable sites are seldom advertised, get out there, don't be shy, ask around and find them.
When you find your site, for ease of future planning permission, if they'll give it to you, get pre-planning advice from the planners themselves.
Building Control have set regulations to follow, if possible, work with them and be prepared for extra work to justify your choices. Don't give up!
The more hands-on you can be, the more money you can save. There are loads of opportunities out there to join natural builds and learn to do it yourself. Go find them!
Choose your team with care and keep communication clear at all times. Value you team, be prepared to listen and learn.
Enjoy the process, self-building can be very rewarding and the only way to achieve an affordable, low impact and gorgeous home of your own.
Help is out there, go get it!
Trades and skills