Self build

How to build your own house: a self build beginner's guide

Bringing your perfect home to life is an exciting venture, but it requires careful planning, organisation and budgeting. Our step-by-step guide will help you #breaknewground and ensure your self build project runs smoothly.

What is self build?

A project is defined as a self build if the homeowner directly organises the design and construction of their new property, according to the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA).

Fear not – this doesn’t mean you have to shoulder the bulk of the work. Self builders can take on as much or as little as they want; some choose to get their hands dirty with construction while others will order from a package home company.

While self build is more popular in places with masses of space like Austria, Belgium and Scandinavia, around 12,000 self build homes are completed in the UK each year. It’s an ideal route for retirees looking to create their forever home, or growing families who need some extra space, designed around their lifestyle.

Typically, it can take around two years to build a home, from finding a plot to moving in, but this depends largely on the complexity of your project.

So is self build for you? It's important to do your research and make sure you know what you're getting into before you embark on building your own home.

While it's a big commitment of time, money and energy, self building gives you a unique opportunity to create a home that's tailored around your family's needs – and it doesn't have to drain the bank thanks to healthy tax breaks.

How to finance your self build

Arranging finance is the first crucial step in the self build journey. Taking your home from paper to plot in the UK can cost somewhere between £1,000 and £3,000 per square metre, but the final figure will be dictated by the location, scale, design and specification of your dwelling, along with how much of the work you undertake yourself.

There are various ways to fund your self build, from a cash lump sum, to selling your existing home, remortgaging your property or securing a self build mortgage or loan.

Budgeting can make or break your self build so keep your outgoing costs organised in a spreadsheet and make a note of when payments are due. Be strict with yourself – if you choose to make changes to your home’s design during the build process, it will likely leave you out of pocket.

Ensure you add a generous allowance for groundworks too, as complications below ground level, like soil contamination, can be costly.

It’s important that your budget includes a contingency fund of between 10-20% of the total build cost to cover any unexpected extra fees, and remember to consider expenditure for accommodation if you need somewhere to stay during the build too.

Find out which finance route is right for your project:

Finding land for sale

Online plot finding services such as Plot Search can be a great place to start, while you might stumble across a gem at auction or in the property section of your local newspaper.

Keep your eyes peeled for spacious garden plots, infill sites and disused brownfield sites, or to minimise stress, opt for a serviced plot, with utilities connection and planning permission already in place.

Garden plot self build: Complete guide to building your dream homeThis contemporary home was built on a garden plot in Greenwich by Facit Homes

In terms of acreage, a four-bed home can be built on a tenth of an acre, but if you’re building a larger home or want plenty of outside space, aim for a third or even half an acre.

The cost of land usually depends on location, but you should expect to spend between a quarter to two-thirds of the market value of your finished home.

Make sure you sign up to your local Right to Build register too, as it places pressure on councils in England to make more self build land available in your area.

Get inspired and kickstart your plot search now:

How to project manage your self build

The right build route for you really depends on how involved you want to get. Some self builders choose to oversee the running of their project themselves, but it’s important to note that this is a big time commitment – if you work full-time, will you really be able to visit the site twice a day?

For a more hands-off approach, you can enlist a professional project manager, hire a main contractor or let a package home company take the lead if you’ve chosen this kind of all-in-one build service.

You should settle on an option that suits you from the outset though, as it’ll have a considerable impact on your budget.

Full guides on self build project management:

Choosing a self build structural system

Your chosen construction method has a big impact on the performance and appearance of your finished home. The most common structural systems you’ll encounter are brick and block, timber, oak, structural insulated panels (SIPs), insulating concrete formwork (ICF) and thin joint blockwork.

An array of factors come into this decision, from your budget to your design preferences and insulation needs. Consider access to your site too, as some systems are easier to construct than others if you’re tight on space.

If you’re keen to create an eco friendly home, there’s a whole host of natural systems to choose from, including straw bale, rammed earth and even cork.

More on structural systems:

How to design your own house

When it comes to creating a design brief, you can enlist the services of an ARB or RIBA-affiliated architect, architectural technologist or professional designer, or consult a package company’s in-house team.

How to design your own house: complete guide to self build Designed by Arco2 Architects, this house was planned specifically to minimise its impact on the landscape, and has been built into the sloping site

If you’re feeling creative, you could even try your hand at drawing up your design with a digital program like Sketchup to give your architect a better idea of what you’re after.

When deciding on a design, it’s important to think about the quirks of your plot – the terrain, shape and availability of sunlight – as well as your lifestyle and any accessibility needs.

Check out our guides to creating a beautiful and practical home:

Applying for planning permission

You’ll need to apply to your local council to get planning permission to build your new home and also submit detailed building drawings to secure building regulations’ approval. For a full planning application for a single house in England, you can expect to pay £462.

Some architects and package companies can help guide you through this process, but for more complex cases you can hire a planning consultant.

Various factors can influence planning approval, from the surrounding architecture to the Local Plan and protected species in the area.

Before you apply for full consent, it's a good idea to organise a pre-application meeting with your local council to assess your chances of success and learn more about your area's Local Plan.

Upon completion, your self build will be inspected by the council to ensure the conditions on which permission was granted have been met. If not, any work done will be declared illegal.

Navigate the planning process with our handy guide:

Hiring builders and contractors

Bringing tradespeople on board requires plenty of research. It’s a good idea to ask friends and neighbours for recommendations and scour the internet for reviews.

Devise a shortlist to interview in person and ask to see previous projects they’ve worked on and speak to the homeowners. Request a written quote based on tender documents your architect has prepared.

Don’t be tempted to simply accept the lowest figure – a self build is a big commitment of time and money so it’s important to work with reliable, quality trades.

When it comes to drawing up contracts, it's a good idea to purchase a formal contract template such as the JCT Minor Works.

Your relationship with your builders doesn't stop there. Throughout your project, it's important to maintain a good rapport – poor communications can create tension and in the worst cases lead to walkouts. 

Follow our expert golden rules for working with tradespeople:

Self build insurance and structural warranties

There’s no guarantee that your builder or contractor will have site insurance, so it’s vital that you arrange onsite cover before works begin. Site insurance should cover risks such as fire, theft and vandalism, injury to workers and members of the public and legal expenses.

Take out a policy with a specialist self build insurance provider such as Self Build Zone or Protek – and remember that policies are usually sold in 12, 18 or 24-month blocks, so put a note in your diary if you need to extend cover.

You should also take out a structural warranty when your project begins, which will cover your home for 10 years if anything goes wrong. The warranty provider will then inspect the build at regular intervals during construction.

If you choose to go with a government-approved building inspector rather than your local authority, they'll likely offer structural warranties too, reducing the number of inspections required on site.

Warranties can be taken out after your self build is finished but you’ll pay around four or five times more as the insurer won’t have been able to monitor the construction.

Find the right self build insurance for your project:


Getting gas, water and electricity onsite

It’s a good idea to organise services connections – electricity, gas, water, sewage and broadband – as soon as you own the plot to prevent delays later on.

Not only can it take a while for utility companies to get the ball rolling, but water and electricity are essential to have on site during the build itself.

If your self build is a replacement dwelling and your site already has services, you should contact the providers well in advance of demolition to cap these off and arrange reconnections to the new property.

Snagging list

Snagging is the process of identifying defects that need to be rectified at the end of your self build. These small faults could include rough edges, paint marks and sticky windows and doors, and usually only become apparent when your home nears completion.

You should make a list of these issues to present to your builder before you pay the final bill. It’s standard practice for self builders to hold back between 2.5% and 5% of the total build cost until snags are resolved. While it's commonplace in the industry, it’s important to make sure that this is pre-written into your contracts.

If the work isn’t completed or is unsatisfactory, you then have enough money held back to pay another trade to finish the work.

How to reclaim VAT on a self build

A key financial reason to consider building your own home is the considerable amount of money you can save by reclaiming VAT, which can amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

When it comes to self builds, labour is zero-rated, along with the majority of building materials used. Once your self build is signed off by the council to confirm that it meets planning conditions and building regulations, you’ll be able to claim back VAT from HMRC. Find out which building materials are zero-rated here.

To recover these costs, you must fill out and return form VAT431NB on the HMRC website within three months of your home’s completion. Be sure to fill the application out carefully, as you can only submit this claim once.

Additionally, you can only recover costs if the home you’ve built is intended to be your main private residence. You can’t reclaim VAT if you plan to use your property for business or rent it out – however, using one room as an office to work from home is acceptable.

Browse the self build A-Z:


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