Want to build the home of your dreams? With a self build you can create a home that meets your needs and includes everything you’ve dreamed of, from eco features to wild designs. Building your home can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s also a lot of hard work. Here’s our guide on how to start a self build project.

Work out your budget

A self build is a big financial commitment, but with careful planning you can create a realistic budget and keep costs under control.

Firstly, figure out how you will fund the build. This could be one or a combination of a cash-lump  sum, remortgaging or selling your current home, or taking out a self build mortgage. If you’re seeking the latter you’ll need to provide the lender with detailed information about the build, including drawings of the proposed house, site details, a timetable of the building stages, a copy of the planning permission, plus estimated build costs from your architect or surveyor.

When estimating the costs, be sure to include:

  • cost of the plot, with related legal and registration fees
  • site survey and investigation
  • professional fees such as main contractors, architect/design, structural engineer, energy assessment (Building Energy Assessment in ROI, Energy Performance Certificate in NI)project management
  • groundworks
  • building materials
  • fixtures and fittings
  • planning permission
  • insurances and legal fees
  • living costs during the build, such as rent or mortgage
  • contingency - at least 10% to cover any unexpected costs.

Find your plot

It can be tricky finding a spot for your dream home, so patience, creativity and an open mind are needed. Search online and check newspaper classifieds and community message boards where you are likely to find private sales. Register your interest with land and estate in your desired areas. Spread the word to your family and friends that you’re on the hunt for a plot. Look out for land and property auctions, disused brownfield sites or spacious garden plots. You could even buy an existing property to demolish then build your home on the plot.

Before you purchase the land, be sure to get pre-planning advice to assess the physical and legal suitability for building (factors such as access to services, ground conditions, rights of way), and for any potential obstacles to obtaining planning permission. Planning can be an extremely lengthy process so this step is essential.

Decide on your build approach

One of the first choices to make in a self build project is how much “self” you want to be involved in the process. Do you want to get hands-on with the building or take an eagle-eyed view and let the pros run the show? Options include:

  • Main contractor - the most simple and common option is appointing a main contractor to manage the build, hire and manage subcontractors and buy materials. You will still need to have time to communicate frequently with the contractor throughout the build.
  • Project manager - this can be a good solution for easing your workload, with varying levels of service from appointing contractors to a full-time onsite presence.
  • Managing the entire build yourself - it can be tempting to take on a lot of the work yourself to save costs, but it will be highly stressful, time consuming and a potentially risky option if you are inexperienced.

Find your project team

Building your dream home deserves a dream team. Do lots of research before appointing a contractor. Obtain multiple quotes. Check online reviews, ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations. Interview all contenders in person, ask them for examples of previous work and if you can speak to past clients about their experience.

When making the final decision, don’t just consider the quoted price. A self build is a lengthy process, so it’s essential to feel you have trust in your contractors and communication is clear and regular.

Obtain planning permission

You must have full planning permission in place before you can start building. This can be the most difficult and time consuming part of the process. In both ROI and NI you should have a decision within eight weeks of application, however the process is rarely this straightforward, with the local authority often requesting changes or further information.

  • In both ROI and NI, the first step is to get in touch with your local authority planning department to find out what forms, drawings and supporting documentation is required.
  • In ROI a notification must be erected on site and remain in place for five weeks. A notice must also be published in an approved local newspaper. The process is similar in NI.
  • In both ROI and NI a copy of your plans will be placed on the Planning Register for public viewing.Once obtained, Full Planning Permission (FPP) is valid for five years.
  • In NI you also need to obtain Building Control Approval. Visit http://www.buildingcontrol-ni.com/ for more information.
  • In ROI once you have been granted FPP you must register on the Building Control Management System (BCMS) before building begins 

Choose your method of construction

As part of the design process you’ll need to decide on the construction method. This has a big influence on the project overall, from the cost, duration of the build, energy efficiency, and the look of the finished house. The right method will depend on your budget, design criteria, your plot and planning permission. Available methods include:

  • brick and block - an outer layer of brick with an inner structure of concrete block. The inner cavity is filled with insulation.
  • timber frame - quicker on-site build time and ideal for open plan designs
  • structural insulated panels (SIPs) - composite panels that layer a rigid insulating material between outer boards. Sturdy and energy efficient.
  • insulating concrete formwork (ICF) - lightweight polystyrene forms that fit together on site to create a structure, which is then filled with concrete. ICF is quick to build and insulation is built in.

Sort the legal bits

  • Self build insurance - make sure that onsite insurance cover is in place with a specialist self build insurer before construction begins. This covers risks like theft, fire, injury and legal expenses.
  • Structural warranty - this covers your house for 10 years if anything goes wrong. The warranty provider inspects the build regularly during construction.
  • Health and safety - in both ROI and NI if your project is over 30 days you must appoint health and safety project supervisors. These roles involve conducting risk assessments, devising a health and safety plan to show how the work will be done safely and collating safety documentation from subcontractors.

Time to build!

Finally, it’s time to get your dream home started. Once your plot is prepared for construction, building is roughly a five-stage process:

  1. Building the foundation
  2. Making the house weathertight - installing roof, windows
  3. First fix - structural carpentry, plastering
  4. Second fix - work carried out after plastering
  5. Final decoration - make that house your home.

Good luck and enjoy the process!

Ready for more? Here’s our guide on questions to ask your architect before hiring them.