How to build your own home

According to the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA), the average self-builder saves 15% to 20% on the cost of a house compared to what it would cost to buy1. If you have the resources and the motivation then building your own home can be very cost effective. But most people build their own property as they want the freedom to create their ideal home, rather than make the compromises which often occur when you buy something.

For some, the scale of a self-build puts them off completely. Others are experienced builders and may already have been constructing properties to make money. For those in between it is often a lack of experience that holds them back, or the fear of the unknown.

A couple plan to build their own home with a model

Planning the build of your own house

The WW2 general and US president Dwight Eisenhower once said:
“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

Everyone knows that having a good plan will make your project run more smoothly. But more important than a plan is taking time to think through every aspect of the project in great detail. When faced with a task the size of building a house, it’s important to break all the individual stages down and then analyse each one so that you can be as specific as possible.

This is the most important part of a build. Rushing in without thinking everything through may increase the chance of breaking the budget or ending up disappointed with the end product. We hope this article will give you some ideas to start your thinking.

Location, location, location

Identifying the right site for your project can be a difficult task, but according to the website ‘Build It’ over 13,000 people purchase a plot each year. You could be one of the lucky ones.

Your choice of location can be limited by your budget and the land available, but you should have a good idea about what your ideal plot looks like. Suburban living, country location, near to schools? Only you will know your exact requirements, but draw up a list so you can assess each opportunity as it comes up.

Speak to people such as developers, farmers or utility companies to see if they have any land in the area that they are willing to release. They may just have something, or your initial contact might spark their interest in selling a piece of land that is underutilised.

When you view a plot, ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is there is access to public roads, so you drive onto the site without having to pay for right of access over someone else's land?
  • Is the land on a floodplain?
  • Could it be affected by transport links (airport flight paths or rail networks)?
  • Are there other developments planned nearby that will affect your land?
  • Are there are any public rights of way across the land?
  • Is the plot big enough for your plans?
A couple imagine their home on the land they have purchased.

Set a budget and financing

Unless you’ve got a sizeable sum of your own, it’s likely that you’ll need to arrange finance for the project. If you get the planning right you’ll be able to set yourself a realistic budget which will provide you sufficient contingency if things go wrong. Your contingency should be 10% to 15% of the total project costs.

Choose the building route

There are a number of different options you can consider. A package or kit house company can help you with the designing as well as the building of your home. Alternatively, you may want to use an architect to design the house with or for you and employ a project manager to oversee the build. If you have the required skills and experience you could manage the entire project by yourself.

Often, your architect or package supplier will suggest a particular construction system, such as brick and block or timber frame. But remember, it’s your home so make sure the final decision reflects your vision, and is not slanted towards their particular area of experience or interest.

Whether you choose a package supplier (who will literally design and build your property for you), an architect or another house designer, be sure to choose someone who understands your requirements and is able to produce a thoughtful plan that fits with your budget.

Regulation and insurance

If you’re building a house then you’ll need to be familiar with the legislation governing what you can and cannot do. Early contact with the planners is one way to ascertain whether your project will be viable. Many local authority planning departments offer a pre-application advice service so you can talk through your plans and get feedback on what they will be looking for.

A good planning department will outline what they will and won’t accept in terms of size, materials and architectural style. You’ll may also need to get building control approval and any special permissions such as listed building consent.

It’s also important to make sure the site is secure and that you and your contractors are all complying with the relevant health and safety regulations, and to help you with this, we have recently produced a beginner’s guide to health and safety.

Finally, your new home can be a very valuable asset and you may want to safeguard your investment by arranging suitable insurance. Even if your contractors are already insured, it’s wise to check what you personally need in addition to this.

Two builders carrying wood. Not Ronnie Wood, just some planks of wood.

Selecting your builder

Word of mouth and recommendations from people you trust are invaluable sources of information when choosing builders and contractors. You may be new to a particular area though and have to do the research yourself. If that’s the case then the Federation of Master Builders provides a search facility allowing you to check the listings on their database (see below).

When you start speaking to your builder always ask for a price for the complete job, and an agreed date of completion for the required work. There are many questions you’ll have but these are the big two. Never select a builder based on price alone; ask for examples of their work and speak to previous clients to check its quality, and to find out about the builder’s attitude.

Never pay the full amount up front and agree a payment schedule in instalments as this gives you strength in negotiations if the workmanship is below your standards. Finally, where possible, you may wish to source materials yourself to cut costs (you are able to shop around for the best price whereas the builder may be tied to a particular supplier).

We regularly produce articles on self-building and a range of other topics in relation to home ownership. If you want to keep up to date with all the latest news then please follow us:.


  1. BBC – New Home Legislation, April 2015

You can access our mortgages through Saffron Mortgage Finders or through your mortgage broker.