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How do we cross the chasm and deliver more self-built homes in the UK?


By Harvey Fremlin, NSBRC Managing Director.

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If you are setting out on your own self build journey, then you could well be described as an ‘innovator’, or almost certainly an ‘early adopter’. Anyone familiar with Simon Sinek’s popular TED talk on ‘how leaders inspire’ will know these terms are attributed to the first 16% of people who buy into a new idea or technology.

Around 13,000 people self build in the UK each year. Nevertheless, this accounts for just 8% of all homes built – far lower than many comparative developed economies. You have realised already that the advantages to designing and building (or significantly renovating) your own home are many. The layout is bespoke, well designed and build quality is high.

So why are more people not benefitting from this option? How can we cross the chasm between the early-adopters and the majority? Two big barriers have always been the supply of land and affordability. In recent years, the government has recognised this. In 2016 ‘The Right to Build’ went live, when the Housing & Planning Act came into effect. This means that, if you live in England, your local authority is required to maintain a register of people and groups who want to self or custom build locally. The idea is to build a picture of the true demand for (much sought after) plots and to service this demand in future planning frameworks.

Following the success of ‘Help to Buy’, in April 2021 the government announced a new £150 million ‘Help to Build’ initiative, designed specifically for people who want to build their own home. The hope is the scheme will make self-building easier and more affordable. Similar to Help to Buy, individuals can access an equity loan – based on the completed home value - with only a relatively low deposit required. Keep an eye on our website for more updates on Help to Build.

Alongside design and build quality, there is a third motivation for increasing the number of self-commissioned homes built. Rarely will you listen to a news bulletin, or visit a website, without the impact of climate change being discussed. With unreliable gas supplies, spiralling fuel costs, concerns around embodied carbon and a host of other factors, the performance and energy-efficiency of our homes is becoming increasingly important.

You will likely seek to embrace new innovations and technologies in your new home, with self built houses typically far exceeding building regulations. And this makes sense. As Simon Sinek suggests, we are programmed to listen to our ‘limbic’ brain – the oldest part of our brains, responsible for feelings, behaviour and decision making. For example, installing a solar array, linked to a battery storage system, and electric car port might not, currently, make short-term financial sense. However, it might simply ‘feel the right thing to do’. You may want to pursue these innovations to be a pioneer – with the concept of ‘payback’ not based purely on economics.

Time and time again during our events, workshops and courses you will hear about ‘fabric first’ principles, and the importance of designing out, or at least reducing, the requirement for external heating systems. A great example of this is one of our recent case studies. Angela & Simon Perry wanted an air-tight and thermally efficient home.

They also installed Mechanical Ventilation & Heat Recovery, Underfloor Heating and Solar, along with other systems, as in their words:

“we figured this might be the only time in our lives we ever do a self-build, and as it’s going to be our family home for at least the next 15 years, …we wanted it to be as perfect as we could afford”.

I wish you every success with your own project. Remember to enjoy the experience and be proud of being an early-adopter! The NSBRC is here, all year round, to support you.

Harvey Fremlin

Managing Director, NSBRC

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