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John & Sylvia Downe

John & Sylvia Downe's finished self build project

John and Sylvia designed and self-managed the construction of a modern flat-pack house shell following the demolition of the existing 1960s property.

Floor Plans

What is the floor area of your project in sq ft or sq m?

240sqm over 3 floors including integral garage.

Ground Floor and Basement.jpg

First Floor and Roof.jpg

Elevations - Downe.jpg

Could you tell us any interesting facts or remarkable features about your project?

The shell came on 9 lorries from Germany and was water tight in just over 4 days despite strong winds interrupting the crane lifting the sections into place.

Experience at the Centre

How many times have you visited The National Self Build and Renovation Centre before?

10 times approximately.

What would you say is the most helpful feature or resource at the NSBRC?

Browsing options and ideas, talking to potential suppliers at shows, and the Project Management and Heating Courses.

Did you use any exhibitors at the NSBRC? If so, who?

Niko, Earth Save Products, Hormann, Tesla, Ugly Fish, Bamboo Floors, and BuildStore.

What did you enjoy most about your visit to the NSBRC?

Courses and Exhibition days, being able to browse solutions in a relaxed atmosphere with no sales pressure.

Would you recommend the NSBRC to a friend, and if so, what aspects of the Centre would you recommend and why?

We have taken several friends there – the Shows and Courses would be our key recommendations.

John & Sylvia’s Self Build Experience

What first inspired you to undertake project – what did you hope to achieve?

We were unable to find the house we wanted in the location required – so we decided to buy an existing 1960s built house and concluded that re-using the plot rather updating it was the best approach.


What was the cost & size of the land?

£430,000 and 0.08HA.


How did you find the land? Do you have any tips for others currently searching for a plot?

Just closely watching RightMove etc. and not constraining the search criteria so that alternative options are seen.


Did you have any issues getting your planning permission granted or with building control?

All our Planning Applications were approved albeit with some local objections. No Building Control issues.


Why did you choose your method of construction?

After an initial “blind alley” with an architect design which turned out to be too expensive to construct, we sought an approach which gave us greater certainty over the cost of a key element of the construction (i.e. the externally finished, weatherproof house shell). We were given a fixed (euro) price for our design in June 2017 which was honoured when it was delivered in September 2018.


Did you use a project manager, or did you choose to self project manage?

We self-managed the project and delegated to trusted, knowledgeable partners – for example the house shell to Weberhaus, our structural engineer for the groundworks and basement, a local builder for the traditional trades, EarthSave for the heating and ventilation, Swindon Home Control for the automation and electrics and help from a professional on the Building Control details and submissions.


What was your budget and were you able to stick to it?

We had a clear budget from the start and we achieved the house we wanted on budget.


What is the value of the property now?

The goal of our project was to build a house for us to live in and in the area in which we wanted to live. Given the cost of the original plot and house that we demolished, it was always anticipated that the costs would exceed the completed market value. We didn’t build to make money but we are thoroughly enjoying the house – we think that is where our “profit” of the exercise has come from.


Did you reclaim the VAT, and if so, how much were you able to reclaim?

Yes - £8000. The house shell, groundworks, trades were all exempt so this was mainly bathrooms, fixed flooring and other fixtures we acquired ourselves.


What aspects of the process did you find stressful – and do you have any tips on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered?

The basement construction was the most stressful part of the project due to the looming deadline of the house shell arrival and the tolerances they required plus the technical aspects of subterranean building. Also, deciding many crucial details for electrics and plumbing for the German factory purely based on drawings months before we had a physical building to work with.


What did you find most enjoyable about working on your project?

Finding and working with specialists in the M&E disciplines, sourcing elements like the stone floors and lighting.


What is one of your favourite features about your project?

Our whole house – lighting, window blinds, individual room thermostats is managed by a single automation system (Niko) which also integrates with voice systems and other devices such as the ventilation system. It is very reliable and also flexible so we can reconfigure how lights and other parts of the system operate.


How did you tailor your home to suit your lifestyle?

We wanted a highly energy efficient, comfortable home with low running costs and these aspects were designed in from the start. We hope that the interior layout will be flexible enough to allow us to live here for many years to come.


Is there a possibility you would ever undertake another project in the future?

It is hard to imagine why we would want to move elsewhere now although if we had to do it again we feel we would be much better equipped to do so!


If so, is there anything you would do differently?

We wouldn’t make the same mistake regarding the commitment to an initial design which turned out to be an unaffordable traditional construction. Get an initial design you are happy with inside and out and then seek either a traditional Quantity Surveyor outline costing or construction quote from a shell / turnkey provider before spending too much on detailed designs, planning and structural engineering work.


What would your top tip be for other NSBRC Visitors about to embark on their first self build or home improvement journey?

Get yourselves well clued up on lots of the detail and make sure you at least understand the main elements of self-building project management. Be VERY wary and sceptical of anyone giving you overall construction costs per square metre for budgeting purposes. Our experience at the time was that these guides were highly misleading and about 50% of what they should have been.