Is there any further information that you wish to add about your project – interesting facts, remarkable features?
This is our second self-build. One downside of self-building is that you become intolerant of designs that are not perfect for you, so when you need to move house, self-build becomes the only option. We sold our first self-build and felt there was no way we would buy a house on the market - it had to start again with our own design!
I self-managed the whole project while Richard was in full time employment. We did much of the work ourselves, taking on specialist help mostly on daily rates with a few exceptions such as the roof membrane, the air source heat pump and windows installations which were quoted as jobs. We have taken this approach as we have learnt that by careful management you can save a fortune by only working with tradesman on a daily rate. We simply did not have the budget to pay a builder or have everything job priced.
We wanted to use hand knapped flint and had real difficulties finding a craftsman to help us with this. After a few false starts we found a master craftsman who stayed with us for 3 months to lay each flint individually. We even had flint quoins hand knapped, with no brick or stone used for corners.
We wanted a wildflower roof, but we were advised against this by suppliers as they are apparently too difficult to establish and suggested we go with sedum instead. I am delighted to say that we ignored this advice and committed extra effort to establish our wildflower roof. It looks amazing now and is so much better for the wildlife. It took us 2 years to establish it but now it’s practically maintenance free except once a year cutting it back.
There are so many features about this house we love. It is not your traditional square house; it has number of angles and it is on different levels to accommodate the slope on the site.
The main kitchen/dining/family room is the most used, but we really like how the property was designed following the sun; having large windows brings the light and warmth in.
Our sitting room has a picture window 4.5m wide by 1.5m tall. It was so heavy it took 7 men to install it. The view through is just amazing as we have fields and a valley surrounding our house.
Of course, we did have plenty of challenges with some suppliers and tradesman - but who doesn’t. It is naive to think you can complete a self-managed project like this without issues. We pulled together and resolved the obstacles as they came along to achieve our goal. You quickly learn to be resilient and resourceful.
What is the floor area of your project in sq ft or sq m?
Please click on the images to view the full floorplans.
How many times have you visited The National Self Build and Renovation Centre before?
Lots of times - 50+!
What would you say is the most helpful feature or resource at the NSBRC?
The inspiration gained, the desire/encouragement to self build you get as well as the sources of information and advice readily available.
Did you use any exhibitors at the NSBRC? If so, who?
We used Nu-Heat Underfloor Heating, BCP ventilation, Build It Magazine, CVC Direct, Icynene, Jeldwen, JG Speedfit, Kingspan, Kohler Mira Ltd and Self Build and Design Magazine (Silvia’s favourite!).
What did you enjoy most about your visit to the NSBRC?
We used to spend hours at the Centre just imagining what we can achieve together – our dream house.
Would you recommend the NSBRC to a friend, and if so, what aspects of the Centre would you recommend and why?
Definitely - and we already did! We mostly spent weekends there, we completed the Self Build Course which was extremely helpful especially with our first self build as there are so many unknowns.
What first inspired you to undertake project – what did you hope to achieve?
Richard and I have always dreamed of building our own home, being in charge and having a house to fit our specific needs. We came across the NSBRC during our research and our numerous visits made us believe that we really could undertake such a project.
What was the cost & size of the land?
A quarter of an acre - £300,000
How did you find the land? Do you have any tips for others currently searching for a plot?
We found the dilapidated bungalow with a planning permission sign outside. We got in touch with the owners and made an offer. We were lucky that we managed to buy it before it went onto the market. It seems that once the plots are on the public market their prices increase so much that it would have put us out as we did not have a large enough budget to undertake this project.
Did you have any issues getting your planning permission granted or with building control? If so – why was this?
We bought the bungalow with failed planning permission in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty outside of the village settlement boundary. We took a massive risk but we believed that by using the right team of planning experts we would be granted the planning. I selected the perfect planning consultant and landscape architect. Their expertise was second to none and we were granted planning with no changes requested by council – it was approved first time, despite the complexities of this specific site.
Why did you choose your method of construction?
We wanted to achieve as air tight a house as possible. Also, the construction of using ICF looks cheap but actually is not. Yes, buying the forms is pretty cheap but there are so many other costs which the companies don’t mention. Ultimately, we are glad we used ICF as the house is super air tight.
Did you use a project manager, or did you choose to self project manage?
We self project managed and I highly recommend using either a dedicated project manager or self managing as opposed to using a builder to do the whole job. There are too many advantages to list here.
What was your budget and were you able to stick to it?
We went into the project with a £300,000 budget, but very early in the planning stage we realised that double this figure would be needed to achieve our complete vision. We recognised the opportunity that we faced with this superb site and felt the investment would be justified.
What was the main reason for the overspend?
We worked to our adjusted budget and controlled these costs well. There were some specific areas that cost significantly more than we had originally planned. Our flint walls were very expensive both in terms of materials and labour. We did not have a real understanding of how long and how expensive the flint laying is. However, I would not change it as it looks amazing.
Additional budget was applied throughout the house where we have upgraded hugely on second fit. Higher specifications were achieved with the external cedar cladding, all bathrooms, kitchen and staircase. To achieve the high air tightness and superior SAP rating, involved higher spend throughout the build, especially with the Icynene sprayfoam in the roof and ceilings.
What is the value of the property now?
Did you reclaim the VAT, and if so, how much were you able to reclaim?
Yes, we did. We claimed around £40,000 and did our VAT return ourselves. Self-builders can only make a single reclaim unlike builders who can reclaim every quarter. This puts self-builders at a great disadvantage from a cash-flow perspective. We put off making the claim for as long as possible, but carried on spending and incurring VAT costs well after the claim, and could not get any of that back.
What aspects of the process did you find stressful – and do you have any tips on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered?
I wished that tradesman were more honest about their own skills and abilities. This was difficult to judge on meeting them for the very first time. You only really learn about them when they are working for you. This is why we had everybody on daily rate so we were not tied to using a particular person if we did not get on with them or if indeed the tradesmen could not do the job to our specifications.
What did you find most enjoyable about working on your project?
I really enjoyed the project as a whole. I found the planning application process extremely interesting. The flint laying and first fix part was most enjoyable and of course decorating and furnishing was super exiting too.
What is one of your favourite features about your project?
Oh I don’t think we do have one! We love everything about our home - it is our dream house. Perhaps our super large picture window in the sitting room. We have amazing views and we have large landscape windows in each room to benefit from these amazing views.
How did you tailor your home to suit your lifestyle?
We like our open plan kitchen/dining room/family for gathering and entertaining with bifold doors opening onto the patio. We have split the upstairs into 2 wings: the children’s wing which has 3 bedrooms and the other wing has a guest room and master bedroom.
Is there a possibility you would ever undertake another project in the future?
Absolutely, without a doubt.
If so, is there anything you would do differently?
I would ask the architect to prepare building regs too. That’s of course if you have an architect you get on with - we did not have that privilege.
What would your top tip be for other NSBRC Visitors about to embark on their first self build or home improvement journey?
Don’t be scared. It’s possible to build your dream home. Talk to other self builders for advice and let them share their story with you. Project manage yourself or hire project manager. Don’t hire a builder who will do the whole job for you. Get individual trades in and manage it. It’s the best way to get exactly what you want.
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