To Those Who Are Self-Building: Some Advice

Millions of people want to build their own home. But so few people ever do. And of those people that do, even fewer make a good job of it.

That’s because building your own home is a complicated business. There are materials to consider, dozens of contractors to manage and suppliers, as well as technical issues relating to the build.

Home Building

Many people make the mistake of thinking that because they’ve managed big projects before, they’ll be OK. But managing a build requires a particular skill set that few people have. It’s not one of those things you can learn either. It’s a skill that has to be acquired through experience.

That’s why I’ve put together some advice for those considering building their own home. Do it wrong, and it’ll become the bane of your life. Do it right, and it will exceed your wildest expectations.

Defer To The Architect

The people who want their own homes tend to be a discerning bunch. They know exactly how they want their house to look. But all too often this will conflict with what is architecturally sound.

A better approach is to give an architect a rough brief. Then let them fill in the gaps with ideas that will actually work within your timescale and budget. Too often homeowners expect an unrealistic level of control over the design process. But in the end, it’s not standards that suffer, it’s their wallet.

Consider Your Site Orientation

Not only is location important, but so too is the orientation of the site. If you’re building a new house to be greener, or just want to save on heating bills, the position of your home matters.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, then make sure that the biggest windows on your build face south. You’ll get extra warmth and light during the cooler months.

Use The Correct Materials

All too often, self-builders will use the wrong materials for their circumstances. By all means go for standard building practices if you are building a house on the outskirts of a town with a calm, temperate climate. But if you’re going off the beaten track, or building somewhere more exposed, you’ll need to go heavy duty.

If you are building a log home, for instance, you’ll have to invest in products that seal your home from the elements. I’m talking about the kind of stuff you’d see online at

Employ A Site Manager

Many homebuilders try to save money by not hiring a site manager. This is because site managers can often come with a price tag of $75,000 a year, which isn’t cheap.

But a good site manager with a proven track record will be able to deliver your brief. And more often than not, they’ll earn their money by reducing build costs, avoiding delays and reducing stress.

As I alluded to earlier, trying to manage your own site is tough. You’re unlikely to get everything right first time, and may end up making serious errors.

Have Every Item Priced In

When signing the contract with builders, make sure you account for every expense. Don’t leave any items off the list. You want a package that isn’t going to throw up any nasty surprises.

As long as the brief doesn’t change, builders will have to abide by the agreement they signed. Both the architect and the builder should be able to confirm that the prices set are realistic.

Interview Different Architects

Different architects have different personalities. So that’s why it’s so important to find one that you can relate to. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time consulting with them at various stages of the build.

Great architects are those who can deliver your vision in the most efficient way. Always be on the lookout for architects who can come up with win-win ideas that both meet your needs and are feasible within your budget.

Keep Negotiating On Price

The real thorn in the side of self-builders are all the little, unplanned expenses. If possible negotiate the price down at every opportunity. Even a 5% percent saving can eventually add up over time.

Do Some Work Yourself

Often it’s possible to save a lot of money by completing certain elements of the build yourself. This might mean painting the interiors or doing some brick work.

Sometimes you can stand to save a significant amount of money. Suppose you are building on a site that’s home to an old wooden bungalow due to be knocked down. Instead of getting in the contractors, who might charge up to $10,000 to clear the site, do it yourself.

Hire a skip and pick up a sledgehammer and pull the building down yourself. It’ll be hard work, but you could save over $9,000.

Buy Your Own Materials

Most builders will offer to buy in materials for you for the sake of convenience. But often they’re not on the lookout for the best deals.

Even though they get trade prices, it might end up being cheaper if you sourced your own materials. This is especially true if you want any bespoke items. Costs can vary markedly, and offers can come and go, almost at random.

Declare Your Budget Is Lower Than It Is

It’s almost certain that the costs of your build will overrun whatever initial budget you have. That’s why many people aren’t telling their architect their actual budget. They’re building in a margin of safety right from the start.

The architect will then go away and plan a house that fits a lower budget. The problem is that architects are usually overly optimistic about what can be achieved on an individual budget. Yes, it might be possible to complete a build for the price you asked, but it’s usually a best case scenario. Things will likely turn out differently in the real world.

So there you have it. Some advice for those attempting self-build. Self-builds are never an easy thing to do, but there is plenty of help out there. Sites like break it down, step by step.