Tag Archives: self-build

So tell me, how is your build going?

Since building my own house I am still very much interested in what other self-builders Blog small
are up to. I sometimes mourn the fact that Mr Clark and I probably won’t be taking on another build in the near future, so I reckon the next best thing would be to poke my snoot into other people’s business.

As luck would have it I know some people who are building their own homes at the moment. They have kindly accepted my request for an interview, and happily enough are more than pleased to be able pass on their essential top tips to other aspiring housebuilding adventurers.

This week I had the great fortune to talk to a friend who is just starting out on his build after many months of preparation. We will mysteriously call him Mr X. Why? I hear you ask. Well I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you, let’s leave it there.

 

I met Mr X at a café near his build, and as I slurped my latte and he drank tea and ate a chocolate brownie I asked him:

What type of build are you taking on?

We completely demolished an existing house, so everything is being done from scratch. The groundworks have just been finished using a raft construction, and the timber frame, which is being manufactured off-site, will be put together on-site. We already had the utility connections but had to reroute electric and telephone connections to the next door neighbour’s house, which cost a fair bit of money. We have a contingency budget for those kinds of things.

What gave you the idea to build your own home?

We’ve got a big family and have been looking for a house with enough space to grow into. There was nothing affordable in the area so we started looking for alternatives and the most obvious path was to build our own house. We wanted our four children to be able to have their own space do their homework and music practice in peace and quiet, and also have a garden big enough for a game of football. We looked at build websites and magazines and could see potentially how much it would cost to build a place – we did our sums and thought … maybe we could do that. We found a plot locally that could contain a house big enough.

Are you using a main contractor or using subcontractors?

Subcontractors and a professional project manager.

What was your reason for making this choice?

Money. Also the project manager is working for us and a main contractor would have his loyalties split between his workforce, his own network of subcontractors and us.

I know that you have renovated houses before, are you planning to do any of the work yourselves?

We would rather have professionals do it. The opportunity for us to earn the money to pay the project manager and subcontractors is bigger than the savings we would make by doing the work ourselves.

Did you have some input into the design of your house along with the architect?

Yes, basically we did some back-of-envelope drawings for the architect as well as providing him with a wish list of things that we wanted, and he combined both to come up with a design. He is very much a champion of an environmentally friendly ‘fabric first’ approach to building. (Mr X is lucky enough to have Charlie Luxton as his architect).

We tried not to scrimp and save on essentials like insulation. To save money we might potentially leave some parts of the build unfinished, because you can’t redo insulation but you can always go back and finish things off. We didn’t go for an air source or ground source heat pump or any of those fancy ways to fuel a house, we are going for a gas boiler because the technology is efficient and the energy usage is going to be small. The point is to use as little energy as possible. We made it clear in our planning application that it is a very high performing house in regards to energy saving.

How easy was it for you to get planning permission?

Initially we applied for outline planning permission and the planners rejected it – they said the house looked too imposing and not quite in keeping with the rest of the street. We adapted the design and also hired a planning consultant to help the architect to submit new plans – he came up with some really good ideas and we got permission. I believe that most planning offices have planning portals so that neighbours and members of the community can use them to type in comments. Generally these things are put in place so people can make objections. There were four comments submitted from neighbours, three of which were in support of the application.

What difficulties, if any, have you encountered so far?

The most recent difficulty has been that the part of the foundations which will be supporting the brick skin will have to come up. When the concrete was poured, it wasn’t tamped down properly so there are air pockets in the concrete. This means that if there is water ingress and the steels rust it could expand to several times its current volume, which will obviously cause problems for the brickwork. We consulted the structural engineer and he wasn’t happy with leaving it, so it will have to be relaid.

What effect has your building project had on you and your family?

We haven’t had a holiday, we don’t buy stuff and it has taken a long time. You have got to get it right – it is very important with a timber frame; you have to get the details nailed down before you start the build. There have been delays, there are the sacrifices we made because of finances and it has taken up a lot of my time. Every part of it so far has had delays and difficulties, but stress-wise – I haven’t found it stressful yet.

What keeps you awake at night concerning your build?

Money really, because at the moment we haven’t got enough money to finish it. Everyone says that building can be a strain on everything including your relationships, but I am prepared for that. I also think it is important to have a high level of trust in the people who are working on the project – you’ve got to get really good people who will sort things out.

What is your estimated build cost?

Not including architect’s fees, the cost of the land, or management fees it is £348K.

What is your estimated build time?

The demolition started in August 2015 and the house will be finished in April 2016 (but there was a big run up to the start of the build). You have to think ahead and make all your decisions up-front – everything, even the position of the taps because you have to put the utility pipes in the foundations.

Do you have any tips for aspiring builders?

  • Get people who are really knowledgeable and who you really trust, and are also completely loyal to you professionally – people who are prepared to be adaptable and are able to question their own knowledge and expertise; because things develop and technologies change.
  • Question everything, absolutely everything from the smallest detail.
  • It’s your house. It’s not like buying something from a shop, you can get whatever you want, that’s the exciting part, and because of that the costs can escalate. You need to keep a spreadsheet and a really tight account of every decision you make, as well as the to-do list. Eventually you’ll be looking at costs that are only a small percentage of the total build cost, but if you stop to think about it, they could all add up, so don’t let flights of fancy get away with you.
  • Get a really good idea of costs. We got two estimates from quantity surveyors but they were massively high and weren’t really realistic. Our project manager reviewed them with a dose of realism. We made a Gantt chart for the stages of the build. At first it was very difficult to get an outline of realistic costs and time scales, but when we got these we had some sort of grounding on which to make decisions.

Mr X cycled off into the afternoon sunshine, but before he went he agreed to be interviewed again further into his build. During the interview he had drawn a sketch in my notepad of what his house will  look like (plan and elevations) and I, wanting to see the site, went off in my car to have a look (obviously). I drove down a leafy road and sure enough, there was the site in a fantastic location. The sight of Heras fencing made my heart skip a nostalgic beat. I will probably sneak a peek every now and again to see how they are getting on. I expect the builders will wonder who the small blonde middle-aged prowler is, but I reckon there are worse hobbies than build-spotting.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Mr X for taking the time to talk to me. I’m very much looking forward to hearing all about how his build is progressing in our next interview. Here are some pictures of his build so far…

 

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How to build a house

If we hadn’t built our own house where would we be, who knows? The Queen herself advocated that local authorities create a register of people interested in building their own homes and that they make provision for innovative self-build projects. Perhaps she’ll put some plans in for a new castle – she’ll have to put her name down on the list though.

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/selfbuildandcustomhousebuilding.html

A house built by a property developer can’t possibly provide the level of detail pertinent to your tastes; they don’t know your mind and which taps you would like. Every decision made when we built our house formed our home. To have the freedom to choose what you want is rare – we are bound by limitations, there is no question about that, but allowing for these and with the help of a good architect you can build a beautiful home. In a neighbouring village there are some castellated big modern houses in the middle of a picturesque village, I often wonder how they got past the planning police and who actually bought them with their postage stamp sized gardens. (Maybe it was Her Maj the Queen having a go at affordable housing).

We built our house to fit in with the local vernacular, but if we’d had free reign would we have done anything different? Probably not, we wouldn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb in a small village- well not on the outside anyway. Imagine the comments.

I have some friends just about to embark on a build. I congratulate them for getting their planning permission – not an easy task, but worth the effort in the long run. Having built a house and knowing what is involved I can imagine the road ahead for them, but every build is different; every subcontractor has a different number of sugars in their tea and every district council has their own planning officer, some who wear high heels and don’t give you any hassle, and some who don’t and who mess with your choice of bricks.

Good luck all you self-builders out there. If I can be of any help let me know.

If you’d like to read about my journey over the rubble pile and back again, you can buy Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure from this website or from Amazon.co.uk in paperback or on Kindle. It is packed with top tips and genuine insights into life on the building site.

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Do you need more storage? An Ikea Pax wardrobe might float your boat.

Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure is available in paperback from this website or from Amazon.co.uk in paperback or on Kindle.

Well … I have made my first foray into writing an article for a magazine – I am very happy indeed and feel really lucky to have been given the opportunity. I was invited to write the article for the April edition of i-build magazine and I am very pleased with the result – thank you editor Emily Smith.

Self-building is a big life changing experience and writing the book is another. When I wrote the article I was thinking of other self-builders battling the wind and rain trying to get their build watertight – as being watertight is a major achievement and signals a significant step in the process of building a home. I suppose April showers are all part of the process. If you are building at the moment I feel for you, but hang on in there; it’ll be worth it, there is light at the end of the chilly and damp tunnel. One day you’ll look back fondly – it’s amazing how you forget the sogginess (but you do).

I don’t know if you have read my previous ramblings, but I have said in the past that I wish we had built in more storage at the time of the build. Well, Mr Clark and I took the plunge and now we have a fabulous Ikea Pax wardrobe.  Actually it isn’t just a wardrobe; it is a whole wall of storage with drawers and shelves, which we customised for the space with the help of a lovely young lady at the Southampton branch. We went to Ikea for dinner – who doesn’t love their meatballs – and came away with a printout of exactly what our wardrobe would look like. When it arrived, Mr C put it all together himself … he demolished a light fitting in the process but I think he enjoyed the challenge. It prompted an overdue spring clean which can only be a good thing and Oxfam will be happy.

As I wipe the salad cream off the ends of my hair (I’ve just had my dinner) and the dinner medals off my jumper, I would just like to say – before I have a glass of Chardonnay, thank you for reading my blog. It would be lovely to hear from you if you felt like dropping me a line.

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Are you sticking to your Gripfill gun – or is it sticking to you?

It seems to me that Twitter is one ginormous cocktail party, where sadly you have to get your own drinks and canapés but where amazingly you can wear your jim jams and it doesn’t even matter. When I started tweeting to advertise my book, I was scared stiff and didn’t dare press any keys on my computer in case I tweeted something by mistake, or inadvertently insulted someone – because as any Twitter user knows, etiquette is all important (little finger in the air as the author sips Chardonnay).

How incredible it is to be able to hook up with like-minded, well-known or even famous people who you admire and who, amazingly enough, might even spread the word about your scribblings. How else would I have heard the news about Jeremy Clarkson not quite punching somebody? Well … actually Mr Clark told me, but even so …

Sometimes the thought of doing a thing is daunting. I’m sure Jeremy would have (had he thought about it) been daunted at the fallout of his actions. As a punishment I think he ought to be made to clean cars in Sainsburys car park for at least 6 months – a fitting community service and you never know, he might even lose his jeans overhang.

Daunting or not, building your own house will be worth it, and there will always be someone you can tweet who might be able to help you. Take it from me; never employ builders who don’t speak any English, unless you can speak their language of course. Think your build costs through – it is most important especially if you have a tight budget. Buildstore can help you with their build costs calculator. If your carpenter ends up taking the p** and asks you for some very expensive fixings that aren’t in the budget, just say ‘no – use some bl**** nails’ and stick to your guns, (hopefully not to your Gripfill gun, even though I expect you will find that it will come in very handy – Gripfill being the stickiest and toughest substance on earth).

Talking of tweeting, my mum has a clock that chirps with a different sort of bird on each hour. The other day she went outside and heard a blackbird – strange she thought, it can’t be eight o’clock yet. I told her it’s the Pavlov’s dog effect. She has been conditioned by her clock! – now that could be a military strategy, if you have read The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson you’ll know what I mean.

I’m tweeting like a demon now – give me a tweet @mudandmarriage

If you want more advice about do’s and don’ts on a self-build, you’ll find them in my book Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure, available to buy from Amazon.co.uk  (Kindle version now available) or from this website.

And on that bombshell … What an adventure it was!

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You can ‘self’ do it too!

From self-building to self-publishing, I say all a person needs is a bit of grit and determination and probably a deep need to be in control. You may be on the cusp of a ’self ‘project and I am here to say that it isn’t as scary as you think it is – help is at hand.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a control freak (others might). Mr Clark says that I am fussy – I say that I am just a bit particular, but we both agree that if you want something done properly –do it yourself and for those things you can’t, pay someone else to do them (or if it is your sister, just ask nicely).

You may not know anything about ground source heat pumps or where to put your punctuation after a bracket, but there will be someone who does. I think the best way to learn about something is from talking to an actual human being – as well as Googling of course. The internet does have its place in gathering essential information – how else would I know how to cook Jamie Oliver’s sticky ribs recipe or even how to recognise a sociopath?

Homebuilding shows are brilliant for self-builders, not only for gleaning information from suppliers but from random conversations you may strike up with other self-builders as you eat your sandwiches. One such conversation gave me and Mr Clark the confidence to do it ourselves. (We also managed to get quite a good supply of free pens and sweets from the stands).

This week we went to Bath Literature Festival and I went to seminar given by the lovely Flic Everett on ‘how to promote your self-published book’ (while Mr Clark went to see his e-bike friend and ate his way around the city). Not only did I come away with some extremely valuable nuggets of information but I met some really lovely people too, all like me on the quest to do it themselves.

Mr Clark and I also visited the aptly named Topping and Co booksellers where I had the great fortune to meet and chat with a fabulous young lady who works in the shop and who gave me some very sound advice.

I’m not under any illusion that a ‘self’ project is easy – I’ve built a house – but it was a worth all the hard work and I still have a great sense of satisfaction, especially when I look back at the photos I’m submitting for magazine articles which document the build from start to finish. I’m still on my upward self-publishing trajectory – who knew what was involved without a publisher! As I get to grips with it, I must remember when I am checking my blog ‘stats’ (yet again) that getting out into the world and talking with people is paramount in enjoying the journey – and that is after all, in my eyes, what it is all about.

If you would like to know how you can build your own house there are some handy hints in my book Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure, available from Amazon.co.uk (now available on Kindle) or from this website.

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The Bath Literature Festival:  http://bathfestivals.org.uk/literature/

Book cover design: www.katenorthover.co.uk

Art blogger L.E Wright https://lewright.wordpress.com

Homebuilding shows:

http://www.homebuildingshow.co.uk/

http://www.granddesignslive.com/

http://www.buildshow.co.uk/

http://www.nsbrc.co.uk/

 

5 top tips for self-builders

  1. Get like-for-like quotes if you can.
  1. Always check the work somebody has done before they go, and get them to explain what they have done.
  1. Mark everything out exactly where you want it in case you aren’t on-site when the work is done.
  1. If you are a site manager, invest in some skiing salopettes from a charity shop for the winter, they keep out draughts and prevent builders’ bum.
  1. Don’t put a roll of lead behind your car seat and put the brakes on hard.

There are lots more top tips in my book Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure. Available to buy from this website or from Amazon.co.uk http://po.st/wJ1KZW

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Ready to roll!

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At last after a long self-publishing journey, I feel like Frodo eventually getting back to the Shire after braving the fires of Mordor. Luckily I have had not just one, but a few Samwise the Braves to help me on my way. Unlike Frodo I won’t be going off on a boat with Gandalf, I will be in the (Berk)shire awaiting orders for books and sending them off post-haste.

If you want an insight into building a house or even what to wear at a job interview, this book is for you. Perhaps you might like to know what a nogging is, or even the benefits of wearing salopettes in a draught.

Mostly you will get a frank look at life at the coalface of a self-build while all around is just life as we know it, of course with its funny side, but also its harsh side.

I’m very happy indeed to be able to set the book free into the world. I hope you enjoy reading it.

You can order the book here

Have you built in enough storage?

It’s been six years now since we moved into our self-built house. Seasons come and seasons go, and as I get my cold weather clothes out ready for a windy West Berkshire winter, I realise once again that we still need more storage. You might have thought that as Mr Clark and I had a hand in the design of our own house build that we would have come up with ingenious storage solutions. Sadly we haven’t as yet. Those built in wardrobes and cupboards still haven’t manifested but are at the top of my list. Mr Clark is thinking about upgrading his raised vegetable beds. I am thinking I would like to get my clothes off that temporary rail in the spare room.

Top tip* If you are building a house, think about storage and build it into your budget at the start. If you don’t ,you might find that a moth has eaten your best Karen Millen Jacket because it somehow found its way out of the clothes storage bag under your bed and has been decimated, or even in this case desiccated and has had to be put in the bin … or as Mr Clark helpfully suggested, ‘don’t have stuff’.

cropped-mudmarriage-book-cover-04The book is at the printers and will be available soon. Get the Launchpad ready!

Are you just about to embark on a self-build?

After three months of editing, proofreading and formatting, I am nearly ready to send off for my proof copy of the book –phew! Who knew the amount of work that goes into producing a book after you’ve written it?  Not me. I do now.

What colour paper to go for, cream or white?  Cream looks more like a novel and less like a text book. Cream it is then, but apparently it will expand my spine width.

My sister-in-law Catherine has been doing a fabulous job with formatting the text and pictures and guiding me through the self-publishing process, and my sister Kate has designed a magnificent book cover. This is my first blog, and is coming to you only because of the help of my good friend and social media guru Jenni Collins. I am really lucky to have such talented friends and family to help me on my way.

Are you just about to embark on a self-build?  If you are, I am truly envious. I would do it all again tomorrow, albeit with a limitless budget!  But for now I have to think about a venue to launch Mud & Marriage – A Housebuilding Adventure. Another dilemma, although not as tricky as choosing which tiles to buy for a newly battened roof.

Canapés and champagne, or cheese twists and chardonnay?  Yet again it’s a budget issue. We’ll see. I will just want to celebrate the fact that I have a finished copy of the book in my hand, and that I can share it with the world.

Happy days.