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Why self build? Why custom build?


Community self build at Ashley Vale, Bristol

There are several reasons you may want to build your own house. Here are a few of them –

It’s fun and creative

Maybe this, above all, will be your chance to build what you feel to be a beautiful place to live. There is so much crappy housing being built that this is an opportunity to do better and really get what you want. You can use your creative skills in a unique way.

It achieves something financially that would otherwise be impossible

You can use your energy and time more productively than is possible in other ways of working. You can invest your energy to achieve a better house than you could otherwise afford.

It may be good for the environment

When you build a good house it might last for a hundred years, maybe several hundred. Why not design it to use the least energy possible, create the least pollution possible and provide the best environment for living in. Very often traditional builders shy away from new building techniques and the only way to achieve what you want is to do it yourself.

It’s part of a social network which is not available in the mass housing market

Maybe you want to live in some sort of social grouping which is not catered for in normal housing developments. This might be to do with a whole number of things such as –

  • Co-housing
  • Artist’s collectives
  • Sharing childcare or home education
  • Elderly people living together
  • Sexual orientation
  • Cultural or ethnic group
  • Common interest group
  • Permaculture / land settlement
  • Religious community
  • Eco villages and Eco Hamlets

the list could go on….. Some of these types of groups have open days and the Diggers and Dreamers web site has useful information

Ecological principles

Very few commercial house builders in the UK have any real commitment to green design. As a self builder you have the opportunity to make real changes in the way a building is designed and constructed. You can –

  • Save energy by using more insulation
  • Use materials which do the least harm to the environment
  • Save energy by using low energy lighting and appliances
  • Use materials which are safer to live with
  • Do less damage to (or possibly enhance) the land you build on

These are the main areas to look at but there are several more. Go to Green design overview to see more.

Higher Standards

The general quality of the housing supplied by volume builders in the UK is lamentable. This is graphically described in the short video The Future of Housing which goes into particular detail on the subject of air-tightness.

There are several areas where a self builder can achieve a higher standard –

All these aspects can be addressed by a self-builder and although the design will take more effort and there will be a small extra cost for building, they are all things that will add to the value of a house, particularly as standards and expectations increase in the future.


The large-scale house builders turn out the same old Tudorbethan nostalgia and offer very little you could really call modern or creative – let alone ecologically forward thinking!

Building or renovating your own house offers you an opportunity to be extremely creative, especially around environmental issues –

  • You may have been inspired by what you have seen in the media or on travels abroad
  • You may have always longed to try out some particular bit of green technology
  • You may simply think that eco-building is the way forward and will be a good investment

Whatever your motive, it may be a lifetime’s opportunity to create something unique and interesting.

Financial incentive

There are several situations where there might be a real financial gain in doing self build, rather than earning money in your own job and simply paying a builder –

  • You have spare time which can be usefully filled. For instance some people who are involved in child care routines find they can organise building work while kids are at school
  • You have access to materials which most building companies would not normally use in that way. An example would be someone who can get their hands on a lot of cheap timber and builds a timber house to a design that is not traditional
  • The phasing of different parts of a job would make using a normal builder more expensive. This can happen when improvement works and additions happen in a complicated order, particularly if you are living in the house at the same time
  • You have some skill which is financially advantageous to use, e.g. you are good at stone walling and you calculate that you can add more value to the house by doing it yourself than working for someone else
  • There is an abnormality you can exploit in local building costs. It sometimes happens that building prices rise rapidly for a period in certain locations and it pays to do it yourself
  • The situation where you want to move into a partly completed house in order to release equity from the sale of another house. In effect this is exchanging temporary ‘hardship’ for cash and is the reason so many self builders live in a mobile home or caravan on site for a year

There are also some very good reasons not to selfbuild.

2 comments to Why self build? Why custom build?

  • Jodie Boyd

    I am looking for self builds in the Gloucestershire area
    Please could you point me in the right direction

    Many thanks


  • john angel


    I am looking for self-build projects in Yorkshire, but am not having much luck.

    Do you have any suggestions as to where to look or explore?

    Thank you very much,
    John Angel

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