The different ways to self-build

October 25, 2017

‘Self-building’ encompasses a whole range of different approaches. The level of involvement you choose is entirely up to you, but of course, there are financial benefits of taking on as much of the work as possible. Going down the self-build route means you can tailor the process to suit just how much time and budget you can devote to your project. Here we explore the different routes to self-building.


If you are either unwilling or unable to get too involved in the day-to-day processes, a ‘turnkey’ approach is where you delegate every aspect of the build to a single company. It is the simplest and therefore the most expensive choice. All that is required on your part is to tell the company what you want and to arrange the finance before choosing the fixtures and fittings.

Architect/Main contractor

Many self-builders use this route. The self-builder will find their plot, and then engage with a house designer (who may or may not be an architect) to come up with an agreed house design, specification and to obtain planning permission and Building Regulations approval. The architect/designer will then take control of the project if required or they may appoint a builder/main contractor who will then manage the project, bringing in the majority of their own materials and using their own network of local plumbers, electricians and so on to complete the project.

The architect will put the build out to tender, advise you on which contractor or trades to select and oversee the build – although they may only be prepared to keep a watchful eye on things rather than chasing around to make sure everything happens as it should, so ensure you clearly define their role from the outset.

One way to have more control is to employ a main contractor or package company to construct to a weathertight shell, and then take over the management at the first fix stage – paying carpenters, plumbers and electricians direct.

Project manager

An independent project manager can be employed to act on your behalf with the running of the project. This reduces your involvement but still allows you to have significant input throughout the build.

Professional project managers may be employed in their own right, but make sure you check their credentials. They should be able to undertake various aspects of your building project such as the pre-construction phase: producing cost reports for banks and building societies, assisting in finalising the specification and design, obtaining and assessing quotations, employing trades on our behalf and agreeing a programme of works with each contractor.

Once construction is underway a project manager should visit the site at appropriate stages and liaise with Building Control, contractors and the statutory authorities, issuing in writing any variations, conducting interim valuations, agreeing all final accounts and producing regular cost reports.

Project managing yourself

Many self-builders elect to organise their own projects by employing separate trades themselves, rather than leaving the whole job to a building contractor, architect or professional project manager.

There are huge financial savings to be had when taking this route, but the responsibility can sometimes prove overwhelming. DIY project management is often the choice for those on a tight budget. Undertaken successfully, it cuts out the middle man and organising everything yourself can save as much as 10 to 20 per cent of the overall cost.

This is an option not to be taken lightly as it may mean compromising your day job. Not only should you be prepared to research the topic carefully, expect your life to no longer be your own. Successful project management usually entails working closely with a trusted main contractor.


As simple as it sounds, it is possible but not easy to build a home using just your own labour. You can, if you wish, also design it yourself. The DIY self-builder will not only physically lay every block and brick, fix the roof structure and lay tiles, do all the plastering, plumbing and electrics – not to mention the foundations, floor structures, joinery, finishing and landscaping – but will also have to coordinate the delivery of materials and additional help when required either from friends or the certified professionals required to complete certain tasks (such as electrics). The commitment is obviously huge both in terms of effort and time, but the rewards are great, both financially (traditionally labour accounts for around 55% of the cost of any homebuilding project, so there are huge savings to be made) and in terms of the feeling of achievement. Don’t forget that regular inspections by the local Building Inspector and Warranty Inspector will ensure that any work you do meets set standards.

Mix and match

Many self-builders decide to mix and match several approaches. Projects can be split into different sections, commonly up to, and after, weathertight stage – and different approaches are taken for each section.

Whatever route you decide to take, comprising is key. You can save money, save time or ensure top quality, but you can’t have all three. Remember to be realistic. If you are both working full time, managing a building site is not for you.