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Introduction to Self Build & Property Renovation Hints, Tips and Ideas
The idea of the following “Hints, Tips and Ideas” is to give you a “nudge” in the right direction for your Self Build Project. - If you are new to Self Build, or even if you are an “Old Hand” reading everything listed below may give you some new ideas, or make you think about things in a different way, enabling you to then go forward and make your own decisions for your own project, based on what you have learnt. - Each of these tips has the potential to save you money or to create a better finished project, so the more you read, the better equipped you will be to make the best decision for each part of the project. - We also recommend that before you start, that you read as much of “Self Build Simplified” as you can. – It’s like an extended version of what you will find in this section, and covers many of these ideas in more detail and depth. - Always do your own research before putting any ideas into practice. - We will constantly be updating this section with new hints tips and ideas, so it’s worth popping back every now and then
Step 1: Think about what you want and Sketch it out yourself:
When you want to get your designs done for your new home, who is the best person to decide what you want and need? - YOU!
If you go to a designer without giving your “needs” and “wants” and thought, you could find you end up with a design that is not your own, but instead, someone else’s ideas based on what you tell them at your first meeting.
To stop this happening, We suggest that before making any appointments with Architects or Designers, you sit down yourselves and a) Make a list of the things you are hoping to achieve from the project, and B) make some sketches of the sorts of designs you would like, for the appearance and the layout.
Not only will this help you make sure that you get what you want and need, but it will also save you money on the design because the designer won’t have to start from scratch.
Have a look at the relevant sections of “Self Build simplified for more detail on how to go about this process – see:
How to sketch your design:
Getting some sketches that will be good enough to take with you to a designer is not a difficult thing to do, but you DO need to try to make sure they are roughly to scale. – If you take drawings which aren’t to scale, you may find that you have wasted your time as the chances are that all the “bits” of the design won’t work in reality the way you have drawn them on your piece of paper.
To get sketches that are reasonably to scale, you will need preferably: A3 paper, a Scale Rule, a Set Square, “2H” pencils and a proper drawing pen. – You should be able to buy all this for about £20
You will find that most houses will fit onto the A3 paper at a scale of 1:50
To find out more about this process, read the relevant section in “Self Build Simplified”.
Who is best to use to design your house?
Most people tend to think that they need to go straight to an R.I.B.A (Royal Institute of British Architects) Architect to get designs done. – In fact, although architects generally give a very good service, and can often give you such things as “walk through’s” and “3D Detailed Rendering” they can be expensive, and you don’t necessarily have to use them.
Your other options are:
i) Use a Qualified Draughtsperson – Who will often be just as “able” as an R.I.B.A Architect. But may not be R.I.B.A registered. – Sometime you will find that these people have smaller set ups, and may be a bit cheaper
ii) Use a “Draughstman”. – This is generally someone who may or may not have formal “Drawing” qualifications, but who can quite easily “knock up” a set of drawings for a house. – Don’t be scared off by their lack of qualifications. – Houses are actually very easy to design. – I am not qualified at all, but I can draw up a set of house plans in a short time as long as it doesn’t get too intricate and complicated (I have a saying that if you scribble me a sketch on the back of a fag packet, I’ll build it for you!). – The important thing from a “structural” point of view is that you get the Building Regulations” right. – This is where all the important details go. – The Visual appearance and layout is more to do with the “artistic” side of the project, and many people can quiet adequately prepare what you will need.
iii) You can even consider doing the designs yourself if you are semi competent at “Technical Drawing” and can draw to scale and tidily. – If you did a bit of research into wall thickness, ceiling heights, floor construction etc, you may find that you could do the Architectural drawings to such a degree that you could then hand them over to a specialist to draw them up for Building Regs.
Have a look at the relevant section of “Self Build Simplified” for more information on this process, at: URL
The simplest design shape is a square:
If your budget is tight and you want to make the most of every pound spent, the best shape to design for your new home is a square. – I’ll explain why with a simple mathematical equation:
Take a building measuring 10m x 10m sq. – It will have an external wall perimeter of 40m, enclosing 100 m sq for each floor (10m x 10m).
Say it is 5m high over 2 floors
It will have an external wall area of 200m sq, enclosing 200 m sq over the two storeys, so every 1m sq gives 1 m sq of internal space.
Now, take a building measuring 15m x 5m, again 5 m high.
Each floor now encloses just 75sq m (15m x 5m) but still takes 100sq m of brickwork to build.
So, over 2 floors, this shape now encloses just 150 sq m for 200m sq of external wall
The shape of the building has resulted in the second option giving 25% less internal area “like for like” when compared to how much external wall it takes to build. – That equates to 50sq m less over the 2 floors.
In real terms that would equate to an extra living good sized room at, say 8m x 4m PLUS a good sized bedroom at 4m x 3m PLUS an extra shower room. – ALL FOR THE SAME BUILD COST!
I’m not advocating building all houses square, but it’s something to bear in mind when you sit down to design the house. – You can always add low cost attractive features in to take the “square” look away from the house, whilst you still give yourselves the maximum “bang for your buck” internally
Taking that idea a stage further, another thing to bear in mind, is one of my numerous sayings:
“Corners add Cost”!
Basically every time you turn a corner with a building design, you increase the overall cost / sq ft for the build cost.
Some people may argue with this but it’s true.
Again, take the square house as an example. – Simple and quick to design, 4 corners with simple square foundations, simple square slab, simple straight brickwork up 4 straight walls to a square shaped roof. Simple external features, no “lead flashing” to annexes on any of the walls or on the roof. Less offcuts for joists, less waste on floor boards and plasterboards – the list goes on!
Now, add a couple of annexes: Maybe a one storey Utility room and a Conservatory:
You now have extra design work, working out the foundations, extra setting out works, extra smaller foundations to dig, extra corners to build (brickies sometimes want paying for corners), more brickwork waste, more scaffolding, turning more corners, a separate more costly (/ sq ft) roof for each annexe which has to be individually measured and constructed, cavity trays in the walls where the annexes “butt up” to the main building, flashings, also where they join the main building and, again the list goes on. – If that utility room had been designed into the main part of the building, all those extra costs would not arise. – Also, the time taken to do all that extra work would not have to be paid for.
ALSO: Small annexes tend to be an inefficient use of the land, creating a lot of wasted space around it which could be used maybe as a patio.
See the relevant section of “Self Build Simplified” for more info on house design at URL
“Curves add Considerable Cost”!
Along the same lines, it is also a fact that curved walls and surfaces add a considerable extra cost to the build. – They are also more likely to cause you problems when it comes to furnishing.
Curvy walls can look really effective in the right place, but in other places they can actually backfire as a design statement, and simply become an expensive waste of time and space!
To create curves in walls take s a lot of work and cost. Blocks and bricks have straight edges. Timber comes in straight lengths, plaster boards are flat! – So, to get a curved surface, you are either going to have to find a way to use these materials in a different way, or bring in other materials, which will usually be a lot more expensive, to help you create the effect you want. – The labour input per sq ft to create those effects will also be a lot higher.
Once you move in, most of your furniture will have straight edges, and won’t fit easily against curved walls, thus reducing the usability of each space either side of the curved wall.
Again, I’m not saying don’t use curves, but on smaller, tighter budget projects, there are a lot better ways to spend your money to get “nice things” and “nice features” in the finished home.
Think about the layout you would “like” and “need”:
Before you get stuck into your design, try to get an idea of what sort of layout you will be happy with. – Look at other house designs and pick up the things you like, have a look at local show houses, think about house owned by friends and relatives and see if there are things about the way they are designed which you would like to bring into your own design.
If your house is fairly small, think about how best to use the space to make the most of it, so you keep the “room in the rooms”. – If it is going to be large, think about how the different areas of the house will probably be used, and try to then make the design efficient so that you don’t end up walking for miles to do “Related” things (like going from your bed to the loo!)
Have a look at the related section of Self Build Simplified at URL
Think about getting Planning Permission – Design sensibly for the area where you will be building:
When you find your ideal plot, you will probably already have ideas about what you want to build. BUT, before you put pen to paper, have a look around you at the neighbouring buildings.
If you want to get through the Planning Permission stage as quickly as possible, so you can get on with the building work, it’s worth trying to make sure you design something that is going to fit in with what’s already there. – This doesn’t mean you have to copy exactly, Planners have scope to allow a good variety of building in most areas, but if you are in an area of thatched cottages, you’ll probably have trouble getting Planning Permission to build a modern steel and glass house. If your plot is in a long street full of bungalows, you’ll usually struggle to get planning for a two storey property.
Just weigh up the neighbourhood. Go and have a chat (if you can) with the planning Officer for that area and see if there are any stipulations about what they are going to be happy with.
If you have trouble getting your initial designs passed the planning process can soon eat up many months of your time and start to cost you a lot of money. - A bit of thought “up front” may help you avoid delays and extra unnecessary costs.
Have a look at the relevant section of Self Build Simplified at: URL
Watch out for “dark areas” in the property:
If you are new to the field of house design, it’s easy to make mistakes which you will kick yourself for later. One of these is making “dark areas” in the new home.
It’s easy to draw huge great rooms, landings and corridors but you need to give some thought to how the light will get to each area of the house. – For example, a corridor coming off the front door that turns a corner in the middle of the house with rooms to the front and the rear leading off it, could be pitch black and need lights on all the time if the doors are closed to the adjacent rooms.
Your designer should alert you to these “dodgy” areas, but sometimes they won’t notice them either, so its better if you keep your wits about you!
Have a look at the relevant section of Self build Simplified for more detail on designing the layout of your new home
Garage – Internal /External?
Many new “developers houses” have the garage build “integrally”. – This helps to keep the plot size down to a minimum, and also helps to keep the build costs / sq ft down for the overall finished property. However, an integral garage can have benefits and disadvantages, including:
Less room upstairs than downstairs: Smaller houses often struggle with living space downstairs when they have an integral garage, but lots of room upstairs.
Fire hazard – Not a major problem but if there was a fire in an integral garage it’s going to be more likely to affect the building as a whole
You can generally get “more house” onto a small plot with an integral garage. – I.E. You can use the whole width of the plot for the house, so there can be rooms above and behind the garage.
The cost of the garage itself will be lower than if you design and build it separately
It’s handy when it is raining and you can come straight into the house from the car.
If you want more space in the house AND an integral garage, try to design it so that the garage sticks out, maybe 4’ – 5’ past the front of the house. That way you “get back” that amount of internal space to use as rooms and you can also then use the “sticking out bit” to be part of a nice weatherproof canopy which will give people standing by the front door some protection from the weather - without much extra cost
Give some thought to parking outside your new home. – The position of the house itself will dictate the amount of parking room there is at the front of the house. – If you are building on a small plot, and want a decent back garden, you should try to keep the space at the front of the house to a minimum (whilst still being able to do its job of providing “off road” parking spaces) rather than reduce the living space inside.
To set the distance back from the front boundary for the front of your house, you could measure your car and make sure you have room to park it on the drive, and then allow a bit for opening the garage door and maybe closing a gate, and use this to determine the layout
Alternatively, you could consider a “drive in drive out” option to reduce the distance needed at the front of the house to park the cars. – To do this you simply have an “Entrance” and an “Exit” opening on your front boundary, so you drive in at one side of the site and out of the other. This way you get to park the cars sideways, and can often actually get an extra car into less space at the front of the house. – If there are 2 cars on the drive, the rear one can back out of the “in” opening, rather than moving the car in front.
Where is the sun?
I mentioned this in the first section about Land / Plots. – It’s very important to give this matter thought. Not only for your usage of the new home, but also for resale when and if you want to move on. Getting light in the right places at the right time is a very good selling point in a property and makes it far pleasant to live in too.
People want the sun to be in different positions in respect of the house for different times of the day. – The most popular position includes being in the back garden in the evening for social events / Barbeques etc. –If you can include allowing for this into your design you will get a far more sellable house for the future as well as one which gives you more options to its general use. Also, strategically places windows can make sure that light comes into important rooms during periods when they are most likely to be used.
Think about the plumbing.
If you need to keep one eye on your costs, one way of reducing the plumbing installation costs is to try to keep all your “water” requirements to one area of the house. – That way the amount of piping and labour input that you will need for installation is kept to a minimum. – Also short pipe runs gives the benefit of shorter times for hot water to reach each tap. – This also leads to less energy waste because there will be less hot water left in the pipes to go cold, each time you use them.
It is normally not too difficult to design bathrooms to be “back to back” and for kitchens to be underneath bathrooms, with outside taps being outside the kitchen, through the wall from the sink. Utility rooms can then usually be quite close to the kitchen sink position. – This small design consideration could save you £1,000 or more in installation costs and help to keep your running costs down once you have moved in to the property.
Consider sun pipes:
If you do have dark areas in the house, why not consider using “sun pipes”. – These are becoming more common and are now a lot more efficient than they were when they were first introduced. Basically a sup pipe brings natural light down from (normally) the roof, - through the building to the point where it is required. – This could be an inside toilet or a dark corridor. – They give the “natural light” feel that a window gives.
The down sides of sum pipes are that you need to allow the room for the tube to be built in as it comes down through the structure. This is fine upstairs, where it comes through the loft and fits into the upstairs ceiling, but takes more thought when it is coming down through to the ground floor ceiling and will need to be built into a wall or cupboard to avoid clumsy “boxing ins” as an attempt to hide it.
The other thing I thought was a weakness was that you couldn’t turn the light off like you can with an electric light, or when you close curtains onto a room. – Some manufacturers have now fixed this problem with a valve that shuts off the light within the tube.
If you are on a tight budget, think about “cost effective” building ideas:
Apart from the design ideas mentioned earlier (square designs are cheapest / corners add cost / curves add considerable cost), there are other ideas which can help to make the most of your available budget when it comes to your design:
Keep foundations to a minimum: Timber stud walls don’t generally need foundations, so the more stud walls you use the more money you will save on design and foundation construction.
Use standard window / door sizes: These will give you more purchase options and will usually be a cheaper option.
Watch your external wall cost: If you use fancy materials for your external walls, you can add literally thousands of pounds to the cost. – Natural stone or other features will add cost.
Use the attic as rooms: This is a space to have to build, so why not pay a bit extra for making into extra rooms, and you may be able to shrink the overall size of the house down because you now have accommodation over 3 floors.
Use standard roof trusses without roof “features” except maybe roof lights if you use the loft space: Roof trusses are cheaper than a “hand cut” roof
Be careful on your roof tile choice: Large concrete tiles are a lot cheaper to buy and lay thean small “character” roof tiles.
If you are tight on budget ask your designer to keep the cost in mind when doing the initial designs, and mention some of the tips you have read in this section.
Also, read the relevant section in Self Build simplified at URL
Chimneys – External:
Many self Builders like to add an external feature chimney to their design. Sometimes this will be a walk in hearth inside, sometimes, just a pretty feature on the external wall.
Things to bear in mind:
i) If you have a chimney sticking out of the external wall by, say 2ft (600mm), you can’t then use that space for room INSIDE the house. This could cost you around 12sq m in a house design over 2 floors, or, in other words, an extra bedroom of 4m x 3m
ii) The cost of s feature chimney is going to be high. There are lots of implication regarding design and construction, all of which tend to add costs.
iii) Will anyone see it? – If you plot is fairly narrow and close up to another building, then, although it may look nice on the design drawings the chimney may end up stuck down a narrow alley, with only the top couple of ft being seen by anyone, either in the garden or passing the property! – With them being expensive beasts, this should be born in mind at the design stage.
Read the relevant section of Self Build Simplified for more information at URL