Everything You Need to Know Before Building Your Own Home: From Choosing a Location to Laying Foundations

Almost everyone has a vision of what their ideal home would look like, whether it’s a traditional country cottage or a sprawling modern build with walls built of glass. The popularity of programmes like Grand Designs (which has now been on the air for over 20 years!) shows that there’s a collective fascination to be found watching people build their own homes.

But what happens if you’re not content watching other people build their dream home and want to go one step further? There’s no way to skirt around the facts; building a home from scratch takes a lot of organisation and hard work, but the results are well worth it. It’s vital to be prepared before you start so you know what to expect and how the process will work. The majority of projects won’t run 100% smoothly and on time, but with some thorough forward planning and research, you can be prepared for every eventuality.

With this in mind, if you’ve been thinking about building your own home, see our guide below for how to get started. From choosing a location, to an initial design and laying the foundations, we’ve covered the important information you need.

Finding a plot

Before you start any build, you need to secure the right site for your project. There are several online tools to help you find an available plot of land, including Plot Browser. You may already have a certain location or area of the country in mind, so you could also talk to local estate agents and surveyors to register your interest in any upcoming plots of land.

Single-house plots are also regularly sold at auction, so keep an eye out at online auction houses like Savills. However, the UK has a large number of protected areas, which means it can be more difficult to find a plot in comparison with other European countries. It’s not impossible though, but you may need to use your imagination to see the potential in the sites that are available.

Types of self build plot

Self build plots fall into four main types; brownfield land, greenfield land, garden plots and buy to demolish. Brownfield land is an area that’s already been built on before. These plots tend to be more affordable but it means that you may encounter some design restrictions. Greenfield land covers areas that haven’t been built on before, so they’re often far more expensive and difficult to obtain.

In some cases, permission will be granted to build a one-off development on an existing garden plot. This is a viable option for anyone with a particularly large garden who wants to build a smaller second home for family members or to rent out. Finally, buy to demolish means buying a plot of land with an existing building already on it, which you can then knock down and start afresh. Demolition costs can run into the tens of thousands, but you could reclaim some money by selling some of the demolished building materials.

Budgeting and finances

Funding is obviously crucial when it comes to building your own house and you’ll need to make sure you have adequate finances before securing a plot. Self-build mortgages are sometimes available and they work on a staggered payment basis, releasing funds at different key stages of the project.

You’ll also need to set a realistic budget and stick to it; this should be decided on before you meet with any designers or architects. It’s a good idea to include a contingency (usually at least 10% of your overall budget) to give you some leeway for any unexpected costs, delays or hidden issues that emerge during the build. However, there’s no reason to go wildly over budget, as long as you’ve planned sufficiently and stick to a design and size you can afford.

Initial design

It’s likely that you’ll already have a basic design idea in mind, such as how many storeys you want for your home and the number of bedrooms. However, finding the right architect or designer is crucial to bring your ideas to life and ensure that they’ll translate practically when it comes to the build.

A good architect will be able to listen to your requirements and translate it into a viable design, but you might have to be prepared to make small compromises. Allow at least a couple of months for the design process, although it may take longer depending on the size of your build. A house design consists of several different detailed plans, including:

  • A foundation plan – this will show the layout of the foundation and any underground spaces like a basement or crawl space, as well as placement of beams, slabs and posts.
  • Floor plans – the floor plan indicates the layout of rooms and the placement of walls, doors and windows.
  • Roof plan – this describes the elements that make up the roof. It will typically include the placement of chimneys, windows or other decorative elements and it may indicate the roof material and slopes of roof surfaces.
  • Exterior elevation – these plans are a 2D representation of each side of the house. They include the layout and placement of doors and windows, as well as the materials being used.
  • Electrical plans – these drawings illustrate the placement of lighting fixtures, switches, outlets and plug sockets. It will also show circuits and the intended layout for all electrical systems.

Planning permission

If you’re planning a self build, you’ll need to apply to your local authority for planning permission before you proceed. You’ll need to submit a planning application, including details of your proposed build, design plans and any other relevant documents. In some cases you may need to include the results of a survey, such as an ecological survey of your plot.

You should find out if your application has been approved or not after eight weeks, although some more complex proposals can take longer. Planning permission is always granted with terms and conditions attached and it’s crucial that you adhere to these requirements. Failure to do so is illegal and your project will not be allowed to proceed.

Laying foundations

The first stage of physically building the house involves preparing the ground to lay the foundations. Any weeds or vegetation need to be cleared away and the ground might need to be levelled if it’s uneven. A professional piling contractor or groundworking company will carry out this stage of the build and there are several different types of foundation to choose from, depending on the condition of the soil and the plot.

Common types of foundation include foundation piles, underpinning and reinforced slabs or beams, but your foundation contractor will know which is best. Trenches are usually dug to accommodate the foundations and their depth will depend on the type of foundation you’re using. Secure foundations are essential to support the weight of the structure above and ensure that the building is safe for occupation.

Domestic foundation construction from the experts at Below Ground

If you’re looking for professional foundation construction for your new home, get in touch with the experts at Below Ground. Based in London, Bristol and Exeter, we have a wealth of experience in the conception, design and construction of domestic foundations for projects both large and small.

Whether you’re planning an extension or an entire new build, we’ve got the knowledge and tools for the job and we can also repair existing foundations if they’ve become weak. We offer a range of foundation options, including underpinning, pile foundations, reinforced beams and slabs, so we guarantee to have a solution to suit you.

All of the work that we carry out is in compliance with relevant building regulations and in accordance with the Institute of Civil Engineers Specification for Piling and Embedded Retaining Walls 2007, for your peace of mind. For more information about our foundation services or to discuss your next project, don’t hesitate to give us a call today or visit our website.