Many of us dream of finding the perfect plot of land and building a house for ourselves, and for an increasing number of the British population that dream is becoming a reality.
But if you are put off by the thought of weekends spent by a cement mixer, then think again. The face of British self-build is changing due to the popularity of what used to be called ‘pre-fabrication’ and is now known as ‘off-site manufacture’. Nowadays self-builders frequently use some element of off-site manufacture within their homes, such as a timber frame designed as a joint project by the client and the house manufacturer, which is then brought, ready-built, to the site. Or, a kit-home would arrive on site almost entirely assembled and is then finished to what is known as a ‘turn-key finish’ – the house is ready to move in to – within a matter of days.
Twenty-first century pre-fabricated houses are a world away from the flimsy post-war structures. There are designs to suit everyone, from contemporary models with open-plan living spaces to traditional villas and barns, and even floating homes. Because they are made in a factory, the houses are subject to stringent safety checks which traditional ‘wet build’ (cement, brick, plaster) houses don’t require, and they’ll not be delayed by the vagaries of weather or hampered by tardy builders. Most companies offer an installation service and plenty provide additional features such as bathrooms and kitchens as part of the cost.
Traditional homes and barns
If you’ve always loved Scandinavian log houses, then now’s the chance to buy one for yourself. Erlund House manufacture and export log houses from Finland throughout Europe, and their UK base in Gloucestershire has two lakeside homes which you can rent for holidays to experience log house living first-hand before you buy.
Working in oak to create timber-framed homes, Oakwright’s bespoke design service means they are happy to create any style of oak-framed house, from traditional designs to the barn-style home shown here.
The barn remains one of the soundest property investments on the market, and Potton has this Shalford barn as part of its range of four. Timber frame manufacturers Potton╒s self-build barns are developed to blend easily into rural communities and can be built from scratch in only 12 weeks. They claim it’s 50 per cent cheaper than renovating an existing barn.
German company WeberHaus provide a complete house-building package for its British customers using pre-fabricated components built in their European factories. Pioneers of low-energy housing, you’ll be able to choose from over 100 adaptable house designs.
The Timber Frame Company
The Timber Frame Company specialises in designing and building homes made from timber frames built from green oak, Douglas fir and larch, using traditional joinery techniques and modern design methods. Houses range in design from traditional to modern, with the client involved at every stage of the design process.
Scandia-Hus is the largest designer and supplier of Swedish energy-saving houses in the UK. Their in-house design team can help with every aspect of design, whether your heart is set on a traditional flint-clad barn or a rural farmhouse. The house is then manufactured in their factory before being installed on site by their team of specialist workmen.
Baufritz create bespoke houses with pre-fabricated elements that are designed in conjunction with the homeowner to suit not only their lifestyle, but also the environment in which the house is to be located. For example, they would use local stone for cladding so the home resembles other houses in the area.
The Retreat is a timber-framed home which is classified as a caravan and so can be situated in places a usual house cannot. The Z model is the largest available, measuring 50 x 20 feet, with three bedrooms and one bathroom.
If you’ve always wanted to live near water but don’t fancy a house boat, then contact Floating Homes. This Hamburg-based architecture company has developed several modern boat/house hybrids that float on water, such as the B-type model, shown here, which measures a generous 2434 square feet. The pre-fabrication of the house means it can be shipped worldwide.
Avalon use a closed panel method of construction for their houses, which means that the external wall panels are fully manufactured in their factory, and so reduces the amount of work that needs to be done on-site.
The m-house, pronounced ‘mouse’, is a carefully detailed contemporary home. It measures just over 1,000 square feet inside, yet it is officially classed as a caravan, thus bypassing planning restrictions placed on permanent structures. It arrives on your plot in two parts, each three metres wide, and is assembled in one day. It is them ready for you to move into immediately.
How to find a plot
Do your detective work
Thousands of plots of build-able land are on sale throughout the UK each year but as potential self-builders soon discover, there is stiff competition for the better plots. Use a plot-finding database, such as Plot Browser (plotbrowser.com) or Plot Finder (plotfinder.net), or pick up a copy of a self-build magazine such as Build It, which lists land for sale
Pick a spot
Availability of land depends on the area in which you╒re aiming to build. In the south east of England you may need to think about buying a run-down property with land, which can be demolished to make way for your new-build. Aim for more remote areas, though, and you╒ll find there╒s more choice available.
Get one step ahead
Once you’ve chosen your area, focus on it. Get to know local estate agents for the lowdown on prime locations for self-build, and check planning lists at the local council – this will give you inside information into which landowners have applied for permission to build on their land. Then contact them directly, before their plots go on sale.
How to organise your finances
Keeping an eye on the budget is one of the most important aspects of a self-build project. It pays to have everything clearly in place before committing yourself to building work, mortgages and insurance policies.
- Plan your budget and stick to it. First, establish what you can afford. Your overall budget will guide you through every aspect of the project, from choosing the plot, to hiring an architect who can design you a house that suits not only your lifestyle but also the money you have available.
- Most banks and building societies will now usually raise you a loan for a self-build project, with the loan based (as with a standard mortgage) on your deposit and your earnings. Buildstore (buildstore.co.uk) and The Advanced Flexible Self-Build Mortgage (afsbm.co.uk) may help if you find your lender is unwilling to take the risk.
- You’ll need to move quickly when you find the right plot, so make sure the finances are all in order before your serious hunting begins. For most self-builders, this usually means selling your current home and renting while you look for land.
- Self-builds are currently VAT exempt, but you will need to pay the VAT up front, then claim it back. See HM Revenue & Customs website for more information (hmrc.gov.uk).
Artichouse (+358 9 8494 060)
Design and manufacture log homes for shipping throughout Europe.
Avalon (0870 224 2641)
Modern homes with timber frames.
Baufritz (01223 235632)
Each house is individually designed – the components are built off-site then assembled on site in two days.
BenfieldATT (01291 437050)
Timber frame self-build specialists.
Carpenter Oak & Woodland (01225 743089)
Designers and manufacturers of bespoke timber-framed houses.
Custom Homes (01787 377388)
The largest self-build package company in the UK, it offers a complete home-building service.
Empyrean empyreanapf.com American designers and manufacturers of bespoke houses, including Dwell Homes.
Erlund House (01285 770082)
Traditional log houses exported from Finland.
Hamburg-based architecture firm which designed and developed a modern boat/house hybrid that floats on water.
HUF HAUS (0870 2000 035)
Modern, glazed homes for open-plan living.
Mbarkk (0114 290 3652)
Import then build log cabins and wooden homes from across Canada, America and Scandinavia.
m-house (0161 266 1066)
Architect designed pre-fab houses.
Oakwrights (01432 353353)
Will create any style of oak-framed house, from traditional designs with exposed external beams to contemporary ‘post and beam’ homes with open plan interiors. They offer a full self-build service for their traditionally styled homes.
Optima Homes (020 7837 7023)
A modern off-site house building system – the houses are constructed on-site using the pre-fabricated closed wall panel system and pre-fitted bathroom and kitchen ‘pods’.
Potton (01767 676400) – for barns, visit buildabarn.co.uk
Retreat Homes (020 7729 2889)
Designers and makers of modern homes.
Scandia Hus (01342 327977)
Modern and traditional homes with pre-fabricated elements available nationwide.
The Timber Frame Company (01458 224463)
Design and manufacture timber-frame homes using traditional joinery methods.
Weberhaus (01582 794192)
Pioneers of low-energy housing, they have over 100 adaptable house designs.