Self Build Routes & Costs

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Discover how your project management route will impact your self build budget
A self build package house by Border Oak

When it comes to constructing your new home, the term ‘self build’ can be a bit misleading. The fact is that only a small proportion of individuals actually do the structural work themselves. Instead, most will employ a team of builders (or at the very least hire individual trades) so that the right skills are being used for the majority of the physical work. But there are various ways to run a self build project – so which one is right for you and, perhaps more importantly, what will it cost?

Route 1: Exec

Catherine and Tony Moore's oak frame home (main picture) was project managed by Border Oak, an experienced company who could help guide them through their self build. The oak frame for their stunning home was erected under the supervision of a Border Oak project manager. The 351m2 house was built for £698,885 (£1,991 per m2).

Read more about this self build

You can carve up the contract in whatever way you want, but the main thing is to ensure you set out your procurement route right at the beginning of the process. Builders are often happy to supply competitive prices on a labour-only basis at the outset of a project.

However, if you have originally asked for a supply and fix price and then wish to change your mind, you are unlikely to get the full material credit as a reduction. So it’s better to secure the prices you want in the form that you want from the outset; certainly prior to engagement.

Your mortgage lender will want to see a comprehensive summary of your build costs with all the component parts included. This needs to be in the form of a main contractor quote or a summary of all costs (material and labour supply) put together by you or your appointed project manager.

In my view no-one should start a new home building project without this level of detail. Realistically, this should include provisional sums for a few major items, such as the kitchen, the floor finishes or the external works. Too much of this, however, will leave you financially vulnerable.

The main building routes

As already mentioned, there are numerous ways to approach a self build project – but I usually split the procurement responsibility (ie the building route) into three categories:

1 Execs Those who wish to armchair manage from their home or office. Once they’ve decided on the design itself and agreed their initial shopping list, these self builders generally want to be presented with the minimum options during the project. This route usually involves paying bills through a single company.

Route 2: Project manager

self build using a project manger

William & Moira Sinclair felt confident in their ability to manage their project. Moira looked after design, while William took a year off work to tackle the project management. The family also got hands-on with parts of the project. The 350m2 home was built for £233,999 (£669 per m2).

Read more about this self build home

2 Project Managers Those who intend to be actively involved with running the project and who will want to go shopping for some of their materials. There’s a broad range of approaches here; dependent upon their level of project management ‘activity’, the self builder may employ a main contractor (with input from themselves) or may split the project down into the individual trades.

3 Traders Those who intend to manage everything and everybody, buy the materials themselves and undertake a significant part of the physical work on site.

The route you decide on will have a significant impact on the cost of your project. The ‘building routes’ chart (see below) is designed to provide easy recognition for the three main management/procurement options together with a sliding scale showing their potential effect on costs. Around 20% of all annual projects fit into the Exec band; 60% into the Project Manager band; and 20% the Traders band.

For an interactive version of the table, check out Build It's self build cost calculator.

Self build routes & cost impacts Cost per m2
Execs Top 20% of projects No financial restrictions £1,800+
Project managers Main 60% of projects

Using a main contractor with some input to the materials


Organising trades, scheduling materials + some work on site




Traders Bottom 20% of projects Actively working on site £550

Self build prices per square metre

Generally, self builds costs are presented as a figure per square metre (m2) of floor area.

For consistency it is best to ascertain the footprint of your building using a gross internal area (GIA) measurement, which means all of your floor space from the inside of the external wall. This is the measurement that most professionals will take when advising you on completed values and it seems sensible therefore to use the same for your initial guidance on build costs.

Route 3: Trader

trade managed self build home

Joshua Penk represents the extreme example of our ‘trade’ route. His shoestring budget meant he tackled every possible element of the build himself – from designing the single-storey house to learning trades as he went along. He completed his 220m2 home for just £81,800 (£372 per m2).

Read more about this self build home

It can make a big difference, as in a 100m2 square bungalow you will actually ‘lose’ 12m2 (129 ft2) of floor area just for the 300mm thick external wall around the perimeter.

Traders can get building prices down to as low as £550 per m2 (£51 per ft2). That’s because they are only factoring in the cost of materials; all the building labour is undertaken by them so it is not being charged to the project.

At the other end of the spectrum, with the exec route, there is no limit to cost – but you can usually expect to pay from about £1,500 per m2 (£140 per ft2) if you don’t intend to have any personal involvement with the on-site management.

Throughout the ‘project manager’ zone, overall cost fluctuates widely as a direct consequence of the extent of the role undertaken. Those splitting the project right down into its constituent parts will have lower overall costs than those employing a main contractor to undertake the work for them.

All of the above needs to be considered within the context of your site, material spec, the building’s size and its design complexity – check out our feature on preliminary costs for details.

More on self build routes

Managing your own build »

Using a main contractor »

Professionally managed »

First published: Build It magazine November 2013

Also related to this article


Posted on

I'm not sure if it is a problem with your location variable factor, but some of these figures don't square with what I'm being told in Surrey. For Project Manager involvement, I am being advised by many sources (unanimous so far) that £1,800 per m2 is a starting level. And for the exec level, with a main contractor in place, a basic spec house starts at £2,000 per m2. How often do your published figures get updated?

Posted on

Hi Bgregster. This article was put together by our costs expert, Tim Doherty, and was originally published in our November 2013 issue, so it's pretty up to date.

The case studies we've included here are real-life projects and fall very much within the price brackets suggested in the feature. If you check out our Reader Home section at you'll find plenty more examples of homes that come in at similar price points.

The feature focuses on the cost to build and finish a new house - so it's not including things like land costs, design fees etc. Every project is different, of course, and factors such as sloping sites can add a significant chunk to construction costs.

That said, £2,000 per square metre sounds very high for a 'basic spec' house. The 'exec-level' project we've featured above is a really high-spec build in green oak frame, built for £1,991 per m2 - plus it's in Surrey! You can read the full story here:

Posted on

I'm a Quantity Surveyor with 18 years experience, mostly in the house building sector. I once held a senior position at Barratt Developments plc., and now much of my time is spent commercially managing SME building contractors and pricing up tenders on residential build projects.

I can confirm that £2,000/m2 is reflective of a 'high end' specification, and other rates / m2 suggested above are also around the level I would expect to see.

For those of you considering the 'traders' route I.e. developers wishing to make a profit as apposed to self build labour of love, obviously significant cost savings can be achieved if this option is managed correctly, effective commercial management is the key.

I am currently upgrading a commercial management system used successfully for many years 'in house' into a 'cloud' based software / QS support system. The system will ultimately facilitate users with budgets typically less than £500,000 management of costs & value at various stages of construction, therefore enabling considerable savings on QS fees to be achieved where individuals are unable to employ a full time QS on the project due to their limited budget. The system and support services will offer individual users the tools necessary to properly commercially manage their projects, when progressing down the 'traders' route.

Users will basically be able to pick and choose contract administration work they feel comfortable with doing themselves, in order to build their own QS support package reflective of their actual needs. Users will still benefit from professional support from a QS at the end of the phone, or through the support ticketing system (depending on membership package) when they need it.

Large building contractors and developers have been using similar systems to manage their projects for years, however this is the first time this type of system will be available to SME's and individuals.

{Post edited by admin as it breaches T&Cs regarding advertising of goods/services on our site}


Posted on

I was recently in the enviable position of having access to a plot of land, with detailed planning permission, at a very reasonable price. The plot is in the SW of England. I got a total of 8 quotes from builders (ranging from large companies, to smaller independents) for the 82 sq.m., 2-bed dormer bungalow build. All materials and the spec were perfectly standard. The lowest price I got was £140K (£1,700 per sq.m.) and the highest was £235K (£2,865 per sq.m.). The average was around the £185K mark (£2,250 per sq.m.). Where are these building contractors who'll do an average spec for around £1,500 per sq.m? I'd love to be put in touch with some of them since they certainly don't seem to operate in my area!!

Posted on

Hi davies 109 , as a building contractor we would be able to achieve £1550/m2, where is the land

Posted on

wow i am gobsmacked at the prices being quoted here . i am a developer in norfolk and we build to a budget of around £850-00 sq mtr . we use a main contractor who takes the house from a base laid by the groundworks contractor to ready to decorate . we then employ the same groundworks contractor for patios , lawns , drives etc and a local fencing contractor . I have just priced a bungalow up at the £1700 per sq mtr and that would leave us with a property costing within two thousand of its retail value that is without the cost of the building plot > i think you are either exceptional high spec or not good at negotiating with builders

Chris Hall
Posted on

lrusty whereabouts can i contact you in norfolk

Posted on

Hi Irusty I would also like to contact you in Norfolk
Gerald Cupper

Posted on

Hi everyone, I am looking for a reputable builder to build a timber frame terrace of 4 x 2 bed houses in Isle of Wight. My budget is £1100 per sq mtr. Any builder or recommendation, please call me on 07930411397

Jane Leslie
Posted on

Hi Irusty I would also like to contact you - I have a barn to convert in Norfolk with full planning permission - Jane 07941 301479

Lee C 1
Posted on

We are also based in Norfolk and can build an affordable home as a turnkey project for approx £1700 per sqm - we are also able to build affordable Passivhaus standard for £2000 per sqm complete and finished both include standard kitchen and bathroom - Obviously we can also do much higher spec in standard and Passive.

JJ Philips
Posted on

Typical costs south of London for decent standard of build seems to be £2,000 - £2,500 per m2 based on the quotes we have received. It's similar in the Sussex too.

Posted on

Any builders for barn conversion in Teesside area please

Posted on

I have a new build project going to tender now in Kent (Gravesham). It is in the countryside and is a modern barn conversion style where we are demolishing the existing structure and re-building from scratch - adding in a basement. Any contractors out there able to get in touch for a speedy tender turn around?

Lee C 1
Posted on

Hi Captainguy
Yes we would like to tender for your project
How can we make contact?

Posted on

I am currently a student at the University of the West of England studying Real Estate. I am in the process of writing my dissertation on what barriers are preventing self build in England. If anyone wouldn't mind having a chat about their experiences during a self build and some of the main issues you faced during the build that would be fantastic. This goes for self builders or contractors etc, any help / advice would be highly appreciated. Please comment on here if you wouldnt mind being contacted. Thanks Jimmy

Jim Bartram
Posted on

Say Jimmy117. Any plans for when you finish? I am a self employed residential surveyor, with too much work and wanting to do self build next year. Bridport based. Want to chat about a job? Can do APC for you. call or text on 07981 676756. Regards, Jim Bartram

Posted on

Hi Im a Builder in the Midlands and mainly do new builds, to which my cost per m2 plastered finish, with 1st & 2nd fix electrics and 1st fix Plumbing installed comes out at £1250-1600m2, Regards Tony

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