Budget-Friendly Homes and How to Self-Build on a Shoestring

Chris Bates takes a look at some amazing affordable self build projects and and gives his top tips for building a home on a tight budget
Chris Bates, Editor of Build It magazine
by Chris Bates
29th January 2014

I’m often asked what it takes to create a great home on a modest budget, and my answer comes back to the same key areas time and time again: keep the design simple; negotiate hard; run a tight schedule; and don’t assume going DIY is going to cost you less.

Here at Build It we’re all about helping you complete your project on time and on schedule, however much you have to spend. And there’s no doubt that self-build is an affordable way to create your dream home.

More often than not, picking up an empty plot and developing it will cost much less than buying an equivalent second-hand property. And with house prices again rising inexorably, many people are turning to self-build as an affordable way to climb the housing ladder – or even get that first foot on the rung.

You’ll find plenty of useful tips on how to approach your project if you scroll down to the dos and don’ts of budget builds, but first let’s take a look at some fantastic examples of low-cost homes.

Inspiring real-life affordable self-build homes:

Low-cost home build by Border Oak

Savvy design helped Lynda Williams and her two sons to create this characterful home in Powys for just £105,000. Welsh Oak Frame suggested combining a softwood timber structure with decorative oak beamwork to keep costs down.

Best Self Build 2013 - Eco House on a Budget

This hands-on build just goes to show what you can achieve with a little tenacity. Joshua Penk’s grounding in architecture helped him put the hard graft into designing and realising this spectacular, budget-friendly eco house – which you voted the winner of Best Self-Build 2013 in the Build It Awards.

Low-cost cottage built for just £120,000

Costing just £120,000 to build and with an energy bill of only £700 per year, the Collins’ charming new-build cottage is a fabulous example of how compact living (the house is just 120m2) doesn’t have to feel cramped. The kitchen-diner at the top of this feature is one of the spacious zones in this home.

Shropshire Council's build your own scheme

This brick-clad home was built by young couple Hannah Jones & Theo Hodnett under Shropshire council’s innovative ‘build your own affordable home’ scheme, which relaxes planning restrictions for local people to self-build (provided the dwelling offers floorspace of no more than 100m2 and is formally designated as affordable housing). The build cost was just £122,500 – an amazing result but still the most expensive house here!

Self-build on a shoestring: the dos and don’ts

  • Do aim for a simple design. The more straightforward the shape and construction of the house, the cheaper it will be to realise, both during the planning and building phases. Straight lines and simple detailing are key – and if you get things right, you might still be able to find money for the occasional luxury feature.
  • Do focus on preparation. Good planning, a robust schedule and thorough research into materials and trades will help you maintain a tight ship – which is essential if your project is to come in on time and on budget.
  • Do consider one of the new routes to homebuilding, such as Community Self-Build, Custom Build and other council or developer-led schemes. These can give you access to affordable plots, economies of scale and other advantages.
  • Do get involved. Managing the project can cut the fees you pay, although you will need to devote significant amounts of time to the job. On site, lugging materials around and tidying up at the end of the day are easy DIY jobs that will help your paid-for trades work smarter.
  • Do look for bargains. You should always negotiate when bulk-buying materials, for example. What’s more, there are deals to be had on big-ticket items such as bathroom suites and kitchens – consider ex-display models or, if you have enough secure dry storage, buy in the sales and stockpile until you’re ready to install.
  • Don’t skimp on professional help. Design fees can sometimes seem high, for example, but you get what you pay for in terms of generating buildable plans that don’t need to be amended during the construction phase.
  • Don’t forget running costs. Taking a fabric first approach and putting your budget towards a well-insulated, airtight home is the most affordable way to improve its performance. Ultimately, this will give you a home that needs less heating and is therefore cheap to run – and ripe for renewable upgrades should you find more budget in the future.
  • Don’t assume DIY will be cheaper. Yes, if you have the skills to do a good job on something like plastering, then you can certainly save money. But if it takes you three times as long as a pro, you’ll incur costs through delays – and it’ll be even worse if poor-quality DIY means you have to strip it all out and get an experienced tradesman in at short notice.
  • Don’t use a budget self-build project as a test-bed for new ideas. While new construction systems and materials can seem attractive (especially if the supplier is willing to offer discounts), they’ll be unfamiliar to most contractors – which can lead to delays and extra costs during the build.
  • Don’t be tempted to buy a plot without planning permission just because it’s cheap. Think about it from the seller’s perspective – they can spend a couple of hundred quid on an outline planning application that can lift the value of a plot tenfold or even more. So land offered with only ‘development potential’ often has no potential whatsoever. The only exception would be if you make an offer that’s conditional on gaining planning consent for the design you want prior to the transaction going through.

You’ll find plenty more advice throughout this website that will help you stick to your self-build budget. And check out some of the TV shows, such as Charlie Luxton’s Building The Dream, that are championing ‘Austerity Designs’ over Grand Designs.

Kieran Long and Piers Taylor, the boys from BBC Two’s The House That 100K Built, are full of ideas for how to create an unique, individual home on a budget, too. Their next project will be focussing on people who want to transform their existing homes – email them here if you’re interested in getting involved.

One Comment

  1. Bibika says:

    Great article I especially like the DIY expenses advice. DIY is not always the cheapest way to go. DIY means you’ll need to invest your skills, your money, but your time as well, and that means your money driving business or daily job may suffer. On the other hand if you’re doing this once or twice in your life, you can not do better then a professional that has been doing this his whole life, correct? So DIY – yes if you are very skilled and you have time on your hands, or you dont have a job at all:))

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