Nick Mann’s self build diary

by Nick Mann
24th March 2012

Welcome to our family’s self build blog. We’re embarking on a journey to create a sustainable, contemporary family home in the glorious Somerset countryside.

We didn’t always want to build our own house. The Manns are fundamentally rather lazy types, and we live in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain – Somerset – with some of the most beautiful houses.

We used to own one; a lovely early Victorian rectory, with big sash windows and a Cedar of Lebanon in the back garden. Yet even if we could have afforded to carry on living there, it would have made no sense once the children grew up – which two of them have done, leaving us with 13-year-old Will.

They all loved the Old Rectory, but I felt increasingly ambivalent about it. Don’t get me wrong – I adored the house and the garden – but I began to feel uneasy there. It was a vast space to live in. We had not one, but two huge oil tanks and we spent the equivalent cost of a small family saloon car on fuel every year.

Sustainable living

In 2008 I set up a new business, which reflects my changing interests. Habitat Aid ( supplies native trees, plants, seeds and heritage fruit trees through a community of small UK nurseries and growers.

We give half of our profits from online sales to UK conservation charities, who we work with on numerous fundraising initiatives. We also increasingly work with corporate clients and landscape/ecology professionals. I needed a house to suit my profession.

As fuel prices continued to rise, we definitely couldn’t have afforded to stay living in the old house – we spent the 2010/11 winter with half of it shut up, and us huddled around a stove. Pretty typically, although we knew the area well we couldn’t find anywhere to buy.

We grew increasingly depressed as we looked around dark, damp and expensive old houses on the market. It started to dawn on us that we wanted to reinvent the way we lived and probably needed a brand new, more efficient house in which to do this. So we started looking for a site to self build.

Finding the plot

After months of searching, we eventually found a 1.5 acre plot in a fabulous location, just a few miles away from where we lived. The site came complete with a dilapidated cottage, run down outbuildings and outline consent for a traditional style house to replace them.

The plot is on the easterly slope of a hill, close enough to its top to offer views all round, but with the best panoramas to the east and south.

The existing buildings were good news as far as getting planning approval was concerned, but bad news for the cost of the project overall. My friends in the property industry winced when I told them about the numbers.

We’re not developers though, and have guesstimated that the total cost of the project is going to be more or less the end value of it.

Plus, on the bright side, we knew we’d save money by living in the cottage while we built in its back garden. We can also re-use some of the material – tiles and stone – when we knock it down.

Nick Mann's self build plot includes an old cottage and outbuildings

One Comment

  1. Chris says:

    We’re archiving the Manns’ blog on our website, but you can keep up to date with the very latest developments on their project by reading the latest issue of Build It magazine!

    In the May 2013 issue, you’ll discover how Nick and his family battle through bad weather to reach the watertight stage of their sustainable self build project.

    Chris (Deputy Editor & Online Editor, Build It magazine)

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