Designing & Building a Package Home: Everything You Need to Know

Taking on a self build project can be a daunting prospect for novices, but the package home route removes a great deal of the uncertainty and could be the no-nonsense route to your dream home, says Chris Bates
Chris Bates, Editor of Build It magazine
by Chris Batesmith
14th December 2022

A package home company is a one-stop-shop offering a sliding scale of top-notch services, with an option to suit every self builder. “A big benefit is the specialist knowledge and expertise package home companies offer in their particular build system,” says Gareth Edmunds, director at Welsh Oak Frame.

The package home route can be particularly advantageous if you’re a first-timer and need guidance through the process. Finding the right company to work with is key. “You need to choose someone you get on with, but also with whom you can be honest and disagree,” says Frazer McLachlan, director at Econekt. “A good relationship is crucial.”

Visiting self build shows like Build It Live is a great way to meet suppliers and get a feel for both their personality and products. Companies including Potton, Scandia-Hus, and Oakwrights have show homes you can visit – and even stay overnight in – so you can really try before you buy.

In a nutshell, package home companies provide solutions to many of the key challenges self builders face, from tracking down a suitable plot and getting a design past planning, to overseeing construction and handling Building Regulations.

What are Package Homes?

Package home companies offer a selection of services to choose from, depending on the level of involvement you’d like in the project.

At one end, your provider might supply the materials for the assembly of the structural envelope to get it to weathertight stage. You could then take over by sourcing trades to complete the final kit-out, as well as getting Building Regs approval.

At the opposite end, some are involved from the outset of the build, potentially even helping you find the plot itself.

Planning your self build project but don’t know how much it’ll cost you? Read our guide to How Much Does it Cost to Self Build a House in 2024?

Stunning oak frame package house by Oakwrights

Oakwrights took the planning drawings from an outside architect and turned them into detailed structural plans to create this gorgeous oak frame home. The company’s WrightWall and WrightRoof encapsulation systems were used to complete the thermally efficient shell of the building.

Most people begin their package home journey at the design phase, either by tailoring plans from the supplier’s catalogue of existing homes or working with their in-house team to create something bespoke.

If you’d rather steer clear of the nitty gritty and leave most of the work up to the professionals, then a turnkey solution is your best bet.

“Around 15 per cent of our clients opt for this method,” reveals Joe Martoccia of timber frame specialists Potton. For some, that means engaging the package company to complete each stage of the build, but most choose to employ their own builder.

“It’s an attractive route for people who don’t have time to get too involved in the project, or for those who can simply afford to do things this way,” says Joe. You might also prefer this method if you’re not confident in your ability to oversee everything.

Nine out of 10 self builders are first-timers, and there’s no shame in relying on the experts to make sure you get things right.

Read More: 10 Top Tips for Project Managing Your Self Build or Renovation

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Why Choose the Package Home Route to Self Building?

The main benefit of choosing the package home route is the time and cost certainty you get when building your bespoke home. If you’re considering timber frame, SIPs or oak frame, many suppliers offer a design and build package as standard.

“Choosing an offsite manufactured system for your package home results in a speedy build, fewer hold ups due to inclement weather and reduced waste on site,” says Darren Jarman, managing director at Lowfield Timber Frames. Onsite build systems like brick and block or ICF can also be delivered by specialist package companies.

On top of this, you generally have a single point of contact for the package. “Purchasing multiple elements from one company allows for streamlined costs and a smooth process with fewer contacts to remember,” says Clare Morgan at Oakwrights.

“The convenience is a big advantage, as well as alleviating stress for the self builder.” This also means you’re more likely to get the high-quality finish that was specified at planning and design stages – especially in terms of thermal efficiency and airtightness.

Plus, there’s less scope for disputes between contractors as you’ve appointed one supplier for a significant, clearly-defined portion of works.

Read More: Contemporary Construction Systems to Inspire your Self Build Project

Oakwrights home with

Charlie and Helen Mills worked with the Oakwrights team to design their 141m2 home and deliver the encapsulated oak frame shell, ready for them to self build to completion. The finished project came in at an impressive £220,000. Photo: Mark Watts

With such a range of packages on offer, you also get real flexibility. “You can choose how much or little you want to be engaged,” says Nathan Booth from CB Homes. “You might be closely involved with every step, or you don’t have to lift a finger.”

There’s still lots of decisions to be made, from floor finishes to light switches, and in a turnkey package these will be locked down early on.

Characterful and Efficient Timber Frame Turnkey Home

Building an energy efficient property was top of Sarah and Jonathan’s priority list. After a little research, they soon came across Scandia-Hus and were impressed by the excellent thermal performance that their timber frame homes could offer.

The couple had already approached a local architect to draw up plans for a traditional house that would sit well in the local vernacular. So, the Scandia-Hus team took these drawings and translated them to the right specification for a timber frame build.

“From that point on, we worked with Scandia-Hus using a turnkey package where they looked after the day-to-day management of the build,” says Sarah. “We wanted to be able to pass it on to someone we could trust, just to take a little bit of the pressure off us.”

The outside of the timber frame structure is clad in stone sourced from a local quarry and the roof is topped with clay tiles to complete the traditional aesthetic.

The timber frame structure is packed with insulation and makes use of a ground source heat pump to provide hot water and underfloor heating.

see the home

What’s Included in Package Home Builds?

There are various levels of involvement, but most package home companies offer at least a structural design and house shell service.

Groundworks and landscaping tends to be up to the self builder – though some companies, such as MBC Timber Frame, Facit Homes and Econekt, include foundations. “This is often the biggest concern for timber frame builds, as they have to be so accurate, so we take care of it,” says Lee Broomhall at MBC Timber Frame.

Border Oak, Potton and other package home companies offer a full custom build service – providing a plot that already has services and planning consent for one of their designs in place. This saves you the time and stress of finding land. However, you will either be tied to that supplier, and one of their pre-approved schemes, or make changes in line with the development’s overarching design code.

Even if you appoint a company for a turnkey package, it’s crucial that you understand what’s included. For example, as kitchens can vary from a few thousand pounds through to over £50k, they are often left out. “Decide whether that level of service is suitable for you,” says Rhys Denbigh, director at Facit Homes.

This modern timber frame self build from Potton is complete with extensive glazing leading out into the garden and full height windows in the left gable. The package home build cost £400,000 and took just a year to complete

Read More: Timber Frame: Pros & Cons of Building with Timber Systems

What are the Different Package Home Project Routes?

1. Materials Only

This level of service represents the bare bones minimum of the various build routes: your chosen supplier will provide the materials for the structural shell only. The design, construction, internal fit-out and finishing will all be left to you.

You might be able to hand most of the work (including project management) over to your chosen contractor or hire individual trades yourself, depending on how involved you want to be.

Some oak frame companies do not offer this package as erection of the structural shell requires specialist skills from their on-site team.

2. Supply & Erect

Like the above, this option is the ideal fit for self builders who are keen to take on a large proportion of the work themselves.

Typically, you’ll have commissioned your own design from an independent architect.

This will be translated into plans by your chosen supplier, who will deliver the structural components to site to be assembled (in most cases) by their team, usually to watertight stage.

That leaves the internal fit-out to be completed by your contractor or individually hired trades.

On the plus side, this course of action means the central shell of your build comes from one company at a fixed price. Plus, you have the freedom to choose your own designer.

On the downside, you’ll still be assuming a lot of the risk and effort associated with the build – especially if you’re taking on project management yourself.

3. Design, Supply & Assembly

This level of service is considered by many to be the ‘standard’ package. It includes your design (either bespoke or chosen from your provider’s portfolio of pre-set plans), supply of core materials and construction to varying degrees of completion, but at least to wind and watertight.

Some suppliers provide follow-on elements, including internal joinery, windows and doors. Others also include planning and Building Regs in this type of package.

This leaves you free to co-ordinate the internal fit-out as you like and decide who will take on the mantle as project manager. “About 40% of our customers choose to manage the builds themselves,” says Paul Newman, director at Potton.

“Of those, roughly 40% work with a professional project manager and most of the remainder work with a main contractor.

Only a small proportion are looking to take on a significant amount of construction work themselves. Some, for instance, decide to take on elements of decorating and other finishing work either for the sense of achievement or to save money.”

For some suppliers, this is the highest level of service offered.

4. Project Management

This route is the next step up from the above, as you appoint a professional project manager from your supplier’s in-house team of experts.

This hands-off approach takes a lot of the stress off your shoulders and places more risk on your chosen package company, making it ideal for first-time builders or people who don’t have the time to dedicate to monitoring the project’s progress.

This service can extend as far into the build as you like, leaving you free to take on more responsibility once the scheme reaches first fix, or leaving it with your PM right up until completion.

5. Turnkey

The crème-de-la-crème of self build packages, this route hands over the maximum amount of the build (and therefore risk) to your supplier.

The whole construction process will be delivered to an agreed price and timeline, with the company looking after everything from planning and design to construction, Building Regs and the internal fit-out.

As so many elements are provided by the same company, this type of build often involves several trips to their factory so you can decide on every detail including sanitaryware and floor finishes, right down to the style of plug sockets and door handles.

A lot of the design decisions are made up front, which means it’s tricky to make any changes once the fabrication of the house is underway.

Plus, there will be few opportunities to get hands-on on site. On the plus side, this level of service pretty much guarantees a stress-free process, as well as the assurance of a fixed price and timeline.

Read More: 11 of the Best Turnkey Homes

turnkey package home by CB homes finished with cladding and brick and statement glazing in the central gable

CB Homes provided a turnkey package for this brick and block dwelling, finshed with modest cladding on the top half and brick detailing on the lower section, with statement glazing in the central gable

How Much Does the Package Home Route Cost?

The level of involvement you take on will impact costs, as will your construction method – though modern methods like timber frame and ICF are much more affordable than a few years ago, especially where performance levels are considered.

You can expect to pay more for a turnkey build, but you get peace of mind that the entire property will cost what’s been agreed. Other package routes give you cost certainty for a portion of the build, with the opportunity to make savings by sourcing your own finishes and local trades.

There are pros and cons to being more involved in the delivery of your new home, of course. So, think carefully about how much time and money you have to spare and the level of experienced support you need to create a success of your package home.

With this route to self building, it is crucial to be open about your budget with the supplier. “This will allow the team to design a house that can be constructed within the funds available,” says Clare Morgan at Oakwrights.

“Account for future running costs, too. Creating an energy efficient home may mean you pay more for additional insulation at the time of build but will save on energy bills in the future.”

“We’ll price up the design prior to applying for planning,” says Rhys. “So we can make amendments based on your budget – which saves a lot of time and money compared to trying to modify things on site.”

Read More: 10 Ways to Maximise your Self Build Budget

contemporary timber frame extension on the side of a traditional Georgian build, forming an L shape

This timber frame build from Fleming Homes features a contemporary rear set alongside a more traditional frontage

While any package home supplier you employ directly will make money on costs for materials, professional project managers will usually work for a set fee. This may account for 15 per cent of the total build, but an experienced PM will be good at securing budget-friendly deals with reliable tradesmen and materials suppliers.

“By engaging a PM or opting for turnkey, you’ll find that it’s easier to stick to schedules,” says Joe. Labour can account for a massive chunk of your costs – as much as 60 per cent in some cases – so it stands to reason that running on time will be a huge boon to your budget.

You can make further savings by taking on some or even all of the part-finish work yourself. But if you’re thinking of tackling the majority of the project as DIY, it’s probably worth asking yourself whether you really need a package at all.

Looking for reputable package home companies? Browse Build It’s Company Directory of established industry suppliers

This article was originally published in August 2021 and has been updated in December 2022

Additional content by Rebecca Foster

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