"We knew we had got it right when a good friend walked into the house for the first time and simply said “Wow!”."
Names: Paulette and Geoff Cusick Occupations: Retired Ages: 62 and 63
When we both retired, we had decided to move away from the South-East, where we had lived for over 30 years to be near our jobs, to the South-West. G had a long-standing wish to build our own house, having done lots of refurbishment and alteration work on our houses in Surrey: we knew that, if we bought a house, we would inevitably want to change it, and G felt that by building from scratch, we could achieve a better result. G attended one of Potton’s seminars at St Neots, and came away convinced that self-build was something we could do successfully, and also convinced of the benefits of employing a professional project manager to oversee the process for us.
We found our plot using one of the internet plot finding services, bought it (subject to a successful planning application), then sold up in Surrey, and moved into a rented house in Devon. Once settled, we set about the build project in earnest. We had decided already to use either timber frame or SIPs construction, and we contacted four or five companies who offered these products. We settled on Potton for the following reasons:
- Size. Potton seemed like a large enough company to be stable, a particular consideration in 2011 when many small builders were in financial difficulty. It also meant that Potton could offer a lot of support in the design and regulatory approvals areas.
- Pricing, where Potton were competitive
- Flexibility. In discussion with the account manager, we understood that Potton’s designs were not fixed, and that we could specify the house to meet our wishes.
Our position was that we owned the plot, with planning permission to build a 4-5 bedroomed house of about 270m2 over three floors. We decided to retain the envelope of the house, but made a number of internal changes, and some changes to meet the requirements of building a timber-frame house on our steeply-sloping site. We went through six design iterations, converging on our final design. Potton’s planners and draughtsmen updated the drawings promptly to reflect the changes, and provided a set of CAD drawings which we used extensively in planning room layouts, bathroom fixtures etc. The process was straightforward and painless, and Potton advised us quickly when a change we wanted to make would be technically difficult or impossible.
It took us about three months from contracting with Potton to completing the initial design phase, including obtaining the structural engineers’ foundation designs. We had appointed a Project Manager, introduced to us by Potton, to handle all the details of the build, though we did remain very closely involved throughout. We used, in the main, subcontractors that he knew and had used before.
Work in earnest started on site in November 2011, at which point the heavens opened, and it rained continuously and heavily for three months, or so it felt. This meant that the groundworks, which were complex in any case, became near impossible. The delays this caused rippled through the whole build process.
The timber frame was delivered (much excitement) in March, and the erection team started work. There was a hiatus once the bottom floor was erected, while the groundworkers caught up to the point where scaffolding could be erected. Then the first floor and roof went on in a brief spell of fine weather.
The erection team were excellent, and the frame went up quickly.
The house was finally habitable in December 2012, though none of the landscaping work had been done outside. The series of delays in the work, many originating in the early groundworks delays, and in the atrocious weather through much of 2012, meant that we moved in a couple of days before the contract on our rental house expired. Not at all what we had planned!
The building process was certainly challenging, and certainly stressful – we think this is inevitable, exacerbated by the tight timing at the end of the build. We had a mix of subcontractors, some good, some OK, some pretty poor. It is easy to be wise after the event, but not clear exactly how to weed out the poor ones before starting. As well as the challenges and stresses, though, there was a lot of fun, and some moments of great excitement as we saw our plans coming together. Having lived in the house for over a year now, we are happy with it, and proud of the house and our achievements. We knew we had got it right when a good friend walked into the house for the first time and simply said “Wow!”.
As far as doing it again, G would, P probably not, and certainly not with the time pressures we had at the end of our build. But undoubtedly worthwhile.