Design Your Own House, On A Budget

17 March 2019 Paul Newman, Self Build Director
Image of a Potton Sketchup model for Gunn house


Building your own house is the best chance you will have to create a truly outstanding home for you and your family. However, achieving a space of the scale and ambition that you see on programmes like Grand Designs usually relies on a budget that most of us don’t have. And not everyone wants Kevin McLeod and co tramping around their new home hoping for something to go wrong!

A tight budget doesn’t mean that you should give up on architectural wow though. There’s no reason you can’t create a beautiful and brilliant new home fit to grace the cover of a magazine, regardless of budget. Here’s how.


Keep the shape simple

The more you can reduce the number of complicated building elements – corners, valleys, hips, nooks and recesses – the easier and cheaper your home will be to build. It’s not just the difficulties of the external construction elements – every interruption to a long, flat surface does create a hurdle (both literally and metaphorically!) – but the interior work too, from extra cuts on plasterboard to fiddly work fitting flooring, mouldings and much more. We’re not saying that you should build a box or design out any character, but the closer you can stick to a conventional rectangular house shape, the better this will be for your budget.


Don’t build too big

Every extra square metre adds cost to your overall build budget. It’s the same as for building plots for sale – all things being equal, the bigger it is, the more expensive it is. Some square metres are cheaper than others – bedrooms, for example, are generally cheaper to build than kitchens – but every extra bit of space can add thousands of pounds to your overall costs. Some of the ‘Grand Designs’ homes are well over 400m2, but keep in mind that the average 3-4 bedroom new build developer home on an estate is around 160m2. 

You might find the temptation is to keep on adding extra space, but it’s well worth carrying out a construction exercise before you finalise your plans. Try to find the balance between a feeling of generous living space (‘wow’ factor) and the areas of the house that simply won’t get used. Think about homes you have visited that get this balance right. Perhaps visit the Potton Self Build Show Centre where you can walk around five fully furnished show homes and really get a feel for room sizes.


Minimise bespoke features

Of course, all individual homes are one of a kind and your house plans will themselves be bespoke, but specifying excessive materials, especially those that must be made up, can add a lot to costs. For example, while some window suppliers only work with bespoke sizing, others tend to work off standard widths and heights. 

Ceiling heights are another great example: 2.4m is the standard height of plasterboard, and so not utilising this exact height means that your plasterer will need to make a cut on every board or purchase non-standard boards. Either way your plasterer chooses to deal with it this adds a cost, whether it’s to labour or materials.


Be smart with your materials shopping

Around 49% of the average self-build home budget is spent on materials, so it pays to approach this six-figure shopping trip with maximum research and a cool head. If you’re working to a very strict budget you will clearly have to prioritise expenditure on key items – ideally, these should be the structural elements that you can’t change later. 

You should also try to find low-price versions of the things that really make your space stand out. One example is polished concrete, a big must-have in a lot of today’s modern homes. A supply-and-fit contractor might charge around £200/m2, which is five times the price of high-quality wooden flooring. An alternative to this material is good quality concrete-style porcelain tiling for around £20/m2. Tiles don’t look identical but the overall theme is the same. And for most of us the savings, which could easily run into thousands of pounds, will more than compensate. 

Self-building is full of choices like this – prepare well for the biggest shopping trip of your life!

Use labour wisely

The other half your project cost is going to be spent on tradespeople. Making significant savings here depends on several factors – most importantly, the amount of time you have and your general attitude towards DIY. Some jobs are beyond the bounds of even the most accomplished DIYer – work relating to gas or mains electricity, for instance. Other jobs like decorating and landscaping are where you can make savings, and truly make your house your own.

The way to approach DIY is to avoid getting involved in work which is part of a critical path – in other words, it must be completed by a certain date (and to a certain standard) for the next job to start. As a DIYer, you won’t be as good or as fast as a professional, and the secret to successful DIY involvement on a self-build house project is to choose the areas where DIY is involved wisely.

Brick walls are a really good example. A competent DIYer might be able to lay 150-200 bricks in a day. That is probably a third of the speed – and likely a lot messier – than an experienced bricklayer. Your build schedule will be instantly affected as you move on to roofing and so on. However, this matters less when building the brick walls for a landscaping project for example. A bricklayer will charge the same price regardless of the task. Choose your areas of involvement carefully like this, and you can save a huge amount of money without affecting the smooth running of the project.


Next steps

We can work with you to design your new home, guide you through obtaining planning permission, and help you construct and complete your new home. Why not start by requesting a free copy of build beautiful Magazine – full of informative articles and self-build house case studies to inspire you. We’d also love to welcome you to our show centre in St Neots, Cambridgeshire – home to our acclaimed Self Build Academy offering seminars, events and masterclasses for aspiring self-builders.