Terry’s Guide to Self Building: Developing the Design

In the final part of his blog series, self builder Terry Brown Waite talks about getting the design right.

I’ve been sharing my experiences of building my own home, with the first two blogs in this series looking at the importance of doing your homework  and my top tips for finding the perfect plot. For the final instalment in the series, I want to take a look at what is perhaps the most important aspect of planning a self build: getting the actual building design right.

Terry exterior

Working with an architect

Architects can help you get the most from your space, as well as advising on things like energy efficiency and acoustic performance. You will be in close contact with your architect throughout your project, so it’s important to find one that you trust and can build a good working relationship with. All architects must be registered with the Architect's Registration Board (ARB) and many of them are also members of professional body the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), so these organisations are a good starting point for your search.

Planning the space

Architectural plans

It’s really important to think about how you want to use the space, as this will influence all the little details that impact your day-to-day life. Simple things like where you put the light switches or power sockets can make a big difference. Also think about storage – where are you going to put your ironing board and your cleaning supplies? Have you left space for an airing cupboard? Sorting out these rather un-glamorous things will eventually make living in your new home much easier.

The layout has implications for the acoustics of the space too, so it’s worth carefully thinking about this when deciding where to position the washing machine or stereo system, for example. If you can’t avoid having noisy appliances next to quiet spaces, you can upgrade the acoustic performance of the building materials to mitigate this.

For example, after British Gypsum ran a simulation for us, we discovered that our intended layout would present a real problem with reverberation. The solution was to install Gyptone QUATTRO 41 acoustic ceiling tiles, which significantly improved the acoustics and add an interesting design feature to our angular suspended ceiling.

Fabric first

Reviewing plans

I passionately believe that taking a ‘fabric first’ approach is crucial for a successful self build project. This means investing in the basic structure of the building, choosing high quality, long lasting materials that will raise the overall standard of your home. It’s easy to become blindsided by interior design magazines and be tempted to spend the budget on fancy kitchens and bathrooms, but these things can all be upgraded later on if necessary – whereas the walls, ceilings and floors will be there for the long haul.

We chose to upgrade the specification of the plasterboard in our property to Gyproc Habito, which gave us the peace of mind that the internal walls will be solid and, hopefully, maintenance free for years to come.

Submitting planning applications

Securing the correct planning permission for your plot of land is crucial to building your own home, but the process can be complicated and fraught with uncertainty. Local authorities and the national Planning Portal all provide guidance on putting together a successful application and it’s worth taking the extra care to make sure yours gets through first time.

All local authorities use the same standard application form, known as 1APP, which can be obtained from the Planning Portal, where you can also complete your application online. The exact supporting documents will vary from site to site, but generally you must provide the application form, a site plan, block plan and elevations of the existing and proposed site, a Design and Access Statement and the application fee.

The process should take no more than eight weeks from the point of application but it’s worthwhile knowing that you can withdraw an application at any time. So, if you suspect it’s going to be refused, you can withdraw it and make the necessary amendments before re-submitting it free of charge.

There’s no doubt that self building can be a tricky and sometimes stressful experience, but the rewards of having a completely bespoke home far outstrips any of the negative aspects of the process.