Terry's Guide to Self Building: Research

Self builder Terry Brown Waite shares his experiences in the first of a three-part blog series

Terry exterior

I’ve recently completed a self build project – the culmination of many years of dreaming and more than 15 months of hard graft. Over the next few blogs, I’m going to be sharing some of the hints and tips I’ve picked up along the way, to help other aspiring self builders avoid the common pitfalls and realise their own dreams.

In this first blog, I’ll be tackling one of the most important elements of your project: thorough research. Building your own home is an exciting undertaking but unless your background is in the construction trade, it can also be an incredibly steep learning curve. With so much invested in the project – both financially and emotionally – it’s crucial to make the right choices when it comes to managing the budget, choosing your architect or tradesmen and deciding which products and materials to invest in.

So, without further ado, here are my top five tips for researching a self build:

Look for inspiration

You might already have a fairly clear idea of how you want your new home to look but if not, take a look round at what other people have done to get some ideas. Social media has made it easier than ever before to find like-minded people, so it can be useful to seek out other self builders, as they can be a useful source of inspiration and advice.

However, don’t forget that while there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, it’s important to keep a sensible head on your shoulders and to remember that the basic materials and structure of the property will have the longest impact. After all, these are the decisions you will need to live with forever, so it’s worth investing in them – the pretty kitchens and decorations can always be upgraded down the line.

Set a realistic budget

It’s important to get an idea of costs right at the beginning so you don’t get any nasty surprises later. I kept expenses down by doing the physical building work myself but if you’re planning on using contractors, speak to a few local builders to get a rough idea of cost per m2. Don’t forget to factor in the architect and structural engineer’s fees, planning submission fees and VAT on materials (although you can claim this back at the end of the build.)



Despite the convenience of the Internet, nothing beats the ‘old fashioned’ method of speaking to suppliers and industry professionals directly, to tap into their expertise. Exhibitions are an excellent way of meeting product manufacturers in person and you can quickly gather a lot of information in a short space of time – indeed, it was at an exhibition where I first came across British Gypsum’s Gyproc Habito plasterboard, which I ended up using throughout my property.

Another really useful resource is the National Self Build and Renovation Centre in Swindon, which features a wide variety of permanent exhibition stands covering all aspects of the build process. The information there is invaluable and I would absolutely recommend this as the first port of call for anyone starting out.

Seek expert advice


Developing a relationship with key product manufacturers can pay huge dividends and, in my experience, was one of the most useful sources of information and support. After discovering Gyproc Habito at an exhibition, I became quite closely involved with British Gypsum’s technical team and ended up attending several courses at the Technical Academy in East Leake, to learn how to install the product properly.
This was the start of a really beneficial relationship, which introduced me to several other product innovations and technologies that raised the standard of my build. For example, when I showed my plans to the team they quickly realised I was going to have a problem with acoustic reverberation in the open plan spaces. After running a simulation, the British Gypsum team helped me to develop an alternative ceiling design that has vastly improved the acoustic performance of the building.

Find reliable tradespeople

As I mentioned earlier, I did all the actual construction work myself but for most people, finding trusted builders and specialist tradespeople will make or break your project. Personal recommendations are a good way to find reliable help and some manufacturers will also be able to provide a list of approved installers. British Gypsum, for example, maintains a list of Certified Plasterers, so you can be sure the work will be completed to a high standard.