Automated Home 2.0 – #37 Our Top Tips for Self Builders

They say you need to do 3 self-builds before you get it right. After completing our second I reckon that number might be closer to 33 🙂 Here’s a collection of random tips if you’ve decided to join the madness build your own home.

Get Your Ideas Together

Get out there and visit as many houses and showrooms as you can. Each time you are out at a bathroom / tile / kitchen place or a show house or self build exhibition you’ll pick up something new.

Even before you’ve got your plot, start talking to several architects. See who feels right and who you could work with easily. Hiring the right professionals is key to a successful design.

TIP – Check out the useful Architects links at the bottom of
this page.

Plan for Low Energy

Plan for a low energy home from the start. You are building in the 21st Century so make sure to take advantage of the best technology around. Move to electric heating now and consider not burning anything at all.

Current building regs can be pitifully poor so while we wait for them to catch up to our electrified future, try to go above and beyond, especially with your insulation and airtightness measures.

Room Sizes

Get the balance right. For example, we decided the Utility in our previous house was largely wasted space and designed everything we needed into 5.5 sq m in the new house. It works great and savings like this meant we were able to give our Kitchen Living Dining room the larger airy feel we wanted.

Images & 3D Renders

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it’s never been easier to grab some inspiration from the virtual world. These are 3 of the the best image sources you can use. For example searching for a phrase like ‘contemporary living room’ gives the following results from these 3 platforms…

Take some of your favourite images to the first meeting with your architect, it’ll save a lot of time.

Once you have your design, do get a 3D render of your plans, not just from your bathroom and kitchen suppliers, but of the entire property.

Kitchen Design - 3D Render vs Reality

It is hugely helpful for spotting issues. And useful for making decisions on finishes and seeing details that need resolving that are difficult to spot on a 2D drawing.

Inside Out

I feel that with our first self build we spent more time worrying about how the outside of the house looked than how the inside worked. So I’d say work from the inside out instead. While you want the outside to look good, don’t try to fit the interior layout you really need around an exterior image.

Be an Optimist (Mostly)

There are lots of challenges ahead, it’s probably going to take several years from start to finish so you’ll need some staying power and a certain amount of blind enthusiasm. So be upbeat and optimistic, you may need it just to get through the planning process. There are plenty of enjoyable experiences too though, so remember to have fun along the way.

Be a Pessimist (Sometimes)

Don’t let that stop you from putting down realistic costs in your spreadsheet though. We found it was very beneficial to err on the side of caution when we were budgeting.

For example, you’ll get quoted prices per square metre for tiles, as well as a cost for laying them. But when the time comes to pay suddenly there’s adhesive and grout and trims to pay for too which no one included and can really add up. So plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Stone Wall

More Detail, Less Extras

One of the things that really grinds my gears was some of the extras we were hit with. When things go wrong everyone just turns to you with their hand held out for more.

You can’t get absolutely everything tied down, but try. Really try. The less you leave to chance the fewer issues you’ll have once it comes time to start building.

And that includes seemingly simple things like planning where your underfloor heating manifolds are going to go for example. Carefully plan and confirm plumbing, MVHR and other mechanical installations. Where is your plant going? Your airing cupboard? That bank of switches in the kitchen? Tie it all down from the start.

Sneak in extra storage too where you can, especially if you’re going for a clean minimalist look, you’ll need it.

Assume Nothing

We had generic baths and toilets shown on our drawings from the architect. These bore no resemblance to our actual bathroom designs but our builder went ahead and installed drains in the footings for these layouts. Don’t assume people will ask.

Just because you know the colour of that soffit or down pipe don’t assume your builder does. Tell them from the start to make sure everything is confirmed with you first.

Automated Home 2.0 Building Site

Be On Site

I cannot stress this enough, BE. ON. SITE. Daily preferably, especially during first fix.

From the second fix on things suddenly get even more manic. The daily bombardment of questions reaches fever pitch and decisions you thought you’d already made suddenly require more thought as all the finishes come together during the final few weeks.

Think of the Future

Try to plan for the future, especially in regards to wiring. You only get one chance to run cables in your walls so make the most of it, better to have an extra point you never use, than to find out you need one a week after you move in.

One of our favourite things in the new house is our downstairs bedroom. If you really are building your ‘forever home’ think forward to a time when your children have grown up and moved out and your old bones feel like mine. Even consider making provision for a room downstairs to be converted to a bedroom later.

Simplicity is Easy, Right?

We found out that creating the clean lines and semi-minimal look that we wanted is actually much more difficult than our previous, more conventional style home.

In addition, vaulted ceilings leave zero backup plan for running future pipes or cables so there’s even more onus to get everything right first time.

Stick to Your Guns

There are a hundred reasons not to do something special in your new build. The cost, difficulty finding the right people or sourcing the products. But if there’s something you really want to do, do not get talked out of it.

We found that it’s the little details that cost little or nothing extra in the grand scheme of things that make all the difference when you are living in the house. The floor to ceiling glass shower screen and the niches for your shampoo bottle, the socket behind the sofa for your laptop, the smart switch beside your bed that shuts down the entire house. We had some bespoke mirrors made for not much more than similar regular items too.

Ensuite Sources

Leave your finish choices as late as possible – things change over the multi-year course of a build and that can include your taste.

The Importance of Lighting

While our primary reason for the Loxone system was for overall building management, I cannot stress enough the affect that its great lighting has added to our home.

It’s fantastic for helping to zone larger open plan areas for different uses and can even bring a little drama to the smallest rooms in the house too. While we had to take our lighting design out of the budget we were able to benefit from the lighting experience of our smart home installers instead.

Loxone Barn Lighting

Eyes on the Prize

Despite your best plans you are inevitably going to realise some things during the actual build you never considered. For example when our doors went into the stone wall we needed some oak trim to cover the door frames.

It’s tempting to add in extras without reducing something else in turn. But if you have a fixed budget, and we certainly did, then when you’re adding something to your spreadsheet – remembered you must be reducing somewhere else to pay for it.

Manage with these Free Cloud Tools

A few free online tools were an absolute godsend for managing our project. Three things in particular were utterly indispensable.

Dropbox is your free hard drive in the Cloud.

DropBox Folder for Self Build Project

Everything from my laptop was sorted into folders in my Dropbox.

This meant every drawing, quotation, invoice and specification were instantly available on my computer and importantly, my phone too. This was brilliant when out and about and needing to check a dimension or some other info and meant I could instantly share our plans with the vendor we were visiting.

Google Docs – Our entire project was managed from one huge spreadsheet. I have tabs for each room, useful for making notes on things we wanted. Tabs on costings, tabs on dates, dimensions, tiles, doors, M&E – everything that went into the house.

Self build notes

Apple Notes – I used the built-in Apple Notes app extensively on my iPhone and Mac. This was really useful for keeping a running list of outstanding issues or decisions required for each part of the build,

Walking around the site I added issues as I saw them, then they were all there next time we met the the builder, electrician, smart home company, bathroom and tile suppliers etc.

Quick Fire Round

Finally, here’s a random list of some things to make sure you are thinking about.

  • Add both hot and cold taps outside for car washing etc
  • Budget for beds and furniture that you’ll want in your new home. We sold nearly everything as we left our previous house and it was the right decision.
  • Talk to other self builders – Read case studies in Self Build mags and join forums and Facebook groups like these.
  • Minimise reliance on wireless sensors and battery powered devices. Hard wired will always be better.
  • Think about the placement of your garage door switches that makes them easiest to open as you head to your car.

Have you got tips to add? Leave them in the comments section below. Good luck with your project!

Remember to check out our Instagram to follow the project, read the rest of the Automated Home 2.0 blog posts and find the links to all the products we’ve used in our self-build.

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