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Self Build - Explaining the term 'Self Build' and the path to take to ensure a successful result

I am in the market for a new home and have been advised by friends to look at the option of ‘self building’ on a family owned plot. I am strongly favouring this option but I don’t fully understand the full detail of what a ‘self build’ entails. Could you provide me with some information and benefits?

The ‘Self Build’ sector in Ireland has grown significantly in the last few years, with in excess of 25,000 planning decisions being granted for this project type alone within the island of Ireland during 2006. While there are many reasons for the surge in popularity of self builds, the main driving factors tend to be around being able to control the look and feel of your home and, to a latter degree, costs.
As you would imagine with any self build you will not be physically building the house yourself. Rather you will appoint a team of qualified trade professionals to design, build and finish the property to your exact requirements. This flexibility and control is the ultimate deciding factor for many self builders – something that you will not achieve in buying as part of a development, even if you buy off the plans. However, there is an obvious downside to taking the self build route - by going down this road you will need to commit significant time and effort to achieving your dream home - so make sure you consider this in your decision making processes. If you are time starved you may choose to contract a building contractor or architect to take the bulk of this load off you by project managing the build and, while you will pay for their services, you can still chip in with important decisions as required.
From a cost perspective there is no guarantee that the building will come in any cheaper than buying a pre-built unit but you should have transparency of these at all times. In adding up the costs you should also account for your own time. A significant cost factor for many is in buying the plot of land – but in your case you seem to have this covered off which should save you tens of thousands on the overall project costs. For other readers that are looking to purchase a site – please make sure that you get it surveyed properly before you buy it – analysing ground suitability, service costs etc. is not recommended without the services of a qualified and impartial professional. Once you have followed through on the purchase / allocation of a plot through your solicitor then you will need to look at the design and planning of your new home. Ultimately these items go hand in hand – your architect will create plans for your home based upon your input but also based upon what they think they can get through planning permission guidelines from your local authority. Though you ultimately may not get your dream design through the planning stage, a good architect will be able to adapt it to a suitable compromise. If you are still in doubt about the final design, make an appointment with the local authority planning engineer, bring in a draft of the plans and listen to their feedback. Ultimately they will influence the decision, so their feedback is golden! Another cost factor is in the area of insurance – always make sure that you have adequate public liability insurance for a self build project, either personally or through your building contractor. This covers you for any accidents on your site – without it you face exposure to huge payout sums in the event of a claim against you. As a project manager you will also be responsible for site health and safety, so make sure the basics of correct credentials (Safe Pass etc), correct protective wear (hard hats, goggles etc.) and behavior are adhered to at all times.
Once you have the fundamentals of your project sorted out you will need to plan your workforce. Are you planning to get involved in the physical aspect of the build? If so, at what level? While you may think you are ‘handy’ you are likely to be no match to a qualified and experienced trade professional. In this area I would always advise sourcing qualified trade professionals from a reputable source. You will see that there are now many online directories and services on the internet that list ‘quality’ tradesmen in Ireland. The issue here however is that anyone tradesman with money can join them – without any vetting or qualification check. At you can source everything you need – from architects, builders to plumbers – along with pricing estimates and availability and they are all qualified and experienced through our accreditation partners like FAS, RECI and the national guild. As with all major projects I would always recommend that you create a binding contract with any prospective tradesmen, where you define agreed costs and payment structures. It is worth creating a realistic timeline with the builder for completion of the project in question, listen to their advice and the advice of your architect here. Often inclement weather can delay projects in Ireland so factor everything in before settling on a completion timeframe or you will cause yourself untold stress!
I touched upon the access to services earlier in the piece when considering the plot of land for your project. Where easy access to water mains and electricity supply do not exist you can always consider alternative sources such as water harvesting, solar, heat pumps among others – indeed in this day and age every self builder should be cramming as much ‘green’ technology into their properties as possible. If not for the environmental benefits then for the costs savings they provide! You will also need to consider the disposal of waste water in your design – septic tanks, reed beds and similar technologies can provide a solution to most rural plots.

From the above your have probably figured out that self building is by no means for everyone. However, with the right approach and team around you it can be a very worthwhile and cost effective process. You should always plan out your steps and shop around where you can - keeping your feelers out for new technologies and innovations in the sector. It is also key that you allow for a fixed contingency in both timelines and budget for such a project, prepare a worst case scenario budget when armed with proven hard facts and never exceed it.


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