Whenever I am invited by a client to meet with them to discuss their self-build project, I have a list of facts I need to establish in order that I can leave the appointment with a clear understanding of what I am to design. This post is designed to guide you through the process I tend to follow, and answer any common questions you may have.

What Size House Can You Build?

‘How much is it going to cost me?’ is probably the most common question I get asked. In fairness, unless you already have a design, it is probably the least relevant question you can ask. There is little point in having a house designed in the hope you can afford it.

So what I need to know are two things…

  1. What is your budget?
  2. How do you intend to build your home?

With a budget established, I then need to know how much of it will be for the house and what we need to earmark for other elements of the project. Examples of these would be demolition costs, connections to services, driveways, garages, landscaping. Etc…

That should leave us with a budget for house…

What I mean by ‘How do you intend to you build your home’  is what route do you think you will take to build your house. There are 3 main routes that people generally opt for…

  • Self-managed – this route gets you the most for your money, but it can be hard work. You will be responsible for sourcing the trades for the building of your home, hiring and firing and general management of the build.
  • Project managed – this way you employ a professional who becomes responsible for finding your trades and manging the build. Obviously, you will need to allow for his/her costs.
  • Full Turnkey Route – taking this route puts your build in the hands of a builder who will take you from start to finish. Whilst this is always the most expensive, it is also the easiest route and therefore the most popular.

By knowing which route you prefer and the usual build costs in your area, I can then determine the size of the house you can afford. How? Simple!

Budget for the house ÷ Price per (ft² or m²) = Property Size (ft² or m²)

What Will It Look Like

In most cases, town and villages will have a reasonably eclectic mix of properties and so there are few restrictions on the style of property you can build, within reason. Exceptions to this are when you are in a special policy area such as a Conservation Area, Area of Outstanding Beauty or Green Belt.

In these areas, we will need to ensure that the design follows the criteria outlined by the Local Planning Authority. This may be restrictions on the style of the property or the materials we have to use or the property may need to be designed to impact the area as little as possible. It is usually straightforward enough to establish if your site is within one of these areas and to establish the impact it will have on your design.

It is probably worth mentioning that building in these areas can sometimes have an effect on your build costs, particularly when building materials are concerned. For example, when building in the Cotswolds (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) it is likely that you will have to use stone for walls and roof – both expensive materials.

How Big Can We Go

This is usually determined by your budget, however, on some sites this will be determined by the site constraints or even planning policy.

A majority of sites are located within the defined settlement boundary of the town or village they are within. In Laymen’s terms, this is a thick black line drawn on a map of the town or village by the Local Planning Authority. If your site is within this line, you are in the defined settlement boundary and there is an usually an assumption in favour of development. Outside, and your site is classed as development in the open countryside. I will deal with each of these separately.

  • Sites within defined settlement boundaries

The height, width and depth of your house will be only be restricted by the dimensions of your site and street scene. What I mean by that, is that your property will need to be designed to be sympathetic to the neighbouring properties. For example, if your site is located between 2 bungalows, it is a reasonable assumption that the planners will want to see a similar height property.

The beauty with these sites is that you will normally be restricted on size.

Sites outside of defined settlement boundaries

It is rare that you will come across a site with planning approval in the open countryside. The majority of sites that I work on in the countryside are either replacement dwelling or key worker dwellings (agricultural or equestrian tied).

Replacement dwellings are a popular way of building a new house in the countryside. Care should be taken though as most local authorities will restrict the size of the replacement dwelling. Unfortunately, I can’t be any more specific as each Local Authority have their own policies regarding replacement dwellings and I suggest you take advice before buying one of these sites.

Design Considerations/Restrictions

As well as the main points already covered, there can be a number of other factors that can influence the design of your new home and therefore need to be considered at an early stage.

  • Driveways, Parking & Turning – whilst it is usually a given that house will require parking for vehicles, some Local Planning Authorities have very specific requirements for parking provisions. This can sometimes take up a lot of space on the site and, particularly on narrow sites, reduce the size of the proposed dwelling.
  • Trees – Most people assume that a tree only needs to be considered if it has a Tree Preservation Order on it. Should there be any trees on the site and they are to be retained the Local Planning Authority will want to see how these are to be protected during the course of construction. This will usually require the assistance of an Arboriculturalist who will prepare a report to submit with the planning application.
  • Neighbouring Houses / Gardens – This is quite a simple one; if there are adjacent dwellings I try to avoid putting bedroom windows in the side elevations of the proposed dwelling. This removes the chance of valid objections coming from the neighbours.
  • Easements – Following a change in the law a few years ago, if a foul sewer goes through your site and it serves any other properties then you will not be able to build within 3m (either side) of it. This means that there will be a 6m strip of undevelopable land that needs to be considered. If the location of the sewer restricts development on the site then it is possible to divert the course of the sewer but this can get expensive!!!

And Finally…It Is Your House After All.

And so, after everything else has been considered we can now start work on the design of your new home. This then is when it becomes personal to you…so what do we need to know. Here’s a few things to consider…

  • Number and type of rooms – how many bedrooms do you want, how many bathrooms, etc
  • Positioning of rooms – what rooms need to be where and why?
  • Personal requirements
    • Do you work from home – do you need and office of a study.
    • What about a playroom for the children
    • Games / Cinema rooms – these can always go in a basement
    • Future expansion plans – what about getting the roof space ready for future expansion. Planning for this early can save £10,000’s in the future.
  • Features – Vaulted rooms, balconies, jetties, cantilevers.

At Adams Planning & Project Services we understand that building your own is one of biggest things you will ever do. Getting the design right will ensure the whole project gets off a great start.