The build route

the route to a satisfactory house extension

The Build Route is how you will transform your dream into the built structure.

The build route is about deciding who does what, under the constraints of skills, time, health, money, feasibility and desire. A self builder who wants to project-manage but is a high-earner may have to appoint a project manager. An unemployed self-builder with some construction skills may want to do as much as they physically can. A build route might involve the purchase of a “golden brick” site – where you start with a plot that has ready-built foundations and services.

A popular build route is to engage an architect or architectural designer for the design and planning. If you take this route you have the option of using the same architect to liaise with a main contractor. Another build route is where you adopt the role of project manager yourself. In this case, you will source, engage and manage the various contractors on your site. Other build routes exist and these are explored below.

When considering the build route for your project, be aware that you will have to compromise between the following factors:

  • how hands-on you wish to be
  • your appetite for risk (technical, design, financial etc)
  • the time you have available
  • your financial situation.

The Build Route is not just about who will design and build your house, but also about your choice of partners (if any) and the type of plot.

Advantages of using a Main Contractor

If you are engaging a main contractor to provide a turnkey solution to the house build, you needn’t concern yourself about sourcing or managing the various trades that are engaged. It’s likely that you will get expert guidance and project management from your main contractor. This is reassuring but, remember, you are paying for this comfort and reassurance.

Implications of a DIY self-build

If you are veering towards a more DIY solution, then you will need to decide how to split the services between your own DIY activities and those performed by any external contractors. Your own personal challenge as a potential self-builder is to consider how much you wish to get involved in the project. Your available time, your range of skills and your budget will help corral your options and shape your own route to the self-build.

For a DIY build route, it’s not a problem to split a project into component services as long as you understand the interactivity between the services. For example, a cantilevered stairway might be scheduled for installation in the final stages of the project but the stairway mountings have to be designed from day one. If you decide to have a cantilevered stairway after the main structure has been erected, you need to appreciate the additional costs you will incur. It will cost you a few thousand pounds extra to redesign and change the main structure to include the stairway mountings.

The insurance aspects also need careful consideration. Consider the scenario where you are the project manager and you are hiring specialist trades to work on your site and use your or third-party machinery or tools. An example is external cladding contractors using scaffolding that you have hired from a third party contractor. It is essential that you check that your site liability insurance covers all eventualities.

The 3 Major Decisions
Your first decision is whether to do a Solo Build, yourself on a single site, or a Group Build, with several homeowners forming a legal entity, several plots on one site.

Your next decision is the type of site you will choose. Will it be a plot of land, an existing building or a pre-prepared plot (usually one of several on a single site), known as a Custom Build. At this stage, you have selected one of the four possible categories:

  • Solo Build
  • Group Build
  • Custom Build
  • Group Custom Build

Your third major decision is how the house will be designed and built, and by whom.

For Structural Timber solutions, the major choices are:

  • Package Supplier
    • You hand the entire project over to a Package Supplier, who looks after everything from design to fabrication to assembly and fitting out and decoration. There are some suppliers who will also include plot acquisition and planning.
  • Designer plus Package Supplier
    • You engage a designer (any of the options below) and a Package Supplier who will engage sub-contractors as required
  • Designer plus Project Manager plus contractors
    • You engage a designer, a Project Manager and the contractors
  • DIY plus contractors
    • You engage a designer, appoint yourself as Project Manager, engage your own contractors and perform some of the work yourself

Types of designer that are available:

  • Architect
  • Architectural Designer or Technologist
  • Designers employed by Timber Frame manufacturers
  • DIY

As you can see from the above, there are a large number of build routes that are possible. Here are just a few of the more common ones:

  • Self Build + DIY design + Closed Panel contractor + trade contractors
  • Self Build + Project Manager + Closed Panel contractor + Glulam contractor + trade contractors
  • Custom Build + Architect + Package Supplier
  • Group Build + Archi Tech + Project Manager + CLT contractor + trade contractors
  • Group Custom Build + Architectural Designer + Package Supplier

There is a build route that is just right for you; you need only weigh up the pros and cons of each. Here’s a couple of routes with pros and cons added:

DIY build route
This route gives you a large degree of flexibility and the potential for considerable savings. However, this is only true if you have sufficient knowledge and/or the requisite skills. For example, if you take the project management role, you will need to understand how each trade works with each other. If there are tasks omitted early in the project ie work that you should have instigated, it might be very expensive to rectify at a later date.

House Package build route
This is probably the least complex route as it requires you to deal with just one housebuilding company. Some companies have a catalogue of designs while others have potential sites available for sale. Most will allow you to adjust the catalogue designs to your own lifestyle and many will produce a custom design using in-house personnel. There is usually the option to use your own architect for the design and/or planning services.