The Knowledge GETTING INVOLVED
Lending a hand on site can be a sensible move for the experienced DIY enthusiast, but it is not always as straightforward for the novice — and can sometimes spell disaster, holding up other trades and resulting in shoddy and even dangerous workmanship. The drawbacks for the DIY novice are obvious. Not only will your build take longer – especially if you have work commitments and family – but the quality of workmanship may also suffer. A sensible rule of thumb is to leave those tasks which could potentially damage your health – or your house – to the professionals.
Hands-on self-builds are not impossible, however, and can significantly reduce your costs. Laying underfloor heating pipes, fitting insulation and plasterboard, painting, gardening and light carpentry for instance are all popular with self-builders. Roofing, glazing and gas or electrical installations, on the other hand, should really be undertaken by a qualified professional.
Chris Birtchnell had previously been involved with building a timber frame home, and her husband, Keith Scoons, has a sound background in DIY.
With a tight budget to consider, the couple decided to manage the build themselves and were on site every day to oversee trades and tackle as much of the physical labour as possible.
“There was definitely a bit of a lull between the frame going up and the inside of the house being fitted out,” says Keith. “Luckily we were in no rush to finish the build for a set date, which took the pressure off.”
The couple sensibly left more expert tasks such as erecting the oak frame, roofing and plastering to the experts, but took on some of the more straightforward jobs themselves, which saved them large sums of money as a result. These tasks included painstakingly cleaning the oak frame using oxalic acid to remove water marks — a job for which they had been quoted almost
£5,000, and which Chris consequently completed. “It was a horrible job and involved scrubbing every beam to remove tannin marks,” she says.
Keith laid basket-weave brickwork for the fireplace floor, installed data cables throughout the house and put down floorboards salvaged from the previous bungalow as flooring in the upstairs rooms. He also assembled the spiral staircase kit which had been imported from Italy.
“There were times when it would have been far easier to have employed a building contractor to organise the various trades,” admits Keith, who kept a detailed diary of the build which logs every high and low point during the project. “For instance, the electrician refused to install our consumer unit before the wall had been plastered, but the plasterer then told us that the door frame needed to be installed first.
“Overall though we’re glad that we took on so much of the work ourselves, especially as we intend to stay in the house long-term,” he concludes. “Being on site every day meant that we could keep a really close eye on everything and stay involved.”