Homebuilding & Renovating - - PORTFOLIO -

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.”

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