Build a better lifestyle
Creating a new home from scratch can bring a whole host of benefits for your household. Emily Smith highlights the top 10 ways it could change your day-to-day life
1 Create a tailored layout
One of the key advantages of self building is that you have the opportunity to create a home that’s totally in tune with your needs and the way you would like to interact with your living environment. Whether that means an open-plan family space with a large kitchen where you can keep an eye on the kids while you cook, or a luxurious master suite with its own walk-in wardrobe – you can make sure you have the right amount of room where you want it.
A good starting point when devising your floorplan is to think about how you interact with your current home and if the relationship could be improved. You’ll probably want to keep some of the same furniture, especially any family heirlooms (which can sometimes be unusual shapes), so remember to cater for these when you plan the spaces.
2 Enjoy light-filled living
There’s heaps of research out there proving the benefits of regularly coming into contact with natural light. From improving your sleep quality through to the positive effects on mental function and mood thanks to increased levels of serotonin, daylight is arguably the most precious commodity you can have in your home.
Your designer will carefully plan window positions; focusing on how the sun moves across your plot to draw up your floorplan according to which rooms you’ll be in at different times of the day. For instance, you could wake up in the morning with natural illumination streaming into your bedroom and come home after work to relax in a lounge that captures the last of the evening sun.
Although the sun’s pattern is predictable, you will experience different results across the various seasons, so the design should cater for year-round daylight. You’ll need to note if the landscape around your plot, such as trees and other buildings, could obscure sunrays, for instance. Many architects and designers can produce a computer model of your new home design to show how daylight will fall across a building throughout the year, influencing room position and the overall orientation.
3 Reduce energy bills
If you’re designing a space that helps to capture daylight, then you’ll be able to use natural warmth to your advantage, too. A term you’ll come across a lot on this
subject is solar gain. Basically, well-considered positioning of both your building and its windows by your designer will help you to gain free heating from the sun. But be careful to ensure spaces don’t overheat; design in shading for intense summer sun via precautions such as overhangs.
Capturing free warmth in your home will help to lower bills, but reducing energy use is about much more than getting the glazing right. A fabric first approach is key to keeping future household bills down. Modern buildings are highly insulated and airtight, so they should leak out minimal heat and won’t cost the earth to run.
Heavyweight constructions like masonry cavity walls benefit from thermal mass, so they’ll soak up warmth during the day and release it slowly later on to provide even heating patterns. But thermal mass can also be incorporated into lighter-weight systems like timber frame – brick cladding, concrete floors and masonry chimney stacks could all help with this. If you’re keen to create a low-energy home, look into building to Passivhaus standards. This design methodology aims to reduce the energy need for space heating, while ensuring rooms have good air quality and comfort levels.
4 Soak up the surroundings
There’s another benefit to having ample glazing – the potential to frame panoramic views and create a better connection with your garden. In fact, regular contact with nature is another commodity that is known to be good for us, generally increasing health and happiness, so it’s worth thinking of ways to bring the outdoors in.
Glazed doors connecting living spaces and gardens are a popular feature that work well to blur the inside/outside boundaries. Think about what style will work best for you. For instance, sliders have thinner frames when closed, meaning they offer a clearer view out in comparison to bifolds, but the latter type are able to concertina as they open to give you maximum access to the outdoors.
A design option that could make the most of views and daylight is an upside-down floorplan, where rooms that you’re going to be in during daylight hours – such as kitchens and living rooms – are positioned on upper storeys. Spaces that don’t need sunlight (ie bedrooms and bathrooms) are then set on the ground floor.
5 Create a healthy environment
Self building also gives you the chance to control the products and finishes that go into your home. Many people take this opportunity to help boost wellbeing. A key area is bad indoor air quality, which is linked to a range of health problems, from asthma and eczema through to cancer and heart disease. You’d be surprised at how many nasty fumes can come out of building materials and finishes.
There are two prongs to this: if you’re creating an airtight building, then you need to factor in ventilation to ensure that there’s a fresh airflow without compromising your building’s energy efficiency. But you can also look to specify products that protect the health of you and your household. VOCS (volatile organic compounds) are found in many products and are unfortunately a key culprit for off-gassing toxins over a long period of time – not just when that new paint smell is there, for instance. Healthy options include natural solutions like sheep’s wool insulation and plant-based paints. You can even get special plasterboards that absorb and neutralise harmful compounds.
6 Guaranteed peace & quiet
Want to make sure that busy adjacent road doesn’t keep you up at night? Or that your teenager’s drumkit practise doesn’t disturb their younger sibling’s bedtime? This is where efficient soundproofing comes in and, thankfully, creating your own home means you can ensure quiet rooms by building in good acoustic performance.
Beam and block floors offer a solid barrier against noise transfer between storeys. If you aren’t building with masonry then you can upgrade timber floor structures with special acoustic products, such as British Gypsum’s Silent Additional Ceiling. Internal partition walls can be doubleskinned with plasterboard to achieve similar results.
Also think about internal layout and design – open-plan living spaces and hard floor surfaces could both potentially create more noise than other options. Remember that soft materials are better at absorbing sound waves and you
could go as far as integrating acoustic absorption panels into walls to reduce the risk of echoes.
7 Get the quality you want
Whether you’re creating your bespoke home design in collaboration with an architect (see page 86), house designer or specialist building firm, you’ll be deciding exactly what goes into your new property. From the construction method through to internal finishes, each individual feature of the house will have a role to play in forming the final result. And a huge boon for self build is that you’ll have the freedom to carefully consider your available budget and what elements you think are worth putting extra into.
For instance, if you’re really keen to keep energy bills down then investing in super high spec insulation and triple glazing could be worth it. But if you’re more focused on saving cash for a swanky kitchen for all the hosting you love to do, then you might need to think about what could be cut back elsewhere in the design.
8 Wow factor at an affordable price
Being in control of your future home and the money available means you have the opportunity to create some truly breathtaking results that you’re unlikely to find in a developer house. Windows are an essential component, but incorporating fully glazed walls and frameless corners means you take something functional and turn it into an out-of-the-ordinary feature. There’s a host of other ways to bring standout design details into your new home – statement cladding, clever artificial lighting, doubleheight spaces, cantilevered levels, grand front doors... the potential is endless! Look at other projects and chat to the professionals about what’s possible for your budget.
9 Reduce clutter
A big problem with mass-produced housing is the lack of storage, as developers squeeze as many rooms into as small a space as possible. It’s easy to underestimate how many possessions you need to store away, so think carefully about how much room you need – is yours the kind of household that has a full garage, for instance? Planning your storage at the design stage will ensure you have enough to tuck clutter out of sight. Built-in solutions can extend the full height of walls, which is a great way to create a focal feature and maximise available space.
You’ll also be able to plan for sockets early on to ensure you don’t have cables running the span of rooms, so it’s worth thinking where your TV, freestanding lights etc will be positioned when creating the floorplan.
10 Future proof
It’s inevitable that every household’s needs change as time goes on. So if you’re planning to live in your self build home for decades to come, the layout needs flexibility built-in to ensure it can evolve with you.
For example, a downstairs WC, cloakroom and large study next to each other could be transformed into a wetroom and bedroom if stairs become an issue in the future. Wider than standard doors will allow for wheelchair movement and perhaps what is a cupboard for now is correctly positioned to cater for a lift at a later date, with the floor joists above pre-trimmed already just in case.
You could go as far as putting services in place for a future extension or creating an attic space that’s ready to convert if needed – these things mean your home will definitely be able to adapt with you and enable you to get the most value out of your project.
Top & inset:This new oak frame house by Oakwrights (www. oakwrights.co.uk) includes expansive glazing at the back to create a strong connection with its surroundings, with more of a traditional appearance from the streetscene
Above: Package home specialist Baufritz (www. baufritz.com) takes an active approach to creating healthy premanufactured buildings by using natural products and non-chemically treated building materials
Above: This threestorey self build home features a wow factor large window at the front, which fills the entrance hallway and staircase with natural light