What Research Should I do Before Starting my Self or Custom build?

To help you prepare for your self or custom build venture, I spoke with Brian Singleton, of ADM Systems, as well as Lindsey Davis and Claire Lloyd, from the Editorial Team at the Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine, to get their views and tips.

These days, whatever we try to buy, we usually carry out thorough research into the options available. We do this to ensure the best product for the best price.

It is difficult to imagine that you would not conduct any research before self or custom building your own home, the investment which is somewhat a summary of your life and the biggest expenditure you will probably ever make.

Embarking on your self or custom build journey can be a bit overwhelming without having the right information. This area is quite complicated and not knowing where to find the appropriate facts and figures can deter even the most determined people.

To help you prepare for your self or custom build venture, I spoke with Brian Singleton, of ADM Systems, as well as Lindsey Davis and Claire Lloyd, from the Editorial Team at the Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine, to get their views and tips.

In my career, I have worked on a range of great self build projects – but no two clients are ever the same. I have witnessed some of the best and worst ways clients approach their project.

With no doubts, a self or custom build project is a big commitment – one that requires dedication from the individuals involved – so thorough research is fundamental to its success. 

Therefore, I would like to highlight the most beneficial resources you should consult when preparing for your project. This will save a lot of stress and money down the line, as without quality information to begin with, you could end up making bad decisions or paying more than you need to.



There is a great selection of self build magazines available. Subscribing to them is cheap and they have many benefits.

One of the main advantages of a magazine subscription is that the information provided is up to date and focuses on current trends within the field.

Magazines such as the Homebuilding & Renovating cover all the bases – from ‘How to…’ articles, to the latest design trends. You will be able to read case studies from previous self builders that look at topics such as cost, design, energy performance and all the issues they encountered on their journey.

On top of this, there are tips from professionals across the industry, as well as interviews with some of the most experienced self and custom build experts.


Lindsey Davis and Claire Lloyd, from the editorial team at Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine, offered some wise words for self builders:

“There’s a widely held misconception that building your own home is going to be very difficult and very expensive. Add to this that planning permission is believed by many to be incredibly hard to gain, and it is a wonder anyone tries to build their own home.

However, the truth is that a well-planned self or custom build project can run as smoothly as buying an existing home, and by equipping yourself with knowledge of the industry you can navigate any potential problems. 

We always advise our readers to do their research — find out how the planning process works; look at homes in the local area to get an idea of what could work; talk to people who have used the professionals you plan to hire; and above all come up with a realistic budget. We have a great build cost calculator, which is handy for calculating how much the home of your dreams will cost to build.”  


There are many magazines that specialise in a specific area of self building, these are also good to consult to get in depth information about a specific topic, for example, your chosen style of design.  

These are the UK's most popular self build magazines:

• Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine 

• Real Homes Magazine 

• Self Build and Design  

• Your Build Magazine 

• Grand Designs Magazine 

• Ideal Home 

• House Beautiful 

• I-build Magazine   



Self build shows are a fountain of information about self building. Attending the show is probably the best value-for-money opportunity for a self builder who wants to develop their knowledge quickly.

There is a wide array of shows to choose from, including Grand Designs Live, Build It Live! and the Homebuilding & Renovating Show.

I have had the pleasure of contributing to the biggest self build show in the UK: The Homebuilding & Renovating Show. I regularly deliver live talks and I provide one-on-one consultations with self builders. The next one is in Glasgow on the 16th-17th June 2018. You can find out more information about this on their website here.

As a member of the Homebuilding & Renovating crew, I am offering you free tickets for the show here. All you need to do is complete a simple form.


Lindsey and Claire also recommend that new self or custom builders attend the show:

“Attending a dedicated self build show can be an excellent means of research. Many shows, such as the National Homebuilding & Renovating Show, offer an extensive seminar programme, providing an insight into the self build process – from financing the build to achieving planning – as well as giving you the opportunity to get your questions answered by independent experts.

What’s more, you’ll be able to meet suppliers face-to-face and see products first hand — from windows, insulation to roof tiles and timber frame systems, to kitchens and bathrooms.”


The shows are held across the country – taking place almost every month of the year. There is nothing better than having all of the best experts under one roof. Whether you need help with planning permission, advice on ventilation, or interior design tips, you’ll find the right expert at one of these self build shows. 


Brian Singleton, a ventilation expert from ADM Systems –  provides a great summary of why visiting the Homebuilding & Renovating Show would be beneficial for you:

“ADM have been exhibiting at the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows all over the country for many years. Whether you’re at the very early stages, or if you have had some outline proposals and wish to discuss further, the exhibitions provide an excellent platform to meet up with exhibitors and other professionals. 

Expert advice is freely available, together with seminars, workshops and masterclasses. My advice, particularly for the larger shows such as the NEC (Birmingham), is to have a good idea of which products, services, seminars etc. are most important and make them your priority to visit.”    


Many of the shows take place over the weekend, and it’s definitely worth attending them for the full two days.

The first day can be spent on listening to the experts’ talks. Then on the second day, you can visit the exhibitors and ask specific questions about your project. There will be many experts available to speak with, including kit builders, window suppliers and even Smart Home Automation specialists.

The shows take place throughout the whole UK, so have a look and find your nearest one:   

• Homebuilding & Renovating Show 

• Build It Live! 

• Grand Designs Live 

• The National Self Build & Renovation Show 

• Self Build & Design Show 

• The BIG Green Home Show  



The self and custom build industry is constantly developing and evolving. Because of this, there are more and more Self Build publications appearing on the market. Below you can find our top recommended books:

- Housebuilder’s Bible by Mark Brinkley – the bible takes you step-by-step through the Self Build process – identifying all the potential problems and how to avoid them.

Brinkley makes the professional, and often jargon-filled processes, accessible to any novice self builder. You will learn everything from project management to employing professionals and evaluating land.

The book is regularly updated (now on its twelfth edition published in 2017) and full of current information – including the Self Build cost tables for calculating a budget.

- Grand Designs Handbook: The Blueprint for Building Your Dream Home by Kevin McCloud – this book, by TV’s architecture and design guru Kevin McCloud, explores beyond the Self Build homes featured on McCloud’s television programme of the same name.

This book is packed with answers to the bigger questions about design and architecture and is a good read for inspiration from one of the UK’s foremost Self Build experts. 

- The Self Builders Guide to Project Management by Vince Holden -  offer practical advice taken from over 40 years of construction experience.

The book seeks to highlight the main principles and methods of practical construction project management. It’s written from the constructor’s point-of-view, and contains a lot of useful advice, which should help familiarise you with the fundamentals of construction management, and provide you with the knowledge required to manage your Self Build professionally.

The book explains the process stage by stage, and will help keep your dream home on track. In 2016, Holden published another book focusing on the construction phase of a Self Build project entitled ‘The Self Builders Guide to Construction Phase’.

Complete Planning Permission: How To Get It; Stop It or Alter It by Roy Speer and Mike Dade - One of the trickier parts for prospective Self Builders, is getting to grips with the UK Planning Regulations.

Many have tried and failed in attempts to acquire Planning Permission – however – Roy Speer and Mike Dade can help ensure that your dreams of Self Build success aren’t destroyed at the design stage. 

This book is a great step-by-step guide to the entire application process, and teaches you the best strategies for ensuring your Self Build gets up and running.

Planning Permission is a difficult and sometimes controversial topic, but this comprehensive guide will see that you teach yourself the ins and outs of planning law, and get your project underway.



Attending a self build Seminar is another way of acquiring a lot of knowledge in a short space of time. These are usually hosted by companies specialising in a particular area of Self Building.

I often contribute to seminars organised by SIPS Industries, specialists in building low energy homes with Structural Insulated Panels.

The seminars offer a great opportunity to discuss your plans with architects, builders, engineers, financial advisors and ventilation experts.


This is what Brian Singleton from ADM Systems has to say about the seminars:

“ADM are also involved in the popular One-Day Self Build Seminars, hosted by SIPS Industries. The seminars give great insight into a range of topics such as Costs, Designs, Structure, Thermal Strategy and Project Management.

The delegates also get the opportunity to discuss their individual projects with the seminar team and their fellow self builders. 

The information is targeted to give sufficient overview of all the subjects, but with enough detail for self builders to make informed choices on how to take their project forward.

The unique, holistic approach offers the self builder a not-to-be-missed opportunity to learn about some of the key elements in the build process.”


A typical seminar covers the following elements: 

• Finance & Insurance

• Project Management

• Costs vs Design

• Thermal Strategy

• Structural Strategy

• Working with Contractors

• Inspiration for your kitchen and bathroom finishes

• Tips on how to build the most energy-efficient home without paying more than you need to (incl. MVHR and Renewables)


Researching everything in your self or custom build project is key; you as the self builder must take the lead role in the project.

This is, after all, your home you are building – so no one else will care as much as you do.

Going to seminars, researching online, and surrounding yourself with the right people will be invaluable to the success of your self or custom build.

Making sure you obtain recent testimonials on everyone you propose to work with, will ensure you get the right people in your team.

Also, make sure you enquire about the times when things went wrong; finding out how problems were dealt with is very important. Challenges will arise – no matter how well you plan. 


Image credited to Allan Corfield Architects

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