Choosing a construction method for your self build home

How will you construct your self build home? There’s an array of building methods to choose from, from the ever-popular brick and block, traditional timber, speedy structural insulated panels, to less common but eco-friendly options like straw bales.

It’s an important decision: the construction method you choose will have a bearing on the cost, energy efficiency, and build duration of your project.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the popular self build construction systems to help you decide on the best way to build the “bones” of your dream home.

Brick and block

Also referred to as masonry construction, brick and block is the most popular choice in the UK, with around 70% of self build homes being constructed with this system.

The brick and block system consists of an inner skin of blockwork, and an outer skin of brickwork or stone, with a cavity in between. The main structural support for the building is provided by the inner skin. The cavity gap can be filled with insulation, and also serves to prevent moisture reaching the inner skin.

Benefits

  • Versatile for a wide range of home styles.
  • Widely available construction materials.
  • Greater choice of builders and contractors due to the popularity of this method.
  • Plenty of cladding choices, such as timber cladding or rendering, to create a bespoke look. 
  • Can be a more affordable option.

Considerations

  • More labour intensive than pre-fabricated options.
  • Slower on-site build phase, which can leave you more at the mercy of changing weather. 
  • Requires load-bearing walls, so open plan designs need to be carefully planned.
  • The finished quality of the build is dependent on the skills of the builder.
  • Requires space to store materials on site.

Timber frame

Timber frame homes are built from individual panelised timber frames that are manufactured by specialist companies. Around 25% of new homes in the UK use this method. It’s a popular option due to the speed of construction and excellent insulation.

This construction method has a more speedy on-site build time, as the frames are prefabricated off-site. Usually, the frame manufacturer erects the frame on-site for you, so this is a good option if you’re after a more hands-off approach to building your own home.

Benefits

  • A speedy build. As it’s prefabricated off-site, the frame can be erected on-site in a matter of days.
  • The build is less reliant on good weather as the watertight stage can be reached quickly.
  • It’s a great option if you want an open plan design - the timber frame acts as a superstructure, removing the need for internal load-bearing walls. 
  • Excellent credentials for insulation and airtightness.
  • Windows and door openings are pre-cut, saving you more time on site.
  • The outer skin can be clad in a range of finishes to get the look you’re after, including render, tile, timber and brick slips.

Considerations

  • Little scope for modification once the frame is built, so you need to be sure of your design before work begins.
  • Foundations must be perfectly level.
  • Manufacturer lead times for fabrication are usually around 6-8 weeks.

Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

You can think of ICF as a grown-up version of Lego! ICF is constructed by stacking large, hollow, interlocking blocks that are usually made of expanded polystyrene. This insulated formwork is then pumped full of concrete to create a robust structure with great insulation values.

ICF building material demo

Benefits

  • Quick to build, which can save on time and labour costs
  • If you’re keen to get hands-on with the building work, ICF suppliers often provide some training so you can get stuck in. However, be sure to have the professionals for the all-important concrete pumping stage.
  • Energy efficient and excellent airtightness.
  • A variety of cladding finishes are available.

Considerations

  • As with timber frames, the foundations must be perfect and level. 
  • Once concrete is poured it’s very difficult to make any changes.
  • May be harder to find traders with ICF expertise.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

SIP is a system that uses panels made of a sandwich of OSB (oriented strandboard) bonded around an insulated centre. Like the timber frame method, SIP is prefabricated in a factory, so it’s a quick build once on site. SIPs are available as individual panels for walls, roofs and floors, or can be supplied in a kit for a whole house.

SIPs construction material

Benefits

  • Time saving on site - SIP panels are lightweight so quick and easy to move into place
  • As with the timber frame system, windows and door openings are pre-cut, saving you more time on site.
  • Excellent energy saving standards - highly insulated and extremely airtight
  • Roof trusses aren’t required, so it’s a great option if you want to have vaulted ceilings in your design, or simply want to maximise loft space.

Considerations

  • More expensive than timber frame. 
  • Requires experienced contractors.
  • Foundations need to be faultless.

Oak Frame

If you want to build a home full of real character, modern oak frame construction can provide a combination of good looks and thermal efficiency. Oak frames are usually manufactured off-site and are encapsulated within SIP or timber panels to meet Building Standards for energy efficiency.

Benefits

  • The obvious one: the unique warmth, texture and character of oak.
  • Potential higher resale value.
  • Can be a greener option when the oak is sustainably sourced.

Considerations

  • A premium cost compared to other construction systems.
  • Requires careful design to factor in how oaks moves and shrinks as it dries out for the first couple of years after building.

Sustainable building materials

If you want to build your own home in an eco-friendly and sustainable way, there are building routes with greener credentials. This includes:

  • Logs - perfect if you’re building in a wooded area, or if you like that chalet look.
  • Straw bale - popular with those keen to get hands-on with the building work. It’s a low carbon footprint option as straw is essentially an agricultural waste product. Straw bales also provide good insulation and high thermal mass.
  • Cob - perfect for a true DIY self build. Humans have been building homes with mud since 8,000BC!
  • Rammed earth - an energy efficient method in which layers of moistened soil are compacted to form walls.

 

Thinking of appointing a contactor? Here’s our guide of important questions to ask before building your own home.