A Simple Guide to Building Your Own Home: Steps & Timings
This simple guide to building your own home takes you through the months of self-building from pre-planning to moving in.
So if you’ve been dreaming of raising your own roof –literally – then read this article first.
Building your own home is one of the biggest and most exciting projects you’ll ever take on.
But there’s a lot of decisions to be made and boxes to be ticked before you spring over the threshold into the pad of your precisely measured dreams.
Sure, every self-build project is unique. But there is a typical sequence that should be followed to ensure that the property is constructed according to safety standards – and with no odd piping or appliances left over at the end!
With that in mind, we’ve put together a basic guide to walk you through the series of steps to building a house.
PRE-PLANNING (3-6 Months from Build):
FINANCING: Securing the finance to bankroll your build is the first thing you need to tick off the list. In this article here we highlight the costs you’ll need to consider.
Once you know what your outlay will be, approaching a bank or building society to discuss a loan will not be so daunting. Remember too that many lenders offer specific self-build mortgages.
These loans can qualify for the government’s Help to Buy scheme as long as they meet all the criteria, and unlike a traditional mortgage, payments are typically released in stages.
PLANNING PERMISSION: However, even with financing in place nothing can go ahead until planning permission has been signed, sealed and delivered.
It’s important to apply for this as soon as you can as it can be a long-drawn out and laborious process.
ARCHITECT: Unless you’re in the building trade or a super-confident DIYer, you should secure an architect to design and manage your build.
Doing so will not only drop-kick a shedload of stress from the project but could save you money in the process.
Finding the right person and completing the design work can take a few months, however, so give yourself that time.
Ask friends and family for recommendations or find a professional architect through the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI).
SOURCING BUILDERS: Something else you should take care doing is recruiting a builder.
Your architect should be able to suggest a reliable contractor, though, again, recommendations from folk you trust is often the right road to take.
Meet with a few builders to discuss your project and get quotes. Read all quotes carefully before signing any contracts to ensure there are no misunderstandings.
Keep in mind too that an estimate is an educated guess but a quote is an exact cost for the job at hand. So ensure that your builder has all the details that they need to accurately cost your dream dwelling.
It’s important to check that the builder and any other sub-contractors you employ are certified and affiliated to relevant associations. On top of that, ask that they have insurance-backed guarantees for their work.
PRE-PLANNING (3 Months – 1 week from Build)
Once you’ve got planning permission, your finance is in place, contracts have been exchanged, and the design of your house is all prepared, it’s time to prep for the build itself.
INSURANCE: Insurance will have to be put in place before anyone steps foot on the site. A comprehensive self build policy will typically cover any public liability, building works, employers’ liability and personal accident.
CLEARING THE SITE: Get the site cleared of any unwanted vegetation, accumulated rubbish and the likes. Strip the topsoil but keep it as it can be used later in landscaping.
The builder’s engineer will typically come and set out the site in this period. Boundary fencing will be erected and entrances and exists to and from the site need to be clearly demarcated and well sign-posted for passing traffic.
SERVICES TO THE SITE: You’ll also need to arrange services to the site. A water supply should be organised early on and, depending on where you’re building, this might mean connecting to a mains supply or even drilling your own well.
At some stage, electricity will also be needed. Hiring a generator may be your best bet, though, as the ESB can take a long time and a large chunk of change to hook you up, particularly if you’re in a rural area.
Don’t forget to organise secure on-site storage and a portable toilet for the workers.
THE TIME HAS FINALLY COME: THE BUILD
Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of the build itself.
Step #1: Substructure (wks 1-2)
- During the first few days, foundation trenches will be excavated and reinforcements fitted. The architect or builder’s engineer will typically inspect them before work continues.
- After that, concrete is poured to form the ground floor structure. (The exact amount of concrete needed for the foundations will have been calculated before the build started).
- Foundation blockwork is then added and foundation cavities are backfilled up to ground level.
- A damp proof course and/or radon barrier and sump is installed. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the soil and is prevalent in some parts of the country. It doesn’t present a health risk outdoors because it is diluted in the fresh air but if you build a house on top of radon-rich soil there is a possibility of dangerous levels building up within the structure.
- Concrete slab oversite is then poured to seal it all and create the ground floor structure.
Step #2: First Floor Structure (wks 3-6)
This next period is the beginning of the superstructure – i.e. the frame that will support the house is typically erected.
- External walls of the lower storey are built and the first floor structure and roof beams added in.
- Batten clips are fixed for the ceiling.
- Cavity wall insulation is installed.
- Structural openings and lintels for doors and windows are added.
This is when you’ll start to see the outline of the building take shape.
Step #3: Superstructure (wks 7-9)
- During this period the external walls continue up to roof height.
- The structure of the house will now be built up to the wall plate, which will be installed and anchored by the builder. FYI -The wall plate is a horizontal, load-bearing piece of timber installed at the top of the masonry wall and onto which the roof structure is fixed.
- Upper floor doors and window openings are formed and cavity closers fitted.
- Cavity trays are also added over external structural openings.
- Groundworkers often start digging service trenches at this point.
- External carpentry will also be happening and your architect, as project manager, should be on hand to check over everything.
All of this work can take several weeks but once it’s done chimneys and gables can be introduced.
Step #4: Chimneys and Gable Ends (wk 10)
Not everyone will have a chimney on their new pad, but almost everyone will have gable ends.
These are the two sloping sides that meet at the top of the roof to form a triangle – and constructing these is what this week is all about.
Step #5: Roof Structure and Tiling (wks 11-14)
These next weeks involve keeping the roof over your head – literally!
- The plumber will put in the water tank in the attic before trussed rafters, or roof trusses, are spaced and secured.
- Carcassing for dormer windows are applied if necessary, and windows installed.
- Roof felt and undercloak are fitted.
- Roof and ridge tiles are added.
- Flashing is applied around features such as vents, chimneys, dormers and skylights.
- Fascia, soffits and bargeboards are affixed.
- Gutters and downpipes are also added.
- The decorator paints where necessary and any external decoration to the roof is added at this stage.
Step #6: Making the Building Watertight (wks 15-16)
During this step you’ll ensure that everything that can let water leaks in is secured tight.
- You’ll install all windows and external doors.
- Soffits and fascias are affixed over porch roofs or bay windows.
- This is also when an external render is applied. Applying this is especially important if your beautiful new home is looking out across a bay. Though you’ll have a stunning sea view to wake up to during the sunshine days of summer, in the wild and windy wintery months your poor property will likely be pummelled by rain and all sorts of damaging weather. So, protect it now.
- Your architect will also want to do an airtightness test at the end of this period to ensure any and all air leakage points are sealed too.
Step #7: First Fix (weeks 17-20)
The first fix is a series of structural and foundational work carried out by your carpenter, plumber and electrician.
It’s basically all the work that you won’t be able to see and that needs to be undertaken before plastering and other internal wall work is done.
The tasks here typically include:
- Constructing flooring.
- Adding door frames.
- Affixing battens for plasterboard ceiling.
- Installing the staircase.
- Studwork and other carpentry for partition walls.
- Positioning pipework for water supply and waste water drainage
- Laying hot/cold feeds for taps and outlets.
- Fitting under-floor heating.
- Fixing ducting for radiators.
- Adding the ducts for a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) unit, if required.
- Positioning power points for light switches, TV points, kitchen white goods, the cooker, etc., and running carcass wiring.
- Inserting back boxes for sockets and switches.
- Organising external wiring for lighting and security features.
- Running cables to external areas such as a garage, patio or decking area areas as required.
Step #8: Drains and Service Connection (wks 21-22)
- If the builders haven’t excavated drainage trenches, they’ll do it now.
- Water pipes will be laid.
- Drains and service trenches will then be backfilled.
- If you’re installing a rainwater harvesting tank, you’ll want to position that now.
- Basic landscaping may take place at this stage.
- Water, electricity and gas will be connected to the mains supply.
- Indoors, bricklayers will typically be working on building the fireplace if it’s required, or adding in decorative brickwork.
Step #9: Plastering (wks 23-24)
Next to tick off the to-do list is plastering the walls and continuing work on the flooring.
- Floor screeds are laid.
- Plasterboard added to ceilings and studded partitions.
- Walls are plastered.
- A skim coat is added on top of both the ceiling and all the walls.
- And, of course, you have to allow it to dry!
Step #10: Internal Finishes (wks 25-26)
The internal fit-outs often happen at the same time that the plastering is going on – and sometimes while the second fix is happening too.
Budget often determines this so it’s up to you what you feel needs to happen when. Obviously, it’s a good idea to be advised by your architect and builder too.
Though, if the build is going on too long, your architect will be trying to push this along anyway.
During the finish:
- Hard flooring is fitted.
- The kitchen is installed.
- The bathrooms, including en-suites, are all put in.
- Attic insulation is laid down.
Step #11: Second Fix (weeks 27-29)
- Hang doors onto doorframes.
- Fit balustrades and hand rails to stairs and landing.
- Apply skirting and architraves.
- Lay wooden floors, stone flooring, and floor tiles where needed.
- Install fitted wardrobes.
- Put on the attic door or hatch.
- Fit cooker and connect the cooker hob.
- Plumb in white goods in the kitchen.
- Connect sinks and baths to plumbing.
- Install and commission heating system.
- Fix radiators and connect underfloor heating, if applicable.
- Install smoke detectors.
- Fit MVHR unit.
- Fit all light fittings, switches and sockets and affix faceplates to each.
- Set in place consumer unit fuse board.
- Ensure there’s an electrical supply for external areas such as garage, deck, etc., and install light fittings here.
- Fit alarm system.
- After the second fix has been completed you must also commission a Certificate of Completion for electrics and gas.
Step #12: Painting & Decorating (wks 30- 31)
You’re on the home strait here but before you get to the finishing line you need to make your home sweet home as pretty as possible. That means sweeping up and sprucing up.
- Conduct a thorough clean-up of the property.
- Test drains and boilers.
- Fix all wall tiles to bathroom, kitchen and any other areas you need them.
- Prepare all surfaces for decoration, seal and undercoat.
- Then paint or wallpaper inside walls, and paint ceilings and woodwork.
- Establish patios and outdoor decking.
- Outside, put down any required paving.
- Set driveways.
- And walls, fencing, shrubbery, and gates.
- Seed the garden.
Step #13: Snag List and BER Assessment (wks 32 -33)
One of the most important steps when under-taking a self-build is the snag list.
You’ll likely be chomping at the bit to get into your dream dwelling at this stage, but never skip over drawing up a comprehensive list of snags.
These are all the tasks that still need to be completed before the construction project can be considered complete.
A snag list often includes such elements as:
- Doors not opening properly
- Uneven plasterwork
- Cracks in ceilings and walls
- Incomplete or patchy paintwork
- Skirting boards not affixed correctly
- Crooked light switches
- Loose wiring
- Taps that don’t work properly
- Hob not properly secured on worktop
- Poor insulation
- Drafts from windows and doors
- Service connections not working
- Faulty guttering, Etc.
At this juncture you will also need to have a SEI registered assessor carry out a Building Energy Rating (BER) to assess your new home’s energy performance.
Step #14: Completion and Post-Contract Work (wk 34)
Once you’ve given the snag list to your architect and they’ve ensured that all the work has been undertaken and completed, it’s time for a final building inspection.
Your builder should also send you copies of all the warranties and certificates outlined in your contract, along with a written declaration that your brand-spanking new self-build is safe to move into.
Your contract should have also OK’d the next six months as a “defects period” – a timeline over which you can fully test the heating and plumbing systems and get any problems rectified. Once the defects period is over you can arrange final certification.
Step #15: Move In!
This final step is what the whole project has been about! So enjoy it and savour the satisfaction that you’re not only in a new home – but a new home you helped design and build yourself.
Please note: Planning and timelines are not provided as a definitive guide. Much will depend on the size, location and budget of your self-build.