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A man who can't put up a shelf can build a house

After moving into his energy-efficient off-the-peg kit-house, Julian - Head of Communications at the Energy Saving Trust - reflects on some key themes.

Why I did what I did

People ask me why I decided to do an eco self-build project. They expect me to ramble on about saving the planet and although reducing my carbon impact was an important factor it was certainly not the only one. I wanted to live in a bigger home but with very low energy bills. Also, a new house up the road, not as spacious as the one I now live in, or indeed anywhere near as energy efficient, is at least £200k more expensive to buy than the total cost of my project. Seven months in and my energy bill amounts to just £200, and that includes the period of the cold winter months. I expect the next five months’ bills to be significantly lower as the weather improves. People’s eyes glaze over when I talk about my home’s energy efficiency credentials, but mention the financial benefits and they develop an alertness comparable to receiving an intravenous injection of ten cans of Red Bull.

The council took pity on this fool

I’ll be honest. The forms that need filling in and all the inspections are extensive, exhaustive. I tried to plan ahead but was soon overwhelmed by the process. I found myself thinking only about tomorrow. I wandered up to the offices with the next form to await instructions on what to do next, which in nearly all cases was another form to fill in. It was my firm view that the council wanted this house built as well, otherwise it would soon become a blight on the landscape in what was already derelict land. This rather short-term approach isn’t for everyone, but worrying about only one step at a time worked for me.

Grand Designs. Not.

It would be the most boring episode of Grand Designs. The house isn’t grand because it’s an off-the-shelf kit home. There was no drama. Man buys some land, goes to Germany and chooses a kit-house, does paperwork and watches skilled people assemble a house. OK, there’s a bit more to it than that, but other than finding land it’s easier than you might think.

Contracts can be a waste of time and money

You can waste a lot of money and time on preparing the perfect contract believing that it will protect you from everything. Haggling over contracts with suppliers was stressful and expensive. I stopped looking at contracts and managed the risks by doing extensive research on the company I wanted to use and by getting lots of references. The key thing is to rely on stage payments and building regulations to ensure the work is done properly before you pay your contractors. You weigh up the risks.

The poster boy for clueless self-builders

Word’s got out about our house – we’re the only greens in the village town. We’ve had lots of uninvited visitors. Most of them couldn’t put up a shelf either. You can spot them a mile off, unable to hold eye contact with a toolbox. We’ve been in a few months yet already six people are planning a self-build. It doesn’t matter what I say or do: a visit to a house like mine is the only evidence that people need to build their confidence to go for it.

In my next blog I’ll talk about some of the energy efficiency features, technologies and gizmos that have resulted in my super low energy bills from my solar panels to my airtight grommets to my mechanical heat recovery system. 

Julian is Head of Communications at the Energy Saving Trust and has led a number of consumer engagement campaigns. After buying some derelict land at an auction, Julian project managed an eco-build house for his family and he is convinced that if he can do it, anyone can.
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Hi Julian, have you done a blog or anything about the self build? It would be really interesting to hear all the hurdles and anything which caused unexpected issues.

Cheers

Duncan

Great read Julian, I didn't know you were doing this. My husband and I love grand designs and it is my husband's dream to one day build our own eco-house, reiterate dream!!! We too loved the idea of a kit-house, as we saw a few of these on the programme. Look forward to reading your next post and seeing more pics.