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.
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.
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.
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.
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.