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Common self-build problems

While self-build can offer a wonderful route for those seeking more than an off-the-shelf home, the added responsibility of taking the reins on the project can often be intimidating - particularly for first-timers.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most common problems faced by self-builders and offer some advice on how to sidestep probable pitfalls.

Great expectations

One of the biggest barriers faced by first-time self-builders is the weight of their own expectations. And while creating your own home does afford unparalleled freedom, there’s going to be some factors you’ll have to compromise on.

Bear in mind that nothing can be set in stone on your self-build project and the more flexible you can be - the easier the project.

No matter the amount of due diligence you put in, unexpected problems can - and will - arise, which may necessitate scaling back plans or abandoning unfeasible ideas altogether.

Certainly be proud of your plans - but don’t be precious.

Taking on too much

Did you know people overwhelmingly under-estimate the time and effort involved in tasks? It’s called the Planning Fallacy and can be the bane of over-ambitious self-builders.

Even if you’re a builder by trade - you’ll have to consider the amount of time you can devote to the project - especially if you’re balancing a day job on top of it. Similarly, while you’ll be able to put your skills to good use and earn some new ones along the way - sometimes it’ll be necessary to bite the bullet and call in the experts.

While you might balk at the cost of taking on a project manager - trying to take on the lion’s share of the project yourself can often prove something of a false economy in the long-run.

Similarly, don't try and bag a bargain by forgoing professional advice and instead trying to source these services from non-professionals, or even friends or family who work in the relevant field.

Even if they agree to help you, there's a big difference from them chipping in as and when they can and paying for a professional who will deliver a pre-agreed level of service.


As mentioned, unforeseen issues can and will arise and cost and time overruns are to be expected. You can mitigate this - to an extent - through proper planning and preparation pre-project, but be sure to leave some flexibility in your budget.

Splurging on fancy materials or other expensive fixtures on the spur of the moment can obviously drain your coffers quickly. But going too far the other way and being overly-frugal can likewise cause issues. Cutting corners or desperately trying to acquire the necessities at a cut-price cost can prove even pricier in the long-run, especially if you have to go back and correct issues further on down the line.

While that doesn't mean you shouldn't shop around for the best deal, just bear in mind that the lowest price isn't always the best choice by default.

Picking a plot

It obviously pays to do your due diligence when it comes to picking a plot, after all – you could be spending a lot of time there over the next few years.

If you've got the slightest suspicion that something could be amiss with your plot, don't hesitate to call in expert help – this isn't something you'll be able to wing your way through.

Just some of the common issues to look out for include:

Previous usage: If your plot has seen some previous industrial usage or has been the site of dumping, this can cause serious issues – particularly if the land has become contaminated.

In a best-case scenario, you might have to dig up and properly dispose of any dumped material and at worst, you may need to cleanse the surrounding area of hazardous chemicals – or fill it in with concrete.

Similarly, if you discover the presence of pre-existing foundations on your plot – it could be a warning sign that a previous developer discovered some issue that prevented them moving forward. While it may just be that they ran out of funds for the project, it's well worth investigating rather than risk being stung by some nasty discoveries down the line.

Investigatory work will also be required if you find any drainage systems, find signs of high water tables or concerns are raised about the root systems of nearby trees.

Incline: If you're looking to build on a slope with a particularly high gradient (over a ratio of about 1:25), expect to pay extra for the foundation work, as well as the potential logistical problems this can cause.

Conservation areas: If your plot falls in a conservation area (or lies in close proximity to a listed building), you might benefit from very nice period properties as neighbours, but you may also be constrained in how you utilise the site.

Being in a conservation area can entail restrictions on your development – from imposing the use of certain (and potentially quite expensive) materials to limiting your permitted development rights, which could curtail future extensions or outbuildings.

Protected species: There's a vast array of protected animal and plant life in the UK and if there's any possibility of these being situated on – or near – your plot, your local authority will have to take this into account during when considering your planning permission.

Planning permission

While we cover the ins and outs of how self-builders can go about gaining planning permission in our in-depth guide, this remains one of the biggest concerns for self-builders.

You should never, ever, under any circumstances, take on a plot of land that doesn't at the very least come with outline planning permission. And since you don't have to own the plot to apply – it's well worth putting in an application before purchasing a plot.

Similarly, even if your plot does come with permissions, pay attention to their expiration date, as they'll need to be renewed three years after submission.

The planning process can present a plethora of issues, with some of the biggest barriers including:

I see trees of green: While you'd expect restrictions on paving over ancient oak trees and the like, Tree Preservation Orders that will interfere with your plans can also cover relatively young trees. It's a good idea to investigate your local council's register before moving ahead to avoid these.

Infrastructure: It's necessary to provide access to the emergency services and adequate visibility when connecting to public roads. In some cases, you might not be able to achieve this due to the constraints of the plot and its borders, so make sure to take this into account before moving ahead with the purchase.

Get the local look: You may face planning constraints to bring your proposed property in-line with the surrounding buildings. So be sure to temper your grand designs with this in mind and if you don't like the look of your neighbours' properties – you might want to investigate other plots.


Your turn

If you've had any experiences with overcoming hurdles on your self-build project, or want to ask us any questions about the topics above – be sure to leave us a comment or get in touch on Twitter. We always love to hear from you.

And if you're looking for further advice on navigating the vagaries of the planning process, don't miss out on our free downloadable guide on planning for self-builders.


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