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Designing Your New Home

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The opportunity to tailor your home to your needs is a big motivating factor for self builders. Internally this means that if you want two lounges, and space allows, then fine. A laundry chute? No problem. But it’s not all about what you want; several other people will have a hand in the final look of your house, particularly the exterior.


Designing your home is about getting the right balance of what you want with what you can actually have, and making sure the finished house performs to its optimum. But you can’t always have exactly what you want, as the budget, Building Regulations and planning requirements will all limit you. Here are some of the elements to consider.


What you want


Start with your physical requirements and let the stylistic decisions flow from here. Draw up an accommodation schedule listing how many rooms you want and which sort and size. Next, list any special features you want in specific rooms, such as a large window to maximise a view or an en-suite with a bath. Think about where you spend the most time: do you have any special requirements – a second living space for the kids or a downstairs bedroom with walk-in en suite for elderly parents, for example?


What you need


Think about what you really can’t do without. This allows you to work out a realistic arrangement of the rooms, and you can then make the decision to dispense with the more unnecessary elements if there’s not enough space or budget. You may decide you can live without a sauna, but not without a kitchen with space for a dining table.


nventionally, for example, in terms of bedrooms with enough space for wardrobes (many volume developments don’t allow enough space for a wardrobe and chest of drawers in secondary bedrooms), but also in more lateral ways. Will you need space to house any home automation equipment or room for a ground source heat pump? Check with manufacturers if you are planning something like a biomass boiler – they can take up quite a bit of room.


Develop a sense of spatial awareness. Measure up your existing house and compare this to your plans – this will help you get a sense of how big a room is or the height of ceilings.


What others want


Building Regulations will lay down many restrictions on your home’s design, such as step-free access and door widths. But it is the local planning authority that will have the biggest say in what you can and can’t build, together with a bit of input from any interested neighbours. Planners can dictate the materials, size, shape, height and orientation of your home, all of which have a great bearing on its design, so making a first port of call to the planning office will pay dividends as it will save you wasting energy on inappropriate schemes.




Your budget will probably be the main factor that controls what you can and can’t have. Try to make a connection between design features and cost, for example, complicated cut roofs can be an awful lot more expensive than a standard truss roof, and designer finishes often come with a premium price tag.


Over-designed homes are expensive to build and the results often questionable, so be prepared to edit – an ability seen in the refined work of many an architect. Having a limited budget doesn’t have to mean a poorly designed house, but it will require careful planning to make the most of what you have. Keep costs down by limiting the amount of unusual design features and by sticking to a limited palette of materials. Above all, don’t change your mind once work begins – it is always a costly process.


Sympathetic style


Context is extremely relevant as a design that is sympathetic to its surroundings is more likely to be approved. Take account of the street setting and vernacular, and whether or not the house is visible from the road.


Scale is very important in this aspect, as it can make the house dominate or recede from the neighbouring properties. Stepping part of the building down, having one-and-a-half storeys or even choosing a hip roof will all give the illusion that the building is smaller, which can help satisfy an undecided planner. The more variety there is in the local area, the more chance you have of pushing through a design that’s a bit different.


The plot


Your planning office may dictate the siting and height of the building, and possibly the orientation, too, but if not consider what sort of layout will best suit your site, from making the most of any views to where the sun will be at different times of the day. Suitable orientation will be important if you are planning to maximise solar gain, while a large expanse of south-facing glass may dictate an overhang to prevent summer overheating. A sun compass (right) will tell you where the sun will come in to the house at different times in the year – useful at the planning stage.


Being on a slope or in a flood area may also dictate the style of your house. These conditions on site will impact on your foundations, and the costs of these will have a knock-on effect on what money is left for the main build.


Forward thinking


Resale value is important, and a quirky house is harder to sell. If you intend to sell on relatively quickly try to ensure that your home isn’t too personalized, but rather has features with wider appeal for the general market. For example, you may never take a bath and therefore not want one in your home, but it’s a vital feature for a family with small children.


Consider how the design can be adapted for different life stages – are you planning to raise a family or retire in the house? Will a ground floor bedroom and walk-in shower room mean the difference between moving out or staying there as you get older?


You may not have the budget now for automated security or media systems, but it can be a good idea to incorporate cabling – CAT 7 is the latest standard, offering 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking – that will make it easy to install new technologies in the future without too much disruption.

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