Plot 312 – here we go!

  1. Why self build?

After 5 years abroad and coming off the property ladder, we had decided that we wanted to put our roots down in Oxfordshire and buy a home. Our initial research showed that property in our new town was too expensive. My parents recommended a barn conversion with permitted development opportunities but we found they were few and far between in Oxfordshire. Finally, a simple Right Move search led us to Graven Hill and we attended an open day in Bicester and liked what we saw.

The opportunity to take part in something so innovative had a real draw. Being part of the design process is very exciting. Also, we were attracted to living somewhere full of creative people. We hoped we would be able to build something within our budget and to our own specification.

We drove to the MOD site and took a walk around the hill. It’s a pretty wood and getting a view from up the hill of the site made us excited. This picture was taken when we had our first meeting with Beattie Passive on the Graven Hill site.

2. Challenges

We are now on our third designer/architect! We started with an architect who informed our design but was going to be too expensive to take us through the whole build. We then went over to a design and build company- Sylva. We found their approach too rigid, they were under-resourced and slow to deliver. So, in the end we found Bob who is amazing! He is detail focused, always responds promptly, highly competent and consistently on time.

We are also working with a timber frame designer.

We considered getting a Principal Contractor but eventually decided it wasn’t necessary for us, we can either manage individual trades people as and when necessary or do things ourselves. The windows, for example, will be installed by the supplier Norrsken so they will oversee this work. Carrying out the project management ourselves helps us save money (hopefully!). We are lucky to have family and friends who work in the industry who can advise and support and work for us when we start building.

  1. Dream House

The prospect of our dream house is wonderful as well as very daunting at times! Due to financial constraints we have bought quite a small pocket plot which will end up consisting of mostly house with a very small garden. Staying small has encouraged us to be very creative with the space we have, which has been influenced by architects and designers. One of the first architect’s ideas was to have a height and a half ceiling in the living room at the back of the house. The master bedroom will be above this with a high ceiling too. This creates the illusion of more space and in the sitting room we will have high letterbox windows. One suggestion was to have a mezzanine bed platform but on reflection we decided that shinning up and down a ladder to and from bed might be more trouble than it’s worth!

In the end we decided to have a fixed ceiling in the first floor main bedroom with a loft space above as the house will be flat roofed and won’t have attic space. Storage is something we have given a lot of thought to, as the house is quite small. There will be quite a lot of built in cupboards and clever storage solutions in the kitchen for example. The house will be two storied at the back and three storied at the front and is designed to be flat roofed so as we meet our height restriction. There is a narrow spiral staircase tying the house together.

We have dedicated a lot of time to designing the ground floor. Most of the space will be open plan but it isn’t huge so we have tried to find a good way to tie it all together. Due to the nature of the three stories and the open plan style of the ground floor, building control have insisted upon a misting system in the event of a house fire. This will be a costly bit of equipment yet seems unavoidable.

One thing we are really happy about is the use of windows. Again, we gave a lot of thought to this and natural light is very important to us. We have 15 windows in total which some people have expressed surprise at for a 97m2 house! We researched the window specification in depth. Finally, we opted for Norrsken  and visited their showroom in Poole. The windows are tripled glazed, important for us while trying to make our house as thermally efficient as possible. They open outwardly and are fully reversible for cleaning.

We have deliberated a lot over the external finish. We looked at lots of different materials and finally made a decision. We will have  render and cladding on three sides (render on the ground floor and marley board cladding above ( Marley board looks like wooden cladding but is made from concrete. On the back we will have render on the ground floor level and standing seam aluminium cladding above.

On advice from a fellow self-builder, we have decided to give our daughter a budget, so she can create her dream bedroom. I am happy to say that this is the most engaged she has been in the process so far. Watch this space for pictures of a Hogwarts themed bedroom!

This picture was drawn by our daughter in the early days of planning, probably around late 2017/early 2018.

  1. How has self-building affected your life?

It has taken a lot longer than we anticipated to get to where we are now. We have been in the system for well over a year and we have been frustrated by things going wrong in the design process and how slow certain procedures can be. However, we have finally got our golden brick price and are hoping to get the mortgage approved shortly. Build Store are helping us secure our mortgage.

We also looked in to mortgages with

All the planning, designing and researching has certainly kept us busy over the past 14 months and our 8-year old daughter has complained that all we do is talk about the house.


There is a friendly atmosphere and positive energy whenever we have attended meetings and there is also a great sense of community. We took part in a litter clean-up and it was great to meet people who will be our future neighbours. We have also picked people’s brains, shared resources, skills and taken advantage of some freebies. We’re really looking forward to living in our special home and to meeting more neighbours, socializing more and building a network of friends for us and our daughter. It’s very exciting!

  1. Fears/Hopes

Throughout the process there has been the fear as to whether or not it would actually go ahead due to financial concerns. There has also been worry over whether we will have enough money or might overspend (I’ll have to get back to you on that!) We have felt frustrated by the different aforementioned delays.

  1. House Tech

We are building a house with a Beattie Passive timber frame that will be insulated with an injected, flowable bonded bead. We were attracted to the Beattie Passive beaded insulation system as this type of house is so well insulated that it requires very little heating and consequently should have low utility bills. as well as good air quality. We will also have triple glazed windows and doors that will help us build an energy efficient home. We will need to install an MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery) system. MVHR works by extracting air from warm sources; kitchen, bathroom etc. and retaining its heat before feeding it back into fresh air and providing it in to the living areas


  1. Tips and Tricks

Talking to others who are at various stages in the journey has been extremely helpful. The Facebook group is brilliant for information sharing as are the monthly meet ups.

Get loads of quotes for each aspect if you are doing a lot of the self-build yourselves, at least three. We have found quotes can vary enormously, so check what is being provided carefully.

Make a decent spreadsheet for finances and work schedule. Compile a set of folders to keep all your notes, quotes, invoices and plans together.

Celebrate your achievements, even if it is a small milestone.

Visit the National Self Build and Renovation Centre in Swindon You can visit on an ad-hoc basis to look at their stands etc. and they also run courses and open days and have very knowledgeable staff.

Also try a show such as:

They have plenty of industry experts to answer your questions on a variety of topics. Read the magazines too! There are great tips and tricks as well as inspiration to be found amongst the pages:


I hope you have found this useful. All the best for your endeavor and hope to meet you soon. Until next time,


Michelle, Alex and May

A visit to the site in November 2018

  1. Serena Chamberlain 5 years ago

    Hiya 🙂 the house design looks and sounds amazing!! And I love that your Daughter has been given a design budget for her bedroom. My Daughter is a lot older, but I wanted her to feel the “house” was most definitely “her home too” considering so many ideas and wishes had been mine – so her bedroom and bathroom will be her mini project too and it really helped to enthuse her also 🙂 I hadn’t considered Beattie for delivering a bespoke home, although I had contacted them early on, to discuss their coach house style being slightly adapted….hhhhm….shall have to think about them again – as the build is now going to tender – really informative blog – loved it !! xxx

  2. Dean Scott 5 years ago

    I was thinking that your daughter’s illustration of the house has more detail than some our architect’s drawings (but I won’t say that outloud…doh!)

    Lovely to read about your decision making process, and so much good advice. I have to admit, I’m not great at getting lots of quotes – I tend to be too impatient, and it’s certainly meant we’ve spent more than we should. Everyone listen to Michelle!!

    I like how you’ve been able to play with the internal spaces to make the most of your GIA. In some ways, it’s more fun to be restricted to force yourself to think outside the box – that’s definitely one of the pluses of self build.

    I remember talking to Ron Beattie right at the beginning of our journey, and was impressed by the family atmosphere at the company. It’s never easy but I think your approach is really sensible, and can’t wait to see the next steps 🙂

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