How Long Is Your Piece of String?

When it comes to building a house, amongst the myriad things we need to think about there is one thing that stands out as being The Most Important. One thing that influences all decisions, all options, all outcomes.

What one single thing could be so universally vital?  We know we want it to be low carbon – that is Very Important.  We know we want it to be well insulated, and beautiful, and practical. Also Very Important Things.

So what is it that exceeds all of these things?  Well, that one thing, that crucial piece of our jigsaw, is the thing we get asked most often:

“How much does it cost to build a house?”

How much indeed!  Those who have been following us for a while will know what the answer is.  It’s Hartwyn’s answer to most things:

“It depends!”

Or, equally commonly….

“How long is a piece of string?”

Luckily there is a simple answer, a headline.  This is a useful nugget of information when you are right at the beginning of your journey.  For when you wake up one crazy morning and think to yourself ‘I’m going to build my own home’.  When that happens, these are the numbers you need:

Typical house building costs

Who is going to build it?What will it cost?
You!  You are super handy and have lots of time and not much budget, so you’re pretty much going to build the whole thing yourself.£600 per m2 up
You’re going to be involved, but you’re going to use a Principle contractor and some subbies for the bulk of it.Between £1200 & £2000 per m2
Someone else will run the entire project and hand you the keys at the end£2000 per m2 up

So I suppose the question is less ‘how long is your piece of string’ and more ‘how long does it need to be?’

Rant alert!

You can see from that simple table that there must be a lower cost, a starting point, the cheapest it is possible to construct a house.  Well there is, but we’ve got some myth busting to do first!

We often see posts on Facebook or blogs about some amazing eco-house that was built for £6000.  And while I applaud the hard work and ingenuity that goes into these projects, I find them to be disingenuous and misleading. They may well have only spent £6000 on the materials that weren’t gifted or found, or reclaimed.  But that cost does not include the land, and it certainly does not include time. 

Time is our most precious resource, when it’s gone, it’s gone.  We can’t buy more of it.  If we measure our time using a familiar metric then we can apply an hourly rate to those builds, and by doing so you can see that they are just as expensive as any other house, maybe even more costly because of how long it takes.  Often those projects take many years just to build, let alone the years before spent foraging for materials and stockpiling them, and then processing them ready to use.

That all adds up. Five years of someone’s time is conservatively worth £120k, and for the size and finish of many of these houses that is expensive.

Now that’s not to say it’s not worth doing, perhaps this is how you choose to spend your time, in which case I genuinely can’t fault you at all!  My issue lies with spreading false hope.  If I was starting my journey and got shown amazing pictures of a lovely ecohouse with a six grand price tag, I’d bite your hand off!  

And then my mum would have come round and told you off.

So, now I’ve got that out of my system, what’s a realistic way to look at it? 

So, what do we know? 

That depending on who builds it and how long it takes it costs £x per meter squared.  That’s a good start.  We can use that in two directions. 1) If you have a total budget then you can reverse engineer that to give you the achievable floor area:

Total budget availableCost per m2Total achievable floor area
£100,000£120083.3m2

Or 2) if you have a design in mind you can add up the area and it will tell you how much money you need:

Total desired floor areaCost per m2Total budget required
125m2£1500£187500

So that’s all very well and good, but what does that mean in real terms?

Type of houseTypical sizeTypical cost to build @ £1500/m2
2 bed75m2£112.5k
3 bed100m2£150k
4 bed150m2£225k

You should now be able to look at your piece of string with a newfound understanding, and hopefully it will stretch to fulfill your ambition!

As with everything, there is much more to all of this, What about land?  And architects, and engineers, and surveys…

Those are all considerations, however this is as good a place to start as anywhere and I really hope it’s helped you to gain a bit of clarity on your next steps.  

If you would like to learn more I’d recommend our ‘how to build a house’ course and the more in-depth ‘Self-Build Primer’ which is available on our website.

If you wish to discuss anything you see in this article or if you feel that you’re ready to move to the next stage in your build journey, please reach out using the form below.

Warm regards,

Joe

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