Campaigning for a greener future

Self build timber house

Preparing to Build an Eco-Home

An Englishman’s home is his castle, and for that reason, many people love the idea of building their own home. Undertaking a self build project can also be a fantastic way to give yourself an eco-home, filled with the highest quality insulation, natural finishes and ethically sourced furnishings.

Whether you’re just dreaming about the idea of building your own house or are at the stage where you’re hunting for potential plots of land that to begin your construction project on, below is some advice to help you avoid some of the biggest problems people encounter when planning to build their dream home.

planning proposal

Planning Permission

Obtaining planning consent is the first stage in being able to build on a particular plot of land. The thought of the planning process and applying for consent can strike fear into the hearts of many, but it isn’t always as bad as you may think. As long as you do your research before handing over your hard earned cash, going about getting permission to build your dream home shouldn’t be too difficult.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting the process of self building is choosing land that isn’t appropriate. If you purchase land at an auction or by private sale which doesn’t have any planning permission at present, you could be landing yourself with a nice field and not much more. The location of the land you want to build on and the types of properties in the nearby area in particular can have significant bearing upon the likelihood of planning being approved. The best approach, unless you already own a portion of land, is to purchase land that already has consent granted. This could save a lot of heartache that many people suffer when they have their heart set on building their house in the middle of a few acres of farmland only to hit a brick wall once the planning application is submitted.


derelict barnReplacing Existing Buildings

If you’ve found the perfect plot of land that already has a building on it, be it an old derelict barn or a shabby old garage building, that will make it easier to get planning permission so the building can be replaced, right? Not always. You can’t assume that just because an existing structure is on the land that planners will approve your proposals, although it does make it more likely that you will get planning than on land with no prior buildings in existence.

One problem to watch out for is whether your building is in a conservation area. This can place restrictions on new developments as conservation areas protect the existing building style and materials used. This is more likely to be encountered in villages and around older properties or in parishes.

Another area to be aware of is buildings with a listed status. If a building is deemed to be of historical importance, it may be Grade I, II or III listed. This places even stricter restrictions on the type of development permitted and the materials used, but ultimately the listed status’ purpose is the preservation of the existing building. A planning officer will often inspect at various stages of the build to ensure compliance with the planning consent and guidelines. A listed building will not be an option for demolition and rebuilding.

barn owlAs well as watching out for buildings being protected by listed statuses or conservation guidelines, you also need to be aware of other problems that building demolition can throw up. If you buy an old barn which has nesting birds such as barn owls, or bats roosting in it, you will have further problems as these are protected species. If you have any concerns about wildlife potentially living in a building you wish to develop, seek advice before purchasing the property to avoid any nasty surprises.

Demolition costs can also become costly, so it’s wise to consider these in advance. Obtain a quote for site clearance and removal of any building site debris before putting in an offer or in advance of the auction. Also, if the property contains any hazardous substances such as asbestos, this can be expensive to remove as it must be done by a registered contractor.

Japanese KnotweedClearing the Land

If your building land has been left unattended for any length of time, you are likely to have vegetation that needs to be cleared from the land prior to building work beginning. Some plants can cause problems for potential house builders, including the extremely invasive Japanese Knotweed. If Knotweed is present on your land, it is not a cheap job to clear it. Disposal has to be through a registered landfill site due to it being rampant and to prevent contamination with other areas. Special chemical treatments have to be used to kill the tubers with repeat treatments during a 5 year period. The presence of Japanese Knotweed can also prevent properties being mortgageable so if you suspect it is present, it is best getting the problem dealt with as soon as possible to prevent delays in your build.

building plot

Another plant based consideration is trees present on your plot of land. Sometimes planning committees will require completion of a tree survey for the planning proposal to progress. This may include recommendations about trees which can be removed and any trees which are protected by a tree preservation order (TPO) which place restrictions on where building work and hard surfaces such as concrete can be constructed.

Good quality trees cannot simply be felled for a house to be built, and therefore the tree survey has to be completed by a professional company in order for planning permission to be validated if trees are present on the land. There are different types of surveys and assessments which ascertain the impact on arboriculture in the area, protection plans for trees that remain during the building process and providing a report detailing the trees that should be retained and those than can be removed.

Small scale builds are less likely to have significant numbers of trees falling into this category, however older trees may be protected by a Tree Preservation Order and are not able to be felled to enable land to be developed.

fresh water springServicing Your Plot

Before your new home is constructed, you will need to figure out how your house will be serviced, and what services are available near to the building plot. If you do not wish to be Off-Grid, you will need to have access to mains electricity; be serviced by mains water for clean water coming into the house, and be close to mains drainage, although a septic tank is not unusual for rural properties and can be very effective whether on or off the grid.

Some properties are lucky enough to have access to a private fresh water spring giving their own water supply. This would reduce costs of connecting up water pipework, however you would need to consider the longevity of the supply and whether it would provide enough water for all your drinking and washing needs, all year round. If a spring only offers enough fresh water for drinking, other methods of water collection will need to be installed if mains water isn’t close by.

solar panel at Brighton EarthshipWhere electricity and heating is concerned, if you’ve chosen to build your own home, renewable energy technology is a no brainer. Solar panels and wind turbines in conjunction can provide the electricity needed to power your home if set up correctly and designed as part of a whole house energy system suited to your consumption levels.

Wood burning stoves can heat your home, whilst cooking appliances and backup boilers can be powered by LPG or oil delivered to your home. These are more often the solutions a rural home would use for heating and powering a property, but many urban homes now use renewable energy from roof mounted solar panels and solar water heating. An increasing number of homes also incorporate ground source heat pumps to keep the house warm. Eco-coal and multi-fuel stoves with higher efficiency levels enable home owners in smokeless areas to benefit from solid fuel too as less smoke is emitted in Defra approved units, making this an ideal option for the urban or semi-rural eco-home.

All in all, the above considerations could be enough to put you off building an eco-home, but don’t be discouraged if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do. The most stressful situations come about through lack of planning, and although it’s not possible to cover every eventuality in advance, if you’re aware of the common pitfalls that people experience before the first brick is even laid, it could help pave the way for a much smoother self build project.

Posted in Eco HomeGreen Living
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