Get Started with your Self-Build Design

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Fleming Homes Designer, David Loomis, shares five tips that will help you get started with your self-build design

Dave says: “For me, designing a timber frame home is a collaborative process. Multiple factors come into play, all of which need to be carefully thought through. This is a job for the designer and the client to work on together to achieve the best design outcome.

DIY design is a great way to communicate your ideas to our design team. Mapping out floor areas and sharing the design aesthetic and features you’d like to incorporate is the perfect place to start. After this, my colleagues and I can step in and help to guide your initial concepts towards a fully formed and workable design. We do this by bringing our knowledge of construction materials and how best to utilise them, to create the space you’ve dreamed of. We’ll also share our appreciation of spatial planning as well as a deep understanding of Building Regulations to help shape the design of your homes.”

Dave’s top tips:

1. Know your budget and stick to it

Working out your budget should be one of your first priorities. It’s likely you’ll know how much you have to spend. But, do you know how that translates into size and specification? You’ll find many ways of estimating the cost per m² for a self-build home across the web (our site included), but these amounts should be treated as what they are – an estimate. The true cost of a self-build home depends on many things including location, your plot and the type of build (i.e., three-bedroom bungalow vs three-bedroom house). Your preferred build route, as well as design and specification will also have an impact. While a cost estimate is a useful starting point, you’ll need an actual design to generate realistic figures.

There are also many online resources for estimating the total cost of construction. However, as the cost of materials is subject to variation, be mindful that the data behind some cost calculators may not be up-to-date. Check out our cost calculator.

Once you have converted your budget into a rough estimate of cost per m², it is important to stick to it. As a professional, your designer has a responsibility to keep within your budget. But, you have a part to play too! After you receive the first design draft, if you think certain elements are too small then perhaps you should revisit your expectations. A good designer will help you rein in your design aspirations if they start to exceed your budget. Otherwise, you’ll simply end up with a design you can’t afford to build.

2. Be open minded and flexible

The designer’s role is to take your design brief and marry it with your budget. The initial result is usually a conceptual design; not fully resolved, but nearly there. It should give you a good indication of how far your budget will stretch in terms of space. Incorporating furniture or human figures into the drawings is a good way to help you understand the dimensions of different rooms.

Please remember that the conceptual design is just an initial draft. You may notice that the kitchen is a lot smaller than you expected and you want to address this in the next revision. And you should. But, you should also realise that you may have to make some compromises. For example, maybe you will have to re-think having four en-suite bathrooms. Your designer should be honest with you and use a solutions-based approach to help you achieve a design within your budget.

3. Create a clear and comprehensive design brief at the outset

It is important that all key elements of your ideal home are communicated in your initial brief, so they influence the design from the start. Prioritising your goals using a colour code, or a numbering system is one way to work out what is important to you. For instance, is a well-designed dressing room a higher priority than that fifth bedroom? If you are unsure where to start, we recommend completing our short design questionnaire. Alternatively, one of our designers will happily meet with you to nail down a thorough brief for the design of your home.

4. Stay on grid

At Fleming Homes, we sketch on a grid of 600mm. This is an intentional decision with the purpose of reducing the cost of your build. Why? Firstly, most building materials are supplied in dimensions devisable by 600. Plasterboard is 2.4m x 1.2m and flooring is 2.4m x 0.6m. Next, engineers tend to specify structural elements such as wall studs and roof trusses at 600mm intervals. So, when a house is designed using a 600mm grid, it can be manufactured in simple square panels of 2.4m x 2.4m which reduces production time and saves money. We will reflect any reduction in manufacturing time in the quote we provide for your timber frame.

Once your kit is erected, the OSB, flooring, roof sheathing, insulation and plasterboard are applied on site just as they are, with minimal cutting. The amount of waste in housebuilding is phenomenal. This is because materials are cut to fit, and leftovers are often too awkward to re-use. Designing to a 600mm grid helps reduce waste through minimal cutting. So, if you tell your designer to move a wall out another metre, making a conscious design decision to move it out 600mm or 1.2m will save you money.

5. Future proof your design

Regardless of your circumstances, we recommend that you make design decisions that suit occupants of all ages and needs. Having this mindset at the beginning of your self-build design could save you many thousands of pounds later on. Your home will also appeal to a wider audience if you ever want to sell it.

For example, if you think you may want to extend in the future, then you could create an opening with a lintel at the end of a hallway and cover it with a cupboard. Or choose attic trusses rather than fink trusses with a neatly trimmed out opening in the floor to allow for a future staircase. Alternatively, ask the designer to make specific walls non-load bearing, as this will make it easier to manipulate the space later down the line. If you foresee anyone with mobility problems ever living in the house, then make sure the dining room is large enough to accommodate a double bed and include drainage and water supply to the back corner for a future en-suite. Your designer can also include wider doors, even levelled ground floor, and shallower stairs to allow for stairlifts.

Small tweaks to the initial design can help you easily adjust your home in the future.


First published September 2021, revised and updated January 2024.


Did you know that as part of our mission to make self-build more straightforward we offer a FREE design service? We know that achieving the right design for your home is often the catalyst for turning your aspirations into a real live project. So, if you are keen to take the lead on the look and layout of your home, the Fleming Homes ‘Designed by You’ route offers many benefits. We just ask that you already own your own plot. Alternatively, if you already have architect’s drawings we will be pleased to provide you with a no-obligation, timber frame quotation. For more information visit our bespoke design service page.



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