How can I quickly and cheaply design and build a house in the UK?
August 9, 2005 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Rapid self-design house building in the UK. I have an ill-informed notion that this should be possible by using pre-formed concrete slabs, but can find very little information. Can anyone shed any light on the subject?

Does anyone in the UK have experience of planning and building their own house? What problems did you run into? Does anyone have any experience of using materials or techniques that allow relatively cheap and faster-than-usual construction of a self-build home?

A little background info...

Stylistically, I like it clean and airy. Concrete slabs, dark wood floorboards, large glass windows. Somewhere between Japanese and Alpine. For example, I like these designs:

The Dwell Home design competition winner
Dwell Home - Marmol Radziner entry
Dwell Home - Anshen and Allen entry
Dwell Home - Rocio Romero
Huf Haus
The Japanese style

The Dwell house designs particularly emphasise pre-fab construction, and this is something I'm very interested in, since it should speed up the building process. Would it be a good idea to use pre-formed concrete blocks? Is poured concrete a viable option? There are other options, such as structural insulated panels, and I'm sure there are more out there.

Obviously I don't want to contradict the usual requirements for building a home: structural integrity; no special planning or specialist construction teams required; good insulation; resistant to weather and heat/damp; etc. I'd also like the materials and process to be as environmentally responsible as possible, while meeting my other requirements. For example, if concrete is to be used, perhaps it should be fly ash concrete?

Above all, I am convinced that traditional building techniques and materials (at least in the UK) are expensive and time-consuming. This is just a hunch - I hope to find the evidence or be proved wrong!

So. Is this a tall order?
posted by ajp to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are a number of mod prefab designers working & producing interesting projects in the UK and Western Europe, and I think the following may be a good start for you:

The M-House is manufactured in the UK and delivered 12 weeks from order.

The Swedish Pinc House can be shipped across Europe.

German firm WeberHaus has a number of small prefabs for sale, from modernist and some not.

The 3-storey fully modular Summit House, assembled in 10 hours, is part of a new development in Leeds.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!
posted by luriete at 9:35 AM on August 9, 2005

Is poured concrete a viable option?

It's probably doubtful if cost is a major concern, but that really depends on what your labor market is like. For example, here in San Diego the primary construction method is wood framing. Just 15 miles south in Tijuana, it's almost all cast-in-place concrete, and the only real difference between here and there is labor cost. For CIP concrete, you basically have to build the building twice--once for the forms, and then again with the concrete. I'd be interested in seeing if there's a pre-fab system that's applicable to residential building myself. Decent methods that split the difference between pre-fab and CIP are tilt-up construction, where you pour the walls flat on the ground and then lift them into place (this may require a crane); and Insulating Concrete Forms, which are essentially giant foam lego blocks that you can stack up into any configuration you wish and fill with concrete when you're done.
posted by LionIndex at 9:53 AM on August 9, 2005

It's very hard to find someone who will pour concrete well for cheap. Pouring concrete one of the shittiest jobs imaginable, and most of the people who can build a decent, level, house with square corners are very very expensive.

You definetly don't want to do it yourself. Not only will it come out like crap, but you'll kill yourself doing it. Your friends will abandon you if you ask them for help. It actually is that bad
posted by blasdelf at 7:55 PM on August 9, 2005

I guess it's up to individual factors too, but blasdelf is right, it is very hard work, and I don't think it can be done all by yourself without any experience. I had an uncle who built his house (traditional concrete building) from scratch doing most of the work himself, with help from family and friends, and he was a builder, and a very hard worker, but even then it took him ages and it became really crazy. It's not just the hard work, it's the organisation part that's very difficult.

But since you mention prefab houses, well, why not get one of those models that don't use any concrete and then see if it is possible to put in some of the work for assembling it yourself to reduce the costs? That could be more feasible than anything involving concrete.

You are probably already familiar with this, but check out the Grand Designs websites, they had some episodes about people building their own house, some with prefab models too. On the site they have sections with advice on how to do it yourself, and using kit homes.

A few nice links here too.
posted by funambulist at 5:59 AM on August 10, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the links, and the comments on poured concrete. Does anyone have any experience with pre-formed concrete slabs?
posted by ajp at 5:35 AM on August 15, 2005

Response by poster: In case anyone else ever reads this thread, I was recently told about this stuff:


Polysterene blocks that you fit together, then fill with poured-in concrete. Looks interesting.
posted by ajp at 11:39 AM on October 28, 2005

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