Self Build Brief

Before You Speak To An Architect: How To Prepare A Self Build Brief – Part 1

Allan Corfield Architect, Construction Professionals, Finance, Self Build Leave a Comment

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Before You Speak To An Architect: How To Prepare A Self Build Brief – Part 1

Once you have made the decision that you are ready to build your new home, one of the first things you will have done is carry out initial research about Self Building. During this process, you probably learned about the importance of creating a thorough brief for your project, as it can play a crucial role in the success of your Self Build venture.

We advise every self builder to do their homework before speaking to an architect, because an understanding of the Self Build principles will help you decide which architectural practice is right for you. 

This two-part article will help you to create a Self Build brief. In the first part, we describe what a Self Build brief is and its importance. We will also explain to you the importance of including the budget, works programme and lifestyle sections in your brief. The stages will be complemented with an example from one of our own self builders.


To start with, we need to describe what a self-build brief actually is. It is a document which simply shows your architect a wish list of all the priorities of your dream home. The brief is an ever-evolving document and it will continually change throughout the project as your knowledge grows and your vision changes.

It is important to create at least a basic version of the brief before you interview selected architectural practices, as it will help you to choose the one that has the best fit for your project (if you need advice on how to choose the right architect read our article here).

Self Build Brief

Collating all the elements that you want and that you do not want in your dream home will assist in the decision-making process. It will make your consultations with architects more fruitful and thus the decisions you eventually make more informed.

Things will not always follow your original plan, so being flexible with your design brief is very important but at the end of the day, it will be your house so do not progress with something unless you are totally happy with the outcome.


Creating a good Self Build brief will save you time in the long run, as the more time you spend on the planning, researching and designing of your future home, the less time you will spend on site.

A Self Build brief will also assist in gathering the ideas of your family members and will allow you to eliminate contradicting elements of your visions. Writing all the ideas on paper will also create a record of what you agreed on in order to avoid misunderstandings.


In a perfect world, the only things that would affect your brief throughout your project are changes related to your growing aesthetic taste and technical upgrades.

Unfortunately, the most common factor influencing tweaks on Self Build briefs is an insufficient budget. It is important to be honest with yourself from the beginning and put sufficient effort to estimate how much money you can spend on your Self Build. It will help you to avoid stress and disappointment in the further stages of the project.

In the initial stages, an architect will be able to estimate whether the budget you set is enough to meet the expectations, and will be able to list all expenditures you may not be aware of. It is better to know all the limitations from the beginning so you can think clearly about what compromises you may need to make.

Designing & building a house within our budget that ends up being not too far adrift from market value would be prudent. Although we have no intention of selling the house in the near future, unforeseen circumstances need to be borne in mind.
The plot cost £117,000.
We would like to build the house for £300,000 but recognise this is likely to be too low if we are to get anywhere near our wishlist. £400,000 may, therefore, be more realistic.”


Another thing you should include in your brief is the programme of your Self Build with flexible key dates for the project. Remember that building your house will have many ups and downs, therefore dates will change.

Remember that the overall project may take up to 14 months to complete – and you could add 3-6 months on to this if you have a difficult Planning Approval process.

It is important to be flexible with your completion date, as the individual tasks may take longer to complete or be delayed. Therefore it is key not to make Christmas or a family birthday as your preferred move in date! (Read more about setting timescales for your Self Build here).

self build brief


After completing the financial side of your brief, you can begin the more pleasant and creative process – considering your lifestyle and its influence on the design of your future home.

At this stage, you need to ask yourself several questions:

– What are you hoping to achieve?

– Do you build your home for your growing family?

– How long do you want to live there?

– Is it a home for life?

Consider the changes that are going to happen in your life and if your home will suit you in ten or twenty years. Contemplating your future will help you to design a house that will remain useful over a long period. In fact, every member of the family should list their requirements regarding the future house and their individual lifestyle should be considered.

A good starting point is to analyse your current home. What have you always wanted to change about it? Where do you spend the most time together? How do you spend your time when relaxing and how can it be improved? Try to simulate a week of your family and focus on the routines of each family member in general and consider how you can improve the experience.

self build architect cost

Consider how your house will function as a family home, what spaces will be the most important for you. For example, do you need an open-plan kitchen connected to the dining room so that you can cook while spending time with your family and entertaining guests? If you are a big fan of watching movies you may consider installing a home cinema in one of your rooms. Or if you like to organise BBQ’s, you may find it useful to have a sheltered seating area outside with a gas fire pit. Prepare some scenarios of how your lifestyle will look.

“Sailing is an important part of our lives & we wanted the freedom to be able to do it more frequently. Phil has a long-held desire to sail the West Coast of Scotland & beyond – the cruising possibilities are limitless in a stunningly beautiful area. Phil has a 30-foot yacht that he built from a kit 25 years ago.”

“Sailing was a catalyst for choosing this area & the affordability of land with a key desire of a sea view. Other alternative locations considered were Devon/Cornwall – far too expensive for us, or Wales – sailing not interesting enough. This part of Scotland won hands down! And on a serious note, we do prefer the feel of society in Scotland.”

“We are never short of things to do indoors & out. Other interests include sea & fly fishing, walking, cycling, skiing, exploring, music, painting to name a few. We have a lot of equipment associated with these pastimes plus Phil has many practical skills so has acquired a good selection of tools for a variety of tasks. All of these items need custom designed storage space. Designing & building our own home presents a unique opportunity for us to organize our surroundings in a very personal way. We found that pre-built houses just did not meet our needs.

“Christmas, and Andrew, Emma and Casper are staying, using guest bedroom and Casper is in the hobbies/music room. Emma and Ben coming later and staying in the ‘sail loft’.” “Pop out into the garden to gather some herbs & maybe some vegetables from our raised beds to use in one of our experimental culinary dishes. We like to cook together so long as we have our own space. When guests come round they often get roped in to help with the preparation.”

self build architect cost

Now you are halfway to creating your Self Build brief! You have learned what a self-build brief is and why it is important to have this before you interview your potential architectural practices. The first part of this article discussed the importance of including a budget, works programme and lifestyle section in your brief. In the second part, we will provide information on how to encompass your family’s lifestyle into your new home wishlist. It will also help you to communicate your preferences regarding the appearance, construction method and sustainability in your brief.

Have you ever prepared a Self Build brief? Do you have any other tips that may be useful for a self builder who is creating one? Maybe you have more questions? If so, do not hesitate to ask them in the comments section.

Interested In Self Building?

Learn more about developing a Self Build!

 Download ACA’s ‘Introduction to Self Build’ eBook!

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