Research Your Build

Research Your Build

Sarah White, Residential Sector Manager at British Gypsum, explains how to nail your self build first time through research, research and more research.

Building your own home is an exciting undertaking but unless your background is in the construction trade, it can also be an incredibly steep learning curve. With so much invested in the property – both financially and emotionally – it’s crucial to make the right choices when it comes to managing the budget, choosing your architect or tradesmen and deciding which products and materials to invest in.

Websites like Pinterest and Houzz are a good place to start for inspiration and a sense of what’s possible but be warned, they don’t always give you an accurate picture of the cost and effort involved. When it comes to researching your project, nothing beats the ‘old fashioned’ method of speaking to suppliers and industry professionals directly, to tap into their expertise.

Exhibitions are an excellent way of meeting product manufacturers in person and you can quickly gather a lot of information in a short space of time. Exhibitions also help you get a better understanding of where to invest your budget – ideally in high-quality materials for the basic construction of your property, before moving on to more aspirational items, like audio visual systems and green technology.

This was certainly the experience of Rob and Sarah Collard, who recently completed an ambitious self build project in a picturesque corner of Cambridgeshire. Indeed, it was finding the perfect site that inspired them to finally begin the self build dream. Surrounded by beautiful countryside yet within striking distance of local amenities, the tranquil setting was ideal for the family life they were after. 

With only one chance to achieve the home of their dreams, the couple knew they needed to invest time in researching and getting to know suppliers properly so that they could truly understand what products they needed. By trawling through magazines and attending a number of home renovation and self build exhibitions, they quickly came to understand the importance of specifying products that went beyond the basic Building Regulations. After all, the decisions they made now would last a lifetime.

What’s more, they knew that the 1960s house on the plot, with its flimsy walls, was not going to satisfy their requirements. They had already lived with the frustrations of flimsy walls in previous properties and wanted to create a home that was durable, so they decided to completely demolish the original house to enable them to build the home they really wanted, from scratch.

The demolition itself was an easy task and at £7,000 did not do undue damage to the couple’s budget. The entire project from initial demolition through to completion took 20 months – just six months more than the couple had initially planned for and the re-build was completed within the couple’s £260,000 budget. 

Rob explains, “I have a good understanding of architecture and so being able to design the house myself was important to me. It also made a huge difference to our budget because we didn’t have to pay for any of the inevitable design changes that came about as the project progressed.”

Sarah adds, “While carrying out our initial research we became familiar with a lot of the building materials available to us. In particular, Gyproc Habito plasterboardfrom British Gypsum caught our attention as it meant we could have super strong walls, rather than the flimsy ones that had frustrated us in other properties we have lived in. This durability was a big draw for us and once we started looking at the plasterboard, we really came to understand how important it is to invest in the building fabric, which we knew would help raise the standard of our project.” 

Speaking about the process of managing the build itself, Sarah continues: “We lived in a caravan on site throughout the duration of the project. There is no denying that it was hard work and there were times when we wondered if it would ever be finished. But when you actually get in and see the wonderful home you have created, you quickly forget these difficulties and all the sacrifices are worth it.

“I found the planning one of the biggest challenges. It is hard to picture what the house is going to look like from a piece of paper and having to plan everything in sequence was tough at times. Luckily, we did a lot of research prior to beginning and received invaluable support from manufacturers, including British Gypsum. We were always adamant that we would use the best building materials possible because we wanted to build a home that would last and evolve with us, as our family requirements change.”

Having met British Gypsum at an exhibition the Collards were able to see the benefits of taking a fabric first approach and went on to specify Gyproc Habitosuper strong plasterboard as well as a number of performance plasters including ThistlePro DuraFinish plaster,ThistlePro PureFinish plaster, which removes up to 70% of formaldehyde from the air,and ThistlePro Magnetic plaster – each offering different benefits to them and their family. 

Designing for durability, the Collards opted for superior specification options to improve the strength of their walls. For example, Gyproc Habitoplasterboard features an engineered core making it five times stronger than standard and offers greater levels of durability, strength and fixability for the internal wall linings. 

Aside from the technical benefits that the couple’s thorough research brought to the project, their detailed homework paid off in a number of creative ways too. For example, the family decided to install ThistlePro Magnetic plaster in the children’s bedrooms, having been inspired by the Magnetic Wallconcept after discovering it at an exhibition. By simply painting over the ThistlePro Magnetic plaster, their children Harvey, Samuel and Sebastian now have Magnetic Walls; the younger children use them for interactive play, creating race-tracks and to display their artwork, while teenager Harvey uses it for keeping track of notes relating to his schoolwork. 

Sarah concludes, “I think because Rob actually designed the house and we worked on it every step of the way, it is something that we can be really proud of. Starting from scratch meant we could have everything we wanted, and it ensured we were able to design-in quality materials that will stand the test of time rather than just having to settle for standard.”

For more information about taking a fabric first approach to your self build, please visit to request a copy of British Gypsum’s free self-build guide: