Self-Building with Modern & Traditional Methods of Construction

Self-Building with Modern & Traditional Methods of Construction

Considering which method of construction to use when planning your self-build home is important, which is why Tom Simpkins, Representative of Lift Mini Crane Hire, explored the many methods, both modern & traditional, available today.

Self-build houses are the dreams of any builder, architect, or even just those with aspirations for their perfect home. They take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to complete, as well as even more expertise and funds to boot, but they’re not impossible endeavours to pursue. Despite the term, a self-build is rarely built by one individual and they’re usually aided by either an architect or a construction company, such as a building package company.

Regardless of the motivation behind a self-build, whether it’s to erect the ideal home or it’s out of necessity in other countries, the houses are essentially custom homes that are designed to fit the occupant’s needs, if not just their wants. This does include the interior, but the most important element of self-build houses are what structure they adhere to.

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are quickly becoming more and more prevalent in the world of self-build homes. The government responded to the ODPM Select Committee Report on Planning for Sustainable Communities in the South East in 2003 by saying that MMC is “a step-change in the construction industry to produce the quantity and quality of housing” that the UK needs. 

Thanks to this, many traditional methods, such as those below, are beginning to embrace MMC in one way or another, whether it’s practising more energy-efficient techniques or opting to use sustainable materials.

Proposed and adhered to in order to address growing concerns about the sustainability in the construction industry, MMC relates to all facets of constructing, including building materials, seeking materials, components & systems that are all developed to make energy-efficient buildings.

Natural Builds & Eco-Building

Another side of MMC is ‘Eco-Building’, where a majority of the materials used during construction are either recycled or entirely natural resources. A handful of these surprising examples include using straw in lieu of bricks & blocks and even making use of recycled car tyres and glass bottles.

Some structures collaborate with, or at the very least are designed to adhere to, a more natural landscape. Earth Sheltered & Bermed houses are structures that are either completely or partially subterranean, enforcing the structure and allowing the use of even more sustainable materials.

Timber Frames

Utilising timber frames provides benefits that traditional brick & block simply can’t, such as the nature of the superstructure they create. This structure means that your self-build home can adhere to open plan designs, as they don’t require load-bearing walls. There’s also the choice of wood that can be used as, despite the name, timber frames can make use of alternatives such as Glulam or Green Oak.

One often-overlooked opportunity with timber frames is the chance to use eco-friendly and highly-effective insulation materials like straw bales. As aforementioned, these surprising construction materials are incredibly effective for insulation & structure support, and when partnered with sustainable wood for the frame there’s little stopping these self-builds becoming ‘eco-buildings’.

Of course, no construction method is perfect, and timber frames do you have their cons to go with their pro’s. One such disadvantage to timber frames is that they will need to be almost entirely made off-site, which prevents the versatility that alternatives like brick & block offers. It can also be quite costly, especially if making use of the Tudor-style Green Oak.

Brick & Block

Perhaps the best-known and most common method of self-builds, brick & block builds consist of the combination of a brick exterior for a traditional look with the sturdiness of a concrete block interior. Many argue that brick & block builds are the most airtight homes, however, others suggest that timber frames or SIPS methods are stronger in that respect.

One of the biggest benefits of brick & block houses is that they can be built in instalments, making the process one that can be adapted and changed essentially on the fly. Those dealing with a self-build mortgage can tackle them piece-by-piece, much like the building process itself. Another benefit of this method is that it is entirely utilised on-site, allowing plenty of chances to inspect and appraise the work as it unfolds.

Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

Not unlike Lego, Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) slots together piece by piece in the form of large, hollow blocks. These stack atop each other to create cavities within a structure, increasing the insulation value of it overall. ICF is relatively simple to construct and it a considerably speedier process than other, conventional methods, though it’s not without its drawbacks.

First of all, ICF is marginally more expensive than brick & block, an average of 5% more expensive, and although that isn’t too audacious a price increase it can add up during even modest builds. Another potential issue with ICF is that it can be quite hard to find experienced ICF builders, both to work with or to learn from, due to the expertise required. An example of this expertise is also another shortfall, which is to say that the slightest mistake at the foundation of these builds can be disastrous in the long-run.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS)

Another incredibly common method of construction is the incredibly cost-effective and energy-efficient method known as Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS). SIPS provides a host of different benefits, each one seemingly more appealing than the last, including providing a sturdy, airtight structure, an abundance of built-in insulation, a swift 10 to 12 day assembly process on average and, especially alluring for self-builds, a larger roof span than conventional methods without the need for additional support.

The only potential downsides for SIPS is the contrast of quality & durability compared to traditional methods such as brick & block or timber frames. Though SIPS materials are rather strong, often consisting of Orientated Strand Boards (OSB) within Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) core, they can’t go head to head with other, more stable materials. SIPS are all fabricated off-site as well, preventing many opportunities for corrections of design changes.

Log Homes

Log Homes are the quintessential ‘dream self-build’ houses, the kind of homes that we all dream of when working at a desk in a busy, bustling city. The very picture of a serene getaway, Log Homes are much more synonymous with American landscapes but there’s no reason they can’t be built here in the UK.

Expert craftsmen have ample opportunities to add their personal touches to the rustic charm that Log Homes are known for. Log Homes require a certain level of expertise to create, specific traditional construction methods and considerably more expensive materials, but the result can be an undeniably stunning home.

Honourable Mention: 3D Printed Houses

Though it’s a long way away from being rolled out en-masse, the world of 3D printing is ever encroaching on the construction industry, with news of 3D printed houses appearing more and more frequently. Given the nature of 3D printing, the process of building a house with 3D printing technology is incredibly quick; lightning-fast compared to conventional methods.

Timeframes for complete constructions range from days to months, depending on how much planning is required and what kind of external assistance is granted, such as the production and installation of windows. Prices vary, as one might expect, but they can be shockingly low when considering traditional alternatives. One company in Texas, ICON, predicts that they could produce a small, 3D printed house for as little as $4,000, which shows that the technology is becoming more and more common.

These developments may be exciting, but it still seems like we’re a few years away from them being a viable option for self-builds, but it’s always worth keeping an eye on the horizon for the possibility of a 3D printed home.

Which Self-Build Method?

In conclusion, each self-build construction method has its benefits and provides distinct challenges, though with MMC becoming more and more common some of the downfalls of these methods are starting to become rarer. When considering a self-build it’s always important to consider which approach you wish to take; fast or steady, with a focus on speed or quality.

Despite how much experience a builder or an architect may have, any self-build will likely require external assistance, so there’s no harm in consulting with other experts and collaborating on your self-build. After all, a dream home deserves the most care and attention to detail possible.
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