I was recently reading a couple of books on self-building and was taken aback by one of them. In it the author basically said you shouldn’t even dream of building a house yourself, you’ll just screw it up. It will all end in tears and financial ruin, especially if you’ve never done it before.

My initial response to what the author said was to question myself and my capabilities; to believe his point of view because of his vast experience in the industry and then feel rather inadequate because I could be so dumb as to think I could do this on my own. Yet on reflection, here I am, a long way towards getting a difficult design of a house done on a challenging site. While it does provide valuable information and is written to help you successfully achieve a self-build home, the book is basically trying to tell you not to have ambition and take on such risks; instead, you need to leave it to the professionals who know what they’re doing.

Essentially, the message in this book boils down to a particular view of mistakes.

However, experienced builders make mistakes, often hiding them along the way. You only need to look at many of the new builds produced by the large developers to know this.

So the nub of this post is if you’re building a house yourself, you’re going to make mistakes along the way. This is especially the case if you’ve never done it before. But this doesn’t necessarily need to end in disaster and ruin your building project.

Goodness knows I’ve made plenty of mistakes during my build, and these mistakes have been made during all phases of the build. Mostly, I’ve been able to work around them or fix them – without ending up with a bodge job, I should note. Just watch this vlog post where I talk about some recent mistakes and having a full head:

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt that have helped me to deal with mistakes and avoid the critical ones:

  1. Accept that mistakes are going to happen. There is no getting around this. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, it’s part of the natural process of learning. Knowing you’re going to make mistakes can help you focus better to reduce the number of mistakes you make.
  2. Use the awareness you’ll make mistakes to keep yourself focussed while you’re building. You know the saying ‘measure twice, cut once?’ Well, I’ve done that but been so blazĂ© about my second measurement, I haven’t paid attention only to find out I got it wrong. Getting it short is the most annoying when you’ve just cut a floor joist and it falls out of one of the joist hangers! However, don’t let this awareness paralyse you either; find a good balance.
  3. Look at the kinds of mistakes that can happen and decide whether they’re critical, or non-critical. The critical ones need more attention.
  4. When you’re doing one of the critical jobs, make sure you get plenty of sleep, clear your mind of other distractions and focus just on the task at hand. If necessary, ask people to leave you alone so you can concentrate. If you have someone else you can rely on, ask them to go over it independently of you, just to double check it.
  5. Try to focus (and keep your sequence) on one job at a time, finishing it off before moving onto the next job. This will help you to find a better building rhythm and stop you from having to change gears in your work all the time.
  6. Know your building. I mean know it completely.. Study the drawings and specifications thoroughly and sear them into your mind. Then make sure you know your site – don’t simply rely on drawings but spend lots of time on your site to gain familiarity with it. And don’t be embarassed to be re-checking your drawings and specifications against your real world site just to make sure.
  7. Don’t rush into things. Being impatient has often cost me more time than patiently and methodically thinking something through first.
  8. A final and over-arching principle about building in general is to give yourself time to think about things when you feel unsure, but also when you feel really sure! Hold some healthy doubt in your mind as a continuous, positive reminder.

What these steps amount to is a nudge to be methodical about how you take on your building project. Take laying out your foundations, for example. This is a critical stage which means you need to take extra care by going through everything step-by-step and double checking what you’re doing before you commit yourself and dig it all out. If you’re at such a critical stage, my recommendation is you give yourself extra time to take a break from what you’ve done, sleep on it, and then check it over again the next day. When you’re building on your own, you have the luxury to do this, unlike when you’ve got some sub-contractor who’s on a tight schedule breathing over your shoulder. I’ve had times where I’ve been so worried about my foundations, I’ve actually checked everything three or four times at least (probably a lot more), and in different ways.

Keep in mind that building a house is not rocket science, some of it is complex, but much of it isn’t even complex, just a step by step process where you need to get things done in their proper order. The building industry isn’t exactly a shining beacon of innovation and this plays to your favour – there’s a lot of information out there you can tap into even if you don’t have acces to the knowledge of an experienced builder when you get stuck.

There has never been such access to information in our history, YouTube being a particularly valuable resource nowadays. Don’t forget the good oldfashioned printed books. There are some brilliant books on contruction that provide standard, timehonoured details of how to build a house, providing a safe haven of knowledge, that also complies with building regulations standards, for example. Ifind these books more valuable than a lot of online content. This is mainly because I can go straight to the index, find the exact topic I need and flip to the right pages for the information rather than watching videos on YouTube that might contain lots of unnecessary information. YouTube videos also have a habit of unconsciously leading me away from videos on the topic I need to something completely different. One minute I’m watching a video on how to build something, the next I’m travelling across the sea with a couple who gave up everything to live their life sailing the world on a yacht.