Guidance to Building your own Home

Dualchas Architects


This guidance section is primarily aimed towards people looking to build their own home, although many of the principles apply to all types of projects. Our architects at Dualchas can discuss through the process with the private or professional client in detail.

Building your own home is a highly rewarding experience. It can appear daunting at first since there are so many issues to consider, but working with a good architect should allow not only the process to be easier, the end result will be much better.

At Dualchas we strive to make the process as straightforward as possible. Our Self-Build Guide is based on years of experience in dealing with numerous clients, consultants, statutory authorities and contractors. If you feel that there is any information missing that would help you, please e-mail your queries to [email protected], and we’ll do our best to incorporate them into the website.

Often this is the most difficult part of the whole process, as dreams of a perfect plot are halted by the reality of limited availability and high prices. Yet perseverance often has it rewards. Below are the basics of what you should do:

1.  Contact estate agents local to where you wish to build. Often they will have a website and will put you on their mailing list.

2.  Get to know the area. Speaking to local people will give you inside knowledge of what land may be available and at what price.

3.  Be brave. Identifying a plot and asking the landowner if they are willing to sell can pay off. The worst they can say is no.

4.  Check the Internet. A dedicated website such as Buildstore Plotsearch can help.

If you have identified a plot or plots which you are considering purchasing, please feel free to send through information to Dualchas for a free consultation by e-mail or by meeting in one of our offices. We will be happy to look over any outline planning conditions that may be in place and give advice on the layout of the site and any cost implications that this may have. Some plots will have hidden costs in ground works and site servicing, and this knowledge is good to have prior to making an offer. A Dualchas architect can also arrange to visit the site with you for a small fee to cover expenses.

If you've found a site which you think is ideal for your needs, it's worth having a second look. Even if it has outline planning consent, it may not be as suitable as first thought.

How easy is the access?
A long access road to the house position can be very costly. A level access of a short distance saves money. The story of the family, who built a mile-long road to the site of their dream home only to be able to afford a caravan, is not apocryphal.

What are the ground conditions like?
Building on a bog is not impossible, just inadvisable due to the expense in making the ground structurally secure. Likewise, hard rock may have to be blasted or broken which again can have a financial impact.

Can the house be easily serviced?
Lack of a water main may mean that you look at a borehole solution or taking water from a spring. But will this water meet safety standards? A distant electrical supply can mean incurring more unforeseen expense.

What will the sewerage arrangements be?
Can you connect to a mains sewerage system or will a private septic tank or treatment plant be required?

The advice?
Do your research and/or commission a professional to do a feasibility study, before you take the plunge.


We understand the problems which clients can face in finding finance to build their home. Traditional mortgages can be somewhat inflexible, sometimes requiring numerous valuations thus causing delays to the progress of the project.

A modern mortgage such as the Buildstore Accelerator can help overcome these problems. This award-winning self build mortgage is so flexible it can enable you to stay in your own home until the new house is complete.

Features of the Buildstore Accelerator mortgage:

  • Up to 95% of the land purchase
  • Up to 95% of the build costs
  • Stage payments in advance
  • Stay in your own home during build
  • No interim valuations
  • No Bridging loans needed
  • Choice of lender
  • Choice of Competitive Rates including flexible mortgage

Dualchas has years of experience and has developed a strong rapport with many planning departments, who appreciate the approach we take to design and our respect for the built and natural environment. Working with planning departments rather than fighting against them is usually the best approach, leading to reduced timelines and reduced cost. Below we have developed a rough guide which will let you know some of the terms and issues involved in obtaining planning and building warrant approvals.

Planning in Principle

If an estate agent is selling a piece of land, then it is most likely that it will have outline planning consent, referred to as Planning in Principle in Scotland. This means that the council has given approval in principle for a house to be built on the site, but the design of the house has not been approved. Check also for attached conditions; these are known as reserved matters and must be met when a full application is lodged.

Detailed Planning Permission

Full planning consent gives approval for the design of the house. It will also show where the house is sited, how the access is configured and how sewerage and storm water is dealt with. The council will consult with other statutory bodies, such as the water authority, during this application. If your proposal is in a sensitive area, government agencies such as English or Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland, the National Trust and a variety of other "quangos" may get involved. Remember, there is never a guarantee that you will get full planning permission, as it is dependent on the policies and opinions of local authorities and their officials. Pre-Planning consultation should be undertaken before any application is lodged to maximixe chances of success.

There is a wealth of information about the Planning system and links to local authorities (who are responsible for administering the Planning system within a given area) online.

For Scotland information can be found at

For Northern Ireland information can be found at

For Eire planning information can be found here

For England and Wales information can be found at

Crofting Land

If you are buying a piece of land in the Highlands of Scotland, you will have to ensure that the land is "decrofted" before you purchase it. This applies where you are buying housing land from a croft.  While land reform is changing how this system works, it is wise to have a solicitor familiar with the process acting on your behalf.

Building Warrant

Once you have full planning permission, the next step is building warrant - meaning approval by your local authority's Building Standards department. While this system varies in different parts of the UK, in Scotland you cannot build until you have full council approved warrant drawings. These drawings show details of the structure, the internal layout, electrics, plumbing and heating system. An engineer's certificate, as well as data illustrating the energy efficiency for the house is required.

The Building Standards department will require a Structural Engineers Register approved engineer to provide a certificate, known as an S.E.R., to confirm that the proposed build meets all the required structural standards. This certificate covers all elements of the build, including the foundations and other non-kit elements. We will provide detailed engineering information for the kit itself but we cannot provide foundation or blockwork engineering. You will therefore need an external engineer to provide this information and the S.E.R. certificate.

We will provide the energy efficiency (S.A.P. Test) calculation for the house.

See for detailed information about the building standards system in Scotland.

Statutory Consent Fees

Not surprisingly, each of these applications entail fees. While planning fees in Scotland are generally in the region of £319, you may be required to pay more if your proposal requires to be advertised. You will also have to pay for the carrying out of percolation tests if you are intending to use a septic tank and soakaway. Warrant fees are based on a sliding scale relating to the assumed cost of your house.

Professional Advice

No matter which country you are building in, whether it be Scotland, Wales, England, Ireland or further a field, statutory consents will have to be given before building work can commence. Local knowledge is invaluable, and appointing a professional agent to act on your behalf is advisable.

For the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) see

For the Royal Institute of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) see

Many planning departments are concerned that new housing fits well into settlement pattern and surrounding landscape. The longhouse can be sited easily due to its narrow plan, meaning a reduction in the amount of site clearance required.  However there are some points which must be considered.


It is always worthwhile getting a topographical survey done of your site. Your agent or architect should arrange this.  A survey will allow you to take account of falls in level on the site,  better design the house position and access, and will  minimise the amount of earth removal and rock breaking required.  Often the Planning department will ask for levels and sections through the site.  A topographical survey will greatly help the process.

Surrounding buildings

If you have neighbours, be respectful. Fitting your building in to the surrounding context can help develop the built environment and gain the approval of the local planners. Dsi gn is not just about internal spaces bit also those that are created outside.  There is an obligation on house builders to help create a beautiful built environment for all of us to enjoy.   For example, if you are building on a site where there is an existing old byre, don't demolish it. Use it to help bed your new house in to its setting and create a balanced relationship between new and old.

Materials and landscaping

Often the most overlooked part of the building process is the landscaping. Building stane dykes, decks and timber outbuildings can help tie your house into the surroundings. Larch, stone and metal are the common building materials of the countryside and by using them around your house you will develop a continuity of design.  A successful solution often used by Dualchas clients is to use larch cladding on the house which fades to silver.  Drystane walls are then used to define the entrance and garden areas, tying the building into the landscape.


While every homeowner will want to exploit the views from their site, also consider the prevailing wind and sun. How do you give shelter from the South Westerlies? Can you use the sun so as to benefit from passive solar gain? Can planting or an outbuilding act as a sun shield, a windbreak or a sound barrier from a road?


If you are employing a consultant, he or she will assist you with all these parts of the process. Our houses have the benefit of being developed from historical forms which mean that they should be able to fit beautifully in to a town, village, farmyard or remote setting.

An architect is an investment - an investment in design quality which will add value to a project. Any building will have a certain cost in project management, bricks and mortar - the architect can take the otherwise mundane and raise its quality to a different level.

Helping the client develop the brief is one of the first things an architect will do at the start of a project. While many people who approach Dualchas will have thought long and hard about what they want, it is always best to review this. Often an architect can suggest ideas which a client will not have thought of - perhaps the topography of a site will suggest a different approach - or  a client may come forward with an idea which inspires the architect.

Squaring the brief with the total budget is also key. It is far better to be realistic from the beginning so as to avoid surprises or disappointments at a later stage. This will not only be about the spaces required, it will look at the approach to the site, the type of construction and the material finish, all of which have a bearing on the construction cost. In some situations, it may be discovered that a large extension is not required after all - a replanning of the existing house can provide all the necesary space and transform the enjoyment of the property.

Once the brief and budget are established, the design development should be a highly enjoyable collaborative approach - at Dualchas the architects do not try and impose their ideas on the client - it is about exploring ideas based around a response to the site, the climate, the materials and the client's needs - all with an understanding that the design will have to meet the requirements of local planning regulations. This can be done through sketches, photo-rendering and models - so that the best possible result is produced within the client's budget.

A high level of detailing will also come with a Dualchas designed building - so that there is not only quality in the spaces, but in how the fabric of the building fits together so as to create the clean lines and considered details associated with Dualchas buildings. This requires not only finesse and care for the end product, it requires a collaborative approach with the builder  so that we work towards the same goal - high quality architecture.

The length of time it takes from identifying a site to being handed the keys to your building has to deal with many variables. Your architect will produce a realistic programme of work for you which sets out key dates for when various stages will be reached. In a process which involves the legal system, the planning system and Building Control, revisions can sometimes be required.  However, the sequence is always largely the same.

Step 1 - Buying the land

Do research on the land and make sure you know details of the site you intend to buy. A Dualchas architect will be happy to look at this with you so that a variety of issues can be considered. Is there  When you're ready to proceed appoint a solicitor who will put in a conditional offer on your behalf. Once applicable consents and legalities are dealt with, the land is yours.

Step 2 - Developing the brief with your architect

Think about what you require in your design, and discuss this through with your architect. New ideas may emerge and existing ones may be dropped, and may involve your views on renewable technologies, rooms required and material choices. This will be done while looking at costs so that a realistic budget is set against the proposed works.

Step 3 - Appoint the consultant team and develop the sketch design

Your Dualchas architect will advise on the other consultants required for the project and when their input will be needed. Having early information on site topography and ground conditions will help inform design decisions which can reduce costs and assist in applications for statutory consents. The sketch design will explore how internal spaces relate to each other and the external appearance of the building in context. Structure and materials will also be considered and ideas explored through sketches and renderings.

Step 4- Apply for Detailed Planning Consent

Prior to submitting for planning, your Dualchas architect will discuss the design with the local planner to get his input and support for the proposal. This pre-application consultation can often be invaluable and save time and effort in the long run. Once the application is lodged it should take 8 weeks for a decision to be reached, although often it takes longer. Your architect will also deal with other agencies that may become involved.

Step 5 - Detailed Design

Detailed construction drawings for the submission to your local Building Control office for Building Warrant will be required. We will work closely with the engineer at this stage. It will also involve a lot of dialogue with the client on materials and fittings. Building Control wil look to establish that the design complies with all relevant aspects of Technical Standards - a building warrant will only be issued when this is demonstrated.

Step 6 - Finance in Place

Ensure that if you are intending to use a bridging loan or mortgage, that the one you have in place is suitable for the project ahead. Standard Contracts allow for builders to be paid monthly, so having a badly planned payment release schedule can cause unnecessary difficulties at a later date.

Step 7 - Appoint a Builder

The normal process is for your architect to put your house out to tender to  at least three reputable contractors, ideally NHBC registered. Your architect will ensure that you sign a contract with the builder who has returned the most suitable tender. The tender with the earlier completion date may be preferred to a cheaper price. Your  architect will ensure that both the builder and yourself understand the contract and it's obligations. The alternative to this is to have a negotiated tender with a reputable builder, which wil require the input of a Q.S.

Step 8 - Work on Site

This is the exciting part. With detailed drawings, professional guidance and a good builder, it should be an enjoyable process watching the building going up. The contractor will manage the build with the architect administering the contract between them and the employer. The architect's role includes inspecting the work on site, issuing Certificates of Progress Payment each month, and dealing with any variations to the contract. In the build itself, first there is the site clearance and the building of the substructure and drainage elements. Then the erection of the frame, roof and fitting of the glazing. Electrical and plumbing roughing work can then go on inside as the outer skin is completed externally. And when the finishes are in place and the kitchen fitted, the paintwork will bring the building to life.

Step 9 - Moving In

Once the house has been granted a Completion Certificate by the council and the Certificate of Practical Completion issued by your architect, the keys are handed over. A defects liability period will mean that the performance of the building is monitored, with money retained to deal with any defects which may become apparent. Only once all these are dealt with is the architect's Final Certificate issued and the the final retention released.

Planning Aid for Scotland
A voluntary organisation run by qualified and experienced planners, giving information and advice on all aspects of Town and Country Planning and related issues.

Planning Area on the Scottish Executive Website
A wealth of information about the planning system in Scotland. A very large and detailed Website which can appear a little overwhelming.

Buildstore Website
BuildStore is the UK's leading supplier to the Self Build, conversion and renovation market. The site has many useful tools and a great deal of information to aid in making your dream a reality.

Scottish Executive 'Housing in the Countryside
A very useful Planning Advice Note from the Scottish Executive giving examples of best practice relating to housing in the countryside. The guidance features some houses designed by Dualchas Building Design.

NHBC Website
Information about the NHBC, the standard setting body and leading warranty provider for new homes in the UK, and access to a list of NHBC registered contractors.

Self-Builder Website
A useful company who has linked up with various self-build related financial product providers, such as mortgage companies and warranty providers. Also provide site insurance for self-builds.

J.I.G. Drainage Consultants
A company like J.I.G. may be able to help you with important site issues such as sewage treatment, water treatment and analysis.

Planning Portal
Planning advice for those wishing to build in England or Wales

DOE Planning NI
Planning advice for those wishing to build in Northern Ireland.

An Bord Pleanala
Information on planning if you are wishing to build a house in Ireland.

Working with Dualchas makes the process of building more straightforward:

1.  Register on our website and let us know about your potential project.

2.  Contact us and arrange a meeting or consultation.  We can meet at our offices in Skye or Glasgow to talk through your brief and budget. We can also arrange a viewing of a Dualchas property.

3.  If you already have a site, we can arrange to meet you there - if you are looking to purchase a site or property, let us know and we can arrange to view it and give advice on the best way forward. Any information you have on the site, including any current statutory consents, will be invaluable.

4.  Dualchas will set out for you costs and timescales for your project  and let you know what other consultants may be required to be appointed ( such as engineers and quantity surveyors). We can then arrange for a contract to be drawn up, which is split in to stages. Payments are only due for the stages reached. The contract sets out the services provided by the architect.

5. Stage 1 will include a feasibility analysis and a sketch design. This will require a topographical survey, and will look at the site restrictions and opportunities, and the best approach in order to meet your brief. We will be discussing the structural approach and material finish, with ideas being explored and visualisations produced. There will also be a review of costs.

6. Once the sketch design is established, we will discuss it through with the planning authority prior to submission. It is best to get them on side early if possible. This means that when planning consent is applied for you have the best chance for gaining consent. Detailed information on the drainage, access arrangements, building massing and fenestrations, as well as materials will be included with the submission.

7. After planning consent is achieved, detailed warrant drawings are produced for submission to the council. This includes large scale drawings showing the construction of the building, demonstration of compliance with Building Standards, and a detailed specification. This will  allow a more accurate review of the budget cost. A structural engineer and heating engineer will also be working closely with the architect for the submission.

8. Once the council has approved the detailed drawings, construction drawings and specification are finalised for tender. The drawings and specification give clear instructions on how the building is to be constructed, and allows contractors to price the work. A quantity surveyor (Q.S.) may also produce a bill of quantities which provides the contractor with an itemised breakdown of the materials and work in the project so it can be priced accurately and competitively. Once the tenders are returned and analysed, a contractor is appointed.

9.  Dualchas will arrange for an appropriate contract to be drawn up between yourself and the contractor, who is responsible for the management of the project. This sets out the cost of the build, the date for completion, and how variations to the agreed work are dealt with. It also clearly oulines the responsibilities of the various parties. A Dualchas architect will administer the contract and inspect the works, ensuring that money is only paid for work completed . We can also advise on further warranties that can be taken out during the build process.

10. Money is retained during the administration of the contract so that only properly executed work is valued, although the responsibility for carrying out the work to industry standards is that of the contractor. A  specified defects period after hand over of the building will ensure that money is retained so that the building can be monitored. At the end of it all you will have a high-quality architect designed building which will far exceed the expectations you had when you first started the process.