Self-builders as specifiers – your questions answered

Paul D’Arcy, senior innovation project leader at British Gypsum provides some expert insights on how homeowners can become involved in the specification process

Who is responsible for the specification of all the building materials in a self-build property? Is it the homeowner? The builder, the architect, or the project manager?

In the self-build arena, the job of specifying materials can be taken on by an individual or become a shared responsibility. For example, as a homeowner if you are keen to get involved in the specification process and have researched particular materials you would like featured in your self-build, there is nothing to stop you sharing these ideas with the builder or installer. In the case where an architect or designer has brought certain materials to the attention of the homeowner, whether for aesthetics, technical performance or practical reasons, it is important these suggestions are shared between all parties. In most cases, material choices are left up to the builder or installer. This is a tried and tested approach; builders have experience within the industry with a multitude of suppliers and brands. Due to time pressures and previous experience, the builder or installer may be hesitant to take on new suggestions from the homeowner or architect, particularly if the material in question is introduced after the job has been planned and budgeted. However, the builder’s main concern will be getting the end result right for the client. If you’re a homeowner wanting to suggest materials to your builder it is important to express an interest early on. You could also recommend factoring-in additional planning time for your builder to familiarise themselves with any new products and materials.

What is the best way for a self-builder to get involved in the specification process?

If you plan to work in collaboration with your builder, it is best to raise awareness of the products you would like specified to your builders and installers from the outset. That way you can ensure the builder or installer you choose to work with is familiar with the materials, particularly if they are new to the market. If the planning process is already underway, it is important to share your ideas as soon as possible. That way appropriate costs and timelines can be adjusted to factor in materials with minimal disruption when it comes to the build stage. If you find yourself in a situation where you are in the driving seat of the project it will be necessary to learn about the products or systems you are specifying. It is likely that you will end up in a situation where you are discussing the pros and cons of your specification choice, so you will need to be informed.

What is the best way to keep track of costs when specifying materials?

There is a variety of ways to keep track of costs when embarking on a self-build. Some organisations that serve the self-build market offer an all-in price, which they often pride themselves on sticking to. However, this is not always feasible for self-build projects. If you are driving the project, the complexities of coping with the costs of activity on the ground are likely to pose a challenge. To understand the cost of materials, it is advisable to talk to manufacturers and suppliers in advance to get a feel for the price implications. Alternatively, if you have recruited a project manager it is their responsibility to monitor the on-going cost of the build. A good project manager will understand the stages and processes in the build programme and how to best manage the cost of materials in addition to trades and their contracts.

Whose responsibility is it to make sure a specification will meet regulations?

In the self-build market, it is ultimately the homeowner who is responsible for meeting regulations. Where the homeowner has outsourced the role of specifier to an architect or builder, the service provider can be contracted to make sure that the building conforms to regulations.

What are the advantages of being involved in specification?

When building industry professionals are responsible for the specification of materials they usually do a great job of meeting regulations, however the future occupants’ needs and requirements can often become a secondary objective. In this case, the homeowner can end up with a home that meets all the building regulations but lacks flexibility. Building Regulations are in place to ensure a minimum level – rather than a maximum level – of quality. For example, choosing a standard plasterboard wall that meets regulations may not allow for a homeowner to install a television or heavy shelving to a wall of their choice. Ultimately by owning or playing an active role in the specification process, you will get what you want rather than products that simply meet the minimum regulation standards. At the same time, by not getting involved you could risk missing out on a range of products or solutions that could have a major impact on the way you use your home.

Who has the final say on specification?

Ultimately the homeowner has the final say on specification. To get what you want however it may be necessary to combine the following:

  • An understanding of regulations
  • An understanding of the implications to a build programme when introducing a new product or system
  • A plan that factors in learning time and opting for a builder or installer open to trying new products
  • An understanding of what products and systems are available on the market and their cost implications

Many manufacturers that serve the construction sector are increasingly opening the door to the self-build specifier.

How best to handle disagreements over the products being specified?

In short, knowledge is power. To push back against challenges from the builder around specification you will need to know enough to ‘drive your choice home’. This role can be played well by an architect, project manager or designer. If you are taking advantage of a design and build service or even acting as your own project manager you will need to push for your specification. Knowing enough about the product and system to have a reasonable argument versus the standard product is key, so do your research and use manufacturers to support you.