Self-Build Construction Methods: A Beginner’s Guide

Abel Hinchliffe
Self Build Construction Methods A Beginner's Guide

From complete design freedom to significant cost savings, embarking on a self-build journey is a rewarding path for many Brits. It’s exciting, yes. However, self-builds can also be daunting, especially when it comes to critical decisions like selecting the construction method.

At CODA Bespoke we love to bring visions to life, which is why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to the most common self-build construction methods. The goal? To help you make an informed decision that aligns with your vision, timeline and budget.

The benefits of a self-build

First, let’s take a moment to spotlight the benefits of a self-build.

  • Creative freedom

With a self-build you’re free to explore options that may be off-limits with traditional builders.

  • Customisation

You’re at the helm with a self-build and are free to create a space tailored precisely to your needs.

  • Cost savings

Self-building can be more cost-effective compared to purchasing a ready-built home, as you have more control over expenses and can choose where to save or splurge.

Understanding construction methods

Next, let’s define what we mean by ‘construction methods.’ The term refers to the techniques and materials used to build the structural components of your home. Each method has its own advantages and challenges, so it’s important to consider your options carefully.

1. Traditional brick and block

The brick and block method is a classic choice in the UK. Known for its durability and timeless appeal, this method involves constructing walls with an inner layer of concrete blocks and an outer layer of bricks, separated by a cavity.

Advantages of brick and block

  • Thermal efficiency – The cavity can be filled with insulation to improve thermal performance.
  • Longevity – Brick and block homes are known for their long lifespan and low maintenance.
  • Aesthetic flexibility – Bricks come in various colours and textures.

Challenges of brick and block

  • Construction speed – This method can be time-consuming.
  • Labour intensive – Building brick and block homes requires skilled labour, which can increase costs.

2. Timber frame

Timber frame construction is not only fast but offers environmental benefits. The method involves creating a structural frame from timber, then cladding it with materials like wooden weatherboarding, fibre cement, render boards or brick slips.

Advantages of timber frame

  • Speed – Timber frame homes can be put up quickly. This not only reduces on-site construction time but also means you can have a weathertight shell in a matter of weeks.
  • Sustainability – Timber is a sustainable and renewable resource, which makes it a great choice for eco-conscious self-builders.
  • Thermal performance – Efficient insulation solutions like mineral wool work well with timber frame homes.

Challenges of timber frame

  • Fire risk – As a combustible material, timber can pose a higher fire risk. That said, modern treatments can minimise the risk.
  • Moisture sensitivity – Timber is a natural material and must be protected from moisture to prevent rot and decay.

3. Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

ICF is a modern construction method that combines the strength of concrete with the excellent thermal performance of expanded polystyrene (EPS). Blocks of EPS are stacked to create walls, which are then filled with concrete.

Advantages of ICF

  • Strength and durability – Concrete provides a robust and long-lasting structure.
  • Energy efficiency – EPS blocks help prevent heat loss which keeps your home comfortable and reduces energy bills.
  • Sound insulation – ICF homes provide superior soundproofing compared to other methods.

Challenges of ICF

  • Cost – The initial costs of ICF builds can be higher due to the specialised materials and labour.
  • Limited flexibility – Modifications after construction can be more difficult and costly.

4. Steel frame

Steel frame construction is common in commercial buildings but is also a viable option for self-build homes.

Advantages of steel frame

  • Strength – Steel frames are incredibly strong and can support large, open spaces without the need for load-bearing walls.
  • Durability – Resistant to pests, rot and fire, steel frames offer impressive longevity.
  • Speed – Similar to timber frames, steel construction is fast and efficient.

Challenges of steel frame

  • Thermal bridging – Steel is a heat conductor, which means extra insulation may be needed to meet energy efficiency standards.
  • Cost – Material and labour costs can be higher than other methods.

5. Modular and prefabricated

Modular and prefab homes are built off-site in sections, then transported and assembled on-site.

Advantages of modular and prefab

  • Speed and efficiency – Building off-site allows for simultaneous site preparation and construction, a benefit that can significantly reduce the total build time.
  • Quality control – Factory settings ensure consistent quality and minimise the risk of weather-related delays.
  • Minimal waste – Prefabrication is an ultra-precise process with very little in the way of material waste.

Challenges of modular and prefab

  • Design limitations – Transportation constraints can limit self-builders in terms of design and creativity.
  • Transport costs – Large modules can be expensive to transport to the site.

Choosing the right self-build construction method

Building your dream home is an exciting journey, filled with important decisions like choosing the right construction method.

Why is making a smart, well-informed choice so critical? Because the construction method you choose sets the tone for your entire build, shaping not just the aesthetic of your home – but also key aspects like budget, timeline and thermal performance.

Without a doubt, choosing the right construction method can significantly impact the success of your self-build project. By understanding the different construction methods and their unique benefits and challenges, you can choose a solution that best aligns with your vision.

Ultimately, choosing between timeless brick and block, efficient timber frame or cutting-edge ICF depends on several factors. Here they are, at a glance:


Consider both initial and long-term costs. Some methods may be cheaper upfront but more expensive to maintain.


Are you working to a deadline? Methods like timber frame and modular construction can save time.


The site conditions can influence your choice. For example, a site with limited access might be better suited to prefab construction.


The construction method you choose should align with your architectural vision and functional needs.

Environmental impact

Consider the sustainability of your chosen method and its impact on the environment.

The value of a professional architect

Navigating the complexities of a self-build is incredibly rewarding but can also be challenging. This is where investing in a professional architect truly pays off. An experienced architect can help you visualise your ideas and transform them into detailed blueprints that streamline the entire self-building process.

At CODA Bespoke, our team of RIBA-accredited architects brings over 40 years of experience to every project. For self-builds, where the stakes are high and the risks of exceeding timelines and budgets are all too real, this experience is hugely valuable.

Brief us on your project today to get started.

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Abel Hinchliffe

With a wealth of experience Abel heads up CODA Bespoke, specialising in luxury residential developments both large and small. Recently entrusted with the responsibility of also heading up Studio 4 which is currently delivering numerous office to residential developments. Connect with Abel Hinchliffe on LinkedIn >

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