Harvey Fremlin, Managing Director of the National Self Build and Renovation Centre, explains how to go about sourcing sustainable materials for your self build.
Interview with Harvey Fremlin
In 2008, after working on a construction site, Harvey joined the team at the National Self Build and Renovation Centre (NSBRC). The centre is a permanent venue for independent advice and support and has exhibits, workshops and courses for people with an interest in self-building or renovating.
“Don't be afraid to big-up your project!”
It is likely that at some stage of your project you'll be buying materials from a builders merchant. They can be intimidating places if you're not in the trade.
Harvey says that some merchants are more self-builder friendly, so it's worth shopping around and not being afraid to talk about your budget and how much you'll likely be spending with them. That way you may be offered bigger discounts.
Manufacturers and suppliers are increasingly happy to deal with consumers directly
Harvey has found that suppliers and manufacturers are increasingly sending people with technical backgrounds to their shows, rather than sales people. This is because visitors are keen to know more than just what a system is and how it works. Instead they are asking questions about technical specifications, the advantages of one system over another, how to get maximum performance from the system and whether it is absolutely right for their project.
Fabric first – products later
The mantra at the centre is “fabric first” – invest in the envelope of the building to reduce the energy demand before considering “shiny technologies” and renewables.
Harvey stresses there is still a place for renewables and that the centre is a big advocate of them, but without thinking about the fabric and the building materials from the early stages of the project, they will be pointless.
Self-builders have a much longer term view on building their home, in comparison to a volume house builder:
“They’re not necessarily just looking at the immediate cost of using a particular system or a particular technology, they’re considering the payback periods and what the long term benefits are of investing the money up front in terms of choosing those potentially slightly more expensive materials. But in the long term lifespan of that home there should be huge savings there.”
Keep on top of availability of supplies
It is important to consider availability, because depending on the lead times of products you could end up impacting on your whole building programme if you're waiting for something to arrive.
As well as keeping on top of when things are going to be delivered, bear in mind the stage at which your build will be when the next batch of supplies are going to be delivered, and whether there will be sufficient access.
Cash flow will partly determine how much you can buy up front, but do consider storage of items – some are going to be bulky and need to be kept dry.
“So if you can actually arrange for the products to arrive almost in a just in time scenario, so a day or two before you actually need them, it takes away an awful lot of headaches.”
Keep your site and supplies secure
If you have a lot of products on site you will need to keep your site secure, with adequate fencing and probably an alarm system. Most people will purchase site insurance and this will stipulate the security arrangements that will need to be in place.
Do plenty of research before selecting your products
Ultimately your choice of product will come down to individual preference. Ensure however you do lots of research, talking to companies, reading brochures, and comparing one product with another.
Once you know the style you like, check that it will be permitted within your planning consent.
As well as choosing your product according to style, cost and performance, you will also need to consider availability and whether the products you want are actually going to be available when you need them.
Use your own judgement when selecting products according to their green credentials
Harvey suggests being honest and asking yourself what you really mean when you say that you want to be sustainable. Is it because you're genuinely concerned about climate change, or is it being worried about energy consumption and rising energy bills? Being clear about this can help shape your decisions about how you proceed to build.
Harvey says that any company will argue that the products it is supplying are “green” and “eco”. But while there are companies that only deal with sustainable products, it is really down to you to decide what you feel is right for you.
You can claim the VAT back on a self build
If you are doing a self build project in the UK you can claim the VAT back, but this can only be done once. For this reason most people would usually leave it until the very end and the owner has moved in. For some people it can be a way of freeing up cash earlier in the project if budgets are tight, however they will not be able to claim again for subsequent purchases. Harvey's tip is to ensure you keep every receipt carefully filed away throughout the build.
NSBRC course tutors are experienced self-builders
First time visitors to the centre generally arrive full of inspiration and at the early stages of a project. Often they will return a few months later with different mindsets, where they're focusing on the building systems and the materials that they might use. The courses the centre provides are generally aimed at first time self-builders, to give them plenty of information, advice and confidence.
Find out more
Visit the NSBRC website
Follow NSBRC on Twitter
The Hub update
Our latest module covers insulation and airtightness, also touching on the Passivhaus standard. We're looking at how you achieve high quality installation and the factors that are going to make a difference.
There's also another video in the Long Barrow Passivhaus story. They have finished the foundations and are building up the basement with insulated concrete formwork.
By being a Hub member you can also join our closed Facebook group and network with fellow self-builders.
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