Grand and not so grand designs: Why do people choose to build their own homes?

Posted on 27 November 2012

A University of York researcher is investigating self-building to discover what kind of people decide to build their own home and why.

Dr Michaela Benson, of the University's Department of Sociology, aims to shed light on the diversity of self-builders, their motivations, and their decisions concerning what and how to build.

By focussing on the relationship between class, households and the process of self-building, the project will explore how these factors influence the type of home being built

Dr Michaela Benson

The three-year project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will provide crucial insights into the future of self-building in Britain today and its place in helping to meet the country’s housing needs.

Dr Benson said: “Self-building is an understudied form of housing provision, that in the current housing crisis – where housing supply cannot meet demand and where house building is at its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s – is being promoted as a way to develop accessible and affordable housing.

“With the cost of building your own home reported to be £150,000, promoters stress that self-building is more affordable than mainstream housing and claim it is available to a wide variety of people.

“However, there is limited understanding of who today’s self-builders are; popular representations such as Grand Designs often focus on high-end self-building projects, with the result that the diversity of self-builders is overlooked.”

Self-build is a broad category that involves people who invest time and energy in the building of their own homes in various ways. It includes people who choose to employ a project manager to oversee and manage the construction process; households who undertake the project management themselves but employ others to do the physical work of construction, through to those undertaking the manual labour required themselves.

The category also includes different types of building – from the construction of pre-fabricated buildings to architectural design. In Britain today, self-build is usually undertaken by individuals as a way of meeting their own housing needs, but there are also examples of community or collective self-build.

Dr Benson’s research will reflect the diversity of the self-build population in terms of their investment (financial and otherwise) in their homes, their class background, their geographical location and their progress in the process of self-building.

The project includes in-depth interviews with people who are building or have built their own homes, architects, planning officers and contractors, as well as agencies such as the Department for Communities and Local Government and the National Self Build Association.

Dr Benson said: “I am interested in what predisposes people to self-build and what are the particular challenges and opportunities that shape their experiences of this process. In addition, by focussing on the relationship between class, households and the process of self-building, the project will explore how these factors influence the type of home being built. One of my main aims is to discover if the process of self-building is inherently class-related.”

Notes to editors:

  • The project, Self-building: the production and consumption of new homes from the perspective of households, is funded by the ESRC through their Future Research Leaders Scheme (ES/K001078/1). For more information visit www.york.ac.uk/sociology/research/current-research/benson-self-build/
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  • For more information on the Department of Sociology visit www.york.ac.uk/sociology

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