Property: Where to get a taste for the ultimate in DIY

They're building their own down at the NEC.

WHEN YOU go on a day trip to Calais, what bargains are you looking for? Fags and booze? Or roof tiles, roller blinds and ladders?

If you're a "self-builder" - the sort of person who knows that you can reclaim the VAT on the cheap, high- quality DIY goods available on the other side of the Channel - it's likely to be the latter. Even so, self- builders are likely to spend this weekend in Birmingham rather than Boulogne, perusing the displays at the NEC's "Homebuilding & Renovating" show (sponsored by the magazine of the same name).

A self-builder's preoccupations are little different from that of any owner who likes to put up the odd shelf - though perhaps on a larger scale. They need to know all the ropes. A self-builder not only erects the walls of their kitchen and bathroom, but they also kit them out, so their normal research involves a wide range of plumbing and sanitaryware, tiles and flooring, medicine cabinets and towel racks. A self-builder's floor will have been selected from multifarious wood and stone options - not to mention the mind-boggling array of underfloor heating systems.

Michael Holmes, the editor of Homebuilding & Renovating, notes that most self-builders first renovate a derelict structure and then progress to a full-scale building project. In building his own house in Oxfordshire, he first had to reconcile conflicting visions: "My dream was all mod cons: new heating, ventilation and plumbing; my wife's was a traditional Cotswolds- style cottage. But they are not mutually exclusive. Our house is a hybrid."

A savvy architect helped the reconciliation process, and in November they moved into the house, which cost pounds 280,000 to build (pounds 90,000 was for the land alone), and which Michael estimates now to be worth more than pounds 450,000.

These savings do not reflect the several near-nervous breakdowns that seem to accompany all self-build projects, but Michael shrugs such difficulties off: "Nothing is ever quite as bad as it looks at first. The next day it is solved, and a new challenge is on its way. Bad moments fade, pleasures remain."

The more work you do yourself, the more money you save, but the more hassle you take on. His advice is: "Spend money on design. Competent builders can follow architectural plans, and common sense and building control officers will carry you the rest of the way. The key is, never pay up front, and only pay for work you are satisfied with."

A good dose of common sense is also vital, as self-builder Margaret Brown discovered. Her builders had no problem following the drawings - but the drawings were flawed, and although the builders had inklings that something was wrong, they carried on. Margaret realised they were worried and, after a bit of probing and prodding, they finally confessed their uneasiness: "In fact, they were building a wall that was incorrectly positioned. We had to take the floor up and reposition the wall, and now I have a small alcove I otherwise wouldn't have. But it adds character."

In contrast to the Holmeses, who lived in a flat until their new home was ready, Margaret lived on site, in a caravan without heating or water: "I was always tripping over things. There was no storage area for the day-to-day things you take for granted. In the shower, water drips off the ceiling; and you stick to the toilet seat. It is not for the faint- hearted."

She, too, experienced problem after problem: "All self-builders tell you the same - things don't go to plan, and you change your mind about certain things as you see the property rising. And everything takes longer than you thought.

With experience, self-builders become stoical: "Don't get uptight, take everything in your stride," Margaret advises. They also become addicts. If it came to it, she would self-build all over again rather than move into an already built home. Michael Holmes, too, is already warming to the idea of selling for a nice quick profit and building anew to reduce his mortgage.

The scarcity of land is a major barrier, but derelict homes ripe for stripping and rebuilding are about. "Find something boarded up and derelict, buy it, gut it, and start from scratch. Or buy a flat with a potential for adding a storey or basement or a mansard roof. Look for potential extra space. It will always pay," he suggests.

Here's one final tip: most self-builds end with a celebratory bottle of bubbly. Which, of course, you can pick up cheap in Calais - along with the kitchen sink.

The NEC Homebuilding & Renovating Show features some 150 exhibitors, expert seminars, master classes, and one-to-one specialist surgeries. `Independent' readers can get half-price entry (pounds 3.50 instead of pounds 7) for two adults to the Homebuilding & Renovating Show by taking a copy of the paper to the box office, Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 5pm

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape