With the constantly evolving situation around Coronavirus it is important that any self builders working on site are fully aware of the latest advice and guidance. Always check for the latest updates and be sure that you are safe and compliant. Also check the situation for your country:

England

Wales 

Northern Ireland

Scotland and specific Scottish Construction Advice

Ireland

Some of the effects of the Covid-19 crisis are having being felt now, and some will only start to impact as time passes and we return to work. The following are some ideas for how the crisis could impact your build, and what you can do now to be using your time proactively.

Homebuilding & Renovating has a useful rolling guide: Building As Usual, that’s also a great source of information about self building during the crisis. Build It has also got a regularly updated web page that has a handy guide to builders merchants that are operating currently.

Keep planning

Evidence from the 2008 crash showed that self builders returned to the market ahead of the large schemes, so it is worth keeping planning your project. At the end of the stay-at-home measures the country will need to get back to work as quickly as possible to restart the economy, and self build can help do this.

However, check that all the businesses you planned to use are still functioning, and that or any orders that you placed are still on track – and by when – as disruption to supply chains, staffing and so on can have a knock-on affect.

Stay safe on site

The priority for any build is to keep it progressing safely – so always follow regular site safety and social distancing measures that look like they will be good practice for a long while yet.

There is lots of guidance on keeping trades workers separate, staggering breaks and having multiple toilet or kitchen facilities if possible. Stay up to date with recommendations from professional sources, which will set the boundaries for small site working, too. Try Gov.uk, BuildUK or Construction Leadership Council for sound advice.

Set out in advance how this will work in practice on your site, to enable you to manage jobs that require a team of people to be able to work safely.

Chris Whitty, the government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that the social distancing could remain in place in some instances until the end of the year, so consider how you can keep your site operational and safe when planning all your work.

Construction sites in England and Wales have not been required to close, although Scotland did close sites, and anyone on site must be able to meet Public Health guidance, including for travel arrangements. At the end of April, the major English house builders are starting a phased return to site.

Meeting the 2m safety requirement may be quite manageable on a self build, especially depending on the work, and many self builders may be working solo on site. If you are working alone on site make sure you are safe, using proper safety equipment and practices, and that someone knows you are on site. Ideally keep you phone on you, too, in case of a fall or trip.

The Federation of Master Builder’s  has a useful general page with links for help and advice.

Be aware that cyber criminals will be taking advantage of people’s concerns during this time, so make sure you protect yourself from phishing and spam calls. Check out the FMB’s guide to protecting yourself, here.

Stay up to date

The Self Build Portal has consumer updates for self builders, while NaCSBA has updates for professionals that might be equally useful. These signpost you to other sites and bodies that are useful sources of help and advice, such as the Structural Timber Association and Federation of Master Builders.

Planning

Planning has deadlines when permissions must be actioned – typically three years from granting for the start of work, although NaCSBA and other bodies are lobbying for these to be extended. If you are delaying your start, check your permission, and get in contact with the planning office if you think it will cause an issue. Most planning offices are still operating, but remotely, and mostly be email.

Be aware that if you are applying for exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy then this comes with strict definitions of what starting on site involves, and you must apply for exemption before you start work – so don’t get caught out.

Mortgage finance

There is plenty of lending still available for self building, but the lending conditions may have changed, such as a mortgage being lent against the value of your furlough income, rather than your pre-corona income. But there are plenty of lenders still operating – make contact with a lender, broker or financial specialist with experience of self build, such as Build Loan, Mary Riley Solutions or other specialists facilitators if you are considering a self-build / custom build / stage release mortgage.

For those with a mortgage, many self build mortgage release funds at stages, and these stage payments are still being released by most lenders. Self builders may want to get evidence of work either via Warranty Certificates or Architects Reports, where possible with photos, to ensure the process runs smoothly – get in touch directly with your provider them to check what is needed.

With regards to other products, check with your provider if you have any concerns in advance. However applications are slowing as these are dependent on valuers, so keep an eye on the situation of who is, and isn’t, working and able to visit sites, as per government guidance.

Insurances

If you are in England and Wales and planning on working on site, make sure that your insurances still cover you and the site by checking with your provider if possible. Many site insurance products have a cessation clause, typically that involve a site not having been worked on in the last 60 days, for example. Providers are reviewing the processes around such clauses, so ensure you check if you are planning to cease work on site to see how you are affected.

Site security

You are responsible for ensuring your site is secure and safe, both for visitors, workers and for wider public indemnity. If you are closing your site make sure the perimeter is secure from theft and vandalism, and that any tools and equipment is secured safely on site, or removed where possible. The National Business Crime Centre has some good advice – and while it is designed for larger sites, many of the principles equally apply to smaller sites. Or read Self Build Zone’s advice on Homebuilding & Renovating’s website.

Materials and tools can be a target for theft or damage, so ensure you are protecting your investment. Check out the FMB’s video for preventing tool theft.

Scheduling

A good project manager knows the value of scheduling, as each trade on site is reliant on the previous one completing, and that materials are on site when needed. For example, you can’t tile a bathroom if the tiler is on site, but the tiles are not. In response to corona consider alternative jobs that can be done should one trade not be able to show up.

This also applies to equipment – so if you are planning to buy or hire plant and tools check well in advance that it is available and ready for trades when they need it.

This might mean you have to get creative and do non-essential jobs you are able to do rather than the most pressing jobs that you can’t right now, such as pre-staining or painting timber ready for use, if you have the materials on hand.

Materials

Linked to scheduling, ensuring you have the materials you need, when you need them is crucial to workflow. Consider alternative materials in case your preferred choice is unavailable, or consider buying in advance. After 2008 a brick shortage had a knock on effect of many sites, so prepare to be flexible. Be aware that if your planning permission specifies a material, such as a brick type and colour, you will not be able to make a change without amending your permission.

Materials, fixtures and fittings are valuable – if you are buying in advance make sure they can be stored safely and securely and are accessible for when you need them, where they can’t get damaged. Check your insurance is in place, and whether it stipulates any conditions for storing on site.

Stalled work

If works stops on the main build is there other work you could be doing that will keep things ticking over? This could be landscaping – where practical, fencing or be more home based, such as ensuring your filing is up to date for your VAT claim, researching materials online or sourcing second items, such as kitchens, on Ebay to save money.

If you are halting work on your site, ensure you site is safe and that the work done so far is secure. As well as a requirement on your insurance, you’ll want to ensure that the weather doesn’t do any damage from storms etc. Also, check whether your insurance as a ‘Cessation Clause’ which could invalidate it if work delays beyond a set number of months. Insurers are aware of this issue, but it is always worth checking.

Firms still working

Many companies are still operating, albeit on a limited basis. Architects and package companies , such as Potton, are often able to do online consultations, and still be able to do work on planning your project, design and pricing work.

So just because you can’t physically visit them, it doesn’t mean you can’t still achieve some of your goals.

Budgeting

If you’ve dipped into savings – or think you might have to – or taken a reduced salary, consider where cost savings can be made on your project. If you’re at the design stage this is easy, as you can scale down your plans and still create a fantastic home. If you are building already, consider other ways of bringing costs down.

This could involve not finishing some rooms beyond second fix, such as mothballing extra bathrooms or not fitting out loft rooms. However, check what’s allowable, as your home needs to be habitable and safe, so make sure all work complies with Building Regulations and doesn’t invalidate any insurances or completion warranties.

You can save money by delaying finishings, such as carpets or painting, or downgrading the spec of materials, fixtures and fittings – which can easily be upgraded further down the line if you wish.

Using your time well

If you have decided to halt your site, you can still plan for the work yet to be done. Planning and budgeting is never time misspent, especially if you can reach decisions in advance.

Every self builder worth their salt will have visited a self build show for ideas and advice, and for now this is no longer an option. But the self build magazines all have websites packed with help and case studies, and there’s lots of other places to get inspiration.

Search #selfbuild on pinterest, Instagram or twitter and find out what other people are doing, and keep an eye out for the new crop of webinars and online sessions for self builders. For example, Potton and the National Self Build and Renovation Centre are both hosting online training sessions.

For a hand personal take on working on site, read self build specialist Mike Hardwick’s blog on the National Self Build and Renovation Centre’s website.

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