As part of Grand Designs Live this year the National Self Build Association organised the Self Build on a Shoestring Ideas Competition asking the question, “Could You Design A Simple Self Build Home For A Family Of Four That Can Be Constructed For Less Than £50,000?” 

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With a couple of weeks to go, as keen (or sometimes not so keen) DIYers we started to look at how we could package a design that could be handled by a family that knew their way around a tool belt. After a quick visit to a local DIY shop we worked out  standard 3.6 x 3.6 x 3.6 meter cube, timber framed and clad, that could be constructed stably, easily and in a watertight fashion using standard sized materials. Each cube was surrounded on their external faces by 400mm of mineral wool insulation with all openings fully taped and sealed to make them very thermally efficient so keeping down future running costs. The foundations were taken off a simple stoned bed with paving slab pad stones at each corner of the cubes. 

The system was designed to be purchased easily via a website shopping basket so removing the need for specialist construction knowledge on fixings and materials. Each cube of the now named “Basket House” was specified with its own function and shopping list of items including the tools and wellie boots required so anyone could order a “lounge cube” or “master bedroom” cube as their needs or budget required and then stick them together in the configuration that best suited their plot. Our initial competition entry example of a three bedroom house was formed from 8 cubes and came in under the £50,000 leaving enough change for many cups of tea! 

The flexibility of the system allows many different configurations either side of the £50,000 budget depending on the size of house required. Thermal performance and economy could also be increased by groups of DIYers getting together to form a back to back terrace of Basket Houses. The reuse of the site topsoil on the roof meant there was no loss of open space available with possibilities for private gardens and allotments or even shared community space. A Basket House owner wouldn’t have to stop at the limits of the shopping basket but add their own paints, sheds, green houses, shrubs etc to infinitely personalise their new home. 

All this had to be described on an A2 presentation board and detailed cost plan which were submitted in early September. We were really pleased to hear that we had been shortlisted from 39 entries into the final seven and went along to Grand Design Live to see the announcement of the winner. We didn’t win unfortunately – that honour went to Barn House – a clever design based off an agricultural steel portal frame system. But it was great to hear all the shortlisted entries be discussed live at the presentation by Kevin McCloud, Charlie Luxton and Ted Stevens who liked our web based concept and commented that with it was “highly creative” and let people “play tetris with your neighbours!” 

Despite being an ideas competition, several of the entrants have grouped together to see how this ideas competition could materialise into a useful knowledge base for potential self builders. The first meeting was held last week at Ash Sakula offices in London, where we all presented our schemes and had a general discussion on lessons learnt. You can watch a video of the evening here, and join in the discussion on twitter with #shoestring. Andy went down to London and presented our scheme, with our slideshow scrolling above. We’re really excited about getting more involved in self-build projects, and will be adding some more information for people thinking of self building to a new page soon.