What is Custom Build?

The term ‘custom build’ was brought to prominence in 2011 with the publication of the Government’s new housing strategy entitled, Laying the Foundations: A Housing Strategy for England.

This document was the first time Government strategy identified bespoke house building as a route to address the UK’s housing crisis and claimed “The Government wants to make building your own home a mainstream housing option”.

The Housing Minister at the time, Grant Shapps, felt that the self build sector was being held back by connotations of people having to lay bricks themselves. The term custom build avoided such negative associations and had the benefit of promoting the bespoke nature of a self built home.

In the intervening years the term self build has refused to die. It is now commonly used to describe projects where an individual is ‘hands-on’ in specifying and managing the build of an individual home for their occupation and typically uses builders to do most of the work for them.

Custom build is now commonly seen as being a new route that makes it easier for the market to grow into becoming a mainstream housing option. Custom build is when people are able to specify an individual home through a more ‘hands-off’ journey, where an enabling developer delivers a spectrum of services – from just creating a serviced-plot right through to delivering a complete bespoke turnkey home for an individual or group of individuals.

As a result the National Self Build Association (NASBA) rebranded in 2014 to being the National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA) and it remains the driving force for the growth of the sector.

The delivery of custom build requires new groups of people to work together, including councils, financiers, land owners and developers and many new models of delivery are being trialled. This creates a huge need for information sharing and the critical appraisal of the models which are working as well as those that are running into trouble. Custom Build Strategy has been launched to fill this information gap for the professionals working in the emerging custom build sector.

Duncan Hayes, Editor, Custom Build Strategy
November 2015


If you’re new to the sector, below are some terms that relate to custom build:

AECB Silver Standard

A standard that aims to produce high-performance buildings by reducing CO2 emissions by 70% compared to the UK average.

All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs or APGs)

Informal cross-party parliamentary groups run by and for Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They many involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament.


A 100 hectare site in Holland built on land reclaimed from the sea. It is zoned into distinct areas, for example live/work zones or plots with larger gardens. The site has scope for 3,000 homes altogether, with over 1,000 currently built. Infrastructure is put in by the council, and each plot comes with a passport that has guidance about what can be built on it. Many of the houses are terraced, with provision for apartments as well.

Ashley Vale Self Build

Innovative communal self build project, with Ecomotive as the enabling developer. The site has 20 unconventional timber frame homes on a high-density site. It was a pivotal development in that it demonstrated what a collective could achieve in terms of self build.


German group builds. Emerging in Berlin in the late 1960s, this is a cohousing approach where groups of self builders get together to form themselves into a co-operative. They then buy a piece of land and hire professionals to design and build their homes. Typically these are terraces or apartments. It is a model that offers an affordable route to housing in the city.

Build out times

How long a build takes – essentially, the time between the project being taken on and completion. Many sites have a maximum time frame for completion to ensure that the development doesn’t become a never-ending building site.

Build Your Own Home the London Way

A custom build homes fund created by the Greater London Authority (GLA).

Code for Sustainable Homes

The now defunct benchmark scheme for rating sustainability.


Cohousing communities are set up by a group of people who will be the final residents. On builds, these groups pool resources to create a development, which they design and often help build, before finally running once in residence. Each household has a self-contained, home, and many developments also inlclude shared facilities. These may be a shared garden or playground, spare accomodation, a function space for events or whatever the community feels is of use to them.

Community Land Trust/CLT

Non-profit organisations governed by a board of CLT residents, community residents and public representatives. They facilitate a lasting community and permanently affordable housing opportunities for families and communities. CLTs develop rural and urban agriculture projects, commercial spaces to serve local communities, affordable rental and cooperative housing projects, and conserve land or urban green spaces. They offer a model of grass roots homeownership for generations of lower income families.

Design code

A development-wide code for the design of a site that helps guide what can be built and what materials can be used. This gives buyers latitude with regards to design, but prevents people from building, for example, a mock-Tudor mansion without having to go through the entire planning procedure again.


Where people buy into a scheme to get a house below market value, that they quickly sell on for profit.


Golden brick is where the build is built to one brick above the foundation level, the golden brick, which allows the sale of the plot to be zero rated for the buyer, as it’s counted as a house in the course of construction.

Greencore System

Factory-made hemp panels made by Greencore Construction. These panels create a low-carbon, breathable, natural and highly-insulating material that regulates internal humidity while giving high levels of thermal performance.

Menu of options/palette of materials

A concept where a developer produces a range of items or designs for the purchaser to choose from. Although removing some of the ability to completely customise their home, this is a solution that enables costing to take place for the developer, while providing reassurance for the purchaser. Menus of options may be a range of layouts, fixtures or materials. They are often used on sites where the external design comes with limited customisable elements, usually in that the purchaser can choose from a range of finishing materials or colours.

‘Missing teeth’ homes

A phenomenon seen on some European custom build homes sites where buyers had a 100% free reign with design, and consequently some homes are yet to be built, or are being built incredibly slowly, meaning that their neighbours are forced to live on a never-ending building site.


Buying a property that will be handed over for you to do second fixing and, or just, decorating. Typically this includes finishing the walls, floors and ceilings, as well as putting in internal doors and landscaping the external area.

Shovel-ready plots

Plots where the infrastructure and services are put in by the developer, meaning that the plot is literally ready to start building. The installation of services can be costly and time consuming for self builders, and consequently shovel-ready plots is a common factor on many custom build sites.

Stick building

A build model from the U.S. where the house, typically in timber, is constructed on site as opposed to being pre-fabricated in a factory off site.

Watertight shell

The building is handed over completed to the point where it is watertight.  All internal structures, such as partition walls, will need to be added as well as the plumbing and wiring, kitchens and bathrooms and first and second fix.