Grand Designs: The Streets - Kevin McCloud with Prabhjot and Shalini

Self-build versus custom build on Grand Designs: The Streets

Two couples go head-to-head using different build systems to create their dream homes

By Victoria Purcell | 20 April 2022

Grand Designs: The Streets has returned to Channel 4 with five new episodes following self builders tackling projects at the Graven Hill site in Oxfordshire, and on a new custom and self-build site in Glasgow.

The second episode, which aired on 20 April 2022, sees two couples from the same friendship group tackle very different projects. Vineet and Simmi, and Prabhjot and Shalini, are part of a community of friends who met while living in Slough. Gradually, the close-knit group is moving to Graven Hill. But while Vineet and Simmi decided to self build their dream home, Prabhjot and Shalini opted for the custom-build method.

Grand Designs: The Street, episode 2, Prabhjot and Shalini

Prabhjot and Shalini’s custom-build home, as seen in Grand Designs: The Street. Photo: Claire Williams

Vineet and Simmi

Vineet and Simmi, who wanted more space for their two boys, hired a friend who owns a construction company for their self-build project. Dirash has not only built his own home at Graven Hill, he has also worked on a number of homes for his friends at Graven Hill, so he’s used to mixing friendship with business. The process wasn’t entirely frictionless, however, particularly when Vineet changed his mind about the top-floor layout mid-project.

‘The stresses of self build come in usually recognisable forms,’ said Kevin McCloud during filming. ‘Do I have enough money? No. Will I be in for Christmas? Probably not. Should I have employed an architect? Almost certainly, yes! Except in the case of Vineet and Simmi and Dirash, where something else is being stressed and tested, and that is, of course, friendship.’

The couple wanted to build a super-insulated house, since Simmi, originally from Bombay, struggles with the cold British winters. They opted to construct their house using ICF (insulated concrete formwork), a build system that Kevin McCloud calls ‘quick and elegant’.

The walls are built up using thick, hollow foam blocks that slot together and are then filled with concrete, resulting in an airtight, thermally efficient, load-bearing structure. The quick, simple system can deliver a house in a week. In just three days, Vineet and Simmi’s ground floor was complete. Two week’s later, the first steel roof trusses were installed, completing the first floor.

The plan was to coat the walls with a flexible white render, but the project hit a snag when the warranty provider objected to the render. The project ground to a halt for six weeks, costing Vinnet and Simmi more than £8,000 in additional rent and an extension to the self-build mortgage. The warranty provider later signed off on the render, and the couple eventually completed what Kevin described as a ‘characterful addition to the houses already [at Graven Hill]’.

The project cost was around £625,000, plus the additional £8,000 after the issue with the rendering.

Grand Designs: The Streets has returned to Channel 4 with five new episodes following self builders tackling projects at the Graven Hill site in Oxfordshire, and on a new custom and self-build site in Glasgow.

The second episode, which aired on 20 April 2022, sees two couples from the same friendship group tackle very different projects. Vineet and Simmi, and Prabhjot and Shalini, are part of a community of friends who met while living in Slough. Gradually, the close-knit group is moving to Graven Hill. But while Vineet and Simmi decided to self build their dream home, Prabhjot and Shalini opted for the custom-build method.

Grand Designs: The Street, episode 2, Prabhjot and Shalini

Prabhjot and Shalini’s custom-build home, as seen in Grand Designs: The Street. Photo: Claire Williams

Vineet and Simmi

Vineet and Simmi, who wanted more space for their two boys, hired a friend who owns a construction company for their self-build project. Dirash has not only built his own home at Graven Hill, he has also worked on a number of homes for his friends at Graven Hill, so he’s used to mixing friendship with business. The process wasn’t entirely frictionless, however, particularly when Vineet changed his mind about the top-floor layout mid-project.

‘The stresses of self build come in usually recognisable forms,’ said Kevin McCloud during filming. ‘Do I have enough money? No. Will I be in for Christmas? Probably not. Should I have employed an architect? Almost certainly, yes! Except in the case of Vineet and Simmi and Dirash, where something else is being stressed and tested, and that is, of course, friendship.’

The couple wanted to build a super-insulated house, since Simmi, originally from Bombay, struggles with the cold British winters. They opted to construct their house using ICF (insulated concrete formwork), a build system that Kevin McCloud calls ‘quick and elegant’.

The walls are built up using thick, hollow foam blocks that slot together and are then filled with concrete, resulting in an airtight, thermally efficient, load-bearing structure. The quick, simple system can deliver a house in a week. In just three days, Vineet and Simmi’s ground floor was complete. Two week’s later, the first steel roof trusses were installed, completing the first floor.

The plan was to coat the walls with a flexible white render, but the project hit a snag when the warranty provider objected to the render. The project ground to a halt for six weeks, costing Vinnet and Simmi more than £8,000 in additional rent and an extension to the self-build mortgage. The warranty provider later signed off on the render, and the couple eventually completed what Kevin described as a ‘characterful addition to the houses already [at Graven Hill]’.

The project cost was around £625,000, plus the additional £8,000 after the issue with the rendering.

Image: Vineet and Simmi's house, as seen on Grand Designs: The Streets. Photo: Claire Williams

Prabhjot and Shalini

Unlike Vineet and Simmi, Prabhjot and Shalini were worried about mixing friendship with business. Their lack of self-build know-how was another factor in choosing the custom build route. The couple still wanted to complete a project that felt very much like their own, while mitigating the risk of running over time and over budget.

‘Usually in self build you have the risk of spending more time or money, we have mitigated that by choosing this builder. We know exactly how much we are spending and we know exactly when the house will be delivered to us,’ says Shalini.

There are a growing number of custom-build options in the UK, from developer-led schemes to the more modular build system where you find a plot yourself and then choose the home you want, effectively from a catalogue. Prabhjot and Shalini went for the latter option, choosing a modular kit house by Dan-Wood.

The project was meticulously planned and designed nine months in advance, before being built in sections in a factory, where huge slabs of timber are pre-packed with insulation and fitted with windows and ready-to-connect plumbing. Everything is then delivered and slotted together on site.

But the custom-build route is not entirely stress free. The couple, having planned and signed off on everything months before building was due to commence, spent the interim period worrying about the details, from their overzealous allocation of power points to the fact they were unsure what the wooden cladding they had chosen for the front of the house, which cost around £5,500, would look like until the build was complete.

Fortunately, they liked the final outcome. In just five months, their home was complete. In fact, on day one of the build, the entire ground floor was installed within six hours.

The project cost £250,000 for the plot and £250,000 for the house.

Self build versus custom build

What’s the difference between self-build and custom build? With self-build, you are accountable for every aspect of the project, from planning and finance to construction. With custom build, much of this responsibility is taken off your shoulders by a developer, who can take on various aspects of the build process from sourcing a plot and connecting utilities, through to project management.

At Graven Hill, however, the plot and utilities are already taken care of, so the custom-build element comes down to deciding on which kind of modular home to go for. There are a number of custom-build opportunities offering varying levels of personal involvement, from a turnkey solution to a more bespoke, a tailored-finish option. Visit Custom Build Homes to learn more about the options available.

Grand Designs: The Streets - Kevin McCloud with Prabhjot and Shalini

Prabhjot and Shalini with Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs: The Streets. Photo: Claire Williams

Which option is right for you?

At the end of the episode, Kevin McCloud, who has watched self-builders wrestle with some incredibly ambitious self-build projects over more than 20 series of Grand Designs, reflects on the experience of the Prabhjot and Shalini’s custom build: ‘What’s not to like here? A super-efficient home built quietly, without divorce, arguments or bankruptcy. So I ask myself, do you need to stand in a muddy trench, up to your knees in freeing water just to add a badge of honour that says, “I am a self-builder”? Of course you don’t. Do you need to spend all the money you have, and then some, on windows that don’t quite fit? No.

‘What you can do is build a controlled amount of money on a beautiful, sustainable home that’s built on time, on budget and really looks after you, allowing you more time to enjoy living in it.’

Watch Grand Designs: The Streets episode 2 here on All4. For behind the scenes updates, follow @granddesigns on Twitter, @granddesignstv on Instagram and @GrandDesigns Facebook.
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