Surveys and checks you need to complete before building commences

It is essential to know what’s involved when you start your self-build and multiple surveys may be required and could affect your ambitions for your dream property.

Surveys are essentially a kind of ‘health check’ on your self-build plot. It is possible to undertake some of these yourself but there are formal reports and surveys which go alongside planning applications and require a professional eye. There are a number of costs to build into your budget when it comes to surveys – often some are unforeseen.

No two self-build projects are the same and some can involve more surveys than anticipated, as one self-builder from Yorkshire discovered. Andrew Theasby was not wholly prepared for the extra costs involved on his self-build. He said: “The various surveys and reports the council needed were relentless and costly - these are the hidden costs we didn’t plan for.

“The amount of red tape I had to jump through was unbelievable. We were spending hundreds and thousands of pounds on ticking boxes and consulting specialists. It wiped out every bit of savings we'd had ready for starting the build and left me working overtime to cover the costs.”

Andrew ended up spending between £500-£1,000 on each survey, some of which included topography, environmental impact, an acoustics survey, a bat survey and a drainage assessment.

Read more about Andrew's self-build in our case study here.

The front of the self-build home

Be prepared

Your own preliminary assessments may reveal whether further investigations and reports are likely to be needed but your local authority may insist on some. The best way to find out what is required is by taking pre-application advice from the local authority’s planning department.

Personal recommendations to find the best specialists to undertake surveys is your best bet. You could also search for planning applications that might be similar to your own on your local council’s website. Here you can view the reports that accompanied the submission, who completed them and whether the local decision-maker agreed with their findings.

The more common types of surveys you may have to carry out as part of your planning application include:

Land/site surveys

You need to check the land upon which you intend to build. A land survey examines whether the plot is on a flood plain, for example. It is intended to check what is likely to happen on the land that is in the vicinity of your future home. A survey of this nature can establish whether utilities are connected or in existence nearby. It’s important to know how easy it would be to do so and the cost involved.

The groundworks are often an unknown quantity and it’s savvy to build in a contingency fund so you’re not left with nasty surprises. It’s important to find out how stable the foundations are, how deep you need to dig and whether specialist systems are required. Your builder can assess soil conditions by digging a small pit to test before foundations are laid. If conditions are poor, this could prompt further investigation through a preliminary survey. If it suspected that there is soil contamination, on former industrial land for example, your local authority may insist on this preliminary survey. Organising a high quality site survey involves digging trial holes across the site to enable you to work out what the ground consists of and how far solid ground actually is below the surface.

A self-build plot

Tree survey

Those stunning trees on your site may seem harmless but it’s important to assess what kind of trees are on or near your plot. A tree survey will identify this and assess them according to a British Standard. If any trees might be affected by your project (if they need to be removed, for example), you’ll also need a tree report (otherwise known as an arboricultural impact assessment). This should establish that your build can continue without harm to particular tree specimens.

Ecological surveys

Ensuring that the local habitat is protected means that a survey of this kind is required. If protected species, like bats, badgers and owls, are found on the land it must be ensured that your self-build project does not harm or endanger them and a survey must be carried out.

It might seem straightforward but some assessments can only be undertaken at specific times of the year. Bat surveys, for example, must be carried out during the active season (May to September) so this could create delays in your project.

You may find some queries that you’re unsure about so always seek advice from professionals. That could mean speaking to your local authority, a solicitor or an architect. Looking at similar applications for nearby projects, via your local authority, may help inform your own self-build project. You may discover similar stumbling blocks on other projects.

Check with neighbours

Finally, it’s worth considering your future neighbours – they could object to self-build projects if the proposed build overlooks their property or impedes light/outlook. Consider whether your self-build might be a cause for concern. Also, check if the site has enough space for parking/turning and safe access to the highway.

Land Planning