5 step guide to building your own home

ACJ’s Simple five-step guide to building your own home

There’s a lot to think about when building your own home. It can feel overwhelming. 

You’ve watched Grand Designs. You’ve seen Kevin McCloud shaking his head wistfully as elaborate self-build projects run over budget and over time. You’ve seen couples spending endless winters in caravans as the contractors let them down yet again, their dream home standing half-built in a blizzard.

It makes great telly, but it doesn’t have to be like that!

ACJ can take a house from foundations to wind & watertight, fully insulated in as little as 2 days. Let’s face it, when you’re used to working in the Scottish weather, you really don’t want to hang around any longer than you have to!

We’ve helped plenty of people self-build, from just initial advice and concept design, design and supply of the kit home, to the fully managed design and build service.

We have the experience and expertise to help you too.

Here’s our simple five-point guide to getting it right the first time.

1 – Imagine

The first step to building your own home is the easy bit. Since you’re reading this you’ve probably already spent a long time thinking about your dream home.

You’ve pictured walking through your front door, putting the keys on the side, kicking off your shoes and padding through to the spacious kitchen. 

You know what you want to see when you look out the generous windows. You’ve considered how many bedrooms you’ll have, whether they’re all en-suite or just the master. 

You know it’ll be warm but not stifling, cool but not draughty. Probably filled with light and surrounded by green.

Most people never get past this point.  But you can.  And we can help.

2 – Plan


Do you know how much you can afford?  Are you selling your current property to finance the next? Do you need to secure a mortgage?

Avoid getting into financial trouble further down the line by working out a realistic budget at the start and sticking to it.

Self-build mortgages can be complex, usually releasing funds at different points in the build.  We can put you in touch with specialist mortgage brokers familiar with self-build financing.

You may qualify for funding or specialist loans, such as the Highland Self-Build Loan or Renewable Technologies Incentives.  Speak to our advisers and we’ll be happy to look into it.


Let’s revisit that dream home.  What are your priorities?  What are the non-negotiables and what are the ‘nice-to-haves’?  Think about the layout, the plot, the utilities. 

Investing upfront in energy efficiency and renewable technologies will save money in the long run by making your home cheaper to power and heat, and it could be eligible for government funding.

At this stage, talk to our designers about creating a design concept. These aren’t yet full plans, but they’re enough to visualize your self-build and start to get some ballpark figures for your budgeting.  Our architectural technicians can work within your budget to create a concept design that ticks as many boxes as you can afford!


How soon do you want to be in by?  Do you need to find land or sell your house first?  What other circumstances, personal, financial, legal or professional which could affect the timescales involved?

Talk to ACJ and let’s work out a realistic timeframe for your self-build. Some companies will promise you whatever you want to hear to get that order, but at ACJ we find that setting honest, realistic expectations is the basis of a good working relationship.

3 – Design


Many people assume you need an architect to design a self-build home but choosing ACJ’s Design to design your timber frame kit home means you’ll not only save money, but you also save time and gain peace of mind. 

Our in-house professional team of architectural technicians have designed a wide range of plans for many different styles of house design, each of which can be remodelled to suit your requirements, or we can create a bespoke design from scratch.

Our designers plan every aspect of your self-build.  We precision model each project on the latest 3D computer systems, provisualisation of your design, so you can make informed decisions upfront, eliminating waste and costly errors.

Working so closely with the manufacturing and installation teams means we’re uniquely placed to select the right materials and construction methods to ensure your home build is flawless.

Using a single design source for means you have a full set of version-controlled drawings throughout the build process; concept, architectural, structural, building warrant, SER, etc, means you can be confident that changes are reflected across the full set of plans, so no nasty surprises further down the line.


One of the best things about building your own home is putting it in a great location. You may have already bought a plot of land with the right permissions, in which case great, let’s crack on with the project. 

But if you’re still searching, come in and talk to us about what you’re looking for.  ACJ Group has secured a number of plots across Moray which are ready to build on.  Alternatively, being familiar with the local property market, we can help you locate something suitable.

Planning permission

Planning permission is often the biggest headache for independent self-builders unfamiliar with local planning regulations (or local planning officers!)  Even the smoothest application can take a couple of months to complete, and a lot longer if it’s rejected or requires amends.

We have plenty of experience in dealing with planning applications and keep up to date with all the latest legislation, so if you need advice, talk to us, or for complete peace of mind, leave it all to us and we’ll represent you, keeping you informed throughout.

Planning permission mainly considers the exterior of the property, you’ll also need to apply for a building warrant certifying that the building structure is compliant with the latest domestic building regulations. Again, don’t worry, we can get you all the appropriate drawings and documentation and take you through the application process.

Project planning

At this stage, you have a complete set of designs. We ship throughout the UK, so you can choose to buy the full kit home ‘off-plan’ have it delivered to site and use your own builders to construct it,

There are many, many processes and trades involved in constructing a house, and keeping independent external contractors on schedule can be extremely difficult.

Luckily, the great thing about working with ACJ Group is we have you everything you need from conception to completion managed all under one roof.  So, if you’re local, we can co-ordinate the design, manufacture, delivery, construction and finishing to the highest standards, keeping you informed throughout and delivering your dream home on time and on budget.

4 – Build


It makes sense to run an energy-efficient home, both for the environment and for your pocket.  With self-build ACJ homes, energy-efficiency is built in as standard.

All our timber frames used in the construction of the property are pre-insulated.  You choose the level of insulation during the design process.

Our leading ‘Therm-u-Wall’ product offers the highest rated insulation in the industry.  This is the product we use in our passive house range. Passive houses and low-energy homes are ultra-low energy buildings that make use of the sun, internal heat sources and heat recovery and therefore require little energy for space heating or cooling.


Bringing all the above processes together is when your dream home takes shape. 

Timber-frame kit homes are like giant gingerbread houses! The beauty of this solution is that the entire property has been designed and rigorously tested on advanced CAD systems before manufacture, so once your foundations are in place, the parts are sent from our Elgin manufacturing base to your site when you’re ready to begin and construction takes minimal time, you already know everything will fit together beautifully.

If you’re using your own builders, all our kits come with detailed plans, full instructions and a helpline to call with any queries.

If you prefer, you can instruct ACJ to handle the entire construction process, safe in the knowledge that you have an efficient team of professionals on the job.  Our skilled tradespeople are fully qualified in every aspect of homebuilding, we’ve been doing it for over thirty years.

From fitting your windows to fitting the bathroom, tiling your roof to painting the walls, we have everything you need under one roof.


You’ll have chosen the finish way back at the design stage. Features like flooring, fitted furniture, lighting start to turn your new house into your dream home.

By the time you get the keys, you’ll already feel like you know it inside out.  Our handover process is a thorough walkthrough of every detail, from window locks to the stopcock.  We’ll leave you with a folder of documentation and useful phone numbers to call if you’ve got any questions.

5 – Enjoy!

Customer Service

Working with a single supplier means a single point of contact throughout, and singular accountability if there are any issues.  We pride ourselves on consistent high-quality customer service from the very first contact throughout the life of your property.

We want you to be completely thrilled with your new home, so if you’ve any questions at all, contact us. 


All our new-build properties come with a 10-year warranty as standard and are backed by leading insurers for structural or latent defects.  We’re confident you won’t ever need it, but most UK mortgage lenders insist on this insurance for new properties, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

We’ll be in touch over the first few weeks to check you’re happy with everything.  After a year, we’ll be back in contact for an annual review to see how you’re getting on.


Now that you’ve got your dream home, keep it safe and functioning well with annual servicing for your boilers, heating and electrics.  Keep on top of any little maintenance jobs that need doing. Some of these you can do yourself, but some, like electrics or plumbing you’ll need to call in the professionals. You know where we are.

If your property is likely to be rented out then you’ll have additional responsibilities as a landlord. Call ACJ for whatever trades you need or talk to us about annual maintenance contracts.

If you need us for emergency repairs, we’re on call throughout the year. 


And that’s it, ACJ’s simple five-step guide to building your own home: Imagine, Plan, Design, Build and Enjoy. 

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Not when you’ve got experienced professionals taking care of you and guiding you through the whole process.  Stick with ACJ, we’ve got everything you need, all under one roof.

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Therm-u-wall system development by ACJ group.

Therm-u-wall is one of the most efficient wall systems in the timber frame industry providing a multitude of benefits.

With its 4 layered insulated build-up, twin wall detailing and full thermal breaks with a dedicated service zone, this system can accommodate for any structural requirements without the impact of losing insulation, cold spots, and thermal bridging.

This timber frame wall system is designed to maximise insulation and reduce cold bridging throughout the entire construction build.

Compared to any other wall system in the market, the Therm-u-wall system has one of if not the best timber fraction calculations and u-values across the UK market.

This system is uniquely placed to accommodate all structural details around window and door openings without having a negative impact on its thermal bridging

With any timber frame construction building there is always the key connections that are the worst and less performing zones due to high volumes of timber to connect the build together

But using the Therm-u-wall system and it’s uniquely designed details targeting all areas of the build. Foundation details mid-floor, Eve’s details are all developed specifically for the system.

This system will achieve any build performance required for your home and passive house accreditation.

No automation no limitation. using the timber frame wall systems by ACJ Group each house uniquely designed detailed and fabricated within our workshop to ensure every connection detail and the opening has the maximum insulation installed to improve overall house performance efficiency without having to accommodate restrictions with automated production lines.  

Using the Therm-u-wall systems saves you money, as your house will be less reliant on renewables and your heating bills will be reduced. Why pay for products that will go out of date, need maintained and eventually replaced when you can invest in the most important part of all new builds, the wall construction.

Using ACJ Group Therm-u-wall will be the best investment in any new build home.

Using the Therm-u-wall will save you money, as your house will be less reliant on renewables and your heating bills will be reduced. Why pay for products that will go out of date, need maintained and eventually replaced when you can invest in the most important part of all new builds, the wall construction. Call ACJ Group or email to find out how Therm-u-wall can benefit you.

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Design Concept

Over the years we’ve noticed that there are mainly three types of inquiries when it comes to self-builds

First inquiry somebody already owns a plot of land and is now looking around for companies to either price for a project that they’ve already had designed or they’re looking for somebody to give them a price on a new design to suit their requirements and budget

Second somebody is a way to purchase a plot but to ensure that they have enough money after they’ve purchased the plot they’re looking for some budget prices in gates on a house style that they would like or they could achieve within their budget to ensure once plot is purchased they can still afford to build a house

Thirdly they are thinking of doing a self-build they still need to sell the house before they put it onto the market they would like some advice and guidance to make sure it self-build is a viable option to them and they can actually achieve their goals

ACJ group is a company uniquely set up in a way where we have an architectural practice we have a timber frame kit supply company and we have a building company given us the experience and knowledge to advise our clients and inquiries from the start the best way to move forward.

What all three types of inquiries have in common is they don’t really want to progress or commit to much prior to finding out the information they need, the problem is within the industry, not everyone is in a position or confident to provide this information and advice clients to wait until they have the plot and they have architectural drawings produced then going in for tender, this can potentially create unrealistic goals and can put clients in bad positions, design a house but can’t afford to build.

Therefore, ACJ group offer a design concept service for a small fee. We will sit down with you or talk to you over the phone or via email finding out your requirements and budget on what it is you’re looking to achieve and we will design you a house and produce visuals to suit your requirements without any other commitment thereafter. During this service we will also advise you on the renewables for the house the timber frame wall system and build costs helping you make informed decisions at the beginning.

After the service we can offer you an architectural fee and deduct design concept fee from this design service the beauty of this we already have the information we require the beginning to help us move forward with planning applications on your behalf.

During planning to warrant services we can also provide build contracts and proposals based on the budgets and specifications which originally spoken about.

This means before you even went in for planning permission or bought a plot of land or soldier who you are do you know ACJ group can provide you with the house build this in the budget you provided and the requirements you need given you the confidence to even to commit to anything that you can actually achieve your goals and your dreams

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Architectural services

ACJ Design architectural services

There are many benefits with getting architectural services through ACJ design

ACJ design isn’t just an architectural practice but specialise in structural timber frame construction, passive house systems and close panel fabrication.

During the planning process of your project, we do not only go to a design concept stage which is explained in one of our other articles but we also produce models and visuals imposed on to your plot we advise you on the costs for the full build we would also advise you on the wall system introduced within your home

This means prior to the planning application being submitted you have the confidence that the house design produced this within the budget you need and it’s also going to perform to the requirements that you envisage

With architectural services we take the hassle out of everything we deal with all parts of the application that you need to get planning and building warrant this is from the SAP calculation is site investigation report topographic surveys and SER engineering by one of our partners.

During the building warrant process while we are putting the drawings together if you are also going to be sourcing a timber frame kit from ACJ or going through a full build process with ACJ during the warrant process we will actually design the timber frame structure at the same time as the warrant drawings are produced to ensure everything is thought about at the beginning.

This means the structural detail calculations and the connections for your house is efficiently thought about making sure the build method is the most economical cost-effective performance home you can get for your budget.

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Timber Frame Construction

Timber frame construction has evolved a great deal over recent years. From the days of thin timber used to construct reasonable (but not the warmest or most sound proof of constructions), you can now build a timber frame construction that contains enough insulation to allow you to construct your home without the need for any heating other than that generated naturally!

Timber frame construction has evolved a great deal over recent years. From the days of thin timber used to construct reasonable (but not the warmest or most sound proof of constructions), you can now build a timber frame construction that contains enough insulation to allow you to construct your home without the need for any heating other than that generated naturally!

There are many variations of timber frame construction. You can use a standard timber frame using a 140/145mm stud, space stud or open web stud which is generally 2 sections of separate timber held together with another element for example metal ties, I joist stud which is two sections of solid timber or laminated timber which are again separated but held together with another section of timber usually something like MDF, OSB or a hardboard.

ACJ Group offer a wide range of services and supply a variety of timber frame wall systems with U-Values ranging from 0.14 W/m2K – 0.09 W/m2K and the Therm-u-wall system achieving a U-Value of 0.08W/m2K, one of the most energy efficient closed panel systems on the market, ideal for use in passive house construction. If you would like some more information, please feel free to contact us on 01343 559327.

This lists just a few and due to the possibilities and availability of new methods of timber use, the list will expand for over future years.

One key advantage timber frame has over the traditional building (Brick or Block work construction) is the ability to insulate the centre of the frame (in addition to fixing onto the inside or outside as with traditional construction). This means you can fully utilise insulation in your new build, minimising heat loss and opening up the possibility of your new house paying you back over the years with its energy efficient construction.

Choosing a timber frame

When it comes to deciding which is the best choice of timber frame to go for, the best things to do here are (i) discuss the options with your Architect but probably more importantly (ii) do your research. Due to the ever-evolving types of timber frame, it’s quite possible you will find something that your architect has never have heard of!

Remember not every system will be available in your area and the costs of getting your choice to the site may be uneconomic and there may be an equally good but more cost effective choice. Think about the detailing. The thicker the timber frame the thicker your foundations may need to be. Ask your architect to look into the suitability of your design and consider involving a structural designer involved as it’s often best to leave the detailing and design to the experts.

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Two important factors to consider in relation to foundations are site investigation and specification.

Two important factors to consider in relation to foundations are site investigation and specification.

Site Investigation

A site investigation helps determine what sort of work will be required to achieve a good solid load bearing sub-soil, prior to foundation works starting. The foundation is the first most important part of any build as this is the base for supporting the structure in future years. It will also have an overall effect on the quality of the build and the thermal efficiency of the house design. When deciding on the foundations required, you also have to make sure all of the specifications and details you use comply with current regulations and are in line with the local building authority’s guidelines as these will impact on the design and type of build system.

Ideally, you should incorporate a local specialist (e.g. Technician, Engineer or ACJ Group) to oversee the designs and build. Arrange for the site to be properly assessed by a structural engineer who can make recommendations on the appropriate foundations required.


There are many different types of foundation designs and procedures incorporating different insulated build ups. These designs and systems are dictated by the type of ground you intend to build on and on your house design. Examples include, traditional brick n block methods, standard timber frame or high insulated closed panel construction. The build type and its relation to the ground works will dictate the best solution for creating a sound foundation.

There are a variety of systems currently being used for foundations including pilings, piers and concrete spread footings. The more traditional build method for brick n block and timber frame construction is a solid poured concrete block creating a footing/slab running the area of the load bearing walls required external and internal. Building blocks can then be used to build the external supporting wall head, up to the required area for holding in the house floor design and creating a starting point for the external walls to be built from. This is key to creating a smooth and successful build. Diligence is required to maintain quality and in the setting out of all dimensions, making sure the wall heads are as level and plumb as possible. The internal foundation build can vary and will have a variety of layers building up to the finished floor level.

A common procedure would be to incorporate compacted hard-core, sand blinding, vapour barrier DPM, solid insulation, reinforced concrete slab, floor battens and flooring. If you are incorporating under floor heating, this build-up will replace the battens and flooring resulting in a poured concrete wet mix spread over to form a finished floor to suit supplier’s recommendations.

If you want to build a high insulated low energy home always check the cost implications of the build-up specified and be wary that designs and details can be over engineered and specified so having a set price for the foundation will be key as this is an area that can absorb a lot of the project’s budget. This will also help to cost out the rest of the build and materials required, allowing you to alter any specifications if needed to help achieve the project build within budget.

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Erecting closed panel timber frame

Due to current building regulations and the government pushing for more sustainable homes “Code 6”, construction related companies from timber frame suppliers to on-site manufactures are looking at modern methods of construction. Erecting closed panel timber frame systems can be an attractive option.

Due to current building regulations and the government pushing for more sustainable homes “Code 6”, construction related companies from timber frame suppliers to on-site manufactures are looking at modern methods of construction. Erecting closed panel timber frame systems can be an attractive option.

Timber Frame Systems

There are many timber frame systems available which offer a range of performance levels and they all have their pros and cons. Closed panel construction is a more effective build than standard timber frame methods but it has a higher requirement for accuracy and minimal tolerance in setting out. If you are experienced in timber frame construction then you will know the limits standard timber frames have with regard to site alterations, remedial and making areas fit/work. Some gentle persuasion is normally required however that mindset doesn’t work when it comes to closed panel timber frame houses.

Closed Panel System Construction

Designing closed panel systems becomes more technical and advanced in relation to connection details and introduces a variety of timber shapes, materials and steel ironmongery. Many of these connections and details will be hidden within the timber frame closed panel but they have an important role in the frame’s structural stability and tie in with the rest of the panels erected. It’s likely that the panels will come with an external membrane and internal airtight membrane already in place. This helps keep out the moisture during panel erection but the self-builder is well advised to get the building wind and water tight as soon as possible.

Before you start setting out panels a wall plate will be required. This material will be specified by the supplier along with fixing methods. This will be key to smooth panel erection so setting out all positions tying in with the structural design drawings is important.

When fixing the wall plates ensure you level all areas. This is because the closed panel systems will come square and require a level base which allows the panels to connect close together eliminating any gaps at panel joints.

During panel construction, look closely when setting out panels making sure you can clearly tell the top from the bottom side of the panel. Some will be more obvious than others but always make sure the panels are the right way up. This may sound condescending but some panels might have multiple studs located in areas designed to take high point loads from above. If the panel is upside down the panel may still fit but the structural integrity of the build could be affected in days if not years later.

Once the ground floor panels are in place, creating the first floor deck will be the next before this stage begins. Check to see if a mid floor membrane is required to wrap around the joist deck edge beam as this will help to make the build air tight by connecting the ground floor internal airtight membrane to the first floor around the joist deck. Before first floor panels are fitted, there should be another timber setting out locating plate. This will create the area for your panels to sit on. Once all first floor panels are in place and all fixings applied as per the supplier’s recommendations then the next stage will be the roof. These can be trusses, loose rafters or pre-made roof cassettes. Trusses and loose rafters have more flexibility and can be moved when required if needed, but this has to be approved by the supplier and this may affect the structural stability making the design certificate void.

Roof Cassettes

Roof cassettes are really good for construction as you can create larger room areas and higher void ceilings (as they are insulated). Even though roof cassettes have many positives, they rely on the supporting panel to be as accurate as possible. If the walls are off plumb and not level this can affect all of your cassettes by preventing them from sitting correctly and tying in together. This can also have a significant effect on the build’s air tightness. In short, closed panel systems are a great build method but are less forgiving due to setting out errors and require 100% accuracy.

Closely study your supplier’s designs as there may be many types of ironmongery, connections and air tight materials required which will need to be placed during the erection. Missing their allocated position during the build may not be critical but can make it harder for you to achieve your final goal with the building’s efficiency.

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