Tips for successful selfbuild and retrofit projects

Every year we support and supply hundreds of building projects around the UK. Over the last 25 years, we have accumulated a huge amount of experience of what makes a successful selfbuild or retrofit project. Here we share some tips which we hope will help your project be as successful as possible.

Detailed architectural drawings

Architectural plans

In our experience, there is a far greater chance of a project having problems if there are no architectural drawings to work from. For our part, they help us to ensure window and door measurements are accurate and that MVHR systems are designed accurately to fill the space available. Architectural drawings are essential for the modelling of a house or building in Passivhaus Planning Package software. Detailed drawings also increase the likelihood of your building contractors delivering on the architects’ designs and making the project go smoothly. Ideally, detailed drawings of junctions will also be a big help on site, especially if you are working on a Passivhaus and low energy project.

Early-stage planning

It is really important to spend a lot of time and care at the planning stage as this will save you time and stress down the line, and of course money. Passivhaus and low energy builds can be simplified and costs reduced by this investment of time at an early stage. There is nothing worse than designing things on the hoof, while a project is on site. A good example of this is for MVHR design which is something that should be factored in really early on in a project’s design. We have lost count of the times we are contacted when the project is on site and nearly completed and we are asked to design an MVHR system. Trying to fit an MVHR system into an existing design late in the day may incur extra costs and will definitely increase the hassle factor on your project.

A ‘whole house’ approach

When clients are going to the expense and hassle of a newbuild project or extensive refurbishment it can sometimes be a wasted opportunity if the lessons of the Passivhaus methodology are not applied. By applying a few minor tweaks to your designs you could vastly improve the comfort and energy efficiency of your project. So, where possible, we would really encourage our clients to have their projects, reviewed by someone experienced in Passivhaus or modelled in PHPP (Passivhaus Planning Package) to help with decision-making early on in your planning process.

Product suppliers are part of your team

Window THERM imageWith Passivhaus and low energy selfbuilds and retrofits it is increasingly important that suppliers are considered part of the team from early on. There are so many ways we can give selfbuild and retrofit customers added extras. For example, when supplying windows and doors we can offer installation advice and even carry out thermal bridge modelling of junctions to provide installation PSI values. We are here to help and the more you keep us in the loop and treat us as part of your team the more successful the project outcome is likely to be.  As Architects Eric Parks and Nittai Edelmann commented: “We got far more input from Green Building Store than we would get from other window suppliers and they very much worked with us as one of the team”.


For many self-builders, project-managing the build can be part of the dream.  Alternatively, it can seem to be an economic necessity if the budget is tight.  For those without prior experience, it is undoubtedly not for the faint-hearted and should not, in our experience, be undertaken without very careful consideration.  We suggest if you can that you discuss this carefully with your architect or other building professionals involved.  Consider whether you have the necessary project management skills and sufficient building knowledge for what is undoubtedly a complex process which includes project management, people management, understanding your building detailing and on-site decision making.   When it goes well, it can be hugely rewarding.  When it goes badly, it can be hugely demanding emotionally and physically as well as resulting in increased expense.  Do consider whether you can engage with a building professional who could either take the lead with your oversight or work with you.  Good project management is absolutely essential to a cost-effective self-build, so do give this aspect of the project the careful consideration that it needs. 

We wish you all the best with your project and please do get in touch if we can help you on your selfbuild or retrofit journey!


Chayley Collis, Green Building Store

Chayley Collis, Communications Manager, Green Building Store


You might also be interested in our blog on Funding your Passivhaus or low energy self-build project.

5th November 2020

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