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1. [countable]
a building project in which a house is designed and constructed to the exact specifications of the person who is going to live there

2. [uncountable]
the style or process of building a house in this way


verb [intransitive/transitive]


noun [uncountable]


noun [countable]



'As house prices continue to rise and an increasing number of first-time buyers find themselves priced out of the market, self-build has become an attractive option for couples like Steve and Nicky Douglas …'

Radio Times 6th April 2004

'House prices force more self-builds …'

contractjournal.com 27th June 2001

'In doing so, they joined the hundreds of thousands of others who have turned away from ready-made houses and instead have homes built to their own tastes and specifications. Around 25,000 people every year embark on self-build projects … For many, the lure of self-building is the money that can be saved … But savings can be even higher than this. Karen Fardell of Potton, which specialises in supplying self-builders with period-look timber-frame kits.'

The Guardian 20th March 2004

In the face of inflated house prices in an increasing number of areas of the UK, many more people are choosing to design and construct their own homes. This trend has popularised a new term in the building domain, the concept of self-build. Recent research suggests that over 25,000 people a year embark on self-build projects, either doing all or part of the work themselves, or employing a team of builders and architects to undertake the creation of their dream home for them. It is estimated that a quarter of new detached houses in the UK are built in this way, saving 25–40% of the cost of a comparable ready-built home. For many, the appeal of self-build is not just financial, but the opportunity to acquire a home built according to personal tastes and specifications. Self-build properties often incorporate the benefits of contemporary design and modern conveniences, whilst at the same time allowing the possibility of 'period' character and external appearance.

for many, the appeal of self-build is not just financial, but the opportunity to acquire a home built according to personal tastes and specifications

The term self-build has spawned a range of derivatives: the participle noun self-building commonly describes the activity, and self-builder refers to someone who engages in it. Self-build can be used as a countable noun to refer to a particular project, or uncountably to refer to a style or process of building. It is also used as a verb, and adjectivally, as in self-build house/mortgage/
. The derived adjective self-built also exists in this context, but often applies more generally to other kinds of construction, especially computers and electronic devices.

By analogy with the phrase do-it-yourself and its short form DIY, the short form BIY (i.e. build-it-yourself) is another recent coinage in this context. However, web evidence suggests that BIY has various other interpretations, including book-it-yourself, buy-it-yourself and even brew-it-yourself, in the context of beer-making!

Background – self-build

The term self-build is essentially compositional, though a likely source of inspiration is the concept of do-it-yourself or DIY, used to refer to home improvement projects undertaken without the help of paid professionals. The terms do-it-yourself and DIY were, in fact, coined in the 1960s by craftsman/TV presenter Barry Bucknell, though it was not until the 1980s that DIY became a markedly popular weekend pastime. It seems that amid growing resources and popularity in the last two decades, DIY has naturally evolved into build-it-yourself or BIY, as people have increasing involvement not merely in the improvement of their own homes, but also in their original design and construction.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 14th May 2004.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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