At Build It Live, we will have companies representing each of the main build systems – timber frame, oak frame, SIPs, ICF and bricks and masonry. We’ll also have a range of design and build package companies, on hand to answer your questions. So, you’ll be able to meet with the suppliers, compare products and quiz the experts before making your design decisions.

Take a look at the full line up of exhibitors here and read on for some expert advice on each system.

About the Various Build Systems

Choosing a build system for your new home is a big decision and there are pros and cons of all the main options. Take a look at our below advice, to ensure you choose the right system for your needs.

Brick & block

Masonry remains the most popular build option in the UK, accounting for around 70% of all new homes. Brick and block homes consist of an outer brick skin and an inner block skin, held together with wall ties. Internal load-bearing walls are also made of blocks, while timber studwork is used for non-load bearing walls.

Previously, wall cavities were restricted to around 100mm, which was a limiting factor on insulation levels. Luckily though, recent innovations in wall tie manufacture have led to improvements.

Masonry houses are built entirely on site, beginning with concrete foundations and progressing up to the roof. It can take around 20 weeks for a three-bedroom home to be built and site work progresses slower than alternative build routes. However, lead times for materials tend to be better.

Timber frame

Another highly popular build route is timber frame. In fact, around 25% of all new homes in the UK are built using timber panels, which act as a superstructure, supporting the entire building. Favoured by eco-conscious self builders, timber frame has the lowest CO2 cost of any commercially available building material. It’s also known for its efficiency and excellent insulation levels. But the plus points don’t stop there.

There may be no requirement for internal load-bearing walls, which frees up space for open-plan layouts, and since the frame is prefabricated off site, you’re guaranteed a high-quality, factory finished house shell that will deliver the performance you’re expecting. Some timber frame suppliers provide a full turnkey service for your bespoke self build home. Alternatively, the company may have a list of recommended contractors who will construct it for you.

A timber frame home can be erected and made watertight in as little as five days and generally, there will be cost certainty for completion of the watertight house shell, so you can better plan your budget.

Oak frame

An historic structural system, oak frame is very popular with self builders, not least because of its visual charm. Great for both traditional and contemporary builds, oak frame homes have real wow-factor. This construction route typically adds roughly 10% to structural costs, but you can still build an impressive home on a range of budgets.

To meet modern performance standards, the frame will usually be encapsulated to create a highly efficient thermal envelope and many oak frame companies now offer a bespoke architectural service, meaning that homeowners can enjoy a seamless design and build process using the same team of contractors. Oak is a natural material, so it’s a sustainable option, too.

SIPs – Structural Insulated Panels

SIPs, or structural insulated panels are very similar to timber frame in that they are typically made up of two layers of oriented strandboard (OSB), bonded around an inner core of insulating material.

These precision-engineered panels are prefabricated in a factory, which makes for excellent quality control along with time and labour cost savings on site. Plus, when they’re used for load-bearing purposes, they’re suitable for building ceilings, walls and floors. In fact, these panels are so strong that they can be used to create truss-less roofs for liveable loft space. Some self builders even combine other build methods with a SIPs roof for this very reason.

SIPs panels also deliver an extremely airtight and insulated building envelope, making energy-saving standards like Passivhaus easy to achieve. Since they’re so lightweight, SIPs panels are quick and easy to crane into place and an experience team can erect a SIPs structure in as little as three days. Another bonus is that the panels come with pre-cut door and window openings for easily installation.

ICF – Insulating Concrete Formwork

ICF, or insulated concrete formwork, involves stacking a series of hollow, interlocking blocks. These create a mould that can then be pumped full of ready-mixed concrete for an ultra-fast build. The resulting walls are pre-insulated and incredibly airtight. There are various block options, including expanded polystyrene (EPS) and bonded wood fibre, but panelled versions are also available.

ICF is a quick build system, so even if you employ skilled workers for the duration of the project you should still save on labour costs. Once the concrete is set, the structure can be finished in your choice of cladding, while render can be applied directly to the polystyrene blocks. ICF homes have excellent insulation levels and there’s very little construction waste.

Using an experienced ICF installer is the best way to ensure project success, and since the envelope is watertight before cladding, other trades can get started sooner.