As the face of TV’s Grand Designs, the name Kevin McCloud has been synonymous with good design and innovative, environmentally conscious house building for the past 23 years.

He also knows a thing or two about how to work with the builders and tradespeople who can help to bring your plans to life. We caught up with him at Grand Designs Live in Birmingham during October 2022, to see what advice he could offer to people just starting out in their renovation or self-build journey.

Find a Builder

Find vetted and independently inspected Master Builders in your area.

How to choose a quality builder

Question: Kevin, having the right people on board can make or break a project. In your experience, what are the most important things that homeowners should look for when choosing the right building team?

Answer: Good question. If you include in the building team the builders, but also the consultancy team - so for example the surveyor, architect and engineer – then I think it’s about sharing the same view of the world, you know, it's about being able to get on with people.

It's a little bit like you're employing somebody. You put an advert out and read all the CVs that come in, then you employ the best person. But actually, you choose people in your life on the basis of personality - whether you bond. I think that's really important, because when you're building you're handing over responsibility for something to a third-party, be that the builder or the architect, and it’s really important everybody sees eye-to-eye and understands each other. You as the client become the glue in the middle. It's really got to work for you.

How to work with your builder

Q: Once you have the right team on board, what advice can you give to homeowners on how to work well with your builder?

A: I'd say that the really important thing to do when you're building, is not to assume you can do everything. Be a good client, employ good people for what they can do. In the end, respect the fact that the reason there are project managers and the reason there are plumbers and the reason there are engineers and quantity surveyors is that the world needs them and that they're generally really quite good at their jobs.

You've got to trust in the professional expertise of those around you to work collaboratively. It's a big collaborative project and I think many homeowners go into it thinking ‘I could do that myself, I could get involved’, but just being a client is a full-time job. So just let the professionals get on with what they know and learn from them in the process.

In any case, you’re probably going to end up being a labourer on site. So, you're gonna get your hands dirty anyway. Most people do!

Planning cost-effective, energy-efficient renovations

Q: With higher energy bills and record summer temperatures, people are becoming more aware of creating a thermally efficient home. What cost effective, energy-efficiency measures should we consider when planning a renovation or extension?

A: On the hottest day of the year, I was in a glass house, but it had a 7-foot overhang, so none of the glass was touched by the sun. The house was cool. This is a building on the Isle of Wight, there was a sea breeze coming in and going out again, the sun was hitting the roof but it's super insulated. So it was a really pleasant place to be, and yet it was a glass building.

It's not what you build out of necessarily, but it's much more to do with how you organise the building in relation to the natural world. My advice to anybody when you design your building from scratch, bear in mind winter passive heating, solar heating with perhaps a big heavy slab that’s going to retain the heat, but plan an overhang over the glazing which in summer keeps the sun out the building.

And for anybody retrofitting thinking ‘Oh, I could put that big glass kitchen on the back of my house’ solar shading is going to be absolutely key. I spoke to a friend of mine recently who said ‘oh we have this amazing extension, but we can’t go in it because it’s so hot this summer.’ I said, you know, buy a gazebo, stick it out the back just to shade the glass at the back of the kitchen, so that you can use that bit of the house. People get so excited by the idea of light flooding into the building, but you don't want it in June, July, and August, you need to create shade. So, if you speak to any architect and they'll tell you how to do it.

Find a Builder

Find vetted and independently inspected Master Builders in your area.

Building sustainably to meet net zero targets

Q: What do you think can be done to make it easier for people to build, extend or renovate in a way that’s conscious of environmental impact and the net zero carbon targets that have been set in the UK?

A: I'm not sure the government can do much more in as much as what we're talking about here is the availability of the supply chain. And the government you know, wisely or not, took the decision to take a vote to the nation in 2016, and as a result, our supply chains with Europe have been somewhat damaged.

At one point, it was very easy to buy in German products, and German building products are generally far more sustainable, ecological and they’re lower carbon than ours. Now it's a little bit harder and I have to say, for the past few years during the pandemic it’s been awful. You haven’t been able to buy UK-made concrete blocks yet alone German-made ecological fibreboard.

Now I have to say thank goodness, it's easier and the only thing I can pray for is that, as long as it remains the case that the better product for ecological building comes from abroad, we should be trying to open up trade and remove barriers to trade as much as possible. Anything which gets in the way of that trade is only an impediment to high quality construction in the UK. We can source so much in this country, but we can't source everything.

If you're looking for areas of innovation, of course there are technology centres around the UK that are really exciting, but one of them that I really enjoy visiting is Northern Ireland where there's a kind of ‘can-do’ attitude in that nation that’s so good. The first glulam [a type of strengthened laminated timber] products were being made in Northern Ireland and there's now companies making really high-quality composite timber frames, windows and doors. If you’re looking at European technologies, the place where they often spring up first in the UK is in Northern Ireland.

FMB at Grand Designs Live

Grand Designs Magazine Theatre - Nicola DeSouza sml.jpg
FMB members popped up on the Grand Designs Magazine Theatre stage throughout the show, to lend their expertise. Here, our member Nicola DeSouza of Glorious Garden Rooms discusses self-build with one Grand Designs couple.

Our interview over, we took to the floor at Grand Designs Live to enjoy the rest of the day’s programme of talks and browse the stands. FMB members were on hand, providing advice in the Ask and Expert area and at the Grand Designs Magazine Theatre in panel discussions throughout the event.

Getting the right advice on your build – whether that’s from Kevin McCloud or directly from your builder – is key to the success of your project.

For more advice on all aspects of building, renovating and extending your home – check out our Ultimate Guides. Or if you’re ready to get started, Find a Builder to work with amongst our vetted and independently inspected members. Click below to start your search.

Find a Builder

Find vetted and independently inspected Master Builders in your area.