Kevin McCloud's rules for building your own home

... and why insulation is sexy. Grand Designs guru Kevin McCloud shares his must-read tricks of the trade for projects big and small. Don't break ground without them!

If you could get a crack team together to work on a project to build your own home, surely Kevin McCloud would be right at the top of the list. As the face of Channel 4's flagship homes programme Grand Designs he has seen the very best and worst home builds, witnessing the financial struggles and personal sacrifice that goes into creating these incredible feats of architecture. We caught up with the presenter and property developer to get his dos and don'ts for big building projects.

Do you have any advice for someone about to start a house renovation?

The same rules apply whether you’re building a house from scratch or putting in a bathroom. PLAN! Draw, design, sketch, create samples and do your research! The more effort you put into the planning stages, the better the outcome. Preparing and researching costs almost nothing and you can arrange a rough-and-ready model of the real thing very quickly. This stage is invaluable, because, if you don’t do it properly, you’ll decide you want to repaint the bathroom or realise that you can’t open the shower door because the loo’s in the way.

designer kevin mc cloud and book shelf

(Image credit: Future PLC/DAVID McHUGH)

When is the best time of year to start building?

Late spring. If you’re building from scratch, you need to get into the ground to build the foundations. The ground is where it can all go wrong, so early May is perfect and just pray it won’t be too wet.

What is the most common mistake that people make?

Not getting the ratio right between planning and building. Most people want to jump straight in with the building and therefore, rush the planning.

The other great mistake that we all make is that we are not very good at asking for help. We are all far too optimistic and think that we are capable of doing things ourselves, without the help of designers or architects. It takes someone strong to admit that they’re not very good at something or aren’t an expert in a field.

designer Kevin mc cloud with coat and white shirt

(Image credit: TBC)

Would you ever project manage your own home?

Nope. There are no pros. People do it because they haven’t got enough money. Management of a project is not satisfying; it actually removes you from the hands-on aspect, because you end up managing other people. Buildings are complicated machines, made out of thousands of parts from numerous of suppliers, fitted together in hundreds of different ways. It’s a really tough job. I would always advise somebody to spend a large chunk of their budget, no matter how small, on a project manager.

You have a strong environmental trend running through your work, do you have any simple tips for people who want to live a more sustainable life?

It’s been scientifically proven that men love to spend money on gadgets. Most people think, “I’m going to go green! I’ll buy myself some solar panels.” It’s all good stuff, but if we’re not careful we’ll end up using more resources by buying new equipment, which won’t help the consumption problem. Rather than buying a flash new heat pump, it’s more efficient to spend a tenth of the cost on good quality insulation or double-glazing. Putting money into the bones of the building is probably the most valuable difference we can make.

I remember when Obama was trying to promote the use of insulation in buildings, someone said to him, "It’s not very sexy is it?" and he said: "No, it’s extremely sexy! Would you rather go to bed with a hot water bottle and 15 blankets or in a beautiful negligee between satin sheets?" I couldn’t agree more.

designer Kevin mc cloud with blue coat and stole

(Image credit: TBC)

You love craftsmanship and authenticity in a home – can this be achieved on a budget?

Of course it can. For a lot of my career, I haven’t had much money so I’ve had to make do with odds and ends and learn how to rebuild, plumb, do my own carpentry etc. These making and doing skills are invaluable; if I had it my way, children at school would be taught how to darn a sock. It’s much cheaper to buy a bit of old junk that needs repairing than commissioning or buying an expensive designer product. You won’t spend much, but you’ll get something that lasts a lifetime.

You are often focused on the exterior of houses, is this more important than the interior for you?

Really! I reckon I spend more time inside buildings than I do outside. I think we tend to judge iconic buildings, such as The Shard, with our eyes, so we approach buildings with a skewed perception because we rarely go inside them. Actually, it’s the experience of buildings and their surroundings that is the really powerful thing. I keep trying to bang on about that in Grand Designs – to appreciate the whole ‘experience’ of a place, taking into account the exterior and interior. That’s what it’s about and where the energy of a building lies.

Visit for tickets & more information about Grand Designs Live.

Catch Kevin at Grand Designs Live 29th April – 7th May 2017 at London ExCel.