KEVIN MCCLOUD: ONE SIMPLE THING TO MAKE YOUR HOME GREENER
KEVIN MCCLOUD: ONE SIMPLE THING TO MAKE YOUR HOME GREENER
Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs on how to make our homes greener with very simple adjustments.
WORDS: TINA LOFTHOUSE
TOP IMAGE: David McHugh
Grand Designs has become one of our most popular and enduring TV series. For over 20 years, we’ve been glued to the tales of plucky homeowners creating their dream abodes – with Kevin McCloud as a sage observer, gently trying to steer them in the right direction.
Its popularity has led to several live shows in London and Birmingham – which were much missed last year because of the pandemic. But it is back at the NEC this October, and in London in April 2022. Kevin is looking forward to the shows returning: “It feels like a huge family, all sharing the same beliefs and enthusiasm, and it will be great to see everyone again.”
Much has changed in the two decades since Grand Designs started. One of the most exciting developments in home building and design is the growing emphasis on sustainability. The live shows celebrate the eco pioneers leading the way and the Green Heroes competition highlights the best.
There is real innovation taking place behind the scenes in homebuilding that might not be apparent, Kevin points out, such as making simple building materials greener and higher performing. An example might be a recyclable structural membrane that is a mix of bio resins and wood fibre and is as strong as steel.
But while progress is being made, there is still a long way to go. Retrofitting your home to be greener is possible but Kevin says we are 10 to 15 years too late already. “We’re treading water and it’s not good. We need a radical approach. There are 26m existing homes and we as householders need to step up to the plate. And housebuilders need to consider their existential purpose – there is no place for poor-quality buildings.”
For all out eco builds from scratch, Kevin adds that the Passivhaus solutions from the European manufactures allow you to buy in to a greener high-quality build in a straightforward way.
For the rest of us, I ask Kevin if there is one thing we can all do right now to make our homes greener – his answer is simple: “Turn your thermostat down to 18 degrees and wear more layers! I grew up in a cold house and the best way we can regulate our bodies is to wear insulating clothing and multiple layers.”
Likewise, skip the air con – “Open the windows and create cross ventilation.”
The NEC show will also have a focus on box rooms – a very British quirk in home design – but what on earth can you really do with often the smallest room in the house? You’d be surprised. Notes Kevin: “One of the things that has come out of lockdown is people looking to make use of all the rooms in the house – for work, for hobbies, and so on, and some really interesting innovation has come out of that.”
“People have had to work harder to utilise their rooms and, inspired by lockdown, we have seen all kinds of uses for spaces, indoors and out, from tents, and awnings across the patio to attics converted for education.”
“In Britain, historically, we have a lounge, a dining room, a kitchen, a bedroom, with each area only used for part of the time. If you look at how many families live around the world, they might only have one room in which to do everything. I stayed with a family in India where the room was a workshop open to the street in the day, in the evening we watched Mr Bean on the TV in the same room, then at night, we all bunked down together there.”
Over the many years of Grand Designs, there are particular episodes that really stand out. A particularly poignant story was that of the hypoallergenic house, built from scratch by a couple in Kingston to help protect their children from life-threatening allergies. The resulting airtight building is close to Passivhaus standard and includes a mechanical ventilation system to purify the air. There are non-toxic paints, flooring and joinery, and natural materials have been used as much as possible. In the garden, plants pollinated by insects rather than wind, such as hydrangea and lavender, keep airborne pollen to a minimum. After several months of living in the house, the children’s allergic reactions pretty much stopped.
Another favourite with fans was the Wood House in West Sussex, built in a forest by a woodsman using traditional building techniques, and fitted with solar panels and wind turbines. The home cost just £28,000 to build and blends into the landscape.
Kevin is often involved in filming the projects over 18-month periods. It can become quite an emotional process. “You can’t separate the people from the projects. You can’t help but have admiration for those that are doing something really brave that is really life-changing for them.”
As for the filming process, it is quite some feat of logistics to put it all together. Kevin says the secret is Phoebe, a woman he describes as the show’s supercomputer. “I wouldn’t last a minute in that job,” laughs Kevin. “Somehow she organises several teams at once and we’re all where we need to be at the right time – usually a muddy field at 7am.”
Having seen so many projects come to fruition, and indeed some fall by the wayside, what is Kevin’s biggest piece of advice for budding grand designers? “We all have this desire to make our environments better and many think they can do it themselves. But I am a big believer in experts who can do it so much better than us. I love working with engineers and architects, and a project manager might seem like an investment but can end up saving you money.”
Next up for Kevin? There will be a new series of Grand Designs and House of the Year, as well as The Street, and there is a new book in the pipeline. “I thought when I reached 60, I’d be slowing down but things just seem to be speeding up!”
- Kevin McCloud will appear at Grand Designs Live from 6 – 10 October 2021 at the NEC, for tickets and more information visit www.granddesignslive.com