Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud revisited the transformation of a derelict cowshed in this week’s episode, which has been turned by its owners into a sustainable off-grid family home.
Vicky and Ed uprooted their lives in 2015 and moved to Somerset, with Ed taking on the majority of the building work himself, which he learned from the internet.
They aimed to self build a low-impact, sustainable way of living, and seven years later McCloud returned to discover not just a completed home, but also additional buildings.
“All self build is fascinating, but they’ve demonstrated that a greener, more considerate way of life is possible, beautiful and desirable,” McCloud said.
Ed, a chef, provides the family’s main source of income through his on-site catering business and Vicky teaches pilates. The couple rent out a small cabin on the edge of the property, which Ed built himself.
Impressed by the couple’s ingenuity, McCloud said: “Everything they have needed to build this special Eden they have learned along the way.”
Seeing potential in an 'ugly building'
Vicky and Ed paid £225,000 for the Somerset land and 1940s cowshed, funded through Vicky selling her London flat, and were left with £200,000 to spend on the build.
The cowshed was “completely overgrown and full of ivy, but we saw the potential”, Vicky said, despite confessing when they first met McCloud that they thought it was "a really ugly building”.
With a limited budget and no building experience, Ed learned everything about construction from video tutorials on the internet, with a plan to move into their finished home after seven months. The couple were also planning a wedding during this time.
With no project manager and no site supervisor, Ed got to work with the aim of completing the couple’s dream home in just 28 weeks. Sceptical, McCloud replied he thought it would take a minimum of 10 months. “But I love being proved wrong,” he said.
A series of minor setbacks including a delay in the delivery of the windows meant the full build wasn't completed on time, but by mid-2016 the couple were living in the home and developing their business plans.
Their eco home means no utility bills
The home comprises an array of eco features to suit the couple’s off-grid dream.
The roof was built with laminated timber, covered on the north side with eco slates - appropriately made from recycled plastic milk bottle tops - while the south side has 10 solar PV panels installed which generate electricity stored in solar batteries.
External wall insulation was added, clad with agricultural timber, and Ed installed a green roof. To retain the spirit of the cowshed, two partition walls were built from timber and straw bales and rendered in clay plaster.
The cost of the technology, which included a wind turbine and back-up generator, came to £26,000, but the advantages of this technology are free low-carbon electricity and no utility bills.
Their water source comes from rainwater, collected in a storage system, but they occasionally buy water when hosting large catering events.
The couple has developed the property further
Ed and Vicky have completed external work on the main house, but when we meet them again in September 2022, we learn that Ed is still developing the property. There’s now an extension for Vicky’s dad to live in and a rentable cabin.
The couple rely on 12 acres not only to feed themselves but also to support Ed’s catering business. They keep sheep, geese, chickens and pigs, and grow vegetables.
“This whole house speaks of you. It’s autobiographical,” said McCloud, walking for the first time into a single open-plan space comprising a kitchen, dining room and lounge area.
McCloud concluded the episode by praising the couple’s desire to “follow the less trodden path”, while Ed, when asked what his advice would be for anyone daring to follow a similar journey, had a succinct answer, “Just go for it.”
Get the Homebuilding & Renovating Newsletter
Bring your dream home to life with expert advice, how to guides and design inspiration. Sign up for our newsletter and get two free tickets to the National Homebuilding & Renovating Show (21-24 March, NEC, Birmingham).
Jack has worked in journalism for 11 years and is the News Editor for Homebuilding & Renovating, a role he has had since 2019. He strives to break the most relevant and beneficial stories for self builders, extenders and renovators, including the latest news on the construction materials shortage and hydrogen heating. In 2021 he appeared on BBC's The World at One to discuss the government's planning reforms.
He enjoys testing new tools and gadgets, and having bought his first home in 2013, he has renovated every room and recently finished a garden renovation.