Grand Designs sees £550k eco 'fortress' finally completed after seven years

Grand Designs S21 Bolton Revisit
(Image credit: Channel 4)

An eco home built by a builder specialising in stonemasonry was the focus of this week’s Grand Designs revisit, as host Kevin McCloud travelled to Bolton having last seen the home “left in a muddy no-man’s land”.

Paul, a builder, and his wife, Carol, set out in 2015 to construct a fortress-like home on the edge of the West Pennine Moors. Paul had worked in masonry construction since he was 16, but set himself the challenge of building an eco home for his family made out of timber, an eco-friendly building material.

With a budget of £350,000 and target completion time of 15 months, the project was almost derailed in the summer of 2016 when the couple ran out of money. “This the most difficult and biggest project I’ve ever undertaken,” said Paul, who feared building work would stop indefinitely. 

But when McCloud revisited the finished home in August 2022, he was impressed by the way the nearly-completed house, which is camouflaged in green roofs. blends into the Pennines.

“It feels so much more massive now. It’s like visiting a castle,” said McCloud.

How the house was built 

The fortress-like structure was built on a substantial concrete and steel raft foundation, and includes a huge 45m retaining wall. A heavy masonry cladding of stone roots the building to the site.

All five bedrooms are located on the ground floor, along with a gym, utility room and resistance pool. Upon climbing up the angular, Medieval-inspired staircase, the first floor encases a chunky, open plan living space with a farmhouse kitchen and a snug.

Paul chose to project manage the entire process himself, and did not sign a single building contract for the property, instead choosing to self build with friends and family. 

Built on a 1.5 acre paddock, Paul and Carol wanted the home to blend in with its surroundings. “We’re big wildlife fans,” said Paul. “Location wise, it’s everything for me.”

“It costs very little to run”

The home boasts impressive eco credentials. The timber frame structure was filled with thick foam insulation and solar PV panels were installed on the south-facing roof. Underfloor heating was installed too. 

The house is designed to maximise winter solar gain - the solar panels charge the couple’s cars and the house costs very little to run per year, says Carol, with Paul estimating their bills are around the same to run as a small terraced house. 

They nearly ran out of money

Ten months in, Paul and Carol’s £350,000 budget was running out, and with costs rising they put their nearby house on the market. 

“We’re reaching the stage now where finances are becoming an issue,” said Paul, who was subsequently rejected for a bridging loan worth £200,000. 

The project was temporarily reliant on Carol’s catering business and building work came to a standstill shortly afterwards. 

However, when we meet Paul and Carol again, we learn they were able to access additional funding to complete the necessary jobs left on the house. 

A traumatic, but pleasurable experience

Walking up to the finished house for the first time, McCloud comments: “Rising from the well-tended lawn, the great stone bastion walls are capped with clean lines of cladding and some elegant glass balustrade."

When McCloud asked Paul how long the project took to complete, the answer implied Paul still has things to work on. “It’s an ongoing process. It’s taken a while,” he said.

But Paul and Carol have been living in the property for several years and have developed further rooms for when their six grandchildren visit. They even let people join them in the giant home via AirBnB. 

The total build cost eventually came to between £500-550,000, “but it was money well spent”, Paul says.  

Paul suffered a heart attack in 2018, but denied it was due to the stress of the build. In fact, Paul has since bought another building to renovate. 

“It was traumatic, at times. But overall it was a pleasurable experience,” he told McCloud. 

Grand Designs S21 Bolton Revisit

(Image credit: Channel 4)
Jack Woodfield
News Editor

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.