To beat budget restraints, these have-a-go heroes rolled up their sleeves and tackled the construction of their homes themselves.

Grand Designs barn conversion in sevenoaks kent - 2021 tv series homes

Image: Jefferson Smith

If you've seen enough episodes of Grand Designs, the phrase 'I'm project managing the build myself' is enough to sound alarm bells. However, some of the most exciting Grand Designs projects featured on the show have gone one step further with the self builders not only managing the project, but also doing the majority of the building work themselves. 

This is, of course, a way to achieve spectacular results on a meagre budget, yet comes with numerous challenges.

Take a look at these beautiful homes, both featured on Grand Designs and not, which have made use of their owner's labour in the build process. 

House in the Hollow, County Antrim

 self build home with wooden shingle cladding - grand designs

Image: 2020 Architects

By project-managing the build and doing much of the work themselves, Gareth Boyd of 2020 Architects and his wife Lindsey made savings on their eco-friendly home in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. ‘We even charred, brushed and sealed the cedar shingles covering the superinsulated timber frame,’ says Gareth.

By focussing on an open-plan design and keeping circulation spaces to a minimum, they were able to incorporate four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living/ kitchen area with walk-in pantry, utility room and snug all within 160sqm, keeping the budget within their target of £160,000, or £1,000 per sqm. At just under an acre, their plot cost £40,000.

‘We’d wanted to build our own home for a while and when we sold our last house, it gave us the opportunity to start looking at sites,’ says Gareth. ‘Our budget was limited, so it didn’t present us with a lot of options, but we found one close to where we work and very rural, which is what we were looking for.’

Read more: Off grid homes: 5 UK self builds for eco-friendly living

Fair View Barn, Cambridgeshire 

 fair view barn in Wisbech - grand designs

Image: Kiff Photography

Value engineering came to the fore to achieve the £500,000 build budget and energy-efficient design of this seven-bedroom Passivhaus home and annexe near Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. James Burton, director at Swann Edwards Architecture, used simple forms and detailing to reflect the surrounding fen landscape. This allowed the owners, Christine Young and her late husband Frank, to manage and undertake a lot of work themselves, reducing their expenditure to £1,150 per sqm.

Built under Paragraph 55 (now Paragraph 79) planning rules, on a rural plot which cost £130,000, Far View Barn is a flexible, future-proofed home. It has superinsulation, high levels of airtightness, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) and twin-stud timber frame construction as well as high-mass concrete floors. ‘Our approach was to ensure internal environmental conditions and comfort with minimal energy use,’ explains James. Far View Barn costs virtually nothing to run and generates an income from rental and feed-in tariffs. 

Read more: Barn conversions: 9 of the best contemporary rural homes

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Barn conversion, Sevenoaks

 Grand Designs barn conversion in sevenoaks kent - 2021 tv series homes

Image: Jefferson Smith

With a £250,000 budget, Georgie and Greg Whitaker planned to renovate a dilapidated barn on their family's existing land into a modern home. However, with planing laws preventing them from dismantling the existing structure, they had to be smart with their budget to overcome the inconvenience to the build. 

This meant not only taking on all of the building work themselves, with the help of a friend they paid to assist on the project, but engineering ideas to overcome problems such as reinforcing the rotten barn supports and adjusting the roof of gradient to accomodate the roof lights, despite having minimal previous building experience. 

Read more: Grand Designs TV House 2021: Barn conversion in Sevenoaks, Kent 

Eco build, East Harling

 Norfolk self build home with round central element - grand designs

Image: Vanessa Hales

Tony and Vanessa Hales built their own stunning Paragraph 55/79 family home in East Harling, Norfolk, for less than £1,000 per sqm. They worked with architect Ian Hunter to design a four-bedroom house with an open-plan living room, dining room and kitchen, plus a gym and home office. The house was built to meet Code 6 demands (an old government standard for zero-carbon homes) so it is highly energy-efficient.

To show what was possible on a tight budget, the couple spent just under £300,000 on the project. They sold their former home, a bungalow, and used the equity to build their new house in the back garden. Using Polarwall ICF (insulated concrete form) cost the same as block and brick, but the concrete creates an airtight structure, allowing for the curved design. They also saved money by doing 95 per cent of the work themselves, thanks to a roofing course they took and Tony training in the use of microcement.

Read more: Self build systems: a guide to popular home construction

Mello View, Somerset

 TV home Cowshed conversion in Somerset7

Image: Matt Chisnall

Ed and Vicky Versluys bought a derelict cowshed in Somerset with grand designs for transforming it into a family home entirely by themselves. Ed, helped by a labourer friend, admits that it was a matter of learning as he went along, with a fair amount of internet searches for answers to his construction conundrums.

A memorable moment on the episode of Grand Designs which told the story of their self build journey saw Ed lay a 6 metre square concrete sub-floor – not only in a heatwave, but by himself in half an hour. 'That bit on Grand Designs where I’m laying the concrete has made me famous! Everyone who saw it has commented on it, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to do concreting in friends’ houses,’ Ed said. 

Read more: TV home: Cowshed conversion in Somerset

Derelict barn conversion, South Devon

grand designs TV house - series 2 - derelict barn in exeter - under budget houses

Image: Channel 4

Back in series 2 of Grand Designs, Sue Charman and Martin Whitlock had ambitious plans to create an eco-home from derelict barns. However, with costs spiralling throughout the renovation of these structures, the couple were forced to lay off the builders and complete the project, albeit slowly, themselves. 

When Kevin returned at the end of the programme, the couple had made good progress and created a home that was inhabitable, but far from finished, with Martin working his way through the rest of the property in his spare time. 

Watch the episode: Devon, 2001


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