Kevin McCloud says homes should be built with MUD to beat living costs

The return of wattle and daub? Kevin McCloud says homes should be built with MUD WALLS to beat the cost of living crisis

  • Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud thinks homes made of mud could be the future
  • He says money can be saved by plastering walls with cob – soil, water and straw
  • Previously he saw a ‘mind boggling’ mansion built entirely out of the material

Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud believes part of the solution to the UK’s housing crisis could be building our own homes made out of mud.

The property expert thinks potential homeowners can avoid huge expenses by swapping bricks and cement for earth and water.

Since 1999 McCloud, 62, has seen hundreds of different sorts of homes built on the Channel 4 house designing programme, the good ones, the bad ones and the walls made out of dirt ones.

On one episode dating back to 2011, he witnessed a couple create a mansion out of mud for the price of a building half its size.

He now thinks using natural materials could be the way forward as the cost of living keeps rising and shortages of materials like plaster have been predicted by the building industry for later this year.

He told Chris Evans’ Virgin Radio Podcast: ‘In the last recession people said: ‘Oh it’s just going to be so difficult and hard and tough.

‘But when they think their way out of a hole, that’s more fun. Then you get people building their own fence panels and plastering walls with mud.’

Grand Designs host Kevin McCloud (pictured) believes that building your own fence panels or plastering your walls with mud will help fend off the challenging living cost crisis for people renovating their homes

Kevin McCloud visited Rose and Kevin McCabe (pictured in 2013) at the house made of cob, which the presenter believes could be the future for people wanting to build their own homes

The finished property shows the huge home with its grass roof and solar heating system on the side of the house, which provides energy for nine months of the year

Presenter Kevin McCloud (right) first visited Kevin McCabe (left), who built the home out of cob, in 2011 when they embarked on the project, then again in 2013 and finally in 2018

Kevin McCabe, one of the UK’s leading living exponents of the pre-historic art of cob building, was determined to show how the method could be brought up to date to produce a luxury home that meets modern building standards. Pictured, the enormous master suite in the east Devon property, which presenter McCloud compared to a ‘penthouse apartment’


The impressive spiral staircase at the centre of the home, pictured, is also made of cob. Presenter Kevin McCloud can’t help but marvel at the natural material as he explores the property with owner Kevin McCabe

The undulating roof, pictured, which mirrors the curves of the rolling hills beyond, is covered with soil and a natural wildflower garden

Mr McCabe wanted to show how cob can be used to create a luxurious family home that meets the highest modern building standards. Pictured, the family kitchen – complete with exposed cob counters – is an excellent demonstration of this

Back in April 2011, builder Kevin McCabe embarked on a wildly ambitious project to create a 10,000sq ft family home in Devon from the all-natural material cob – a mixture of sand, clay, straw, water and earth.

What is cob?

The traditional material for English cob is soil (clay-based) mixed with water and straw, sometimes with crushed flint or sand added. 

The mixture is shovelled or stamped together, after which a cob fork is used to ladle it onto a stone foundation, before it is trod it into place.

After it dries, the next level or ‘lift’ is added by repeating the process.   

The walls are trimmed and are made roughly a metre thick. 

Openings are left for windows and doors during the build.

The best time to work with cob is in the summer as the material requires time to dry out before the next ‘lift’. 

This takes longer in the colder, wetter winter months.

Mr McCabe, one of the UK’s leading living exponents of the ancient art of cob building, was determined to show how the method could be brought up to date to produce a luxury home that meets modern building standards.

Setting aside a £350,000 budget, he anticipated the project, set in the rolling hills of east Devon, would be complete within two years.

In keeping with the show, two-and-a-half years later the house was still uninhabitable, but the final product a few years later left McCloud very impressed.

Despite being built out of soil, water and straw the home was enormous, he described the scale of the place as ‘mind boggling’.

The property took the shape of two separate cob cylinders, connected by a glass-sided greenhouse walkway.

The basement level of the main three-storey cylinder, built into the ground, houses an ‘arcade-sized’ games room and a gym.

The main access is via a bridge to the second level where the living spaces are and the third level contains the master suite and two ‘cavernous’ additional bedrooms.

The undulating roof, which mirrors the curves of the rolling hills beyond, is covered with soil and a natural wildflower garden.

Although to complete the build, the craftsman had to return to full-time work in order to cover the spiralling costs and the family put their five-bedroom £1.1million home on the market.

Upon his final return McCloud was struck by its unusual appearance, he said: ‘Wow. This is very beautiful. Inside is where the wibbly wobbly fantasy language of cob has been fully explored… It demonstrates what the material can do.’

It was not just the aesthetic design of the building that was impressive, but also its energy efficiency.

Mr McCabe explained its solar heating system provides energy for nine months of the year and that it is topped up by the wood burner in the winter.

This combined with its triple glazed window means the property produces more energy than it uses.

The main access is via a bridge to the second level where the living spaces are. Pictured, the view across the glass-sided walkway towards the second guest annexe, as seen from the second floor bridge accessing the house

Cob is on show everywhere in the property, from the central circular staircase to the kitchen counter, pictured, and the wood burning fire in the family living room. Builder Kevin McCabe admitted he doesn’t know how much the home has cost to build

The property takes the shape of two separate cob cylinders, connected by a glass-sided greenhouse walkway. The family dining room, pictured, is also located in the walkway off the large kitchen. The windows offer views of the countryside

Together with his family and hired help, Mr McCabe tirelessly work to build his home with his bare hands. Pictured, the large kitchen opens out onto a dining area. The cob wall behind the sofa, pictured, has been carved to make built-in wine racks

The expansive master bedroom, on the third floor of the main building, pictured, offers ample living space for Mr McCabe and his partner. The curve of the room continues with the curve of the wardrobe (white) and the curve of the en-suite bathtub  

Building an entire mansion out of earth may not be feasible for everyone, but many Britons who were forced to spend lots of time at home did end up building their own sheds. 

The Saxon House, built by Daniel Pierce and his nine-year-old son in Hampshire, was an entry into the Shed of the Year competition last year.

It utilised similar techniques and materials seen in Kevin McCabe’s huge cob house.

The Saxon House by Daniel Pierce and his nine-year-old son (pictured) in Hampshire

The impressive garden den was built using reclaimed materials, including local cuts of hazel and willow.

The walls were made from a mixture of mud, hay and horse manure using the wattle and daub technique, which is an ancient method of building in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called a wattle is daubed with a sticky material.

Wattle and daub is a composite building technique used for making walls, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw.

The technique has been used for at least 6,000 years, with buildings in Central Europe, Western Asia, North America and South America displaying evidence of the method.

In Africa, wattle and daub is common in the architecture of traditional houses such as those of the Ashanti people in Ghana.

The Saxon House was created through a technique called wattle and daub

The impressive garden den was built using reclaimed materials, including local cuts of hazel, willow and walls made from a mixture of mud, hay and horse manure

Pictured: A fire is seen burning inside The Saxon house, which was built only using reclaimed and locally sourced materials

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