Episode 12 To Build or Not to Build


Episode 12

Series following some of the UK's 20,000 self-builders. Airline pilot Chris McHale has clearance to build a fabulous family home in Surrey but it is far from a smooth flight.


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Transcript


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We all dream of owning the perfect home. But finding a place that suits both your wallet

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and your way of life isn't always easy.

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I have a solution.

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Stop searching for something to buy and consider somewhere to build.

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Every year, 20,000 people make the journey of a lifetime

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and opt to build their own home.

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We'll be following some of them as they go from foundations to finishing touches.

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Along the way, our brave self-builders will experience

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amazing highs.

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It's magic, it really is.

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If you're not careful, I'll throw my hat in the air.

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And some frustrating lows.

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We've lived off every last resource we've got.

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We'll just have to beg, steal and borrow for that last few thousand.

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But if they can overcome these trials and tribulations.

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We are getting the house we want on the plot we like

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and the two are coming together.

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They'll end up with the home they've always desired.

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So if you're looking for your perfect pad, the question is simple -

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To Build Or Not To Build.

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Coming up - the airline pilot's self-build

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in Surrey that's in for a bumpy ride.

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All the pipework for the kitchen is over there

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in the extension we haven't got planning for,

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Can you imagine not getting planning?

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This self-built home in Cambridgeshire

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that's a real barnstormer.

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I've always wanted to build a house

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and it was a golden opportunity to do that.

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And can I master the plaster at building college?

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If you ever get me round to do any plastering in your house,

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I would highly recommend taking the carpets away.

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Today, I'm in the heart of leafy if slightly damp Surrey to meet

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a self-builder whose bid to build a dream family home

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is really taking off.

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Airline pilot Chris McHale his project managing his self-build

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from his very own control tower.

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So, will it be a smooth flight or will he hit turbulence along the way?

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Chris McHale is a man used to living the high life.

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An airline pilot for the past 16 years,

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his jet-setting job has taken him all over the world.

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But when captain Chris isn't up, up and away with work,

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he's at home spending time with wife Claire and kids Andrew, Jonathan and Anna

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in the gorgeous Surrey green belt close to Gatwick.

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Homes in this part of the world sell for millions

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but canny captain McHale is masterminding a first-class family house

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on an economy-class budget,

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all to be built in his own garden

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and controlled from his summer house.

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We bought the plot about five years ago for a princely sum of £405,000.

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-With a perfectly good house on it?

-Yeah, it's gorgeous, isn't it?

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-Aesthetically not the best but...

-It's beautiful.

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Built in 1955.

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While the old place might be dated,

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what they intend to replace it with will be completely desirable.

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With the help of an architect, they've designed an oak

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and soft wood-framed five bed home that combines

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a traditional exterior with contemporary design on the inside.

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The focal point of their whole plan is the so-called great hall,

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where seven metre high arches will create a huge light-filled

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lounge area for all the family to share.

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It's a marriage of old and new, isn't it?

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Yes, it's a sort of design feature.

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We wanted something that was modern and that our family could live in

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and was a sensible way to live,

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but where you've got a bit of character as well.

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But building this fabulous family home is definitely going to be

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a challenge as the McHales' budget is relatively modest

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given the size and scale of the project.

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We've got a build budget and that's all we've got - £300,000.

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We'll be in for about £705,000 in total.

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The immediate figure that jumped out at me there is

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to build something of such beauty, £300,000, that sounds quite tight?

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You must have been holding on to the reins?

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We've been very, very careful. I'm project managing it.

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I've gone out to each particular company

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and managed to negotiate the various parts of it.

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In doing so, I saved a fortune.

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By dealing direct, Chris has knocked around £20,000 off the cost

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of the frame alone before work even began.

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His key to saving success - don't be embarrassed to ask for discounts.

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A building like this - and you're really going for a quality finish and a quality build -

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you would almost think the price that you're quoted

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would be the price, you don't believe in that at all?

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I don't, actually.

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I'd never associate high quality with excessive cost.

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I think you can achieve high quality, a very high quality finish,

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for a reasonable cost.

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I don't think you can have it cheap, cheap, cheap,

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but you can certainly be careful.

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Every pound's a prisoner, so for every quid you save,

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it adds up to 100 quid and then 1,000 and then we're in tens of thousands.

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Remind me never to try to do business with Chris.

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It wouldn't be a good idea. I'm going to lose, aren't I?

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If Chris can keep on top of the budget,

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then choosing to self-build their home could pay off big-time

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compared to buying a property in this area.

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Typical values of this, we've had three agents round,

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and the values have ranged with the lowest we've had

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being £1.55 million.

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The highest ones about 1.75.

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So that's a massive saving.

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It's a significant saving but ultimately we are doing it

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because we want to build something that suits our lifestyle and our family.

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It's great that we're building a lot of equity into it

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but that's not the primary reason.

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In between his busy flying schedule, Chris will project manage

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the 10-month build while Claire will take sole charge on the home front

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whilst also juggling her job as director of a pharmaceutical company.

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For both of them, this is a big undertaking.

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We both work full-time, we've got three young kids and, ultimately,

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Chris takes the stress of the build on

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and I take the stress of the three kids and the job and the house

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and him and the dog.

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I'm very much hard work.

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The bottom line is we are trying to build a beautiful family home

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which we can hopefully live in for the next 20 years

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as our young family grow up, really.

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The family are building right next to their existing bungalow

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and will live on site during the build.

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Then, they'll demolish it when the new home's finished.

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But this project will not be straightforward.

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Chris only has planning permission to replace the old house

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with a new property of similar size.

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However, the one he's planning to build is actually 40% bigger.

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To get round this, he's applied

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for secondary planning permission for an extension

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off the main hall that will house the kitchen and a separate lounge.

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It's an enormous gamble.

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If the planners say no, Chris will only have half a house

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and the McHale family meals might be microwaved ones for the foreseeable future.

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It's build month one, and the McHale big build

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is cleared for departure in the depths of winter.

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With builders often quiet at this time of year, Chris found a company

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who could start straight away and he was able to knock

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around £5,000 off their ground works bill compared to starting in spring.

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But there is a reason many people don't choose to start in winter. Bad weather,

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and it's already had an impact.

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We've lost a lot of time due to poor weather. The guys are trying to make up time now.

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It's very hard, obviously, with it being sticky, it's like glue.

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They have had quite a few cave-ins.

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Every time it caves in, you've got to use more concrete.

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More concrete is more expense and more expense means the budget

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that I have is obviously going to have to accept that extra spend.

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That's when I get stressed, when I start to waste money due to things that are outside my control.

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The additional cement costs Chris an extra £600

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and he'll just have to hope the weather holds until the ground works are complete.

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Into build month two and while the guys make muddy progress on site,

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Chris and Claire are in Wales

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watching their timber-frame being made using traditional techniques.

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Working this wood by hand is a real skill and requires precision

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and meticulous measurements.

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By build month three, the foundations are finished

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and the scaffolding is in place

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for the oak and softwood frame's construction.

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Chris is looking forward to the next big stage of the build.

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The timber-frame erectors have just arrived, the frames aren't here yet.

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It's all quite exciting, really.

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I'm a little bit nervous as to whether it's all going to fit but I'm sure it will.

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And it doesn't take the frame company long to transform the site

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from a scaffolding skeleton into something resembling a house.

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The rapid progress in just 10 days certainly impresses Chris.

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I didn't expect the frame to have gone up so rapidly.

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It's great to see this dream suddenly be on your doorstep, which of course it is.

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But halfway through the frame going up,

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there's a massive issue for Chris to deal with.

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The main problem we've got at the moment is the oak frame,

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this beautiful oak frame,

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doesn't actually fit on the foundation that it's been designed for.

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These are the three main oak sections.

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At high-level, roughly three metres, we've got these wall plates.

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These wall plates connect the vertical legs together.

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The problem we've got is the third bay, this one,

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the wall plate is 200 mm too long,

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which essentially means the whole frame structure is 200 mm too long.

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A mistake with the plans means the frame doesn't fit correctly.

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It's engineer to go into precise slots, or pads,

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already fixed into the foundations,

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so the smallest inaccuracy could result in disastrous consequences for the whole structure.

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If they don't sit entirely on the pad,

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there's a possibility that we could have cracking

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and the roof could start to shift, which is obviously no good.

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It's not just a simple question of chopping 200 mm off.

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All these joints are made by hand.

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They're hand-carved and they're quite intricate.

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In order to shorten the whole bay by 200 mm is actually a fairly big job.

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In fact, we've got to shorten five separate oak beams by 200 mm.

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Sorting it out will take time and cash

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and project manager Chris is not a happy man.

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It is immensely frustrating because I am the project manager, the buck stops with me.

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I have to keep everything going, I've got to keep all the trades employed.

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If I don't, it's going to end up costing me money

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and I can't afford to burst the budget.

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To rectify the problem,

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some of the beams have to be altered on site for them to fit properly.

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Correcting the mistake costs £1,500

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but after a meeting between the frame company and his architects,

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Chris ultimately doesn't have to pick up the tab

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because the error was not his fault.

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With a strict £300,000 budget to stick to,

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Chris is determined to hold on to every pound at each stage of the build.

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Ah, retirement.

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A time to take things easy, relax, sit back

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and enjoy all that extra leisure time you have definitely earned.

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But when engineer John Price finished work,

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he decided to ditch the pipe and slippers

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and do something far more exciting instead, like build a new home.

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In the picturesque Cambridgeshire village of Meldreth,

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houses in its conservation area are guaranteed a premium price.

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The traditional is highly valued here,

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and when mature building plots come up for sale,

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they need to be handled with care.

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So step forward retired engineer John Price and his wife Jill.

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Not content to put their feet up and relax during their golden years,

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their decision to self-build has led to a lovingly-crafted new home.

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This plot came up for sale just about the time I retired.

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I've always wanted to build a house

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and it was a golden opportunity to do that.

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To satisfy the planners,

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the new property was designed to blend in

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with the surrounding agricultural barns,

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with large windows to replicate cart doors.

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Inside, all that glass lets the light flood in,

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especially into the home centrepiece,

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the gorgeous kitchen diner.

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This is our kitchen dining room where we probably spent

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about 10% of our budget.

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It's much better actually than I expected, to be honest, because I thought

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when we came to the kitchen we might be getting

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a bit low on funds and wouldn't be able to have what we wanted.

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I have more than I want in here so that's excellent.

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The downstairs is completely open plan

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and was designed with a family and grandchildren in mind.

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Something which also influenced a rather special feature in the lounge.

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One of the intriguing things about this fireplace is that

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Jill was aware of a tradition from years ago

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where it was lucky to include children's shoes when you built a fireplace.

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So we've got six pairs of little boy's shoes in there,

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except the oldest of the boys is 21, and it was rather difficult to get his size 13 down there.

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Nevertheless, we succeeded.

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This is very nice. We've got an East and West aspect.

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It's very light everywhere, it's warm of course,

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and it's ease because we can just drift from place to place.

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The plot cost £300,000 and came with a bungalow

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which the couple lived in during the build.

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But that had one very big catch.

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As their new home got bigger, Jill had to suffer

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while their bungalow got smaller as John began demolishing it

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room by room to make more space for the new house.

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So many of my friends said, you know, "You must be mad.

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"Most people are going on cruises or going round the world

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"and you're in your home here doing this."

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-Or downsizing.

-Or downsizing, that's right.

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But why conform to the norm?

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As an engineer, John's built up a lifetime's experience

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of overcoming obstacles and the four years he devoted

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to building this home threw up quite a few.

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I realise that things aren't done in five minutes

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and it's just a question of, in some cases,

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plodding away at a long and tedious task.

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Getting yourself through it

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and then there's something more interesting at the end of it.

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I was sort of quite sure that he would manage things,

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to the point that sometimes I wish he would ask for a little bit of help,

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but he's a very determined man.

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And that determination has led to some stunning financial rewards.

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John, who's 70, built the majority of the house himself

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with the odd bit of help from his 84-year-old mate Michael.

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The DIY route meant they saved a fortune on labour costs

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and the build was finished for a bargain £127,000.

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Although even that was a bit more than John wanted to spend.

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He wished he could have done it for £100,000.

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I had actually hoped for something slightly less than that, but still.

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Add the build cost to the 300 grand plot cost

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and John and Jill managed to get themselves a splendid house in a conservation area

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for a modest £427,000.

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We've got a very good mixture.

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A big house, a very reasonable building cost,

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a lovely-looking house and a modern and efficient house inside.

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With his bold barn now valued at £750,000,

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John and Jill's home is proof that doing it yourself really can make sense.

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Back in Surrey, it's four months since Chris and Claire McHale

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began construction of their timber-framed five-bedroom house.

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So far, only half a house is being built.

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Planning permission for the extension hasn't come through yet.

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As you can see,

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the site is not as active as it has been in the last eight weeks.

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We are now waiting for planning permission for the second phase,

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which is what we see just behind me here.

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Chris laid the foundations and installed drainage

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for the extension when the footings for the main house were being done.

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The kitchen and all the pipework

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which is already underneath this floor, this is a block and beam floor,

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which is not going to be easy to take up now.

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It would be a major job to take it up.

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All the pipework for the kitchen is actually over there

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in the extension, which we haven't got planning for.

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Can you imagine not getting planning?

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Getting all the foundations done at the same time saved him money,

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but the lack of news from the planning department is making him nervous.

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There's obviously a little bit of a worry that they could turn round

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and say, no, you can't have your extension,

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which would be quite a disaster.

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But I'm sure that we're going to be all right.

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You've got to calculate your risks and I'm pretty sure we'll be OK on this one.

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If he isn't granted planning permission,

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he could be forced to dig up the foundations.

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That would be extremely expensive.

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Even worse, it would mean their new house would have no space for a kitchen.

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Chris is confident his gamble will pay off but for the moment,

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the decision is out of his hands.

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For now, he's concentrating on what he does know.

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At the moment we've spent about 55 grand so far.

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That's the timber frame, oak frame and the floor.

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So we are well within budget.

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A month later, and after some serious nail-biting,

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Chris receives some news from the planners about his extension.

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We've had some fantastic news today.

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We've just got notification that the planning permission

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for the second part of the building has been permitted.

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That permission has just come through today which is superb news.

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It's a huge relief.

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With planning permission approved, not only can the family complete their house,

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they can also have a house complete with a kitchen.

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But while Mum and Dad might have been stressing about the new home,

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the kids are enjoying their new toys on their very own building site.

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Hello.

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Are you the JCB driver?

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SHE LAUGHS

0:18:560:18:59

Three-year-old Anna is happy to get stuck in

0:18:590:19:01

but have the long hours on this project taken their toll on Claire

0:19:010:19:05

as she holds down a high pressure full-time job and makes sure family life runs smoothly?

0:19:050:19:09

I think anybody who builds a house or goes into a situation like this,

0:19:090:19:14

you've got to anticipate there will be stress on both sides

0:19:140:19:17

because I can't understand where Chris is coming from,

0:19:170:19:20

some of the pressures he's under.

0:19:200:19:22

Obviously, he's on the frontline of the whole build

0:19:220:19:24

but then he totally forgets what the pressures are like

0:19:240:19:27

trying to look after a young family, having a full-time job, running a house

0:19:270:19:32

and making sure he's got a shirt ironed to go to work.

0:19:320:19:35

It's the basics that he totally forgets still have to carry on.

0:19:350:19:39

For the McHales, pulling together as a family is essential to the success of this project.

0:19:400:19:45

Luckily, we balance each other really well.

0:19:450:19:48

In the fact that, he takes responsibility for one side of it

0:19:480:19:51

and I take responsibility for the other.

0:19:510:19:54

We complement each other. I'm sure he wouldn't say that.

0:19:540:19:57

I'm sure he would say he has to do absolutely everything, you know.

0:19:570:20:01

Yeah, right(!)

0:20:010:20:03

There's no doubting Chris's commitment to the build.

0:20:040:20:07

Hi, Mark, how are we getting on, mate?

0:20:070:20:10

You've put some dye in this mortar like we've put dye in all the other stuff?

0:20:100:20:14

-Yeah.

-Lovely, lovely.

0:20:140:20:16

And despite all the disruption, his family are backing him all the way.

0:20:160:20:20

He isn't doing it just for himself.

0:20:200:20:22

He's actually doing it for me and for our family

0:20:220:20:25

and, yeah, really proud of him.

0:20:250:20:27

It's high time I dropped in on Chris and Claire's home to find out

0:20:280:20:32

whether this self-build is a flight of fancy

0:20:320:20:34

or still has its feet on the ground.

0:20:340:20:36

With first officer Claire busy at work,

0:20:390:20:41

the captain's flying solo for my visit.

0:20:410:20:44

Seven months into the build, despite the early setbacks,

0:20:440:20:47

Chris is delighted with progress.

0:20:470:20:49

This thing that you got to remember about this as well, Simon, it's quite a rapid build.

0:20:490:20:54

We only started this last December and we lost about six to eight weeks

0:20:540:20:59

with poor weather, so this has got a real trot on at the moment.

0:20:590:21:02

-I'd say it's even got a bit of a canter going.

-You're racing, aren't you?

0:21:020:21:06

This build might have stumbled rather than galloped

0:21:060:21:09

if planning permission for the kitchen extension hadn't come through.

0:21:090:21:13

Remind me, you started this build knowing full well

0:21:130:21:19

you were starting to build without a kitchen.

0:21:190:21:24

That's correct.

0:21:240:21:26

We did have a bit of a fall-back plan if we didn't get the extension.

0:21:260:21:30

We'd obviously have to put the kitchen back into the great hall,

0:21:300:21:34

as we called it, but that would have been a bit of a partial success.

0:21:340:21:37

I was fairly confident that come hell or high water

0:21:370:21:40

we would actually get the extension.

0:21:400:21:42

We might have had to go to appeal which would have slowed it down by nine months.

0:21:420:21:45

It would have driven you mad.

0:21:450:21:47

It would have driven me mad,

0:21:470:21:48

but we looked at the comparables down the lane.

0:21:480:21:50

What we've achieved here, we've done quite well,

0:21:500:21:54

don't get me wrong, but it's like horse racing.

0:21:540:21:57

You've really got to study the form and we did our homework.

0:21:570:21:59

We knew it was likely on the balance of probabilities,

0:21:590:22:03

it was likely we were going to get it.

0:22:030:22:05

-Shall we have a canter round?

-Come on then, old boy.

0:22:050:22:08

And we're off and into the newest part of this new build.

0:22:080:22:11

Chris is fitting out his new house with the very latest technology.

0:22:110:22:15

Oh, come on, come on, you're up to something here.

0:22:150:22:19

It's a few little boy's toys, really.

0:22:190:22:21

What we've got here is one of the lighting panels that we're going to be using.

0:22:210:22:26

This one here, for instance, is £2 - 2,500.

0:22:260:22:29

If you want to press those light switches there,

0:22:290:22:32

you can actually use it to set moods.

0:22:320:22:37

Even when he's not in his cockpit, Captain McHale will have

0:22:370:22:40

plenty of switches to command on his home lighting control panel.

0:22:400:22:44

From technology back to tradition and this is another new room.

0:22:440:22:50

This is the snug.

0:22:500:22:51

Do us a favour! It's about the size of a Welsh chapel.

0:22:510:22:54

I think it's all right.

0:22:540:22:58

I think this is relatively cosy in comparison to the great hall.

0:22:580:23:03

Chris is totally devoted to getting a high-end finish for his new family home.

0:23:030:23:08

It's admirable, and for him, exhausting.

0:23:080:23:10

I was sat in bed this morning, having my toast,

0:23:100:23:13

and I thought,

0:23:130:23:15

how many jobs am I actually doing concurrently at the moment?

0:23:150:23:18

I made a quick list, actually. I'm currently running about 30 separate elements of the project

0:23:180:23:23

so it's like having loads of balls up in the air

0:23:230:23:26

and not enough hands to catch them.

0:23:260:23:27

But you've got to keep the balls up there.

0:23:270:23:29

But he's investing every ounce of energy into building this house

0:23:340:23:37

and with Claire having to do double duty, is it a sacrifice worth making?

0:23:370:23:41

Are you spending enough time with your kids or do you have to

0:23:410:23:45

say to yourself, get through this

0:23:450:23:47

-and what I'll provide for the kids at the end of it will be worth it?

-Of course.

0:23:470:23:51

They realise they're not spending as much time

0:23:510:23:53

with their dad as they should be, but I'll be there for them

0:23:530:23:56

in two or three months when this is complete.

0:23:560:23:58

They'll be enjoying the snug, the cinema room

0:23:580:24:01

and all those good things.

0:24:010:24:03

It sounds to me like Chris and Claire's kids have an awful lot

0:24:060:24:10

to look forward to, and not just getting their dad back.

0:24:100:24:12

But with everything he has to juggle, has he dropped any balls on the budget?

0:24:120:24:16

We're on budget, yeah. So far we've spent about £132,000.

0:24:160:24:21

This is where we are with £132,000.

0:24:210:24:23

Chris, can I just stop you there?

0:24:230:24:26

That's incredible.

0:24:260:24:28

I don't think so.

0:24:280:24:29

Honestly, I've seen builds of exactly the same size as this

0:24:290:24:34

using similar building process to this, twice the money.

0:24:340:24:38

I could have spent three times the amount that I've done and still be in the same position.

0:24:380:24:42

Would I have achieved anything better? I don't think so.

0:24:420:24:45

I am still completely staggered that you have spent 130 grand to date.

0:24:450:24:50

132.

0:24:500:24:52

And that proves the point. Let's see the rest of it.

0:24:520:24:55

Chris's tireless dedication to getting the best possible price

0:24:550:24:59

for everything on this project is a credit to him.

0:24:590:25:03

However, one of his latest deals is proving to be a pain.

0:25:030:25:06

And now starting to look like a house, dear boy. Windows are going in.

0:25:060:25:11

-Yeah, good old windows.

-What do you mean good old windows?

0:25:110:25:15

We've had a few problems with these, actually.

0:25:150:25:17

-These were actually a bit of a bargain.

-You do surprise me(!)

0:25:170:25:22

We've had a couple of contractual problems.

0:25:220:25:24

It's all to do with these little horrible white plastic blocks here.

0:25:240:25:28

Those little white blocks which no-one else would notice at all whatsoever.

0:25:280:25:33

I can notice them and it's driving me mad.

0:25:330:25:36

That's the problem, isn't it?

0:25:360:25:38

Once you get a detail like that in your head,

0:25:380:25:40

you've got to get it sorted because you will

0:25:400:25:42

spot them forever even if no-one else ever notices them.

0:25:420:25:45

I can't compromise on the aesthetics of it.

0:25:450:25:47

They've agreed to remove them.

0:25:470:25:48

Is this a frustrating time now?

0:25:480:25:50

It is, yeah, because we've reached that part of the build

0:25:500:25:53

where there's a lot going on but there doesn't seem to be anything happening.

0:25:530:25:56

Lots of pipework going in, lots of wires.

0:25:560:25:59

Once you get your boards up and that sort of stuff, suddenly it will fly.

0:25:590:26:02

We'll see a change with the glazing in the great hall which is going to be in two weeks' time.

0:26:020:26:07

Once we get the underfloor heating system in

0:26:070:26:09

and we've got the floor screeded, that will be a big change.

0:26:090:26:12

-Have you still got the energy?

-Yeah.

0:26:120:26:15

I look forward to coming back and seeing that stage

0:26:150:26:18

and also just seeing it without those little plastic blocks there.

0:26:180:26:23

Into build month eight

0:26:250:26:27

and the McHales' family home is really coming on.

0:26:270:26:30

The substantial glazing goes into the gable end

0:26:300:26:33

and the house is emerging from the building site around it.

0:26:330:26:36

Here she is in all her glory.

0:26:360:26:37

Front door's missing at the moment.

0:26:370:26:39

A minor detail, Chris. Inside, the walls have been plastered,

0:26:390:26:43

Chris has laid the underfloor heating himself

0:26:430:26:46

and some of the concrete floors have gone down too.

0:26:460:26:48

The McHales' dream home is cruising along at the rate of knots

0:26:480:26:51

and it looks like they might have a great house on the horizon.

0:26:510:26:55

It's quite a miserable day today but when the sun's shining,

0:26:570:27:00

she's quite sparkly.

0:27:000:27:02

From building brick walls right through to wallpapering,

0:27:080:27:11

if you're self-building then it's helpful if you know some of the basics.

0:27:110:27:15

So I'm at building college to learn some of the construction trades,

0:27:210:27:25

and the one I'm worried I won't be mastering is plastering.

0:27:250:27:29

I've already been to boarding school and now for the job I've been dreading.

0:27:290:27:33

It's time to get plastered.

0:27:330:27:34

Well, you plaster boarded the wall and made a very good job too.

0:27:440:27:47

If we were to put plaster on straight onto that plaster board

0:27:470:27:51

with no reinforcement on these, when it dries, the water evaporates

0:27:510:27:55

and it will shrink into there and instantly crack.

0:27:550:27:57

We first have to reinforce the joints.

0:27:570:28:00

Reinforcing the joints is done with self-adhesive tape.

0:28:030:28:07

-That's me for the day then!

-I don't think so.

0:28:070:28:09

That's the easy bit

0:28:090:28:11

and now we're ready to put a setting cord on the plastic board.

0:28:110:28:14

First, we need to mix the plaster.

0:28:140:28:17

Pour the plaster powder into the water,

0:28:190:28:22

you'll mix it with the stick to get the biggest lumps out and then

0:28:220:28:26

you'll use your potter to plunge it to get a nice creamy consistency.

0:28:260:28:31

Surely in the 21st century they would have automated this.

0:28:310:28:35

Is it hard work?

0:28:350:28:37

Only cos I'm idle, though. And lo and behold.

0:28:410:28:44

To be honest, Simon, I don't really know why you did it that way

0:28:440:28:47

because it's much, much easier with what we call a megamixer.

0:28:470:28:50

We just put it on, press the button and it will mix it for you.

0:28:500:28:53

Yeah, yeah, but look at the muscles on this now, you see, you weakling.

0:28:530:28:57

-Ever get the feeling you've been set up?

-We'll wet the trowel.

0:28:590:29:02

Before we can hit the wall with the fruits of my unnecessarily hard labour,

0:29:020:29:06

we need to wet the tools and wet the spot board my plaster will sit on.

0:29:060:29:10

That's lovely, we'll use that.

0:29:100:29:12

Then after some sleight of hand a magician would be proud of.

0:29:120:29:15

You've got to take it off, take a little bit off.

0:29:150:29:21

Wayne gives me what I'm convinced is a deceptively easy looking demo.

0:29:210:29:24

Trowel with a slight overlap, up you go again.

0:29:240:29:29

-My go.

-It's your go now.

0:29:290:29:31

So, where am I going?

0:29:340:29:36

Look at the difference. Look at yours.

0:29:370:29:39

I'm losing faith already here.

0:29:390:29:41

And my confidence is not the only thing that's hitting the floor.

0:29:410:29:47

Don't worry about it.

0:29:470:29:49

You did say you wanted the floor plastering as well, didn't you?

0:29:490:29:53

Wayne jumps in to bail me out but the plaster's starting to set

0:29:530:29:56

and time is of the essence.

0:29:560:29:58

I'll tell you what I'm good at - making tea.

0:29:580:30:01

But unfortunately, there's no escape.

0:30:010:30:03

Squeeze it on, that's what the man said.

0:30:030:30:06

I dropped most of it on the floor.

0:30:080:30:10

If you ever get me around to do any plastering in your house,

0:30:100:30:13

I would highly recommend taking the carpets away.

0:30:130:30:16

The bad news is this is just the first coat,

0:30:170:30:20

so I need more help from Wayne.

0:30:200:30:22

For me, plastering is the art form of building.

0:30:240:30:30

When you see it done well, I still stand in amazement.

0:30:300:30:32

A lot of jealousy and a bit of bitterness.

0:30:340:30:39

Come on, get on with it.

0:30:390:30:40

What's this down here?

0:30:400:30:43

Oh, Wayne, lad!

0:30:430:30:45

-I left that, Simon, purposely to see if you'd notice.

-Lucky I was here.

0:30:450:30:48

So the first coat is done and a little bit later it's time for the finishing touches.

0:30:500:30:55

Right, we've been trowelling up for the last hour.

0:30:570:31:00

I've been hard at it and Wayne's just been reading the sports pages

0:31:000:31:03

and that kind of stuff. Or was that the other way around?

0:31:030:31:06

Time for the next stage.

0:31:070:31:09

We may be just going to throw a little bit more water on, just to smooth it out.

0:31:090:31:13

We don't want too much of a polish of it.

0:31:130:31:15

We just want a nice matte finish.

0:31:150:31:17

Decorators don't like too much of a polished finish

0:31:170:31:19

because when they paint it, it streaks a little bit.

0:31:190:31:22

-Just give it a flick?

-A little flick of water.

0:31:220:31:26

A bit too much but it's a first attempt. Come across.

0:31:260:31:29

Oh, lovely.

0:31:300:31:32

You must have a sense of achievement now there, Simon.

0:31:320:31:36

That's a lovely wall is that. You've made a tremendous effort.

0:31:360:31:39

I suppose Wayne has to be complimentary.

0:31:410:31:43

He's done most of the work.

0:31:430:31:45

Come on, then. Be honest.

0:31:450:31:48

All in all, give me a score.

0:31:480:31:50

I'd have to give you up into the nines.

0:31:500:31:51

So a dubious 9 out of 10 but I will happily take it.

0:31:510:31:56

While I'm no plaster master, I am an expert at pushing my luck.

0:31:560:31:59

You're such a nice fella,

0:31:590:32:01

I'm going to let you clean up all this mess we made.

0:32:010:32:04

Simon!

0:32:070:32:10

It's build month 10 and back in Surrey,

0:32:150:32:17

Chris and Claire's family home is really coming on.

0:32:170:32:20

Inside the centrepiece great hall,

0:32:200:32:22

project manager Chris is revealing the latest new fixture.

0:32:220:32:26

OK. These are the piece de resistance in terms of bespoke joinery.

0:32:260:32:32

Folding sliding doors.

0:32:320:32:33

We've had these made purposely for the job

0:32:330:32:35

because this opening is about five and a half metres.

0:32:350:32:39

These are just wonderful. They just glide across. They open all the way.

0:32:410:32:47

The massive doors are certainly impressive.

0:32:480:32:51

While in the kitchen, Chris is getting all excited about his gadgets.

0:32:510:32:56

I'm actually going to integrate all the appliances

0:32:570:33:00

such as dish washers, wine chillers, macerators,

0:33:000:33:04

all the toys, basically.

0:33:040:33:06

We're even having a special hot water tap and the hot water tap

0:33:060:33:10

will give you instant hot water so you no longer need a kettle.

0:33:100:33:13

Hopefully, I won't have to wait long for a cuppa next time I visit them.

0:33:130:33:16

But if he's thrilled with his kitchen appliances,

0:33:160:33:19

Captain Chris is losing it when it comes to his loo.

0:33:190:33:23

This is again a beautiful piece of technology. Up she comes.

0:33:270:33:32

Just watch how gently she closes.

0:33:330:33:35

Beautiful.

0:33:450:33:47

So Chris is flushed with success.

0:33:470:33:49

But has juggling work, family and project managing

0:33:490:33:53

this big build seen his energy levels take a nose dive?

0:33:530:33:56

Yes, it's still fairly tiring.

0:33:560:33:59

The difference is everything we're doing now, we are seeing it.

0:33:590:34:03

We're seeing a change in the build. That's quite uplifting.

0:34:030:34:08

It's quite reassuring that the work that's still going into it,

0:34:080:34:12

we are actually seeing something now.

0:34:120:34:14

It makes me smile every time I go into the building

0:34:140:34:16

because I think, wow, this is what I actually envisaged ages ago

0:34:160:34:20

and I can actually see it happening now.

0:34:200:34:22

It's build month 12 and,

0:34:220:34:23

almost a year since starting to build their dream family home,

0:34:230:34:27

the McHales are still living in their old bungalow.

0:34:270:34:30

Even though they are preparing for the final approach,

0:34:300:34:33

there has been a recent spot of turbulence with the tiles.

0:34:330:34:38

These beautiful tiles here, Italian polished marble.

0:34:380:34:42

We got them delivered about five weeks ago.

0:34:420:34:46

The delivery company drove the lorry forward

0:34:460:34:48

and dropped the tiles off the back in the pallets,

0:34:480:34:51

resulting in quite a few being damaged.

0:34:510:34:53

And that wasn't the only bit of trouble a tired-looking Chris has had with his tiling.

0:34:530:34:58

We then employed tiler number one.

0:34:590:35:02

After about three days,

0:35:020:35:04

I realised some of his tiles were not particularly straight.

0:35:040:35:07

He's not used to people pointing out imperfections

0:35:070:35:09

in his work and to cut a long story short, after the end of the week,

0:35:090:35:15

he decided he wasn't going to work here any more.

0:35:150:35:17

Tiler number two could talk the talk, told me he's brilliant and so on and so forth.

0:35:170:35:22

He started the job and as you can see behind me,

0:35:220:35:25

this is some of his fantastic tiling.

0:35:250:35:29

The grout lines don't line up.

0:35:290:35:31

Having invested considerable time and energy creating the perfect family home,

0:35:310:35:36

Chris wants every aspect to be right, or at least every tile to be in a straight line.

0:35:360:35:41

So, the dilemma I'm in at the moment

0:35:430:35:45

is do I pull a lot of the tiles off the wall,

0:35:450:35:47

not only damage the tiles but the wall as well,

0:35:470:35:50

so it's going to slow us down even more.

0:35:500:35:53

I don't know exactly what I'm going to do.

0:35:530:35:55

If I've got to redo the bathrooms, it's going to cost me about £6,000.

0:35:550:36:00

In the end, Chris realises that even he will have to compromise

0:36:000:36:03

on this part of the build and decides to stick with

0:36:030:36:06

the current tiles to keep his costs under control.

0:36:060:36:08

Three months later,

0:36:100:36:11

I'm back in Surrey to check in with the McHales for the final time.

0:36:110:36:14

It's 14 months since airline pilot Chris and wife Claire

0:36:140:36:18

took to the controls of their self-build home.

0:36:180:36:21

They've had to juggle full-time jobs

0:36:210:36:24

and raising a family throughout the build,

0:36:240:36:26

so will they have managed to keep this ambitious project on course?

0:36:260:36:29

I am dying to find out whether Chris and Claire

0:36:320:36:35

have managed to create their grand vision on a very, very tight budget.

0:36:350:36:39

Here we go.

0:36:390:36:41

And while work is still continuing on the landscaping,

0:36:420:36:45

the first signs are that the McHales' jumbo building has really taken off.

0:36:450:36:49

With its Scandinavian-style timber cladding,

0:36:530:36:55

it clearly looks at home in this woodland plot.

0:36:550:36:58

-Hello, hello.

-Hi, Simon.

-Give us a hand over.

0:36:580:37:03

What a beautiful place!

0:37:050:37:07

Inside, the scale of this house hits you immediately.

0:37:100:37:13

With its reception hall, great hall and five bedrooms,

0:37:130:37:17

the amount of legroom just isn't an issue.

0:37:170:37:19

-This is stunning.

-Do you like it?

-Do YOU like it?

0:37:230:37:26

Oh yeah, I know. It's fantastic, I really love it.

0:37:260:37:29

I'm really pleased.

0:37:290:37:30

It's a fabulous space. Makes me happy every time I walk in here.

0:37:300:37:34

The bold design of the great hall

0:37:360:37:38

sets the tone for the rest of the house.

0:37:380:37:41

Where once the family was crammed into its dingy bungalow,

0:37:410:37:44

here they are awash with space and that's something

0:37:440:37:47

that's got the couple's children, Anna, Andrew and Jonathan jumping for joy.

0:37:470:37:51

All three of their bedrooms are on the ground floor

0:37:550:37:59

along with Claire's pride and joy, the hand-made kitchen diner.

0:37:590:38:02

I really love it. It's where we spend so much of our time.

0:38:050:38:10

The family are in here, it's just such an amazing space for cooking.

0:38:100:38:15

For me, it's just absolutely everything.

0:38:150:38:18

Chris set out without full planning permission for the extension

0:38:180:38:22

that houses the kitchen which is definitely a risky thing to do.

0:38:220:38:26

Planning is always a very contentious issue.

0:38:280:38:31

I walked a long time on a strategy to maximise the size of the house.

0:38:330:38:38

Yeah, but if it hadn't paid off, you'd have been in big trouble.

0:38:380:38:43

I'd have been... What's that word...? Without a paddle.

0:38:430:38:47

That's right, but I calculated the risks and weighed it up

0:38:490:38:54

and luckily for us, it worked.

0:38:540:38:57

Their gamble paid off in spades and this is a great family space.

0:38:580:39:04

Downstairs there's still some finishing off to do.

0:39:040:39:06

This room will eventually be the snug.

0:39:060:39:09

But upstairs, Claire and Chris have created a haven they can escape to.

0:39:110:39:15

Beautiful. Master bedroom, but not too ostentatious.

0:39:170:39:21

Quite simple but bright and spacious

0:39:210:39:23

-which is what we were looking for.

-Lots of light coming in.

0:39:230:39:26

Walk-in wardrobe.

0:39:260:39:29

Wandering through I see to the en suite. Fantastic.

0:39:290:39:33

And even a view of your garden here. Absolutely gorgeous.

0:39:350:39:40

It's a little area of sanctuary

0:39:400:39:43

where we can lock ourselves away from the kids.

0:39:430:39:46

It's wonderful.

0:39:460:39:47

Although the house is exactly what they wanted,

0:39:490:39:52

there's still a few wistful thoughts about the bungalow they left behind.

0:39:520:39:57

It was so sad when it went, because we had all the kids there

0:39:570:40:03

and that's their first home.

0:40:030:40:05

It's sort of destroyed now which is a bit sad but obviously...

0:40:050:40:10

It kind of makes a void just a bit, doesn't it? I bet it does.

0:40:100:40:14

In a way, the old house is always going to be here

0:40:140:40:17

because the old house is now the new drive,

0:40:170:40:19

so it's all been crushed up and we drive over it every day.

0:40:190:40:24

And that's just typical of Chris's determination not to let anything go to waste.

0:40:240:40:30

When it comes to the cost of this family home, how will the sums add up?

0:40:300:40:34

The plot cost £405,000.

0:40:360:40:39

A last-minute splurge on their kitchen has meant

0:40:390:40:42

the original budget of £300,000 stretched to £325,000.

0:40:420:40:46

That brings the total project cost to £730,000.

0:40:460:40:51

But when it comes to a valuation,

0:40:510:40:53

has the McHales' build stalled on the runway

0:40:530:40:55

or been a jet-propelled success?

0:40:550:40:59

As you know, we've had an estate agent give this place the once over.

0:40:590:41:02

They think this place has a market value of around £1.65 million.

0:41:020:41:08

-Fabulous.

-Pretty good.

-Fabulous.

0:41:090:41:12

By my reckoning, that brings you in just short

0:41:160:41:21

of making a million quid in just over a year.

0:41:210:41:24

It's not just about the money.

0:41:270:41:29

It's about the experience of actually building a house from scratch for you.

0:41:290:41:34

For me, it's been the experience of being able to get a house that's

0:41:340:41:38

specifically made for our family.

0:41:380:41:41

You know, you can't put that into money, really.

0:41:410:41:47

Achieving such a stunning financial return has been down to

0:41:490:41:52

Chris's shrewd bargaining skills on every aspect of this house.

0:41:520:41:57

From the foundations to the fixtures and fittings.

0:41:570:41:59

And as a souvenir, I've come with a gift he might like.

0:41:590:42:02

Just as a little memento of the whole process,

0:42:020:42:06

you said something very early on and I think you've been true to your word.

0:42:060:42:12

This is a keepsake for you both.

0:42:120:42:15

-That's really kind.

-That is fantastic.

0:42:160:42:19

If you take care of the pennies,

0:42:190:42:22

the pounds will take care of themselves and we've very much

0:42:220:42:25

done that on this project, but without compromising quality.

0:42:250:42:28

I would agree. That's for you.

0:42:280:42:32

Pick a spot to put it up but I completely agree,

0:42:320:42:35

you have not compromised quality.

0:42:350:42:37

And vision as well, I think the style of this place works fabulously.

0:42:370:42:40

Really, you should both be proud of yourselves.

0:42:400:42:43

Yeah. I think we are. I'm very proud of Claire as well.

0:42:430:42:46

She's had to put up with me for the last 14 months working fairly hard.

0:42:460:42:50

Without her support, I wouldn't have been able to do it, so we work very well as a team.

0:42:500:42:54

So, for pilot Chris and his family crew, this fabulous project

0:42:570:43:01

has definitely reached its final destination - cloud nine.

0:43:010:43:05

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:43:190:43:23

E-mail [email protected]

0:43:230:43:26

Airline pilot Chris McHale has got clearance to build a fabulous family home in Surrey but it is far from a smooth flight. Plus the barn in Cambridgeshire built for a bargain £126,000 and presenter Simon O'Brien tries his hand at plastering at building college.


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