Student helps transform ‘tired’ 70s bungalow into eco-friendly dream home on Channel 4’s The Great House Giveaway

A PhD student studying plastic pollution has pioneered the transformation of an Anglesey bungalow into a state-of the-art eco home – despite never having used a drill before.

DIY newcomer Nia Jones paired up with roofer Mark Hughes for Channel 4 property show The Great House Giveaway and ended up successfully boosting the three-bedroom property’s energy efficiency value from E to A – the best possible.

It is the first time since the show launched in 2020 that a pair of renovators have gone all out for the eco-approach, swapping traditional heating systems for greener technology in the wake of spiraling energy costs.

Hosted by Simon O’Brien, a presenter and successful property developer, who played Damon Grant in TV soap Brookside in the 1980s, the show challenges two strangers who are not homeowners to renovate a property bought at auction within a set budget and in just six months.

If the project is successful, they both get to share the profits – if not, the house goes back to auction.

Nia and roofing firm owner Mark, from Bodedern, Anglesey, appear in the third series of the show, which is made by award-winning independent TV production firm Chwarel, based in Criccieth – co-producers of Gogglebocs, the Welsh language version of hit reality series Gogglebox.

Twenty-five-year-old Nia, who grew up in Caerphilly, near Cardiff, and is now living on Anglesey, is studying Ocean Science at Bangor University, admitted to feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of the project in the beginning.

Alongside fellow renovator Mark, the pair were given just £35,000 to overhaul the £158k property based in Rhosybol, Anglesey, and create a sustainable home ready for the 21st Century.

“I think I went into it quite naïvely thinking there wouldn’t be much to do but it was a huge project to finish within six months,” said Nia, who previously studied Environmental Geography at Cardiff University.

“The eco side of things was the straightforward part. It was the traditional building issues that slowed us up. There were definitely a few points where I felt that it was unlikely we’d finish at any point – let alone within six months.”

Dad-of-three Mark, 33, who owns MH Roofing, added: “When I walked in on the first day, I said it was the house of horrors! I thought to myself ‘I’m quitting, I’m quitting, I’m quitting’!”

“Everyone was saying ‘even if it’s not the about the money, it’s an experience at the end of the day’ so once I started to think of it like that, I cracked on.

“The roof was falling down, but that didn’t scare me being a roofer myself, then I saw the ceilings were fully Artex, I knew that was going to be pricey to fix. None of the floors were level so we had to screed them first and then we had to take the chimney out which was crumbling. It was one thing after another.

“I found it more stressful than I thought. Having a roofing company, I was flat out with work myself. It was also the summer holidays and I have three kids! Balancing it all was the hardest thing and nothing really could get done unless I was there.”

The pair enlisted the help of leading renewable energy system provider Hafod Renewables, based in Tremeirchion, Denbighshire, to advise them on the latest eco technology and forked out a sizeable chunk of their budget on a raft of new green features including an Air Source Heat Pump, underfloor heating, thermal cladding, solar panels and an electric car charging port.

As a result of their investment, the property is now virtually self-sufficient and valued at around £300,0000.

“Before this, I had honestly never used a drill before which Mark was less than pleased about!” admitted Nia.

“But we ended up laying the underfloor heating and figured all that out ourselves. It was physically hard work laying pipes and took a few days, but it was easier than I expected. A year ago if you’d said I would be doing this I would have laughed you out of the room.”

Thanks to the eco-technology additions, the official energy rating of the home has increased from E to A.

Hafod’s Managing Director David Jones said: “People want to know how much a property will cost to run in the long term and with what’s going on with the price of gas, people will look at the home and realise they could live virtually off-grid.

“You can retro-fit pretty much any home with eco-friendly technology. This project was quite straight forward for us being a bungalow and only one storey as we could put underfloor heating across the whole house.

“The Air Source Heat Pump basically acts like a reverse fridge with a fan outside that transfers heat from the atmosphere and turns it into water to provide heat in the home or hot water. This provides all the heating and hot water they need for the property. There are no fossil fuels connected to the property at all, no gas boiler, so it’s more environmental.

“We fitted eight solar panels on the roof and a battery storage system which stores electricity. Everything works together to provide everything for their needs from running a fridge or a washing machine to providing heat.”

Sioned Wyn, Chwarel’s managing director and executive producer of The Great House Giveaway, said the renovation marked a bold step for the show.

“We are the first to have done this and I really thank both Nia and Mark for buying into this vision because even now, we’re still not sure if it’s going to work or whether they would have got more money the old way,” she said.

“However, conscience-wise, this is absolutely the way we should be renovating every house in the future. If your central heating fails, you don’t want to be putting in a combi boiler in there, you want to be installing an Air Source Heat Pump.

“What we have now is a house with all the up-to-date energy-saving gadgets you could want – especially amid a cost-of-living crisis and with electricity so expensive. It will be more expensive than your average bungalow, but the cost of running this house will be significantly lower than a traditional bungalow that has gas.

“It’s a bold move for us on the show and we are so happy the contributors bought into it. They did amazingly well. There’s so much pressure to do it the old way because it’s cheaper but they are pioneers in renovation one hundred percent.”

Among those impressed with the pair’s green design is presenter Simon O’Brien, who has extensive development experience himself.

“I think they did amazing because it was a really big ask not only as this stuff is expensive, but it’s particularly hard to retro-fit in an old house. With a new build, it’s a much easier process than to take an old bungalow and turn it into a zero-carbon eco-house,” he said.

“Even though they were very keen on the idea, they were dealing with technology that not a lot of people know how to use and were reliant on the experts. Due to what has happened with energy prices, getting hold of such experts is tricky because they are in great demand. Logistically, it was a balancing act and one they managed to achieve very well given they were in unknown territory.”

As far as future renovations are concerned, Simon says the eco-friendly vision should be on everyone’s radar.

“I believe it should almost be law if you refurbish a house to the extent that they did -not just morally,” he said.

“Everyone knows climate change is real. Most people live in old houses, and it would be a hard ask to tell them to rip their houses down and put it together in a different way but if it’s being refurbished anyway, even with an old house you can make a massive difference.

“Since Nia and Mark started the project, energy prices have gone up and what they now have is a house that is future-proof which is amazing.”

The property is now listed on the market with Dafydd Hardy Estate Agents for a cool £300,000 but viewers will have to wait and see whether Nia and Mark’s project came within budget and if they make a profit.

Dafydd Hardy, managing director of Dafydd Harvey Estate Agents, said: “Nia and Mark have done all that was required of them to make it stand out as a sustainable project. From a marketing point of view, these are the things that will make it stand out on the market when comparing it to another property.

“Average three-bedroom bungalows in this area typically are priced around £250-£275,000 but this house will sell itself as it’s fully sustainable and keeps energy in throughout the night rather than it going back to the grid.

“It wants to be known as an eco-house and within a 10-mile radius, it’s the only eco-friendly house of its type that has come on the market. It’s not been on the market very long and we’re hoping to have a lot of interest over the next few weeks. This is the way things are going and so they’re ahead of the game in that sense. This is a virtually brand new house that’s prepared for the future.”

Despite the toil and endless hurdles, both Nia and Mark have no regrets about their involvement with the project.

“We learned so much and that was where the real value of the experience was,” said Nia.

“The next house I buy I’m going to be able to save huge amounts of money because we can DIY a lot ourselves.

“It really highlighted to me that you don’t have to spend a ridiculous amount on your house to make it eco-friendly. You can do any of those small things and you’re halfway there. This was a real opportunity to not only reduce the home’s carbon footprint but also to save money as well. That was such a good win for us.”

Mark added: “At the end of the day, I actually quite enjoyed it and I don’t regret doing it at all. I’m proud of it all to be honest.”

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