KMC Homes' Kieran McCarthy  better known to the public from his appearances in RTÉ's Cheap Irish Homes  believes a quality living environment and good project management are crucial to building a home and says a new house can either be 'a prison or a lifestyle enabler'.

Kieran McCarthy grew up in Midleton, Co Cork. He comes from a long family history of engineers, architects and builders. He qualified as a civil engineer from University College Cork in 1996.

His design, building and project management skills were learned working for companies such as John Sisk & Sons, PJ Hegarty & Sons and the Murphy Group (UK) and Joseph Lanes & Sons. He has also travelled extensively and brings a dynamic, innovative and customer-centric approach to the business of home building.

1) When did you first become interested in engineering? 

I was the eldest of the family of three boys and one girl. Whenever we needed to get something done at home, whether it was fitting a back boiler or building a garage, my father always brought me along and showed me how it was done.

I loved working with my hands and learning how things were built of how to fix them. My grandfather and grand uncles on my father’s side were always building and inventing things, one of them was a civil engineer and I believe I even have a great great grandfather who was a builder and who built a church!

My father was a quarry manager and indeed still works part time with me in my business, KMC Homes. On my mother’s side I also had an uncle who was an architect. I have always felt that my engineering ability is fused with a strong architectural design appreciation which is why I love designing and building bespoke houses which have a level of both disciplines.

2) Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?

Really I would have to credit my father and indeed my grand uncle. Both instilled in me a love of craftsmanship, quality and ingenuity. They could fix anything and had garages full of tools! In some ways I felt I had to carry on the family tradition.

3) What is/are the most important trend/s in engineering right now?

From my experience of house building I feel people in Ireland are beginning to see the value of good project management in a house building project.

Most new houses now are becoming more complex in terms of design and, of course, this leads to a more difficult and potentially stressful build on site. A good project manager/design and build company will certainly make a huge difference here and people are beginning to see the value of this investment.

4) If you could, is there any one measure you would introduce to help improve the gender balance within the profession?

I think there is certainly an opportunity to reimagine how engineering is taught and portrayed in schools.

It is probably viewed as a 'male type' profession tailored to male dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing, but there are many more opportunities available and engineering is a wonderful stepping stone into other industries and businesses.

Anybody who has an engineering qualification will certainly command respect in whatever career/direction they choose.

5) How important is communication within the sector?

I have always found that most projects live or die by the quality of information flow.

I imagine many engineers are used to working in the technical field and may find communicating with end-user/clients (particularly in the non-commercial space) a little challenging. This could certainly be improved.

We use a project management system where we can share our schedule, account, photographs updates, in-app messaging, drawings, handover material and so on all in one place. This has been a huge help for the entire team and, of course, our clients.

I have noticed whenever there is a house being built near our own house how difficult it is for others to get any sense of what is happening and how long it will take.

6) How important is a quality living environment?

To relate this to house design: I believe a quality living space in a house is immensely important. When you are building a new home or renovating an existing house careful living space design is crucial.

The new house can be a prison or a lifestyle enabler depending on how this turns out. You are looking to create ample living space while capturing daylight and creating flow from one room to another. It is so important to everyday living and indeed your wellbeing.

7) What changes are we seeing in the modern building of homes?

I think one of the greatest changes I have seen in the past 10 years is the advent of architectural design. Whereas this has always been prevalent in large one-off homes and commercial buildings, television shows such as Room to Improve and Grand Designs as well as a generally rising economy have meant that many people now appreciate good design. If they are building an extension or a new home, and if they can afford it, they will opt for an architect-designed home.

This is, however, more expensive and complex. Also, there are the other aspects of improved thermal design and building fabric efficiency leading to an appreciation of renewable energy sources and the control of air leakage and heat loss.

8) What are your views on the importance of ‘green’ construction? 

I don't think we have an option here and I generally support the Climate Action Bill. We have been fitting air to water units in our homes for about five years now as well as a level of mechanical ventilation and indeed most of our houses have been achieving an A2 rating.

The benefits of air to water as a heat source is that the upfront costs are a fraction of geothermal due to the omission of most of the civil works associated with comparable running costs and efficiencies. We are also hard-wiring our houses for photo-voltaic and electric car charging.

9) Who is your engineer hero, or the nearest you have to one? 

Though not a structural engineer I read Walter Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. I found it hugely inspiring and it certainly drove me to up my game as regards innovation and our service offering.

His father taught him to always make the parts that nobody will see as beautiful and as tidy as the exterior. Elon Musk’s biography by Ahlee Vance is another great read. Both individuals have – had in Steve Jobs' case – an immense and relentless drive, tenacity and a vision for the future, which is inspiring.

10) Is there any one engineer you wish was better known?

I read a great book about an Indian engineer called Elattuvalapil Sreedharan by MS Ashokan. He was a brilliant project manager and achieved some incredible results in India with impossible timelines and budgets.

He would set a reverse (countdown) clock in the engineers’ office at the beginning of every project so they could see the time ticking down every day. I thought this was a brilliant motivational tool.

11) What are your favourite engineering feats?

I love the concept behind Turlough Hill hydroelectric power station (Ireland’s only pumped storage power station).


We visited it in secondary school as an applied maths tour. The idea of storing (potential) energy by pumping the water back into the reservoir at night to create (kinetic) energy the next day is brilliant.

12) What are the biggest challenges facing the construction sector?

I think the control and price of land is a major issue. I feel that if the government was more in control of land banks more so than speculators it would help both land prices and urban/rural development through strategic zoning policies. It would also create a significant source of income for the exchequer.

13) You’ve travelled widely… does any country/experience, and what you learnt there professionally, stand out?

New Zealand has had great success with the use of design and build in one-off houses, which is something I am very interested in. I feel it provides the home owners with a wonderful streamlined process where they retain control but most of the non-client-facing trades and professions are dealt with by the design and build firm.

14) What book is on your bedside table?

The Big Debt Crises by Ray Dalio.

15) What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?

It took me some time before I found my niche in engineering. I felt a little confined initially before I travelled a bit and saw all the different types of jobs available for engineers.

My father advised me to work with general building companies before specialising to get a sense of what is out there. I combined this advice with my love of travel, so definitely broaden your horizons and think big. What's the worst that can happen? You’re young with little or no responsibilities. It's difficult to develop this mindset later in life.

This certainly worked well for me. In fact I find I tweak my company direction each year in line with what new aspect of the business of engineering (in my case design and build project management) I wish to pursue.

16) If you weren’t an engineer, what might you have become?

When I was quite young I wanted to be a pilot but I ended up going to university to get an engineering degree as it seemed the most practical degree for me because I had the points. I was good at science and maths, and indeed my father was a quarry manager so I felt I would have a general engineering aptitude.

I could certainly have done architecture but then again I would have ended up on a very different path to where I am now, so I don’t think I’d have changed it if I had my time back.

17) What is a typical day for you?

I'm always in the office at 8am. I generally do about two hours of deep work (financials/costings/strategy etc) and get that out of the way. Then about an hour on tasks (emails, phone calls, sketches, etc), then I head to a site or two.

I try to arrange meetings (or Zoom meetings as they are now) for the afternoon when things have died down, then perhaps some marketing or video work before finishing at 5pm. Afer that, I swim/walk/cycle/surf (location and season depending); then it's time for dinner. In the evening, family life starts before, perhaps, engaging in another 15-30 minutes on any remaining items while also planning for the next day.

18) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Surround yourself with good people. People who will challenge you, look out for you and with whom you can rely on when the chips are down.

19) What do you do to relax?

I spend time by the sea – ideally either walking or surfing.