Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mike Holmes' sweet homes - great article on

Mike Holmes on the set of Holmes Inspection, where he’s overhauling a dangerously decrepit basement. - Brett Gundlock / National Post

In the unfinished basement of a Toronto home, Mike Holmes pulls out his magnificent tool: “If I’m going to swing a hammer, I’m going to swing a big one. I’m using the world’s best hammer.” (Brand: Stiletto. Composition: titanium. Cost: $500.)

The beefy host of HGTV’s Holmes Inspection is known for his candour. (Suck it up if you don’t like it brash.) He’s also known for his generosity and eco-mindedness, providing housing help to Canada’s native community, a relief mission to New Orleans, and soon, to recently devastated Haiti. His chockablock agenda will also include a green subdivision in Okotoks, Alta.

But on this chilly day in a once-squalid home, which nearly went up in flames because of a bum fireplace (episode date yet to be determined), he’s surrounded by walls studded in blue two-by-fours. “Why do we use blue wood?” he booms, in a parent-to-child tenor, pausing to answer his own question: “Because it’s environmentally friendly. You can even lick it, but you’ll have a blue tongue.”

The blue stuff is also highly regarded because of its mould,- bug-, water-, and soon, fire-resistant qualities, he says.

Trust his advice. The strapping contractor with chunky biceps and blond buzz-cut brings reno-gone-awry salvation to homeowners across Canada. Under his “Make It Right” dictum, mouldy basements and drafty attics get their comeuppance. There’s a certain thrilling satisfaction watching him coated in a patina of sweat yanking apart walls to expose, then extract, their shoddy innards — like a surgeon would a tumour — then righting it all back again.

Rarely seen without his trademark overalls and work boots (he has donned them today), it is surprising to discover Mr. Macho’s earlobes festooned with the kind of bling — rhinestones — you’d expect to find on Jay-Z.

To be sure, Mr. Holmes is not all tough guy. Take his view on ladies in the trades: “I love seeing women in the industry, and I believe women will make men honest in this job. We’ve had a 6% increase of women in the industry. I’d like to think I had something to do with that.”

In fact, his daughter Sherry — another Stiletto hammer devotee, who went into a tizzy in the basement when she temporarily misplaced hers — also gets dirty on Holmes Inspection, along with her brother, Mike Jr. (who really should consider a career in modelling, if his day job doesn’t pan out). Sibling number three, Amanda, works in the Holmeses’ office headquarters.  

Holmes Inspection is now in its second season. The first episode, which aired Jan. 6, showcases disgruntled homeowners facing large repair bills and dangerous living conditions, and sheds light on the importance of detecting problems before you buy the house. 

And this blue-basement, in the home of a single mom, is another example. By the time the Holmes squad gets through with it, the fix cost will be about $150,000, with the homeowner contributing what she can. The television production budget pays for the labour and there are donations from sponsors.

“We had asbestos in the plaster in the ceiling. The garage was leaking terribly. We had to gut the whole thing. We had electrical issues, plumbing issues. You name it,” Mr. Holmes says. The real kicker is that the home isn’t old. It should be in better shape. “Can you believe, the furnace was off-gassing in the house?” he balks. “And it’s brand new! We’re going to make sure they get in trouble.” (“They” meaning the furnace installer.)

Mr. Holmes doesn’t suffer ding-dong trades folk gladly. “I never understood how people did things, when they don’t know what they’re doing. It doesn’t make sense. I made mistakes at the beginning, but I was the guy who went back and fixed it. My name follows me forever and I’m going to make sure it’s done right.”

Many of us are guilty of hiring a cheap inspector when we buy a house. This irritates Mr. Holmes tremendously, so much that he’s begun to colonize the inspection industry. He launched Mike Holmes Inspections in February 2009, as a pilot project in the Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge area. The mission: to make every single house right. (This should really rankle charlatans on the beat.) His company offers a range of property services — a basic package ($395) includes an examination of your home’s foundation, roof, electrical and plumbing. “The base inspection provides a thorough, fully documented report with photographs. It’s much better than industry standard,” Mr. Holmes says. The full monty — or in Mr. Holmes’s parlance: “the infrared thermographic scan” ($695) — detects thermal defects and air leakages in building envelopes, so you can finally stop wondering why your bedroom feels like the arctic tundra in winter and the Sahara in summer.

Were you one of those dopes who spent all of your Christmas bonus on a fancy-pants kitchen when there were raindrops falling on your head inside your house? Mr. Holmes derides such prioritizing, calling them “makeup and lipstick fixes,” or surface renovations, that should never come first when there are bigger cracks to be filled. Don’t do it again.

However, if you have yet to buy your home, by no means should you hire any old schmoe for a once-over. “Want to know how easy it is to become a foundation repair guy? It’s a verbal exam,” Mr. Holmes scoffs. “You have to have a minimum renovator’s permit, and you’re a foundation specialist. As for the home inspector,” Mr. Holmes goes so far as to say, “it’s a two-week course — you could have worked at McDonald’s.”

Mr. Holmes believes the government needs to overhaul the inspection industry. “They’re trying to establish a licensing system in B.C. and Alberta,” he says. “No matter how you look at it, they’re going to do it wrong. Anytime something doesn’t work, you need to abandon it and think fresh. What do we need? Better schooling. Make sure the inspectors have a better education and apprentice.”

But if you call Mr. Holmes’ company for an inspection, don’t expect him and his rhinestones to turn up at your home. He is not a certified home inspector and only uses fully qualified inspectors. 

Hiring a pro does make perfect sense when he points out most homes cost an average of $400,000. Why spend a pittance to secure yours? In fact, Mr. Holmes advises lining up a proper inspector before even putting in an offer on a house.

But this better-safe-than-sorry harangue will provide little comfort to those who’ve already purchased lemons. Now what to do with the mess? For instance, what should a person do if she has bought an old detached home that has a shabby building envelope but it’s in a thriving west Toronto neighbourhood? (Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

“Sell it,” he says.

“But what if it’s valuable?”

“Then you’re passing on your valuable piece of crap.” Mr. Holmes belly-laughs, looking particularly smug.  

“But what if the hypothetical buyer told you the real problem is lack of heat? There might not be insulation.”

“Have you never seen your attic?”

Answering in the negative incites further laughter and a shocked expression from Mr. Holmes, as if he’s just been told a sip of cyanide before bedtime makes for a terrific sedative: “Whatever you do, don’t pass your home on in its current condition — make it right,” he says. “Then sell it.”

Tony Burkhart
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Posted via email from Tony Burkhart

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