TALKING TO MIKE HOLMES
POSTED BY: Salvatore Difalco
April 7, 2009
To be canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, an individual must enjoy, among other holy virtues and requirements, something referred to as "the Beatific Vision," and perform one or more miracles. I don´t know if Mike Holmes enjoys the Beatific Vision, or if he even believes in God, at least the Roman Catholic version of Him, but Holmes has certainly performed a bunch of miracles. And although he may never be assigned a feast day, and no parish church may ever be built in his honour (don’t count it out), it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to think of Holmes as a secular saint, and one of some considerable standing.
Mike Holmes, the affable, sturdy Canadian contractor made himself a household name with his television show Holmes on Homes, where he came to the rescue of homeowners stuck with renovations gone terribly wrong. His integrity, his technical knowledge and his unflagging and rigorous desire to make it right really struck a chord with the public. And not just in North America. Holmes on Homes is catching on across the English-speaking world. And his influence goes beyond simple reality-TV entertainment to educating an ignorant public and pressuring contractors and legislators alike to clean up their acts.
Last June, Holmes headed to New Orleans to face the toughest assignment of his professional life: in 10 weeks, make it right for one family whose home was destroyed three years earlier by Hurricane Katrina. The result is Holmes in New Orleans, a two-part special which begins Tuesday, April 7, at 9 p.m. ET on Global, and concludes the following night. Untangling the tragically stupid mistakes of several layers of government administration and doing it in the sweltering heat of a New Orleans summer proved daunting to say the least.
He did have some high-profile “assistance” from Brad Pitt, who had launched his own Make It Right campaign in New Orleans. When Holmes heard that Pitt had co-opted his trademarked expression, he made inquiries and got on board with the project, flying his all-Canadian crew down to build the first energy-efficient home in the still devastated Lower 9th Ward region. Holmes and his crew, which included his son Mike Jr. and daughters Amanda and Sherry, put in long, difficult days and nights to meet their August 29 deadline.
Whether or not he ever does get canonized, make no mistake, Mike Holmes is a much beloved figure these days, and it doesn’t seem like this will soon wane. Women swoon around him, children smile and most men find themselves simperingly beguiled. Maybe one day we will see a parish church go up in his honour, or at the very least a monument with his warm and smiling visage on it. And why not, the guy can do it all – he can do what most of us cannot. TORO caught up to Holmes during the production of his new series called Holmes Inspection, which profiles home inspections gone wrong.
Q: I remember as a kid in the ’60s watching a sitcom about these bumbling handymen called Mack & Myer for Hire. Some of the jobs you’ve been called in to fix look like their handiwork. Nightmare reno stories abound, but is it as bad as it seems out there or are you highlighting worst-case scenarios?
A: It’s worse than anybody really knows. And that is the bare-bottom truth, because I can prove it. You know, to receive 100,000 emails a year at Holmes on Homes to help 13 families – and out of that 100,000 there’s 60,000 for sure begging for the help because they’re in big trouble. Now these are the people brave enough to send in an email. Imagine how many are ashamed and don’t want to do anything.
Look at the world of construction and what is happening. We’re actually building no longer with knowledge, we’re building with education of how: minimum code is how it’s not why. So long as we build this way, we’re going to make mistakes. Now, add the factor that there’s a lot of people who really don’t give a shit about what they’re doing, like “mine over matter” – it’s not mine, so it doesn’t matter. And I hate these sayings, but the truth is there. We only have so many people with integrity that actually care about what they’re doing. Add that factor into a bare-minimum code, with no real knowledge of what they’re doing, and you really have a bad formula.
Q: Your motto is “make it right.” If there is virtue in doing a job right why do so many fail when it comes to doing home improvement – is it a lack of ethics or a lack of skills? A skill set that used to be widespread has waned. Trying to find someone competent and trustworthy to do the job isn’t easy.
A: That is the truth. I always say the good, the bad, the ugly – and that’s the good 20 per cent, the bad 70 per cent, the ugly 10 per cent, you know. Easily we can see the ugly because these are trained guys who rip you off. But that’s a low percentage. And the good 20 per cent, these guys know what they’re doing and they care, they have the integrity. It’s the bad. And that’s 70 per cent, and that’s because they just don’t know enough and they don’t care enough, and if you put those two together it’s just a recipe for disaster.
We need to make some sort of a change. And I don’t think it’s the licensing or the certification programs. I think it’s the education itself: stop teaching how and start teaching why. Let me give you some examples. We have mould-resistant drywall on the market, but it’s not in the stores. Okay. We have environmental wood which is made of aspen and poplar and it’s not in the stores. We have BluWood and it’s not in the stores, it’s custom order. So we have all these things and why aren’t they in the store? Minimum code says use green drywall if you’re going to tile. We know it moulds. We know it because I can put it up everywhere in the house possible, take it down and it’s all moulded. The reason that it’s not in the stores is because of demand. If we do not change the demand – which means people buying stuff that doesn’t work start demanding stuff that does – it won’t change. So, for example, no one should ever use anything but mould-resistant drywall, and it should be in the stores now.
Q: Holmes on Homes airs on HGTV Canada, BBC Canada, on the U.S. Discovery Channel, in New Zealand on The Living Channel, in Australia on The How To Channel, in the United Kingdom on Discovery Realtime ... Have I left any out?
A: Germany [chuckles].
Q: Germany! Well. Are you surprised by the show’s amazing success and reach – and your sudden iconic status? Everybody knows who you are, including my elderly Italian mother who admires you immensely.
A: [Laughs.] I had a feeling the show was going to do something, but I didn’t expect this whole thing – the whole country pretty well knowing who I am. It’s surreal to go to the store and hear, “Hey, Mike how you doing?” – and it doesn’t matter where I go. That’s something I didn’t expect. The interviews, the other television shows, the popular magazines, I just didn’t expect all that. I didn’t know what the hell I was thinking.
Q: A television show like yours wasn’t imaginable a few short years ago. Why did you think it would work, and how did you convince someone to take it on?
A: It was an accident. Actually, I met the executive producer of HGTV – he asked me to build him a custom home. And I got to know him and I really liked him. And one day I said to him, “I’ve got a show idea for you, just one guy to another.” I asked if he wanted to hear it and I blabbed off – long story short, he just started smiling and said he wanted a pilot right away. I laughed. “I’m a contractor. I’m giving you an idea, run with it.” And it took him a few months but he convinced me to shoot a pilot. And it was the way he said it to get me interested to do it: it wasn’t money or anything, it was education. And once I shot the pilot I got where he was going with it, and that’s how the show started.
Q: When I heard about the Holmes Foundation I thought that learning a trade or a useful and in-demand skill set had to be a lifesaver for some of these troubled kids. How has that project fared?
A: Well, I think they’re lost. They don’t know where they’re going and for whatever reason they’re lost, and to give them help, to steer them in the right direction so they’re back on course and give them a job in the skill trades – my God, this is a great opportunity, this is a great job. I think anybody, if they had the opportunity to be educated well in what they were doing, I think they would just thrive in it. How much better can it get to be able to stand back and look at your work and go, “This is awesome.”
Q: Talk about your work in New Orleans. I know it was a big concern of yours.
A: It was. I remember when Katrina first hit, I had watched it on television much like 9/11, and I said, “That’s it, we gotta go down there and help these people.” I think some people think I’m insane when I say these things. Why do we want to go down there? Because they’re going to build the same crap and it’s going to wash away again. I said we can help build better technologies, so all of a sudden, three years later, I’ve got so much work hanging out of my pants I can’t hold the mop [laughs].
Anyway, Brad Pitt started the Make It Right Foundation, and I love him for what he’s done. I kinda own Make It Right, and so we contacted him and I said, “I really love what you guys are doing and your intentions – and hey, by the way, why don’t I help you? Let’s make it right together.” And that’s exactly what happened. I went down there and we helped with all the technical part of the builds. I didn’t change the designs because they were done by 13 architects worldwide. But I’m responsible for the technical part and, really, the show. Throughout an emotional show, you’re going to see what happened after Katrina, what happened to the people and the stories that blow me away. In between all that you’re going to see the world’s best house being built.
Q: You have a new project in the works – Holmes Inspection. How will it differ from Holmes on Homes?
A: It was the next – obvious for me – the next obvious thing to do, because I think I’ve helped make a difference in the building industry with Holmes on Homes but it didn’t really change anything other than the education of homeowners and maybe some of the contractors, which I’m proud of, but we have big issues with the home inspections. And as it stands, it was the number one complaint on my website since Holmes on Homes started.
And I wrote a book about it, and in writing a book about it I went and inspected many homes and I got to talk to all the home inspectors, really, of Canada, or the great majority of them, and the organizations. And I said, “Look, you need to start making serious changes and introducing documents – it’s just not good enough now. You must create a documented report that goes with that house from homeowner to homeowner. Let’s do thermographic image reading, and air sampling, that’s all easy. Let’s find out if the permits were pulled on the house that the real estate agents are bragging about.”
So how I made a difference with a television show was doing just that: showing how I believe, or how I think, or what I’m actually doing (I opened the first Mike Holmes inspection company a couple of weeks ago) and how to change the home inspection industry. And I added an element of special effects to it that I think people are going to love. I put my money on it that it’ll get more viewers than Holmes on Homes.
Q: Do you hope that your work will lead to stiffer legislation and penalties when it comes to shoddy and often dangerous work, or do you think an educated public and perhaps a more ethical ethos among workers is enough?
A: You know, it’s a shame but I think we’re going to need both. More education is a definite – start teaching why and not just how – and I do think that for those that are ugly and the ones that don’t care enough there should be a penalty, because right now there is not a penalty and the truth is that these homeowners are left holding the bag. And that is wrong, and something should be done about it. I’m always the person who says you get what you give. So, if you really give it, you know, you deserve to get it. And that depends whether it’s good or bad that you’re giving – if you’re giving bad then you deserve bad, if you’re giving good you deserve good. So those who are really screwing people should have to pay a penalty.
Q: You’re probably the first man Ellen DeGeneres has every proposed to – but I can understand why. You perform miracles, and we all want you to come to our homes and make them shine. What’s next on your agenda?
A: [Laughs.] I like the idea of changing the building industry. I started the Holmes Homes, the Holmes Communities, the Holmes Approved Homes, which [together] is a whole new program, and that’s building the next generation of homes. And that’s also educating the next generation of builders with the skills to build the home – how to build them, creating a new system that easily educates, that easily gets them into the trades and starts the change that we should have been doing years ago. It’s about time somebody steps up and does it. I don’t care if it’s me or anyone but someone’s got to do it so I’m doing that.
I would also like to play a little more with the worldwide shows – I get the idea that I can go to Kansas City and piss off a tornado because it can’t tear the house down [laughs]. I like those ideas.