When it comes to do-it-yourself renovations gone wrong, former Vancouverite Bryan Baeumler has seen it all. Long before HGTV cameras started following him for his new show Disaster DIY, he had been fixing up handyman projects that weren’t so handy.
There was the lady who decided to sledgehammer out the walls to make a sewing room, and ended up taking out crucial structural supports. “Above that [sewing room] they had built a new kitchen, and the floors started sagging. It turned out an old nail and a two-by-four were all that was holding up the house,” says Baeumler, speaking from his home in Oakville, Ontario.
And then there was a truly shocking discovery: “I think the worst reno disaster we saw was a basement we did that had been entirely built with metal studs and the wrong wires were used, so even the walls were live.”
Baeumler and his team are noticing more of such screwups as homeowners increasingly attempt their own projects. The reasons are many. In hot real-estate markets like Vancouver, where Baeumler worked from 1995 to 2003 running an air-cargo business and doing home-contracting on the side, often buyers’ only chance of getting in on the action is to purchase a fixer-upper. Stretched to the max for the down payment, they then attempt to do the work themselves. But Baeumler also admits that TV channels like his own program’s home network are creating a generation of overly ambitious Bob Vila wannabes.
“I think the info age in general has helped cause all this: DIY stuff is all over the Net, and TV too. Everybody’s seen an episode of how to do something,” says the affable renovator. “Then you’ve seen things go from having a small hardware store on the corner to having big-box stores where you could literally walk out the door with every single product you would need to build a house.”
You’d think it would demand inhuman patience from a guy who actually does know what he’s doing to specialize in repairing the mistakes of people who don’t, but Baeumler genuinely enjoys his work. “Some of the projects we like best are the old renos. Going into an old house and opening it up and doing the whole problem-solving thing, or bringing in an engineer to look at it all is almost more fun than starting from scratch on a new house.”
Baeumler is happy to provide tips to people faced with reno projects they don’t know if they can handle. First off, there are certain jobs he thinks require the knowledge of a pro:
> Electrical: “If you don’t have a lot of knowledge, call in an electrician. You could run wires, but when it comes to something like hooking into an electrical box, you could kill yourself.”
> Plumbing: “Plumbers are underrated. It’s not the most difficult or dangerous work, but if you have a flood, it could cost a lot of money very quickly.”
> Roofing: “It’s not just the knowledge but the cost and the materials to do the job—it can end up costing you triple if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Then there are the projects that look easier on TV than they actually are in real life. Tiling can turn disastrous if people use the wrong mortar or if the subfloor starts to cause cracking, he says. And drywall takes hours and hours of practice to perfect.
As for demolition, it’s more of an art form than it appears. “People think demolition is for monkeys, but when you’re doing it, there’s a fine line between taking down enough and taking down too much. There are things you need to know about structural support. It doesn’t take long to get deeper than you want to get.”
Fortunately for die-hard DIYers, there are some jobs that Baeumler encourages you to take on:
> Painting: “It’s the easiest thing to change. It is a skill and there are good painters and bad painters, but patience is the biggest factor there.”
> Flooring: “There are a lot of products like ”˜click’ floors and floating floors that are really easy to do. We have a joke: if it were any easier, it would just come installed. But again, there are tricks you have to learn—you can watch an instruction video with a lot of these now.”
Not surprisingly, tips on painting and flooring aren’t the only types of advice Baeumler has to dole out during his jobs. Both on-camera and off-, he often has to play marriage counsellor. “There are times I step back and allow them to just let the verbal abuse go,” he says with a laugh.
To take a look at some of the disasters—and accompanying drama—Baeumler deals with, check out his show at 9 p.m. on Thursday nights. There’s also some good news for those Vancouverites who need his help fixing up a reno gone wrong: Baeumler is taking steps to open an office here too.