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3. Q&A: Mike Holmes
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5. Don’t Fear the Reno Man?
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Q&A: Mike HolmesFor the past six years, building guru Mike Holmes has been trying to "Make It Right" on his award-winning HGTV Canada show, Holmes on Homes. The son of a jack of all trades, Holmes has been working with his hands since he was a little boy. Today he lives with his family in Halton Hills, Ont., in a house that, he says, will eventually be the "ultimate home." 2 talked to Holmes to get his expert advice on everything reno.

Photograph of Mike Holmes.

2: How do you suggest budgeting for a renovation?
Holmes: Know how much money you have to spend. It’s not a big deal to do your renovation in stages. Choose an order that makes sense, and plan every year for that expense. Many people say that you have to add 15 percent to a contractor’s quote for the extra charges he’ll come up with, but I don’t agree. You shouldn’t have to pay a contractor any extra money unless you’ve asked for something extra.

2: What’s the best place in the house to begin a reno?
Holmes: The kitchen and bathroom are the rooms that people use most, so I’d start there. The deck is another popular space to renovate at this time of year.

2: Is it possible to change the look of the whole house without having to invest a huge amount of work and money?
Holmes: Absolutely! To begin, renovate with paint. A new coat of paint throughout the house will make a world of difference. Replacing dark or plain-white walls with bright colours will really open up your spaces. Be sure to choose colours based on flooring and furniture. Next, eliminate clutter. You should only have what you absolutely need in your living room. Big TV stands and wall units only contribute to the clutter. Keep the TV and get rid of any oversized pieces of furniture. The less stuff you have, the bigger your rooms will look.

2: What rooms can be renovated on the cheap, yet still have a major impact?
Holmes: When you put work into your bedroom, you create a desire to spend time there rather than just using it as a space for sleeping. All it takes is some paint, a bit of crown moulding, chair rails, a new floor or carpeting and perhaps a new bed. This can all be done relatively inexpensively.

2: What headaches should be expected during a renovation?
Holmes: Most people don’t realize it but they cause their own headaches. Renovations don’t have to be frustrating. They can—and should—be exciting. There are three important steps I can recommend to prevent headaches. First, take your time. Don’t be in a hurry to get things done. Instead, be sure to get them done right. Second, this is the time and place to find out about new materials. For example, while medium density fibreboard [MDF] is the pick of choice for most cabinetmakers—because it’s cheap and easy to work with—the best trim on the market is actually poplar. It’s a weed tree, which makes it environmentally friendly, and it doesn’t off-gas. Choose lasting materials rather than what’s cheapest. Third, check out your contractors before you hire them. Don’t hire a roofer to do your plumbing or a fence guy to do your bathroom. Find specialty people.

2: With so many contractors out there, how do you know who’s the best?
Holmes: It’s like a dating game: Ask 1,001 questions before you hire anyone. For example, if you’re renovating your bathroom, your questions should include: How long have you specialized in bathrooms? How many sinks have you done? Hopefully they’ve done at least 50 to be able to learn from their mistakes. Do they have a list of references, and can you call them? Trust your instincts when you’re making these decisions.

2: What happens if a contractor messes up?
Holmes: If you hire the right guy, he won’t mess up. If he does, he’ll come back because his name and reputation mean everything to him. Make sure that you get your contractor back to fix any mistakes. And whatever you do, don’t give him the keys to your house and then go on vacation to avoid the dust. Be there to answer questions and oversee the work.

2: How do you avoid renovation fraud?
Holmes: If you see a van driving down the street that says ‘Duct Cleaning,’ and the driver rings your doorbell and says that he’s in the neighbourhood and will come back tomorrow to do the work if you put $100 down today, you should be leery. If you know who your contractors are and have enough information and references, you’ll know they aren’t fraudulent.

2: What’s your take on DIY renos?
Holmes: I’m not a fan. I’ve spent a lifetime learning what I know, and it’s not easily explained. The internet is a good information resource but, like anything else, you’ll find at least 10 different opinions.

2: Are renovation standards improving as a result of your TV show?
Holmes: I think the show has created awareness with homeowners, and I think it has given a great advantage to companies who care about their work. But I still receive 1,000 emails a week from people in trouble—that’s depressing.