Holmes, Sweet Holmes
HGTV’s no-nonsense builder delivers the facts about going green, the importance of inspections, and how to make your home right for the long haul
From the time he was very young, Mike Holmes, who grew up in Toronto’s East End neighborhood, watched his engineer father work on their home and learned the tricks of the trade. Even when the younger Holmes was just 6 he rewired their house under his dad’s supervision. When he wasn’t working on the house, he was taking apart his toys or building a tree house. He progressed to his own renovation company that built custom homes. Years ago saw the wisdom of green homebuilding for the benefit of the planet, people’s health and a home’s durability. Along the way, his straightforward advice and outgoing personality landed him his own show on HGTV, “Holmes on Homes,” and the new spin-off, “Holmes Inspection,” and he’s authored several best-selling books with the “Make It Right” moniker – the series title came from one of his father’s bits of advice about trying to get things right the first time – including the new “Make It Right: Inside Home Renovation” (Time Home Entertainment, 2011).
We recently caught up with Holmes following his keynote at the 2011 National Green Building Conference and Expo in Salt Lake City, to talk about green building and home improvements. Following are his edited responses.
Question: How’d you get interested in going green?
Answer: I’ve always been interested in building the best way possible, given the technology available. As new and better ways of building develop, I’m interested in using them. Building more sustainably – with less waste and more energy efficiency – is the only way now to go because it’s better for you, your family and the environment. It’s also a way for your home to pay you back.
Q: You often talk about “high-performance” green homes. What does that mean?
A: It means it has a solid, tight building envelope, particularly on the exterior, and is “thermally broken.” That means there’s no air leakage, which could lead to energy loss, condensation and mold. “High-performance” also means high efficiency in terms of appliances and energy savings, or how much it costs to operate your home.
Q: Tell us about Holmes Homes, your new community of eco-friendly, sustainable homes in Alberta, Canada. What makes them sustainable? Are they affordable for “average” folks?
A: There’s no reason a home can’t be made green and still be affordable. It’s about construction methods and the footprint. People need to be more aware how oversized houses are wasteful and inefficient. Holmes Homes that are going up in Alberta are built to be durable and are being constructed from concrete, a green, lasting material. It will save in the end, since you’re building with better products, especially insulation and mold-resistant drywall. You’re going to pay now or later! If you build better, you’re more likely to stay.
Q: What are easy ways homeowners can go green?
A: It’s a lot easier to go green if you’re starting from the ground up. But there are things you can do to improve an existing home’s energy efficiency and greenness. Homeowners should spend money first on the outside structure for protection – many things they can’t see but which are critical to efficiency, longevity and healthfulness – rather than initially on interior finishes, what I refer to as the mascara or lipstick. What’s key on the outside? Good insulation in the basement and attic; well-insulated windows, doors and roofing to reduce solar heat gain and heat loss in cold months – I like a fire-resistant metal roof, for example; the best long-lasting cladding, whether brick or vinyl; a solid foundation that doesn’t get wet; [and] ventilation to improve indoor air quality. It’s important to me that whatever you put on or in your house will be durable – that it will last a long time without needing to be replaced. That will save resources and keep waste from landfills.
Q: What are some less important green strategies?
A: I think there’s a lot of “greenwashing.” People are fooled into thinking something is green when it’s not much different than what’s been around. People need to educate themselves and find out where and how products were made, what they contain, where they were shipped from, how they were used, and how they’ll go back to the earth. The effect of installing bamboo flooring is less important than making sure you’ve got no air leakage that wastes energy. I’m very careful about shows that people should watch; they often give the wrong information.
Q: So many homeowners still seem fearful of green because of the perceived extra expense …
A: If you’re planning to stay in your home, you’ll make back your money. But, when people flip houses for profit, they aren’t interested in investing in their home or environment. You generally spend five to 15 percent more to go green, but green varies. Document what you’ve done for resale.
Q: How do they calculate payback?
A: It depends on the investment. Solar panels are more expensive up front than low- or no-VOC paint. In some areas, you can lease solar panels and cut energy costs. You also may be able to sell extra power back to the grid and make money.
Q: What about a national green standard?
A: I think a national green standard – similar to the Eco-logo or Green Seal or Energy Star programs – will provide a consistent, legitimate, tested and proven standard that will help homeowners know what’s truly green. The program could be adapted across the continent to allow for different climatic zones and take into account different issues that occur in cold or temperate zones. When it comes to green and houses, it’s not “one size fits all.” It’s easy to get lost in all the conflicting claims and information. I would love to see this, but it will take work to make builders and the government get on board. We’re working on it, and homeowners should demand it.
Q: Your new show, “Holmes Inspection,” informs viewers about home inspections. What viewers are learning?
A: [They’re learning] why a good home inspection is worth every penny. There are so many parts of a home that are hidden, but an experienced professional can spot clues that indicate there might be hidden problems or problems deliberately concealed. But it’s a business that’s not regulated by the government, so anyone can call themselves a home inspector. All you need is a business card and flashlight – and even the flashlight is optional! It’s a new industry, so there are lots of cowboys out there and no sheriffs. Until government starts to demand qualifications and licensing, it’s up to consumers to be aware of these issues and ask questions, especially about mold, termites [and] asbestos.