Mike Holmes makes it right

Canada's TV contractor is out to expose shoddy workmanship and save the nation, one renovation at a time

Supplied publicity photo, 2006
   Mike Holmes Supplied publicity photo, 2006

It’s not easy being Mike Holmes.

The perpetually busy 43-year-old contractor not only produces and stars in his hugely popular TV home fix-up series Holmes on Holmes (now in its sixth season on HGTV), but also runs a spin-off media empire that includes workwear, DVDs and a national foundation for victims of bad contractors.

If that wasn’t enough, plans are in the works for a Holmes-related magazine, cartoon series and even a housing project.

Holmes’ televised quest to expose shoddy workmanship and crooked contractors has made him not only a national celebrity, but also a hero of sorts to his fans. We were able to snag some time with Holmes while he was travelling between meetings — and stopping to pick up a double-double at Tim’s via drive-thru — to talk about his show, his fans and what inspires him to stay so busy.

You said at one time that you wouldn’t do more than five years of Holmes on Homes. So is this the last season?
Unfortunately not. It’s like Hotel California. It looks like I can never leave.

How long does a typical shoot last for you?
It’s almost a year for each season. What we’ll do is shoot two to three shows at a time. It takes approximately one month for each show, so we do our damnedest to get two shows done in one month. And then, of course off to the edit suite it goes, and right to the television.

So how involved are you behind the scenes? Do you interview the families? Or do you leave that to other people?
I’m extremely involved in it as I own the company. I used to go see [the families] and then it got the point where people just wanted to meet me more than come up with stories. So now I have a crew that go in, then I watch the videotapes at night and I flag the stories and I go see them personally. That’s how it begins.

You seem to have a really strong sense of morality on the show. You say, “if you’re going to do something, do it right the first time.” Where does that philosophy come from?
That’s from my father. He was a jack-of-all-trades and unfortunately a master of none. But he had integrity and I guess that was something he distilled in me.

Would you say your dad was a major influence on the work you do?
Most definitely. As a little kid I was fascinated with his talents — and I mean a little kid — I was three years old and he couldn’t kick me away, so he started teaching me. I guess I took it from there (laughs).

What was your family life like? Was your family well off?
There was no doubt that we were not financially well off at all, but we led the happy life. My parents were good people and they knew how to make everybody smile. We lived on hot dogs and Kraft dinner and to us kids we were rich. Kids, they don’t know do they?

No, that’s true. How about school? When you were growing up, were you popular?
I was actually a very shy guy in school, quiet. In grade school, I guess it was grade six, seven and eight, I got into plays. But I was a very shy kid in school.

That certainly changed.
Yeah, I guess it did.

People have this sense of you as being a hero, like a bigger-than-life figure. Do you think you’re a hero or are you doing something that should have been done already?
I never thought of myself as a hero, I definitely think that somebody needs to do [this work] and that’s a definite. And if it gives me the opportunity to help change the building industry and help make people aware, then I’m in. I’ll do anything I have to do to make that happen.

Mike Holmes on a 'Holmes on Homes' shoot
   Mike Holmes on a ‘Holmes on Homes’ shoot Popjournalism

But you don’t expose the bad contractors that you cover.
It’s really not going to help anybody. I would love more than anything, to tell the world, Joe Blow’s a bad guy don’t hire him. The problem is, until the laws change, they protect the contractors. They can change their name the very next day, so all we’re gonna have is a bad list of bad names and it doesn’t help anyone.

So do you have a lot of contractor enemies in Toronto?
I’ve figured I would from the beginning, but it doesn’t seem to be that way. It seems that most contractors really do love the show. Obviously, only the bad guys don’t care for it.

As a contractor, you get into the work a lot, but generally contractors are really hands off. Why do you get involved?
I guess it’s just like my own house. I wouldn’t just bring someone in to do what I have to do myself. So, if I’m running jobs, I have to be part of it. If problems arise, we need somebody there that can solve the problem. Until I find somebody that has the same ability to solve it, I will always be there.

Some people think that the owners get their renovation for free, but that’s not true, right?
No, that’s not true. It’s almost free. They pay about 10 to 20 per cent of the actual cost. Unfortunately, I can’t get everything for free and the day that I can is the day that it will be for free. Obviously, they’re screwed financially and we’re there to help them.

Is there a way you can make that fact clearer on the show?
Well, it can’t be free. In Canadian TV production, there’s not enough money to pay for such a large renovation. The production pay is for the shooting only. When it comes down to the project that is done by me. I will bring everybody I know and bend their arms and maybe they’ll get ten cents on the dollar for their work. Not all of them, but most of them will donate their time. It’s the little guys — I wouldn’t want to hurt the little guys — and so they may need a couple of dollars in some material that I cannot get for free.

You do big renovations, probably in the hundred of thousands I guess, if you had to pay for it, right?
Our last renovation was about half a million dollars worth of work.

Wow.
That one damn near killed us all.

You must get a lot of people asking you to do their house.
I think everybody in Canada is trying to hire me right now. It’s pretty funny. I would love to help the world, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m only one person and it’s obvious that the only thing I can do right now is shoot the show because it’s such a dinosaur to make. It takes up all my time right now. I haven’t even had a vacation in three years.

How many hours do you spend shooting? Does it start at eight in the morning and doesn’t end till late at night?
Oh yeah, we’re on minimum twelve hour days, up to seven days a week.

Aside from the tiring hours, do you get tired dealing with all the bad contractors, too?
It’s honestly extremely depressing. We have the viewers watching the show and they can’t believe what they see. But imagine the e-mails I receive on a weekly basis of all the people that are crying and in trouble and are in desperate need of help — it’s thousands. If you think it’s bad on the show, imagine walking in my shoes for a month — talking to the people that are crying, begging for help.

But you’re only one person. What do you do when you can’t help?
Well, it’s kind of pushed me for doing the Holmes Foundation right across Canada. We can all can now donate a loonie or toonie and help the people that are going to lose their home and go bankrupt.

And there’s that trade school you wanted to start? Is that still in the works?
I definitely want to do that. You’re going to see a lot of big and new exciting things coming that I really can’t talk about yet. I want to do a development right across the country and build homes with a ten-year guarantee. Just forget the new home warranty. It just doesn’t seem to work for me — I’ll personally guarantee it for ten years. I’m going to give the people what they should have had in the first place and that’s building homes with designs that are self-sufficient and environmentally friendly.

I guess you have a pretty significant fan base to support all of these projects then?
Surprisingly yes. I’m really stunned by that, to be honest with you. Not to mention the kids who watch. Something that blew me away was the e-mails that I receive from four to 12-year-olds and how they want to be the next Mike Holmes. I guess, I’m, in a way, their hero. So this has inspired me to do a Mighty Mike Holmes cartoon, which will hopefully be out soon.

Oh geez, that’s a lot of stuff you have going on.
Yeah, which will explain why I don’t get any vacations (laughs).

When you have all this good attention is it hard to stay grounded?
For me, no. It’s who I am, and I don’t think that’s ever gonna change. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity, I think of myself as a contractor.

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