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Reno guru sweats his biggest challenge
TheStar.com - Entertainment - Reno guru sweats his biggest challenge
April 03, 2009
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Last June, Mike 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.
At the same time, the Halton Hills, Ont., native had to set a construction standard for hundreds of hurricane-resistant, energy-efficient homes to follow.
The result is Holmes in New Orleans, a two-part special that begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Global and concludes the following night. An expanded, six-part version begins April 9 on HGTV.
The 45-year-old contractor became famous for ripping apart other people's renovation mistakes on his long-running HGTV series Holmes on Homes. But this was a challenge on a new level: trying to undo the mistakes of several layers of U.S. government administration – and doing it in the sweltering heat of a New Orleans summer.
He did have some high-level support, however – from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Pitt had launched a "make it right" campaign in New Orleans, starting a foundation under that name. When Holmes' people heard that the boss's trademarked expression had been used, they made some inquiries and got on board with the project, flying Holmes and his crew down to build the first energy-efficient home in the still devastated Lower 9th Ward region.
The production crew was able to grab Pitt for a little face time.
"My first impulse was, these are big-shot movie stars – I don't know how to meet these people," Holmes says of their first encounter. "And I was humbled because they were very nice people."
Holmes and his all-Canadian construction crew, which included his son Mike Jr. and daughters Amanda and Sherry, put in killer days and nights in an effort to reach their Aug. 29 deadline.
The neighbourhood is one metre below sea level, so three dozen giant poles had to be sunk in the unstable earth to a depth of 8 1/2 metres just to establish a firm foundation.
The tough challenges, including putting up what Holmes calls "the hardest roof I ever worked on," took its toll on his crew. Several quit or took timeouts.
"There are all kinds of things that happened with my people that you'll see on the show. It's real and we deal with it."
Architects from around the world had designed the low-cost, energy-efficient homes that made up the New Orleans project. Holmes was able to choose the simple, straightforward design he liked best. He said he stuck pretty much to the plans, which called for the home to withstand a Category 5 storm.