Extreme Team Takes on Transformations

ABC’s Emmy-award winning “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” collaborates with a team of builders, designers, contractors and hundreds of workers who all have just seven days to rebuild an entire house.
By Carina Calhoun
“It never gets old. I always make it a point after we yell ‘Move that bus’ to turn my eyes right to the family. I’ve seen the house — I don’t need to see it again,” stated host Ty Pennington of ABC’s hit television show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (EMHE). Known for its popular catch phrase, the show transforms the homes of deserving families as well as their lives. It’s a race against time on a project that would normally span several months, involving a team of designers, contractors and hundreds of workers who all have just seven days to rebuild an entire house. However, with the dedicated cast and crew, and the experience and assistance of local builders for each project, they have a way of making it look easy.

The decision-making process of picking a deserving family is a lengthy process, according to show producer George Verschoor, the founder and president of Santa Monica-based, Hoosick Falls Productions. He explained, “One of the key factors that we have to consider first is, do we have a really great builder in that area that can partner with us to pull this off?” The Emmy-award winning show started off its ninth season in September 2011 with a special two-part premier featuring an appearance by first lady, Michelle Obama. As part of her joining forces with the initiative, Mrs. Obama participated in the episode featuring the Marshalls, a military family based in Fayetteville, N.C. Barbara Marshall, a 15-year Navy Veteran, established the Jubilee House that offers shelter, support and services to homeless female veterans.

The EMHE team, builder, Chip Smith of Blue Ridge Log Cabins, and thousands of volunteers took on the transformation of the Jubilee House, with the help of the first lady.

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Brady Connell, executive producer and director of EMHE, said, “It was an incredible experience for all of us having the first lady on the set helping and it was quite a testament to the volunteers and the work that they are doing is valued.” The challenging undertaking of this 5,000 square-foot project was a sizeable accomplishment and an extraordinary community effort in partnership with a powerhouse woman like Michelle Obama. Pennington commented, “I was, of course, in awe of her as our First Lady and because she’s incredibly cool — I mean, she showed up wearing old school Chuck Taylors and got right to work.” He continued, “More than that she’s also incredibly easy to be around. She was laughing and joking with us on location and her interest in how we pull it off every week was sincere and flattering.”

Early in the episode, Mrs. Obama took Pennington and viewers on a tour of the most famous house in the nation — The White House. She even took him on a tour of the garden and informed him it may be a good idea to have a similar garden at the Jubilee House. The log home was assembled from 13 modular units over seven days with the help of more than 4,000 volunteers.

Smith, a member of NAHB’s Building Systems Councils and Log Home Council, donated the home, and local companies and individuals donated supplies, materials and funds to help complete the house. “Blue Ridge Log Homes is the only company in the world to combine log and modular construction building systems,” said Smith. “Our creativity and innovative practices have allowed us to be successful and give back to the community through this tough time for home builders.”

Keeping with the theme of supporting the troops, EMHE traveled to Ottawa, Kan., to transform the lives of the Hill family. Staff Sergeant, Allen Hill, was almost killed by a massive roadside bomb while serving in Iraq and, as a result, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) episodes, which cause the environmental surroundings of his home to trigger these episodes. Award-winning actress Glenn Close nominated this family for the show. She founded a not-for-profit organization in 2009, “Bring Change 2 Mind,” to combat the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses, including PTSD.

The organization sourced a piece of land and assisted in its donation for the Hills’ new house in a safe and quiet area. Pennington, and designers Paul DiMeo, Paige Hemmis, Ed Sanders and Johnny Littlefield, as well as local builders M.A.C. Corporation and Canyon Creek Construction, LLC and community volunteers, built brand new home for the family. The new two-story house will measure about 3,400 square feet and will also have finished basement. Their home is now a 2,200 square-foot ranch.

“The show is very much about the American Dream and delivering that dream of owning a home. It’s about family and community and it’s about how a home and design can transform a person’s life,” explained Verschoor. With the ability to alter the lives of a person and dedicate a project to a family that has suffered a hardship will pull at the heartstrings of any viewer,” Connell said, “The idea of matching up the television industry with the construction industry probably wouldn’t be something that people would normally think of. But ultimately, it is a good matchup. Everyone has the same goal and that is to put a family that has suffered some sort of hardship into a new home. We’re unrelated industries but we all have the same intentions. The two worlds don’t collide, they come together.”

Providing residential contractors and builders alike with innovative ideas and techniques, EMHE offers insight into the world of remodeling. “I do think that our show does several things to support contractors. The innovative technology we use not only in the building materials, but in the actual assembly of our homes is something I know other contractors find interesting.” For homeowners, there are several ideas and alternatives, for instance, green living options, using healthier building materials, and even some of the space-saving design elements that are incorporate. Pennington added, “If nothing else, our show often leads to more productive conversation between builder and homeowner.”

Though, just like all construction projects, there is no exception to challenges because it is a television show. If anything, often time the project’s undergo extremely difficult conditions or roadblocks because of their tight production scheduling. Pennington explained, “What we’re asking our builders to do is completely unrealistic and we know that from the start. So what drives me to push our builders is the story of the family we’re helping.” He continued, “I get that the builders are under a tremendous amount of stress, so I just try to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel — that incredible moment when the bus moves and someone’s life completely changes because of their hard work.”

Carina Calhoun is an editor at Residential Contractor. She may be contacted at ccalhoun1@penpubinc.com.

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