Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

Reno like a pro
How-to host opens build-it-yourself school
By HEATHER M. O'CONNOR, Special to QMI Agency

Renovation expert Jim Caruk looks on as students at his new Build-It-Yourself Learning Center test their skills.

Jim Caruk got an earlier start than most in the home reno business. The 30-year veteran and host of HGTV’s Real Renos helped his dad redo their basement when he was 10, framing walls and repairing leaky pipes. By age 11, he’d moved onto a project of his own: he and a buddy built a fort. But not just any fort.

“This wasn’t your typical Frigidaire box fort,” Caruk recalls. “We stepped it up a few levels. I had enough sense that I knew it had to have some kind of a foundation. Then we went on to the floors and the walls.

“We were at school and my buddy’s mom gets a knock at the door. Here’s this city official and he says, ‘Do you have a permit for that addition?’”

Caruk knows his way around a hammer and a circular saw, but he recognizes many homeowners don’t.

“Too often, they decide to tackle a job when they don’t have the necessary time, skills or tools. Then it all starts to go south. The result can be a big headache – and even bigger bills,” says Caruk.

He came up with the solution: a school, taught by professionals, where people could learn everything from a specific skill, like how to fix a faucet, to general knowledge, like the basics of plumbing.

The first Build-It-Yourself Learning Center just opened in Toronto: a 5,000-square-foot location downtown and a 10,000-square-foot campus in north part of the city that accommodates big projects like deck-building and roofing.

The second centre is slated for Calgary; others are planned to open across Canada.

“We’re not like the other schools,” Caruk says. “For example, say you’re going to redo your bathtub. At these other courses at the big-box stores, they’ve got the perfect scenario for where the bathtub’s going to go. It’s perfectly square, it’s perfectly plumb, and when they fit that bathtub in, it fits like a glove.

“So you buy your $700 of [materials], you get home and you rip your bathroom out,” Caruk says. “But it’s 60 years old – guaranteed it’s not square and it’s not plumb. When you put that bathtub in, one corner’s tight and in the other there’s an inch gap. Now you don’t know what to do. You just spent all this money and now you’ve got to call someone in to do it. It just cost you three times the amount you thought it would.”

Build-It-Yourself Learning Centers aim to teach homeowners how to handle real-life renos.

“We don’t want it to be perfect. It’s going to be out of plumb and out of square, because that’s likely what you’re going to get when you get home. We want it to be messed up, so you’re learning on a worst-case scenario.”

The workshops cover everything from carpentry and basement design and finishing to outdoor-living space design, landscaping and build-it-yourself decks and docks.

The Helpless Homeowner is bound to be a hit with first-time homeowners. It instructs participants in the basics of home repairs and maintenance.

These are simple fixes people can do themselves, Caruk explains, instead of hiring a plumber or an electrician at eighty bucks an hour for a two-hour-minimum service call.

“It’s all the everyday common-sense stuff that a lot of people pay somebody to do – changing the O-rings in a leaky faucet, unclogging drains, taking the P-trap apart. Not a big deal, but people are afraid of it. Simple electrical – changing a receptacle or changing a switch to a dimmer. Working around the furnace – the maintenance, changing the filter. Tiling, fixing that patching of drywall, cleaning out the eavestroughs…”

Workshops provide clear, simple, step-by-step guidance and hands-on experience. Participants leave with the skills and confidence to tackle their own projects.

But the BIY Learning Centers don’t abandon students once the workshops end. Alumni get access to all the smart tips and professional advice on the website. Audio and video tutorials, articles and blogs by Caruk and other industry professionals provide ongoing support, opportunities and ideas.

Don’t know which end of the hammer to hold? Want to pick up the tips to make your do-it-yourself project look like a professional job? Tired of paying a fortune for repairs and renos? It’s not too late to learn.

The average homeowner may not have gotten as early a start as Caruk, but with the help of Build-it-Yourself Learning Centers, there’s no time like the present to start.

Renovation archive

What do you think is a reasonable price for a kitchen renovation?
$10, 000
$25, 000
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