The giddy rise of house prices has made bricks and mortar real estate the surest investment most of us will make in our lifetimes, with the result that maintaining and upgrading our investment has become an international obsession. It’s a phenomenon that’s made hunky contractor Mike Holmes a star, and has filled primetime with countless reality DIY shows from Britain, the U.S. and Canada, all of which have turned homeowning into a continuing domestic drama more compelling than the cooking of meals or the raising of kids — the activities that once seemed to occupy centre stage in our homes.
What we’ve learned from these shows is that the resale value of our home can be increased with an updating of our bathroom fixtures or an upscale backsplash behind the kitchen counter, while building a nagging anxiety that, hidden behind the plaster and drywall lurks a fiscal liability that could devalue our investment, a fear that becomes livid with the odour of mould in the basement, or with the dreaded words “knob and tube wiring.”
While watching the heroic endeavours of Holmes, the high-camp makeover extravagance of Colin and Justin or the bleak comedy of Disaster DIY on HGTV, the knowing homeowner can’t help but keep a running tally of what they’re seeing, marvelling that every new circuit breaker panel or expanse of glass bathroom tiling would cost at least a week’s wages. To that end, we’re encouraged to try and save money and do it ourselves, with the proviso that, if we screw it up, we’d might as well have blown that money at the racetrack and hope that the avocado green bathroom will go from tacky to retro by the time we decide to sell up and move.
The biggest beneficiaries of the home reno mania have been big box stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Rona, and that boutique clubhouse for the house-proud obsessive, Lee Valley. They’ve made fortunes accessorizing our nesting, and have turned the hardware store from a storefront that smelled of paint and motor oil into vast warehouses, up to 120,000 square feet of drywall tape, flexible conduit and faucet sets that can strike the novice dumb with confusion.
They’ve also seen the need to teach us how to do all this stuff, right down to the basics of handling our brand new gear. (“Saving Time & Money Using Cordless Power Tool Combo Kits” is the name of a one-hour course Home Depot offers.) The workshops, seminars and clinics the DIY behemoths offer range from bluntly prescriptive (“Fence Building,” “Deck and Fence Finishing” and “Laminate Floor Installation” are just three of the no-nonsense clinics Rona offers) to self-affirming (Home Depot’s optimistic “You Can Install A Toilet” and “You Can Use A Mitre Saw to Build Frames”) to the esoteric, and even academic (Lee Valley’s seminars on “Design and Visualization” and “Women And Power Tools.”)
Browsing the how-to offerings on the websites of the home reno stores, it becomes clear that, if only for liability’s sake, none of them want to encourage us to aspire beyond a certain level of home reno competency. You might become a dab hand at drywalling or shingling one day, or aspire to replacing the plumbing fixtures in your kitchen and bathroom, but there are some jobs best left to professionals like plumbers and electricians, and the judgment of city inspectors. The pride and savings you might cherish at the end of a DIY endeavour is likely to wither away in the rosy glow of an electrical fire as it consumes the new addition you built to showcase your Star Wars memorabilia and add five grand to the resale value of your bungalow.