Mike Holmes talks about toolbelts, HGTV and DIY Network shows, his favorite pencil, and his jobsite pet peeves.
Mike Holmes is the host of HGTV’s Holmes on Homes. A contractor who knows the importance of resourcefulness and craftsmanship, his experience in new-home construction and sustainable building, he was recognized in Canada’s House of Commons for his support for improved building standards and skilled trades. That same year, he also launched a charitable foundation in Canada to support the training of youth in the skilled trades through apprenticeships and scholarships.
In addition, Mike and his crew built sustainable and hurricane-resistant house in New Orleans as part of Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right NOLA” project. Mike is developing a unique community of eco-friendly and sustainable homes in Alberta, Canada, that will set a new standard for residential construction and design. Mike also is the author of two successful books and writes a weekly newspaper column. Holmes on Homes is now airing on DIY Network as well as on HGTV. We talked with Mike at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas about tools and jobsite pet peeves. Check it out.
Mark: Radio is on, sun is out and we’re here inside, outside the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, Nevada and the weather is not as nice where you are.
Theresa: You know I am very happy to be outside of the convention center right now. I can’t really say that I’ve ever gone to a convention where I’m glad that I was outside of it because usually all the awesome exhibits and everything, all the cool tools and stuff are inside but awesome is happening all around us here at the outdoor exhibit and it’s a gorgeous day in Vegas.
Mark: Awesome is absolutely everywhere and I think everyone here in the crowd gathered around us can agree to the humble smiling guy right here. Anybody know who this is?
Mark: How does your ego stay in check?
Mike Holmes: Oh geez.
Mark: Thank you for joining us by the way.
Mike Holmes: How about you guys? You’re growing, you’ve got a guitar player behind you, cameras, people loving you, this is all good.
Mark: Thank you very much.
Theresa: It is good and we are so happy to see you and you travel a lot.
Mike Holmes: Yes a little too much actually.
Theresa: I imagine that most people ask you about building houses. I’m going to ask you about packing for travel because you’re wearing this jacket here that is perfect for traveling and I imagine that you have gotten traveling down to a science.
Mike Holmes: I would like to say I’m a professional. One thing you don’t do, I don’t check my luggage, you’ve got to bring it on your plane, you’ve got to take everything you need and for a seven day trip right now I have everything I need in my carry-on. I never check luggage, I hate waiting for my luggage and they end up losing it half the time anyway.
Theresa: I can imagine too like customer service when you have to get on the phone or complain or whatever it is they probably don’t want to see you coming.
Mike Holmes: Probably not but I learned years ago, once you do it once it’s like are you going to make the same mistake twice? No, I’m going to pack it and you bring things that you can use.
Mark: You are traveling so much, you travel all the time for the shows, for productions, for trade shows like this, when you’re at home do you ever actually just accidentally go out for milk and end up in St. Louis?
Mike Holmes: I would actually like to do that. I’d like to like by accident get to my boat, no it doesn’t work that way. My life is extremely scheduled and unfortunately if I had to go to the hospital I’d have to check my schedule.
Theresa: Now you’re here at the National Hardware Show for 3M and safety glasses that are so cool that they have the ear protection in them that are part of keeping them on you at the same time.
Mike Holmes: Well part of the 3M tech line … I’ll tell you why did I team up with 3M is because they said to me can we make a pair of glasses for you and I went yes, I’m tired of the ones that I put on that are uncomfortable that don’t work, that fog up, that scratch and you know what we have a tendency that if they’re not comfortable we’re not going to wear them. I gave them a challenge, I said you know what I want a pair that are not going to fog, you’ve got to make them scratch resistant, I don’t want them falling off my head, they better be comfortable and they better look cool. Well they came back and it wasn’t too much time, just a few months later and they brought out a pair that I went wow, and now there’s a variety of them with all in the same theory and it makes sense that if you can wear a pair of safety glasses that look cool you’re going to wear them. Secondary that they can hang around your neck and have ear plugs it’s like you’re actually going to use them because the problem with safety out there is people not using them because it’s inconvenient, make it convenient, make it comfortable, make it cool, they’ll make it right.
Theresa: I like that, now I have a mission for you I want you to go on for me.
Mike Holmes: Yes.
Theresa: The perfect woman’s tool belt.
Mike: Well it’s not pink, I don’t know what this is about this thing pink.
Theresa: I know! The thing is, is that I have a pink tool belt and it’s not because it’s pink it’s because that’s the only tool belt that is short enough that has enough pockets and everything in it that fits me right. I haven’t found one in any other color that fits me right but I need more places to put things.
Mike Holmes: I’m going to help you.
Mike Holmes: Instead of buying a tool belt that just really already pouched, you buy yourself a work belt and by all the different pouches and all the electrical places, plumbing places, different places and even a special ops place so somebody knows where the special forces go you should see the stuff they have and what you can do then is suit up your whole belt all the way around with different pockets for what you’re looking to put in it. It depends on the tools you want right?
Mark: You know Mike that’s great advice, I don’t know if Theresa knows anybody say in her personal life who has maybe done that.
Theresa: That’s what he has Mike.
Mark: I don’t know if she’s ever seen that every day.
Theresa: I know, I don’t.
Mike Holmes: So he did say this to you.
Theresa: He did.
Mark: No, I didn’t know this question was coming.
Theresa: No, no, no yes, it’s one of the things that I’m always … people always ask me why do you have a pink tool belt, ha ha ha you’re a girl but you know it’s pink because it works not because it’s pink.
Mike Holmes: No you want a cool … you want a tool belt that people are going to say where’d you get that?
Mike Holmes: I want to buy that. That’s really cool, I like that.
Mike Holmes: And that’s how you do it, you make your own.
Theresa: I want a glamour belt though I really …
Mike Holmes: What do you mean by glamour?
Theresa: I want it to be glamorous like sparkly or something.
Mike Holmes: You want to put your lipstick in it?
Theresa: But not pink you know something that’s glamorous.
Mark: Carpenter pencil, school boy pencil, lip gloss.
Mark: You know what I mean?
Mike Holmes: You can do that; you can do that you can have everything and make sure there’s 3M safety glasses.
Mark: That’s right.
Mike Holmes: I’m telling you you’re good.
Mark: Now here’s a carpentry question total carpentry geek that I am, when you go from framing or rough carpentry to doing trim or something, do you change your pencil?
Mike Holmes: No I’m a freak for pencils. I don’t like the big square pencils they do not work for me; they’re not accurate. I’m extremely accurate, I want the old pencil you used in school, the round one and I carry my own sharpener, boom, boom, boom its in the air and I’m right on my mark so you know that an eighth of an inch is an eighth of an inch. Right?
Mark: It still is yes, we have to check bureau of weights and measures to see if it’s still true.
Mike Holmes: If you’re out an eighth it’s not good.
Mark: You’re out an eighth.
Theresa: We first started doing projects together I used to use a mechanical pencil because it’s so precise and he used to make fun of me.
Mike Holmes: You mean an architect’s pencil?
Theresa: Yes so that’s my background.
Mike Holmes: Ok.
Mike Holmes: Oh nice and he made fun of you.
Mike Holmes: That’s because you probably did it good so he’s playing with you.
Mark: The marks Mike were literally invisible. I couldn’t see them.
Theresa: They weren’t invisible!
Mike Holmes: They were too light.
Mark: I couldn’t find them.
Theresa: I could see them.
Mark: Where’s the X? It was this big, I’m like are you kidding me? I wanted to finish in my lifetime.
Theresa: You make small notations when you come from design and architecture, you’re not you know.
Mike Holmes: That’s true.
Mark: It is very true, I couldn’t read it on the band joist for the deck that we were building so I’m just throwing it out there.
Mike Holmes: Well I guess you couldn’t push too hard because you keep breaking it off.
Theresa: Yes because you break your pen up, exactly.
Mark: There were a billion little pieces of lead everywhere.
Theresa: He doesn’t have time to look for small things like that. He wants to move fast, go quick he wants to get it done.
Mike Holmes: I almost ask you like … never mind actually, I was going to ask you are you fast with everything you do?
Mike Holmes: You see how fast she answered that?
Mark: Wait what’s that over my head? Oh that’s a bus that I’m under; it looks good under it, might as well change a transmission for it.
Theresa: You know getting back to the job site though; you are fast in everything you do. He runs up and down a row I mean it’s ridiculous.
Mike Holmes: He’s a worker.
Mark: You talk about it. You’re not out there when you’re a business owner for the greater good of carpentry right? You’re there to do it properly and make money at the same time and that just got under my skin and I like it. I like going fast.
Mike Holmes: Well not just that, if you work and you keep going your day goes … you know I find I look at my watch and say I need four more hours I’m going, I’m going. If you go slow and drag your butt around like a fricking snail or a dog with worms you’re going to miss you, you’re going to be slow and you want to go home. I don’t want to do that. I actually want to work hard so good for you.
Mark: Well you’ve got … you’re rocking the big watches, I’ve notice this …
Mike Holmes: That’s a Casio. I can see that, that’s a shock watch.
Mark: G shock.
Mike Holmes: Going to get a Nixon the bigger watches are better, here try it on.
Mark: I don’t think I can even lift that.
Mike Holmes: Try it on.
Theresa: You can’t even lift that.
Mark: I can’t even … hold, hold my hand somebody help me out with this?
Theresa: That is a big watch.
Mike Holmes: It is a heavy watch.
Mark: That is awesome.
Theresa: I think a big watch is kind of hot actually.
Mark: Of course I could put this around my bicep but …
Mike Holmes: It looks good on you.
Theresa: It looks good on you.
Mark: Did I do it right? Yes, hey thanks Mike.
Theresa: Ok I want to ask you, what is your biggest pet peeve working? Because our biggest thing that we can’t stand that we don’t allow for is lying. That’s number one.
Mike Holmes: Well that’s … you know my dad always said to me you’re only as good as your word and for one thing that’s real, you will carry your word so whether it’s real or not you’re going to carry it with you. What does it hurt to tell the truth? It doesn’t … sometimes maybe it’s too clear you know because I will speak my mind and I’m not trying to offend you and I’ll apologize if I think it’s too much but you know, telling the truth is a necessity. I think the things that I really don’t like; a pet peeve is a dirty job site. That will piss me off, seriously.
Mike Holmes: I don’t like it.
Mark: If it’s under your feet it’s in your way.
Mike Holmes: Yes.
Mark: If it’s in your way it’s taking your bandwidth and you can’t think about the trim detail, the framing detail …
Theresa: And you can’t find anything.
Mark: The calculation.
Mike Holmes: Well and you can damage things like you know all of your corner bead, anything that’s sitting out the guys are walking on. I’m like ok guys pick that up, put it in a place. My guys are so good though they know I want it clean. When I come on the job site it’s not for television that’s what I expect. I want it safe I want to make sure no one gets hurt and that’s how you’re going to get hurt. If you don’t stay on top, if you don’t stay clean everyone gets hurt and I don’t like that.
Theresa: Now you’re very recognizable.
Mike Holmes: I’m not in my overalls.
Theresa: I know but do you ever go incognito onto a project and try to slip in to see what happens when you’re not around?
Mike: Now how do you think I could do that?
Theresa: I don’t know, I’m thinking moustache.
Mike: I would have to put on a Jamaican hat.
Theresa: A hat. I know.
Mike Holmes: Grow some dreadlocks and walk in like yeah, man what’s up you know and even then is it going to work? No, they’d be like is that Holmes? I was in Nova Scotia, no joke. I was in Nova Scotia and I’m wearing this big black rain hat and I’m playing because I was just having fun, I was away from work and this was years ago and we were at the Blue Note 2, the sailboat. I’m standing there and I’m playing, I’m like there’s the oil in the Alcatraz right over there on the right and this guy comes up to me goes, are you Mike Holmes? I said are you kidding me? You could just see my face, I’m not … and he’s like … I said I don’t believe this. Yes, I’m Mike Holmes.
Mark: You know that actually dovetails into a question I do have about your job and your life and TV. You see all these projects on Holmes Makes it Right, you did this stair lift for a little girl with cerebral palsy and you’re in these peoples’ lives and you’re in very, dramatics the wrong word … very critical situations a lot of times and you’re really connecting with them and then you get this guy in the sail boat. Do people forget that you’re human A and B are you human?
Mike Holmes: Well yes, I’m human. Imagine sitting in a restaurant but first of all it blows me away that where ever you go people know who you are but sitting in a restaurant and you’re having dinner and someone comes up and goes, I really hate to bother you as you’re putting a steak in your mouth. Can I just shake your hand? I’m like yes, sure. Can I get a picture? I’m like yes, sure and then because he’s done it now the rest of the restaurant gets up and before you know it my dinner’s cold. They’re the little things that just wait till I’ve finished my dinner, we’ll go party, I’ll buy you a beer, we’ll go to the dance hall you know that’s ok. There’re the things that I go wow, they said it I don’t mean to bother you and they’re not bothering me because I’m never going to get upset with that, I’ll get up and take the picture but it’s like they just need to do it at that moment or they’re going to miss out.
Mark: Right, right yes.
Theresa: Oh yes.
Mike Holmes: It’s five minutes and then let’s go play.
Theresa: Then they become kind of stalky though like they’ll stalk you and you probably don’t want that.
Mike Holmes: Well I’ve seen them do that …
Theresa: Are you done yet, are you done yet?
Mike Holmes: They’ll stand there wait for a sec, stand there and I’ll look over and go, what’s your name?
Mark: Well on the other side of that coin again with this little girl, have you been on any or a lot of your projects that have surprised you emotionally? You get it, you care but have you had like a holy crap moment where … ?
Mike: Yes, yes there was a show that it was called For Annie and the husband and wife they had three triplets or sorry triplets so three girls and the whole reno was about the one daughter who was in a wheelchair and then she died and she died just before I came in to help them and that really was hard on me. I’ve got three beautiful kids, I have two grandkids and I mean that killed me and in front we’re filming this and I’m standing there and the camera man and the husband loses control and starts crying terribly, terribly. I wouldn’t allow that in the show I pushed the camera man away, I go over and I hugged the guy and for days they were so … how can I say it, so sensitive, so not there that all I could do was try and hold them up and keep doing this and it was so hard actually for me to watch the show but they wanted us to finish the job. I gave them the option, I said we can turn this into anything, it doesn’t have to be this way and what they wanted they wanted it finished for Annie so we called it For Annie.
Theresa: Oh wow.
Mike Holmes: That touched me hard.
Mark: I saw that one.
Mark: Yes, I won’t lie to you, I shut that one off.
Mike Holmes: Yes.
Mark: I just, I couldn’t … that’s why I asked you the question. You can’t shut it off you have to keep working.
Mike: Things that people don’t realize or even imagine maybe is that when I do keynote speakers or events that I’m at … imagine every one of them by the way a husband and wife can come up to me in the front row, there’s thousands of people and they start crying and they said I’ve emailed you 10 times and I’m trying to give you the package. We’re in trouble, we need your help. Can you imagine this happens around the world? I can’t help everyone. I want to I really do. How do I say no? I’m booked solid for a year, booked, booked just like crazy but that’s the hardest thing in my world right now is that I look at these husband and wife crying in front of everyone and I can’t help them.
Mike Holmes: That’s hard.
Mark: You do make it right though Mike and it’s about the successes I suppose. I don’t really have a good thing to say and wish I did.
Theresa: It’s about educating everyone too. Educating everyone to ask questions and …
Mark: Tell the truth in your own life …
Theresa: Tell the truth.
Mark: Do what Mike does, make it right.
Mike Holmes: And keep the job site clean.
Mark: We’ll be back with more of MyFixitUpLife.
This interview was recorded at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. For more MyFixitUpLife interviews with Mike Holmes where we talked asbestos, lead safe practices, and his cartoon project, and for behind-the-scenes interviews with other experts and celebrities check out the MyFixitUpLife talk show.