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Home Improvement on Television

It seems like there’s a reality TV show for just about everything these days, whether it’s crab fishing or chocolate-making, and the home improvement industry has not escaped. In fact, TV shows about rebuilding or redesigning or even just buying homes have flooded the networks, which means a lot of exposure for the industries–as well as a lot of misinformation. After all, “reality” television tends to resemble actual reality less than one might assume, and these shows can often give both homeowners and people looking to get into the home improvement industry the wrong idea about how it really works.

Why We’re Asking

Media portrayals are almost always sensationalized and simplified, to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Television would have you believe that a home can be demolished and rebuilt in a single day, or that jobs like digging under houses to root out pests are all fun and games. Our experts across the industry deal with the reality of home improvement and maintenance on a daily basis–and often encounter the myths that television has encouraged. No one is better suited to help us sort fact from fiction.

So tell us, experts:

What do you think of television portrayals of your industry?

Are there any shows that do a good job of reflecting reality? How about bad ones?

What unrealistic expectations have you come up against as a result of media portrayals?

Have you ever hired a new employee and had to correct their TV-inspired ideas about the industry?

If your business had a TV show, what would it focus on?

Real life is rarely as glamorous as television–even “reality” television. We look forward to hearing about the discrepancies between reality and what you’ve seen on the small screen!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Greg Chick of Ramona's Plumber 03/26/14

    I will start out saying, I have no TV, nor have seen current shows. I did see some shows 10 yrs. ago and the same probably exists. Entertainment is the product with an educational twist. This is better than TV w/o educational benefits. Having said that, the shows I have seen are honest, realistic and ethical. Too often better than “Reality” in contracting, as consumers often learn. Sad but true, so my words of caution are TV first ! Having produced over 40 Plumbing videos, I will say that a video is far different than the real thing, but I am not willing to offer an opinion on which one is better. The learning how, is most different than a slick video, so I suggest a multitude of different viewings on any one trade before suggesting you have anything more than a glimpse. The 30 min. shows are the work of a couple hundred man hours of effort. The “wow, I could do that” is the real message too often. “Plug n play” can be a dangerous concept, The shows are sponsored by interests looking to sell product, so keep that in mind. Having said that, I say enjoy, and build using sustainable design.
    Greg Chick LEED AP.

  • Kris 03/26/14

    I do think some of the homeowner reality TV shows can teach some valuable lessons. Dealing primarily with home buyers, I think shows like Holmes Inspection should be a must watch for all new buyers. While sometimes homebuying can be a very exciting and relatively stress free process, you need to do your homework. Realtors & inspectors are human, and sometimes have selfish needs in mind. Not that they intentionally scam people, but let’s just say you need to protect your own interests and be an educated consumer.

    If I had a TV show it would be something like “home buying disasters” to show people what to look for when buying a house. Doing renovations when you want to can be fun. Doing them because you bought a “lemon” is not.

  • Pablo Solomon of Pablo Solomon Artist and Designer 03/27/14

    OK–I love home improvement TV shows I have an actual TV antenna out here on the ranch and get PBS and Create TV for free over the public air waves. A great way to save money. I try watch them all as I take breaks during the day. Since Create runs its shows on a loop, I can watch at really weird times like my usual 3am wake up.
    I began working on homes with my dad as a kid.
    And despite a lifetime of doing new designs and remodeling, I usually get something useful from every show.
    The only complaint that I have is that since they get their tools and products from their sponsors, they too often use complicated and overly expensive solutions.
    One of my favorites is Around the House as Matt’s projects are usually done with a skill saw and a drill.
    Norm Abrams is a master carpenter, but every time he says things like let’s cut some dove tail joints or and we will allow 1/16 for expansion–I wonder how many times he has had to resort to the bigger hammer solution to get it to make something fit.
    However, I do wonder where they get their flawless lumber.
    I also do wish my plumbing projects went as well as those on TV so I did not have to worry about burning in hell for my all my plumbing related cursing.
    Pablo Solomon
    Artist & Designer

  • Jason Todd of GreenHomes America 03/27/14

    There’s nothing wrong with a good TV remodel, although tearing into a home and seeing it magically transformed in such a short time doesn’t really reveal all the trials or expense incurred, but we can dream can’t we? TV is all about escape isn’t it?

    Since our focus is on comfort, health, safety and energy efficiency our projects tend to be a little less flashy and smaller too. We don’t turn a house upside down just to improve it.
    Over the last few years we did have some significant projects as part of a Deep Energy Retrofit study in upstate New York. It was the stuff of TV for sure, retrofitting exterior walls over existing ones, adding new siding, windows, high tech heating and ventilation equipment, working top to bottom, we even dubbed the projects “extreme energy makeovers.”

    This isn’t our everyday kind of work though. Sadly that’s not as interesting for TV audiences, but, go figure, many people from California to New York, thousands in fact are doing them. Home Performance contracting is all about increasing comfort, assuring health and safety and lowering your utility bills.

    The install work on a GreenHomes America TV show might not feature the attractive and charismatic Ty or Nicole swinging a sledge hammer, and there would be no new marble counter and fancy cabinetry with elegant lighting, unless it was already there in the first place. It also wouldn’t be quite as destructive as some shows out there since we don’t have to tear into every surface of the home to find problems, or to fix them.

    I picture a family gathering in the same undisturbed living room from the start of the show, this time in complete comfort. No more suffering through a cold winter under blankets on the couch, or a hot summer wondering why the AC isn’t strong enough.

    I picture a family no longer suffering from allergies due to poor indoor air quality from a damp crawlspace and leaky walls or cold like symptoms because their water heater was back-drafting carbon monoxide. Sounds pretty good actually, maybe we should start filming?

  • Katie Miller 03/31/14

    As a designer and renovation addict, HGTV and the DIY network are two default channels in my home. I’ve watched almost every show each network offers and I find there to be a mix of both impractical, entertaining shows and practical, educational shows.

    Personally, I think HGTV’s Love it or List it is a great example of both an unrealistic and realistic program. The show presents unhappy homeowners with the opportunity to search the market for new properties as well as renovate their existing home. In the end the owners have the choice of loving their renovated home and staying put, or listing it and buying a new property. Both designer Hilary and realtor David compete to sway the family in their direction.
    Now, the unrealistic aspect of the show is quite obvious. It is rare that a homeowner is able to afford a complete home makeover and splurge on a new home. It is also unusual to find listings both in budget and in the couples’ target, desirable area. Aside from these issues, there have been rumors that the property listings shown are often ones that are not even for sale or on the market. But as a reminder, this is reality television and these sorts of plots make a show entertaining.

    The practical aspect of the show is centered on the obstacles that surface when renovating a home. Hilary often struggles with going over budget to accommodate the needs of the homeowners. When redesigning a home, one usually deals with unforeseen issues such as electrical problems, mold and water damage, load bearing walls, and code issues. These difficulties are often money-eaters and consume most of a reno budget. In these situations, Hilary is forced to spend a bulk of the money, even if it means not giving the family some of their non-negotiables. This reality helps take away the glamour of renovations and house rehabs. At the same time, the show is an amazing demonstration of how great interior design can make a previously undesirable space completely personalized to the owners wants and needs.

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