At the Heart of Holmes
September 2, 2011
Contrary to public opinion, Mike Holmes never believed he was destined to become a contractor, let alone a Canadian icon in the construction industry, but from the age of six, and by virtue of his father’s influence, he was constantly fixing or building something. Never at a loss for words or ideas, this natural born leader has always aspired to make the world a better place – beyond building homes that won’t burn, mould or rot. Now at 48, his drive to educate millions of people – all at once – is stronger than ever, and he has new goals on the horizon. But when his work is finished, don’t be surprised if Holmes disappears from the public eye – seeking seclusion on an island in hopes of regaining some well-deserved privacy.
By Mary Savage
Photos by Neville Palmer Read more here about the photoshoot by Neville.
After spending an afternoon with Canada’s most trusted contractor it became apparent that Mike Holmes is even more personable than his “non-scripted” television demeanor depicts. Behind the piercing blue eyes and diamond-studded ears, the self-proclaimed workaholic is starting to realize the importance of enjoying life by stealing pockets of time amidst his breakneck schedule, his vision for change never sleeps.
“For whatever reason, we don’t think outside the box: we know it’s wrong, but we don’t change our approach to building better homes. It’s not about changing the minimum building codes, it’s about changing how we look at things,” says Holmes. “Things won’t change until we know better – by learning from our mistakes.”
He appears to be a knight in shining armour to the thousands of families he personally helps to ‘make it right’ when renovations go wrong, it’s no wonder he has a global following. “We’ve got to stop doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done them. We haven’t changed the minimum building codes for 30-odd years and they’re not working,” remarks Holmes. “Two of the fastest growing businesses are home inspections and mould abatement.” Because according to Holmes, every single house has mould – the question is how much.
“Imagine living in a house that won’t mould or burn, it won’t fall down or blow down. Imagine building a community that operates as ‘net-zero’, meaning it actually produces more electricity than it uses,” Holmes adds.
When Holmes forayed into the Wind Walk project, a sustainable community slated for development south of Okotoks, his vision of the Holmes Community was to build houses that would last for centuries (costing about 15 per cent more than the going rate). Three years later, the project sits before the provincial government awaiting its decision, and Holmes has no intention of giving up.
“Eventually, it will move forward because I’m not giving up, it’s the right thing do to. I picked Alberta because it’s progressive with respect to the environment,” explains Holmes. “It’s about doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.”
Holmes explains that the project’s greatest challenge has to do with water. “We want the water and sewer to be 100 per cent contained within the community. The water source comes from the aquifer: we’ll use it and clean it and return it to the aquifer. Everything in life is about that cycle: how can we move, how can we grow, how can we continue – for our kids and their future.”
As for other communities like Wind Walk, there’s one slated for Haiti. It’s being built near Port au Prince to house children who were left orphaned by the earthquake. His team has been down there several times and he will go down in November to begin the project.
And when it comes the next generation, Holmes has met with the prime minister on several occasions to talk about ‘green’ initiatives. “We’re all thinking green, we’re all talking green, but who’s teaching it? How do we move from the level we’re at now, building minimum code that’s literally not working, to designing differently?” he asks. Holmes Communities will hire local apprentices and teach them how to build these houses. It creates a brand new certification and will change the industry overnight.”
When it comes to building a better house, Holmes combines history with technology and a bit of common sense. “When you think about how we built years ago, we had canopies over our windows and they were positioned at perfect degrees. In the summer, it shaded us from the solar passive and kept the house cool, but in the winter, it still allowed the sunshine to heat the environment,” he says. “Why did we stop using canopies? Was it cheaper or did we just become stupid?”
His forward thinking, backed by his drive for action, has landed him in a league of his own where he is both respected and disliked. Regardless, Holmes has already made a tremendous difference and he attributes many of his traits – like them or not – to his father.
“My Dad was a real unique person and, among other things, he taught me respect and to think for myself,” Holmes says. “I grew up in a tough neighborhood and maybe that’s what made me strong. I was a wimpy kid and got beat up a lot. I was about 14 when I finally stood up for myself and realized I was strong enough to fight back.”
For the past five years, Holmes has been working on Mighty Mike a cartoon character to be launched in 2012. “It’s a version of me as a kid. It follows Mighty Mike’s activity with a crew of kids around him. It’s going to help teach kids integrity, kindness, respect, having a passion for what they do and, of course, how to become a contractor,” Holmes explains. “He’s going to be an icon for the next generation.”
Looking at Holmes’s bucket list, there appears to be a lot of checkmarks. “In the last 10 years, everything was planned, with one exception: the accident was going from Holmes Homes to Holmes Communities!” With four companies, a bi-monthly magazine and four books under the Holmes Group, he’s on a roll.
“I planned every book ahead of time and I’ve still got two more to go. The fifth one is about the environment and how we need to understand the changes that are necessary. The sixth book is called, Men are Easy, because I have always been drawn to write a book about love, life and sex,” he says with a grin.
“When I read the book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, I was 30 and newly divorced. Afterwards, I said to myself, ‘It’s that easy?’ Then I called my ex-wife and apologized – for everything.”
Holmes looks at life as one continuous learning curve, turning mistakes into lessons and moving forward. “To me, there’s never a mistake in life. Everything is a lesson and that’s how we learn. I’ve never regretted anything that has helped me understand life better and helped me get to where I am today.”
Holmes admits he thought Wind Walk would have been better received, but like most things in life, he sees it as a learning opportunity. “There’s nothing negative about this project – we spent over a million dollars planning and testing it,” he says. “No matter what happens, after the first community has been built, I’ll have changed the industry.”
In a rare moment, when Holmes is not working, you’ll find him on his boat or travelling across the country on his new three-wheel motorcycle. “I calculate my time by what’s important to me. It’s important to finish what I’ve started and I speculate I’ve got about five years to go, but I doubt it will ever stop,” he adds. The next bucket list will take him to 60 and according to Holmes, it’s anybody’s guess what happens after that.
“I always said I’m going to buy an island and disappear and I’m probably going to do that, but then again, maybe I’ll build an underground house.”
Wind Walk at a Glance
- For the 1,000 – 1,200 Wind Walk residents, their community would be a compact, walkable neighborhood featuring Green™ and sustainable building solutions that include Holmes Homes, Holmes Approved Homes and high performance infrastructure. The concept, introduced in spring 2008, proposes development of a 145-acre parcel of land, located south of Highway 7 and the Cornerstone area, just outside the Okotoks city limits. The current plan promotes a mixed-used land plan:
- 457 single and multi-family homes
- 33 per cent of the land is comprised of open green spaces, allocating ten acres to public park use
- a full-sized soccer pitch
- over 80 plots designated for a community garden and farmers’ markets
- 7.5 acres for a school
- approximately 80,000 sq.ft. of retail space
The plan also includes technological integration to offer:
- district wide heating and electrical generation plan to be the first net-exporting energy subdivision in North America
- improved automation and home energy management
- renewable energy systems such as solar on every rooftop
- an integrated water management system retaining storm water on-site to pre-development rates and conservation standards
- improved broadband speed and capacity through fibre optic infrastructure
- full compost, recycle and waste management plan during and after construction
- district wide battery back-up storage to eliminate risk of power outages, surges and interruptions