Renovation Tips from HGTV’s Bryan Baeumler

We recap Bryan Baeumler's insightful reno advice from the Vancouver Home + Design Show

Credit: Julia Dilworth

Bryan Baeumler reveals insightful reno advice at the Vancouver Home + Design Show

Veteran contractor Bryan Baeumler and host of HGTV’s Leave It To Bryan, Disaster DIY and House of Bryan may make renovating look simple in his half-hour episodes, but when he took the main stage at the Vancouver Home + Design Show this past Saturday, he set the record straight immediately.

“It’s a lot easier to do things on television. Remember that when you go home and renovate and wonder why things have gone sideways.”

To a packed crowd of do-it-yourselfers and homeowners at BC Place Stadium, Bauemler asked in his warm and informal presentation, “What’s the first thing you have to know before you renovate?”

A highly interactive group shouted many things including the right answers, “Plan!” and “Budget!”

“A plan and a budget, exactly,” said Baeumler. “But a lot of people don’t have that.”

“A lot of people come up and they say, ‘Oh, I loved your series Disaster DIY, it shows us how easy it is to renovate our homes.’ And I wonder if they have ever watched the show,” joked the contractor.

According to Baeumler, the show is really about “how easy it is to screw your house up” and how inevitably you’ll need to call someone in to fix it.

We all want to improve our houses and add value to them, explained Baeumler. In most cases, it’s the biggest investment and people’s retirement savings plan. “Is there anyone here who tries to decrease the value of their home when they renovate?” asked Baeumler to a wave of laughs. This is when he illustrated a common scenario for the crowd.

“We tend to walk into our houses and if we have a broken tile, we notice it right away,” said Baeumler. “‘Oh there’s a tile broken, I should fix that.’ Then the next time you walk in, it takes you 10, 15 minutes, then it’s a couple of days, then it’s a couple of weeks, then it’s months and then you don’t even notice.”

“But along with that tile is a missing piece of trim and a hole in the wall and the basement you ripped apart and realized ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!’ So you didn’t do anything. Then something happens, you lose your job, you want to sell your house, the real estate agent comes in and the first thing they say is, ‘You’ve got a cracked tile, you’re missing some trim and your basement is ripped apart — this is tough.’

“So the idea is to finish it and finish it properly,” he said. “Because if you finish it and you do it yourself and you don’t do a good job, it’s no longer an asset, it’s a liability.”

Click through for more tips from the reno master

Credit: HGTV

Invest Wisely

The first thing Baeumler asks when he looks at a renovated home

“Did they do it themselves? That’s the number one question.”

“Because I’ve seen that show, where they do it themselves,” joked Baeumler, referring to Disaster DIY, “and they don’t always do it the best that they could do it because they want to save money and make it look great.”


What should you ask when looking at buying a home?

“When you walk into a house and you want to buy it, you should say: How much does this cost every month to heat and operate?” advised Baeumler. 

Because, he explains, in 10 to 15 years energy costs could double or triple.

When it comes to deciding where to invest your money in the home, Baeumler said you can make do with the off-the-shelf cabinets, the laminate countertops, but you should put money into the insulation and the mechanicals.

“Our last home cost us $50 a month to operate. Over time that buys a lot of granite countertops.”

Credit: HGTV

Be Realistic

Get your priorities straight

“So when we’d go into a home in Leave it to Bryan and they have their priority list… people would say, ‘I’ve been working on this man cave, it’s all I want to do, it’s really important.’ We get out there to look at the house and the roof is leaking, single pane windows, water in the basement and I think, ‘You don’t need a man cave right now, you need some shingles and some windows and some insulation.’ But homeowners don’t want that boring stuff, explained Baeumler, they want the man cave.

This is when Baeumler joked that they were going to call the show, I’m sorry I have bad news for you.


Why optimism can be a problem

“When it comes to renovating,” said Baeumler, “we can’t be that optimistic with our budget and our schedule and our skill level.”

According to Baeumler, we all tend to overestimate our skills a bit and this can get us into trouble. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I’m not the best carpenter on the planet, I’m not the best tile setter on the planet — I’m good, but I have guys working for me that are a little better than me, and I have to pick my battles just like anyone else.

“I’ll let the guys that are better at it do it because that’s what makes sense.”

Credit: HGTV

Spend on What’s Most Important

You don’t have to do everything yourself

“If you’re finishing your basement and you’re good at framing, frame it up,” said Baeumler. For the wiring, Baeumler said call your electrician and let him pull a permit on his master, let him get it inspected and keep that paperwork. Then when you want to sell your house, you have evidence of your permit and the inspection report, which releases you from liability and adds value to your home.

If you insulate your home, do it properly and take pictures, advised Baeumler. And put those pictures in with the inspection reports from the permits and include this with the package when you’re selling your house — it all adds to the value.


It’s what’s inside that counts

“We’ll do six weeks of work, we’ll do $60,000 on structural, mechanical work and we’ll walk in at the end and the first thing someone says is: ‘I love the pillows.’ And I want to take the pillow and I want to beat them with it, because there’s a lot more to it than pillows.

“It’s all about the stuff in behind the walls — that’s what we have to start thinking about.”


Why you should consider a green reno

“When you think green, think money,” Baeumler told the crowd.

“The less resources you use, the better built your house is, the more efficient it is, the less resources you’re using to heat it, you’re making less of an impact on the environment and you’re saving money.

“So anything you can do to save money — and heating and cooling are the biggest costs of owning a home — save money! Put it in your pocket, that’s green!”

Or, said Baeumler, another way to go green is by building in such a way that things last longer.


Why treated lumber is not the answer

“I get asked a lot about treated lumber,” said Baeumler. “There are products out there where they take all your lumber and they truck it to a chemical factory and they cover it in chemicals and they ship it back to you and they say, ‘Here, if you’ve got a wet basement, use this stuff, it won’t rot, it won’t mold.’

“I say, fix your basement,” said Baeumler. “Stop the leak.”

Credit: HGTV

Be Proactive

how to avoid mold

“When people go in [their homes] and say ‘I think I’ll put a bathroom here, but this wall’s in the way, so are these joists, just take those out.’ Then they insulate them and put up the vapour barrier and close in the walls, but they don’t put a heat recovery ventilator or air exchange in there, so now all of the sudden in the summer, when you’ve got a nice warm summer and you turn the air conditioning on, all that moist air comes through the wall and condenses on the backside of the vapour barrier and the walls fill with mold.

“We’re seeing that a lot with houses built in the ’70s and ’80s, early ’90s, but now we’re using rigid foam insulation, we’re eliminating that dew point within the walls,” said Baeumler. “But now we need to exchange the air, we need to put filtration in so it’s healthy for us and so we’re not getting moisture in the home.”

One bathroom mold solution: “Put a timer in so when you leave you throw the timer on and the fan keeps running and sucks all that moisture out of there so you don’t get the mold and mildew in all your grout and that kind of stuff.”


you get what you pay for

According to Baeumler, a great example of this is building a shower.

“You can do a mortar bed and use concrete board with vapour barrier behind it, or you can buy one of the pre-cut, pre-fab shower kits with the waterproof base and the walls and everything — those are $800. A bag of mortar is $15.99. But the bag of mortar requires a lot of skill, a lot of experience to get it perfectly sloped the right way so it looks good when you get in there and it’s tiled. You’ve got to waterproof it properly or it’s going to leak and cause havoc in your walls. But you can do it for $30, $40. It’s going to take you three or four days, but you can do it.”

“Or,” Baeumler continued, “you buy the kit for $800, you can put it in in four hours and start tiling right away and it’s 100 per cent effective.

“But what people don’t realize is the labour cost is about the same when you add it up,” he said. “But one way is easier and faster, and more difficult to screw up, and one way is harder and it takes longer and you really have to have skill to put it in. Unfortunately the good stuff is expensive.”

Credit: HGTV

Final Words

How can you find a good inspector?

There are tons of great inspectors out there, but there are some bad apples, conceded Bauemler.

“When you buy a home and an inspector comes to look at it, they can’t rip walls down and start looking at stuff — that’s when we find the real problems. That’s the hard thing.

“We can check moisture levels in the basement, we can look for telltale signs of structural issues or water, we can look at the electrical to a certain extent… but your inspector can’t shrink down like that Magic School Bus and get in the wall and see everything, so that’s a tough one,” he admitted.

“You’ve got to keep in mind… when a house is listed and you go there, [the real estate agent’s] job is to sell that house. And if the inspector comes in every time and says, ‘This house is a piece of junk,’ it’s a tough business relationship for a real estate agent. So there are a lot of factors involved.

“Hiring any type of contractor or inspector is just like dating and getting married,” said Baeumler. “They have to be nice and a good cook… but at the end of the day you have to hire someone that you trust.”


For more Bryan Baeumler tips

To the rescue of would-be renovators everywhere, Baeumler is set to release his first book in February. Measure Twice isn’t a manual on how to do things, but “a list of the top 100 mistakes people have made renovating, why they made them and how to avoid them,” said Baeumler. This may be your only chance to get his 280-plus episodes of expertise in print form, as Baeumler told the crowd, exasperated, “I’ll never write another book in my life.”