I showed up late the following afternoon wearing my newly acquired T-shirt and hard hat and without even checking in I was able to freely walk around the worksite. This is where I noticed a major flaw in how EMHE organizes the volunteers at these events. There is only one person that is the head of the volunteers and she drove around assigning random people to tasks. Volunteers literally sit around in a staging area twiddling their thumbs – waiting for someone to ask for their assistance. Well my dad didn’t raise me to watch people work, so I combined my upbringing with a philosophy I came up with in college: “As long as you look like you belong somewhere, no one will question what you are doing.”
To prove my point, each day I showed up I would just walk into the house and find someone wearing a yellow hard hat – and because each one had their name printed on the outside front I would say, “I was told to find Jay and give him a hand” – then they would put me to work. I’m not a handyman when it comes to home construction but I’ve got two hands, a willingness to work hard and the ability to carrying things – so for several hours I, along with several other workers, carried board upon board of 4′x8′ Sheetrock until I thought my shoulder was going to give out.
After that, I helped install roofing tile until night settled in and rainy weather made the roof too slick and hazardous to work. For the remainder of the night I helped measure, cut and hang Hardi-board siding along the side and back of the house with Joe Collins, a series regular on The History Channel reality show Ax Men.
There were several celebrities, both local and national, that showed up to assist in the build but, I hate to say it – very few of them were active in the building of the house. Several members of the ABA basketball team the Jacksonville Giants showed up to “assist” but all they ended up doing was standing in the shade of the VIP tent eating food and watching others work.
Professional volleyball player Misty May showed up to surprise the girls and on the show you will see her driving a “bob-cat” bulldozer for the sand pit – unfortunately that was just for the short clip and didn’t last very long. I would have been more impressed with their appearances if she and the others would have grabbed a shovel, a broom or some debris and really lent a helping hand.
Joe Collins is to be commended in my opinion because he, his wife, and his son all showed up to assist in any way they could. Not only did they get dirty working in the dust and soil but they did it during the night shift – when no cameras where there to see them. We toiled side-by-side for over 8 hours eventually covering the entire left side and back of the house with Hardi-board.
At over 15 hours, this was by far my longest day at the build site but it was also the most productive. I started off the day helping several others measure, cut and install the entire deck in the center courtyard. I had been wearing steel toe shoes each day of the build – but on this day I had forgot to wear them and as my luck would have it, this was the only day I really, REALLY needed them. As I was cutting a piece of decking, a support beam made from a length of pressure treated 2×8 fell and landed its edge squarely on my big toe. I wouldn’t find out until 30 minutes before I left that night that I had broken my toe but I took a minute to gather myself, “rubbed some dirt on it” and continued working.
In earlier seasons, Ty used to be way more involved with the actual construction of the house. However, ABC has started doing two builds at once and Ty had to split his time between the Middleburg, FL build and a build in Richmond, VA. EHME is always looking for quality woodworkers to help build custom furniture pieces for each home and I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of friends with the skills to pay the bills.
They spent the entire night crafting furniture for the house by hand and built some plexi-glass screens for the outside of the home – much like you would see on a Japanese-style house. All of the tradesmen who volunteered on the build were top notch in their specific areas of expertise. From metal workers to finishing carpenters, all of them dedicated countless hours to making every piece of custom furniture something special.
DAY 5 – The Reveal
After leaving the build site at 4:30 AM, I had an hour drive home, slept for two hours then drove an hour back to be on set in time for the reveal, which was scheduled for noon. However, my hastiness was in vain as things did not go as planned. What viewers see on TV is a far cry from what actually happens in real life. For the first two hours, there was plenty of “B-roll” footage of the crowd chanting “Move that bus!” and plenty of footage of the bus moving before the family ever arrived. Then they spent nearly an hour filming the limo driving up but without the family inside.
Finally, after almost three hours of very boring and anti-climatic filming, the family showed up and Ty was there to greet them. You would think it was time for everything to go in one fluid motion but that was not the case. For almost an hour the family stood around filming various scenes behind the bus until finally the driver actually did move the bus.
Once the family was allowed inside the house the show was over and the crowd of more than 2,000 dispersed. We all went home for some much needed sleep and I had a broken toe to nurse.
It may shock some fans of the show to know that the designers rarely do any actual work on an EMHE build. In fact, there are two sets of show designers – ones in front of the camera and ones behind the camera.
The on-camera talent, though super nice, mostly walk around in designer clothes holding a bottle of sparkling water while standing around watching people work. The behind the camera designers are dressed just like the volunteers and are usually sweaty, dirty and exhausted – often times they know more about what is happening on the build than the on-camera designers.
A couple of facts about the build:
- Everything on an EMHE build is donated by local and national companies – wood, plants, furniture, appliances, ect. Nothing is bought by the show.
- The only people receiving compensation for their time on the build are the production crew who work for ABC. Everybody else, from the caterers and local police to the roofers and Sheetrock installers work pro bono.
- Surrounding neighbors are compensated for the use of their land, water, and driveways by the show with a variety of different services provided by ABC. Some receive new privacy fences; others receive new sod for their yard. One lady allowed the production staff to use her washer and dryer the entire week and her kindness was rewarded by the show with… a new washer and dryer.
- While the house receives its COO (Certificate of Occupancy) before the reveal, work continues on the house for several weeks after the family moves in. Minor things like touch up paint on the back of the house and the installation of a sprinkler system are all done at a later date.
- EMHE no longer builds 6,000 sq. ft. homes. The new houses are a “modest” and maintainable 3,000-3,400 sq. ft. and have all the latest “green” technology incorporated to help lower utility costs.
- Inevitably there will always be the people who, for whatever reason, be it jealousy or just an overall sour disposition, will try and rain on the family’s parade by spewing hateful comments in blogs across the Internet. Most think these families are not deserving of receiving such extravagant gifts or that another family in the area was more deserving. These people should be ignored because haters are always going to hate.
The English writer John Heywood once wrote “Many hands make light work” and that phrase rings doubly true on an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition build. Hundreds of volunteers give up hours upon hours of their day or week to do everything from serving food and handing out water bottles to the build crew to simply picking up trash and moving scrap lumber and debris to the dumpster – every task on a EMHE build site is important and without volunteers this show would simply not exist.
If you have never been involved with a project like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition or Habitat for Humanity, I would encourage you to look into volunteering – I promise you will not regret it.