Here is our Q&A with Mike Holmes on his time and work in New Orleans.
Q: When arriving, what was the crew’s reaction to first seeing the devastation?
A: We had an idea of what it would be like. But I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what we saw. It was the most surreal thing you could ever see. The devastation was unbelievable. Three years later and there was still so much destruction. The trees, the rubble, the houses – it seemed like life just stopped. Why nothing happened in all that time? I will never understand that. It was overwhelming. We knew what we were doing was important. We were going there to make a difference. Giving a fresh start to the people who live there.
Q: What have the crew loved about New Orleans?
The people – hands down. They welcomed us and took care of us. They came out everyday and helped us. They fed us, they sang to us – they even prayed for us. It was incredible. They have such big hearts. The crew felt lucky to be part of the rebuild. They were happy to help put back together the Lower 9th Ward and bring Gloria and her family home. It was life changing and none of us will ever forget it.
Q: How are the people of New Orleans responding to the project?
They were very grateful. But seven years later and there’s still so much to do. It’s going to take a lot of time, money and resources. But we started the change and the people there are trying to keep it going.
Q: What have been some of the construction challenges the crew has faced?
The house is LEED Platinum and we had to work really hard to obtain that. The original plans called for the wall studs to be 24” on centre. I insisted on 16” on centre – which is stronger. I also added threaded steel rods that ran from the top plate of the second floor to the sill beam – every 12 feet. That plus the spray foam insulation locked the house in together.
The roof was a huge challenge. It was a hip roof – tipping down from back to front and each hip pitched at a unique angle. The design called for the roofline to face south and at a specific degree to maximize sun exposure. Every single piece of wood needed to be measured and cut one at a time. It was a slow process. It needed to be perfect.
Then there were 20 photovoltaic solar panels installed on the roof. The electricity produced from the sun offset the home’s total electrical consumption. This saves money every month.
Another feature was the use of geothermal technology. It uses renewable energy found under the ground to heat or cool a home. This location required us to dig 4 wells, each 250 feet deep! The wells contain a tubing system of liquid refrigerant that feeds into the house’s AC unit. In New Orleans, the earth’s temperature 250 feet below is a constant 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. In hot climates, the geothermal systems transfer heat from the house back into the earth, where the cool ground absorbs the excess heat. Cool air is brought back to the home at a very low cost.
The combination of geothermal and solar will save Gloria, the homeowner, at least 70% in heating, cooling and electrical bills.
Q: What was the atmosphere like on-site?
We spent a lot of time together and we had to work long, hard days. There were weather delays, extreme heat and a lot of rain! It was really intense but we were all pumped to be there and do what we went there to do. Everyone had a great time. We supported each other through the good times and the tough times. We were there to “make it right”!
Q: How did the crew manage to work in the heat?
It was really, really hot! The humidity was unbelievable. It was 100 degrees in the shade, 120 in the sun. The rain gave us some relief but as soon as it stopped, the heat would kick-in full force. We drank a lot of water. We took turns in the shade and tried to cool off. I would pull some crew off and send others up. But it was really tough. We lost some crew – they had to go and take a day off. But we pushed through.
Q: After the wet weather period, how did the crew make up for lost time?
Just long, long days and tons of support from others; we had some local contractors come and help us out. That was amazing. Couldn’t have done it without them.
Q: What was the feeling for everyone when you had completed the project?
We were proud of what we accomplished and so happy to give Gloria a home she would be safe in. I think I can speak for everyone on my crew – it was one of the best experiences of our lives.
Q: What are the future plans? Will you be dedicating more time into building more homes?
I wanted to take what we learned in New Orleans and apply it to future builds. The idea is to be energy smart--environmentally friendly. Start new, think new and build better. That’s what we’re doing through the Holmes Approved Homes program. We’re building homes built for the future. I think we have responsibility to build that way.
Q: The people of New Orleans have been through so much. In doing this project, what do you hope for those people?
No one should have to go through what they went through. The storm was bad. Over 1,800 people died – but not because of the hurricane. They died because the levees failed. And they failed because they weren’t built properly. When you think about the time it took for these people to just start to rebuild their lives—it’s unacceptable. People shouldn’t have to leave their home and their roots. If you’re going to build a house in a hurricane zone, you need to make sure it’s hurricane proof. Gloria’s house isn’t going anywhere. Hopefully the community rebuild continues and the people of the Lower 9th ward will never have to go through that kind of devastation again.