When it comes to quality craftsmanship, HGTV’s Bryan Baeumler hits the nail on the head.

Words by Chris Carriere

Bryan Baeumler is one of the biggest names in reno television. We caught up with the Canada’s Handyman Challenge judge and the host of HGTV’s Disaster DIY, Disaster DIY: Cottage Edition, Leave it to Bryan and House of Bryan, to discuss ruinous renovations, trustworthy tradespeople and his newest off-screen project, the Baeumler Family Foundation for Kids.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Bryan. You just welcomed a new child into your world didn’t you?
Yep, we had a little girl on November 27: Josephine Judith, eight pounds. So we’ve got two boys and two girls, and we’re done now. I have my appointment booked to make sure this doesn’t happen again. [Laughs.] We love kids, but we never thought we’d have four.

What’s the absolute worst botched job you’ve ever seen?
There was a guy that finished his basement with all metal studs. He pulled the wiring through, but used all of the wrong grommets. This guy nicked a wire and it was touching one of the studs, which electrified the entire wall. Then the drywall was glued right to the concrete on one side, which was creating mold, and he had his kids playing around down there. He did it almost for free with the help of friends, and he got what he paid for.

If I’m looking to increase the value of my home and am on a limited budget, what would you suggest?
This is always a tough one, because it’s such a subjective question. It depends on the location and energy efficiency of your home; it also depends on maintenance. Would you prefer a home that loks good and is about to fall apart, or a well-maintained one? Real estate agents will usually say that basements, bathrooms and kitchens are where you make the best return—but that assumes all other things are equal. My advice is to talk to an agent and see what a contractor thinks, but also to talk to potential buyers plus family and friends. If your agent says the kitchen, but nine out of ten of your friends say a new roof and driveway, go with the roof and driveway. Get as many opinions as possible and plug them into your common sense machine.

You actually have your own certification system. Can you tell me about your criteria? How can buyers be sure a contractor or tradesperson is trustworthy?
The rip-off artists are by far a tiny minority of the contractors out there. Every single business has unqualified people. You need to be wary of the guys who come in with cheapest prices, who say they can start tomorrow. But there’s culpability on the homeowners’ side as well, so do your homework and check references.

The Baeumler Approved company came about to serve the need for accountability, and to reward contractors who are playing by the rules. Whenever the economy is in a downturn, inevitably a lot of bad contractors come out of the woodwork. We do background checks and reference checks with associated trades and suppliers. Someone who does tiles should be able to give the name of a supplier they buy from frequently.

Making sure the contractor has worker’s compensation is hugely important, as is liability insurance and municipal licenses. From there, it’s about finding somebody that you communicate well with so that you can see the job through to completion.

You’ve recently started the Baeumler Family Foundation for Kids. How did that come about?
Sarah and I—apart from now having a herd of very active children—have always been big supporters of SickKids Foundation and [Burlington’s] Reach Out Centre for Kids. Even before creating the foundation, we were putting around $250,000 a year into children’s charities. As we started getting more requests and corporate partners and sponsorships, we saw an area where we could help out more and put the foundation together.

The foundation will support existing charities, but our main mandate is to provide accessibility renovations. We started with a girl we found through SickKids who had a number of issues and was in a wheelchair. We renovated her home to provide ramps and so on, and immediately noticed that it changes the whole family dynamic. It’s similar to building the foundation of a house—we’re all going to be old one day, and it’s our job to make sure that children are happy and prepared for the future, so that eventually they can give back.

Any big plans for the future you can let us in on?
The wheels are always turning, but we haven’t carved anything in stone. No more kids, that’s for sure! We’ll probably tread water for a year, but we’ve got some interesting concepts for the following year that will offer viewers a glimpse behind the TV screen.