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Contractor Mike Holmes (Jaime Hogge/Jaime Hogge)

Contractor Mike Holmes

(Jaime Hogge/Jaime Hogge)

The making of Mike Holmes Add to ...

Holmes's goal these days isn't fixing homes but building them right the first time: self-sustaining houses with their own sewage and grey-water collection, living roofs, radiant floor heating, solar-heated water. Last summer, Holmes spent 10 weeks working with the Brad Pitt-led Make It Right Foundation (they connected over a dispute about the foundation's name, a phrase Holmes had trademarked), overseeing construction on new eco-friendly homes in hurricane-ravaged parts of New Orleans. "We had the [power]meter running backwards and Brad was dancing in his shoes," Holmes recalls. As he warms to the subject, he gathers speed, detailing how houses can be built fire-resistant, airtight and mould-resistant. "Everyone's talking green," he says. "Well, let's really go green! Why don't we change the building process? If no one else is going to do it, I'm going to do it. Build a home that won't burn, won't mould, that's termite-resistant. There's a book, Cradle to Cradle, and I like that: like a farmer, take from the land and put it back ... lost where I was going with that." Then he remembers, and is off again on the horrors of deforestation and how there are (he looks it up on his iPhone) 256 trillion BTUs of solar energy striking the Earth right now and we're not harnessing that power, and what a waste that is.

"I'd love to be a developer," says Holmes. "To me, everything is simple technology. All we have to do is put it all together." So, in 2007, the Holmes Group partnered with Oko Properties and design consultants Baird Sampson Neuert to build an entire green community on a 100-acre site near Calgary-the first of three planned Holmes Homes developments in the area. The new houses will cost 15 per cent more than comparable-size homes, but buyer interest is nevertheless running high, says Quast. The Holmes Group's role is to oversee the construction of the houses and back the quality with a five-year warranty.

The real-estate project is his most ambitious new venture, but hardly the only one. Some of them have had rocky beginnings. Take Holmes's boots. The Holmes Group is on its second footwear manufacturer.

The workwear line has also hit some bumps: Richlu, the Winnipeg-based maker of Tough Duck jackets, overalls and other rough-wearing garments, was the Holmes Group's first licensing partner. Holmes insisted on having a say in the design rather than just attaching his name to existing products. But in stores, the Holmes overalls were surrounded by Tough Duck gear, and marketed as a premium version of the existing line. Quast says the workwear problems have finally been sorted out, and this spring, more than two years after the initiative started, the first shipments hit small retailers and chains across Canada.

Also in the spring, the Holmes Group launched a home inspection business, an arena that for years has drawn some of Holmes's most impassioned invective. The company has hired Darren Johnson, an experienced inspector, to run a pilot project in Guelph, Ont. There are more books coming, with one on green building planned for 2010. There's a newspaper column (usually typed by his PR co-ordinator after Holmes dictates it into a tape recorder while driving in his truck; he doesn't type). In April, the company agreed to team up with an independent publisher in Creemore, Ont., on Holmes Magazine-the minimal title attesting to the partners' confidence in Holmes's name recognition. All this, plus the launch of Holmes on Homes in the U.S., which requires him to find time for American media and public appearances.

As ventures multiply, the company, now 30 strong, intends to bring in consultants-specialists in the various businesses who, as Holmes likes to say, will make it right. Still, Holmes remains at the centre, and there's only so much of him to go around. "It's always been one of the challenges, that you're building the brand on the shoulders of a man who needs to sleep and eat," says Quast. "[Last season] we were killing Mike. He was not only there for all the shoot days, but had to go to press conferences, think about Holmes Homes, the new products, speaking engagements. He was working all the time." In her office, Liza Drozdov, Holmes Group's director of communications, has yearly calendars on a wall showing Holmes's schedule. Judging by the amount of red and green marker scribbles, 2006 was especially crazy-and those were just the engagements she booked. Holmes also has an agent for speaking gigs. Drozdov has been trying to book a vacation for him, but it keeps getting postponed. (As she's explaining the demands on his time, Holmes sticks his head in: "And I want to do the Mike Holmes cartoon, about me as a kid." He's serious.)

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