My love/hate relationship with the DIY network

I should preface this post by saying that I do understand that it is called the “DIY network”, not the “Hire an architect network”. Even so, I think a lot of this criticism still stands. And don’t start the Hire an architect network, nobody would watch that.

In the interest of continuity, I’ll start with the moment that I realized that I hate the DIY network. They run a show called “Dream House”, and each season they document a families struggles as they attempt to realize their ideal home. This particular season dealt with a young working couple who were trying to create a log cabin in upstate New York. I didn’t manage to catch every episode, which is probably for the best, because the ones that I did see were pretty infuriating. This couple started with a set of plans, that they either purchased off-the-shelf or hired an architect to produce. They did their own research to select a contractor to build this house, and probably negotiated their own contractor as well. The show centers around all of the conflicts that arise during construction.

From memory, here’s a brief chronology of all the horrible stuff that happens. They spend way more than they wanted to in order to dig a well, because they get bad information on where to dig. The contractor disposes of the remains of a dead tree uphill from that well, and they lose a ton of time determining the problem, digging up the tree and burying it elsewhere. The contractor ruins their floor because he misunderstood a detail and ended up fastening through the face, exposing the fastener heads everyplace. The straw that breaks the owners back is when an early snowstorm collapses the roof of the porch because the contractor didn’t provide temporary bracing. They fire the contractor and bring somebody in to investigate the rest of the work and discover many more problems. The couple finally decides to act as their own general contractor, which, if you don’t know, is a huge pain in the ass. That’s where I stopped watching. Presumably there was a happy ending.

What bothered me throughout the entire process was how many of the problems could have been avoided by having a better contract. Based on the fact that the owners had to pay for every one of the contractor’s mistakes, I can only assume that they decided to build their dream house on time and material. This type of contract does almost nothing to protect the owner, and any architect would have told them not to build their expensive log cabin in a remote area of upstate New York on time and material. Any architect could have also recommended a better contractor than the one they wound up with, too. But there was no mention of how the owners could have protected themselves on the show, leaving the impression that if you decide to build your own dream house, you’re at the mercy of whatever contractor you wind up with.

It’s the whole failure to address the process which angers me most. Typically, if the design is mentioned at all, it’s presented to the owner on a single piece of foamcore in about 20 seconds. There’s no back and forth, the owner is basically stuck with whatever design they came up with in the last 12 hours, based on the designer’s one hour visit to their home. This is exceptionally frustrating on “Run My Renovation”, where people go online to vote for all of the finishes and furniture for your renovated space and majority rules, regardless of whether or not there is coherence in the overall design.

So where’s the “love” part of this relationship? The people on this show attack their projects with a kind of unearned confidence that is nothing short of inspiring. As someone who has to draw something in plan, section and elevation before I can even start to really evaluate it, it’s amazing to see people just put on gloves and start knocking shit down. Then it’s fun to watch that can-do spirit transmute into fury and, ultimately, helplessness as they uncover hidden conditions and then find out the space didn’t wind up like they had envisioned it. It’s a constant affirmation that build first, design later isn’t the way to be.

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