Kayleen McCabe has seen more than her share of DIY disasters. Homeowners she’s rescued have exposed unsafe electrical wiring, screwed up plumbing and even demolished the wrong wall.
As host of DIY Network’s “Rescue Renovation,” McCabe and her crew bail them out, turning each episode’s botched remodeling project into functional, picture-perfect spaces.
McCabe, a licensed contractor, is the real deal. She drills, cuts wood and tile and hangs pendant lights, bringing a can-do attitude while interjecting silly antics for the camera.
But McCabe is serious about spreading the word on the value of trade schools. Whenever she’s traveling, she visits high schools to tell students about the “amazing career opportunities in the trades,” she said.
“I wish I was encouraged to go to a trade school,” said McCabe, who will give four presentations at the Home + Remodeling Show, Jan. 27-29 at U.S. Bank Stadium. “I had to learn on job sites.” We chatted with her about rookie remodeling, when to hire a pro and a 12-year-old unfinished kitchen demo.
Q: What will you talk about at the Home Show?
A: I’ll cover tips for tackling projects, scary remodeling stories — how to not make those mistakes — and generally geek out over my love of construction.
I talk about the reality between television and real-life construction — and what a homeowner can really expect. We can’t show everything in a 22-minute show. And being realistic about a project — you can’t put down 1,000 square feet of hardwood floor in one weekend. Your body might not be able to handle it.
Q: What’s a disastrous remodeling story you’ve encountered?
A: One couple demo’d their kitchen and left it like that for 12 years. It looked like they were camping, and their children had never seen a real floor. After you demo, it doesn’t spark this moment of clarity, and you’ll figure it out. You have to plan.
Q: Why did you become a licensed contractor?
A: My grandfather was a miner, and my father was a welder so I started learning the skills as a kid. I was lucky I was exposed to it early on. I never thought “this is what boys do.” It was “this is what I like to do.”
Since I wasn’t encouraged to go into the trades, after I graduated from high school, I did lots of jobs, like a 911 dispatcher. I worked behind-the-scenes in the construction world on TV shows. Then I finally found something I loved doing for a career. Now I bounce out of bed every morning.
Q: How did you land your own show?
A: I won a competition called “Stud Finder” in search of the next TV show contractor. The prize was five episodes on DIY. That turned into “Rescue Renovation,” and we’ve done close to 100 episodes since 2009.
Q: What’s OK for rookie remodelers to do themselves?
A: Painting is the cheapest and easiest way to freshen a room. You can change out light switches and fixtures, tile a kitchen backsplash, replace dated wood trim around doors and windows. Do landscaping — plant flowers and grass.
Q: What are projects that require hiring a pro?
A: If you’re working on a construction project and googling how to do it — you should stop. Don’t try anything that requires you to pull a permit — like electrical and plumbing or adding a gas line. Don’t make any structural changes, such as tearing down a wall. One homeowner buried live electrical wires behind drywall — that’s a fire hazard.
Q: What’s a common mistake that can cost a homeowner money to fix?
A: I’ve seen water-supply lines not properly hooked up to a new refrigerator. It can cause a slow pin leak, and before long, the floorboards are damaged and warped.
Q: What are some hot remodeling materials and design trends?
A: Manmade surfaces are going out — natural and locally sourced stone and wood products are strong. There’s more use of recycled glass and stone for countertops. Now there are even smart countertops that charge your phone. People also want more private spaces, like a meditation room. Multipurpose, space-conscious furniture — ottomans that convert into tables — are a huge trend.
Q: Are stainless-steel appliances ever going to lose their luster?
A: We’re seeing more retro shades — red, seafoam green and yellow — on kitchen appliances. The stove is not just functional — it’s becoming an artistic piece.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being a contractor?
A: I love working with my hands, and I love the process from beginning to end. For some people, a remodeling project is their most expensive investment. It’s like watching a beautiful story line, and it’s so rewarding when it’s done.
Q: Will you be shooting any upcoming episodes of “Rescue Renovation” in the Twin Cities?
A: There’s no new shows planned. Right now, I’m focusing 100 percent on encouraging the next generation to get excited about working with their hands. They don’t have to take the long road to get there like I did. Three million people will be needed to fill the skilled-labor shortage that’s predicted in 2020.