But unfortunately those television transformations are often about as realistic as an episode of “24”, where Jack Bauer zips all over LA in Southern California traffic to thwart several various terrorist attacks, all in a one-hour “real time” episode. Heck, having lived in California for a time I can attest to the fact that a true “real time” one hour episode would consist solely of sitting in traffic for an hour on the 405.
Realism and entertainment are typically very different traits.
The producers of these home improvement and landscaping shows know what they’re doing. They do make some entertaining shows. I too have been sucked in to watch these yard transformations take place. Of course by the end of the half-hour I often find myself screaming at the TV with a critical eye.
The problem? Where do I begin.
First of all, these shows often focus solely on the aesthetic appeal of the yard, and not the real nuts and bolts that really make a yard work. I’m talking about grading, drainage, excavating, foundations, and using materials that will last in the harshest of elements. No, this stuff isn’t always pretty. Typically in fact you don’t even see it in the final installation. But it’s important. Really important. Without these things that gorgeous yard they just installed won’t last more than a season or two. Or worse yet, it could result in damage to the house itself.
Costs. I was watching one show and they installed a new flagstone veneer over top of an existing concrete patio. Certainly nothing that can’t be done, albeit with a bit of necessary research and examination before beginning, which of course wasn’t addressed on the show. The kicker was when they said they did entire installation for less than $800. Just to compare to real pricing, flagstone currently runs about $6.50/square foot and up. That means you could purchase about 125 square feet of stone for the stated $800, not even counting the costs for adhesive or mortar, let alone labor. That measures up to about a 10 x 12 patio. Yes, that may be a somewhat useable space for a small urban garden, but most suburban clients I work with want something at least 200 square feet and up. You’re not getting that for $800. Trust me.
Of course these shows are often are in bed with manufacturers, so of course they’re going to try and sell you on the ease of installation and the affordable costs. In a way, it’s basically a half-hour commercial for various products. Do you believe every commercial you see? I hope not, so why believe everything you see on these shows.
Permits. Every now and then, these shows will include a brief disclaimer that you should “check your local codes” before beginning. That is sound advice, although it’s usually not included on most shows. The truth is that building codes and local ordinances often vary considerably from one area to the next. And some of the techniques I’ve seen on TV wouldn’t be allowed in some communities, at least not without a fair amount of additional work that isn’t mentioned. And those permits cost money (believe me, everybody wants their piece of the pie). Nobody wants to go through the hassle and costs of a big project only to have the local town make you tear it out.
Timing. This one cracks me up. Joe Homeowner invites his buddies over for a hard day’s work building a new deck. At the end of the episode, Joe and his buddies are enjoying a backyard barbeque on the brand new deck. Seriously? You’re telling me that a couple of guys dug the holes for the footings, installed the concrete piers (using some magically curing one-hour concrete?), built all the framing and finished the decking and railings in a single day. And they were able to secure the necessary building code inspections during the process. I’m all for encouraging DIY projects, it’s a great experience, but don’t set yourself up for false expectations. A new deck takes at least a week’s worth of work for an experienced crew working fulltime. With the weekend warrior approach you’re probably looking at more like a month or two start to finish.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to change your TV viewing habits. Inspiration and ideas come from all sorts of sources, TV shows being one. But its important to remember that these shows are made for entertainment purposes, and to keep the sponsors happy. If you’re expecting that brand new patio, terraced hillside, retaining walls and steps to be completed in a few days’ time for a ridiculously low sum of money you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
It’s almost that time of year when we should be outside enjoying the yard anyway. Put the remote control down and get out and enjoy!