Build it yourself know-how now easier to get

It won’t be long before the new year makes some of us feel like setting new lifestyle resolutions for ourselves, and if this means getting intentional about upgrading your home improvement and renovation skills, there’s something new you should know about.

It won’t be long before the new year makes some of us feel like setting new lifestyle resolutions for ourselves, and if this means getting intentional about upgrading your home improvement and renovation skills, there’s something new you should know about. It’s a growing network of hands-on training centres led by well-known Canadian TV contractor Jim Caruk, and they offer one of the most practical ways that anyone can learn.

Jim’s a familiar face on HGTV, showcasing the world of renovations from a contractor’s point of view.

His new build-it-yourself BiY learning centers first opened in Ontario this past April, and a new facility is slated for operation in Edmonton in early 2011.

Building on the strength of this outreach, a dozen more facilities are in the works for other areas of Canada over the next few years.

“Everyone wants to be able to build and create”, explains Jim, “but many don’t have the skills or confidence to handle even straightforward jobs.

My vision is to empower people to tackle jobs correctly.

The need for interactive, hands-on workshops will fuel our growth in more than five provinces over the next three or four years.”

There are dozens of courses on the BiY roster right now, including Wood Flooring Essentials, Tile It Yourself, Drywalling Essentials, Framing 101, Upholstery 101, the 7-Day Renovation Boot Camp, Home Improvement and Repair, Home Plumbing Essentials, Women in the Workshop, plus others. Session costs range from Cdn$285 to $1,500 per course, depending on length. Evening classes, weekend sessions and intensive week-long events are all part of the curriculum, though this alone doesn’t count for everything. What it really comes down to is the kind of people designing and delivering the technical content of each course.

If you’re in doubt about the practical value of building and renovating with your own hands, a few minutes with a calculator easily shows how profitable the venture can be.

Tradespeople across Canada regularly earn $20 to $60 per hour, and though most professionals will probably work faster than the average handy homeowner, you still have to pay them with after tax dollars.

This means that the time you spend doing your own work can easily be worth a lot more than you earn in your day job, in terms of money saved. Doing your own renovations also sidesteps the very real possibility of you having to pay a contractor who’s less than diligent and less than honest.

I’m a big fan of homeowners who take care of themselves, and this is especially profitable when you’re working weekends, evenings or any other time you’re not otherwise earning money.

Ian Burns is education director of the BiY Learning Centers, and I spoke with him last month at a home improvement trade show. He’s the kind of guy who gives me confidence that the venture’s going to continue to succeed. Ian is a Red Seal carpenter, which means he’s officially accredited by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to work in all provinces.

At least as important as this, he’s also won awards for excellence in his ten years of teaching at George Brown College and Fleming College.

“Whether it’s a task-oriented or skills training workshop,” explains Ian, “you’ll gain essential theory, health and safety information and practical experience under the supervision of our instructors.

You’ll finish with the confidence to work on your own projects at home correctly and safely.”

If you’re determined enough to learn renovation and building, somehow you’ll get them. Twenty five years ago I began gaining my trade skills by reading all the best publications, working professionally alongside people who knew more than I did, then plunging in and getting dirty.

This sort of thing is possible anywhere – training centre or not. That said, some ways of learning are definitely more direct than pouring over a big stack of homebuilding magazines, working with tradespeople, and messing up a little material while hitting your thumb now and then with a hammer.

Steve Maxwell is Canada’s award-winning home improvement expert, and technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine. Check out his enhanced new website at

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