Electrician Allen Gallant surprised his three young sons with his debut on the hit TV show, “This Old House.”
“I was sitting there and my three sons saw me on TV,” said Gallant, owner of Gallant Electric, Lexington, Mass. “They laughed and said, ‘Dad, that's you.’ It was absolutely hilarious. You should have seen us the first time I was on the show. We looked like a bunch of losers eating our bowl of popcorn.”
“This Old House,” America's longest-running home improvement show, is now celebrating its 23rd season on PBS. The show selects two projects each season — one in or around Boston and the other in a town with a mild climate where outdoor work can be undertaken during the winter months. Bruce Irving, senior producer for “This Old House,” said Gallant has been asked to serve as the electrician on many of the New England projects because he gets the job done right and has a natural onscreen presence.
“His workmanship is terrific, and it's matched by a sparkling personality and an amazing haircut,” Irving said. “It looks like he stuck a fork in an outlet and his hair never really sat down again.”
Irving said Gallant and the other electricians on the show play a critical role in the renovation of the historic homes.
“They provide an absolutely essential and increasingly sophisticated system within these buildings, often dragging them from decades-old systems into the present,” Irving said. “On ‘This Old House,’ the standard operating procedure is to update the wiring because there's never a better time than when the house is all blown apart. It's also policy to ‘over-wire’ or at least leave chases and places in walls that you might want later on.”
On “This Old House,” the electricians have to preserve the history of the home while bringing it up to the modern electrical code.
“In the four projects I've done, and I've just started the fifth project, none of them had enough electrical work that was worth saving,” Gallant said. “The house is old and you are doing all this other work. It doesn't make a lot of sense not to rewire the last three or four rooms in the house. Cost wise, we're there and it's the time to do it. You're going to paint; you're going to paper. Let's do all the dusty work and get it over with.”
The electricians who work on “This Old House” are always confronted with two challenges — controlling dust and snaking wires.
“Dust drives the customers nuts and off the deep end,” he said. “People don't want to come home from work and have to clean up behind an electrician every day. Fine dust seeks its own level so it goes everywhere.”
It also takes a lot of labor to get wires from Point A to Point B in an old home, he said.
“If it's an old house, obviously they're not going to tear the walls and the ceiling down so I can wire without the walls and the ceiling,” Gallant said. “I have to do it while they're up.”
The most challenging fishing project for an electrician on “This Old House” was a Federal-style house dating from the late 1700s in Salem, Mass., Irving said.
“It was a timber-frame building that required some pretty fancy fishing and drilling to get around all the hidden timbers that always seem to be in just the wrong place and behind the most wicked horsehair plaster,” he said.
In nearly every project, the electricians demolish the existing wiring, which is often knob-and-tube, and completely rewire the home. On occasion, however, they'll find some valuable light fixtures that are worth saving.
“There's nothing good about old electrical with the exception of old electrical light fixtures,” Gallant said. “The antique wiring is no good, but if the fixtures are rewired, they are like gold. People spend like crazy. I had a couple pay $600 for a set of porcelain lights to go beside their vanity. They were trying to build a replica 1940s bathroom.”
Irving said General Contractor Tom Silva is looking for electricians who can not only rewire a house, but also feel relaxed in front of the camera and can develop a good rapport with the rest of the crew.
“Everyone gets along fantastic,” he said. “It's one of the filters through which everyone has passed. Not only are they an expert at what they do and their work is worth showing and celebrating, but they can also work in this three-ring circus of ‘This Old House’ projects.”
The show is looking for upbeat, roll-with-it, can-do tradesmen who can work with the homeowner, and also with the general contractor and the television crew, Irving said.
“I think that part of being the best of the best is not only your technical proficiency, but your ability to communicate and work with both colleagues and clients. If you're good at that, you're going to be good on camera, too. It all works nicely together. I think contracting is a communications business as much as it is a technical undertaking.”
Some electricians come alive under the lights while others calm up, Irving said.
“Electricians are just like everyone else,” he said. “I can't imagine how I would act if someone shoved a TV camera in my face. What it's really all about is getting these folks comfortable and explaining what they do every day, which is not always easy. There may be things that are obvious to them that they wouldn't even think of mentioning. We try to get them to break down what they're doing and explain it clearly by asking the right questions.”
The director and producer sit down with the electrician to talk about what he or she is working on, and then agree on the topic. The TV team, however, doesn't walk in with scripts, he said.
“We know the general topic of conversation, but we don't know the specific bits we're going to talk about until we're standing there,” Irving said. “I think the informality of it all puts people at ease. Before you know it, it's just turned into a conversation and they're just answering questions.”
The tradesmen who don't meet these expectations aren't invited back, he said.
“Those who don't show at the drop of a hat or those who don't complete when they say they're going to are never seen again,” Irving said. “It's like any general-contracting job.”
Tom Silva, the general contractor for “This Old House,” moves with the show around Boston. The crew often calls upon Gallant to rewire the local homes, but for projects in towns that are a considerable drive from Boston, such as Manchester, Mass., “This Old House” teams up with tradespeople in that location.
“We did a job last year that was so far away that we said, ‘Why don't we would we work with the best local talent we can find?’” Irving said. “Occasionally, if we're working in a town and there's a great electrician in the town, we'll sign up with him.”
“This Old House” also leaves New England to work in sunny locations such as Florida and California during the winter months.
“When the show leaves Boston, we're in the hands of whatever general contractor we're working with there,” he said. “In those cases, we'll come to town and ask around and say, ‘Who is the best builder?’ That's how we latch on to them. They bring their stable of people with them.”
Unlike many other television shows, “This Old House” does not take applicants for the starring roles. Tradesmen, such as electricians, are simply recommended by the homeowner, builder or general contractor. As the general contractor, Silva often discovers the tradesmen to work on the different projects.
“He's an honest-to-God general contractor working for the homeowner and he brings people to the job he thinks are up to it,” Irving said.
“This Old House” is a TV show, but first and foremost, the crew is sort of a family, Irving said.
“I'm not to say it's all nepotism, but we become aware of people in ways other than them throwing themselves at us,” he said. “If an electrical contractor heard that we were coming to their town to do a full-on project, he or she would be welcome to put him or herself forward to our general contractor.”
The electricians on the show do not work for free, and their contract is with the homeowner who is paying the bill, not “This Old House.”
“If they can find their way through to a nice brother-in-law's price, all the better, but mostly, we expect them to roll with the demands of the television show without passing any extra costs or overtime to the homeowner,” Irving said.
Electricians supply and charge for electrical equipment. For big-ticket items, such as a generator, subpanel or communications system, however, “This Old House” will ask a manufacturer to consider donating or discounting the product.
“Even though we can't say the name of it on the air, they are still willing to do it,” Irving said.
More of the historic homes are getting equipped with generators and home-networking systems, Irving said. Occasionally, “This Old House” will spring new technology on the tradespeople.
“Allen was forced to deal with some fiber-optic lighting on a project of ours, and it was a disaster,” he said. “Because the show wanted to feature something new and different, we said, ‘Guess what you're putting in, Allen?’ And he rolled with it. Working with it, we came to see over time that this particular technology is just not there yet.”
“This Old House” is now working on a Winchester, Mass., home that Irving describes as the “quintessential American house from the 1920s.” Gallant will work on the Winchester home full-time for six months. “It looks like we're going to totally rewire it because it's obviously old and tired,” he said. “It's a 2,900-sq-ft house in a prominent neighborhood in Winchester, Mass., right outside of Boston.”
Over the show's 23-year-history, dozens of electricians have made guest appearances on “This Old House.” This article profiles three New England electricians who have had starring roles on the TV show. Stay tuned to our August issue for profiles of “This Old House” electricians who have worked on a 1907 Craftsman-style bungalow in Santa Barbara, Calif.; a summer cottage in Nantucket, Mass.; and a Mediterranean Revival-style home in West Palm Beach, Fla.
ALLEN GALLANT, MASTER ELECTRICIAN AND OWNER OF GALLANT ELECTRIC, LEXINGTON, MASS.
Gallant said he was at the right place at the right time. Five years ago, he was doing some electrical work for general contractor Tom Silva, which led to his first appearance on ‘This Old House.’
Silva told him about a “good-sized job” in Milton, Mass., and asked him if he could handle it. As a small electrical contractor, Gallant was unsure if he and his company could take on such a big challenge, but after looking at the house and talking to his wife, he decided to give it a try.
“My wife said, ‘It would be kind of cool to see you on TV,’” Gallant said. “I said, ‘Alright, then I'll do it.’”
Since then, he has worked on four projects and is now starting on his fifth one. While the show doesn't have a regular electrician, Gallant is as close as they come. He said he watched “This Old House” for two years before he appeared on the show, and he still tunes in every week.
“I would see Tom on the job all the time and started watching the show because those guys were on it,” he said. “Most tradesmen don't watch shows like that because that's what we do for a living. I only watched it so I could give those guys a hard time.”
Silva coordinates all the different trades on the “This Old House” projects. Gallant described him as “the big enchilada behind it all.”
“Whatever he wants, we do, as simple as that,” he said. “If he says, ‘Jump,’ we all say to ourselves, ‘How high?’ Luckily, he's not a very demanding person. He just asks you to do what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it. If you do a good job, you'll never have a problem with him.”
Silva, who is often booked two years in advance for a project, teams up with some of the finest tradespeople in New England.
“The best part of working on the show is that you are working with the best of the best when it comes to the contractors,” Gallant said. “Any job that Tommy Silva is involved in, it's the best of the best. I'm talking killer, good subs.”
All the tradespeople work on a very tight schedule and put in a lot of 10- or 11-hour days at the end of a project, Gallant said. To help the job move along more quickly, Gallant brings an apprentice along on the job, and if he's running behind, he'll recruit a few more electricians.
Despite the amount of talent and manpower on the “This Old House” projects, the schedule still gets hectic in the final days. On one job, Gallant said the crew was hanging light fixtures the night before the “wrap party,” which is when the “This Old House” crew and contractors celebrate the end of the project.
“We do everything at the last minute,” he said. “You wouldn't believe the amount of work that we do in a short amount of time. It's a miracle.”
Unlike a normal construction project, the electricians can't just work at their own pace. Some of the electrical work that they may be doing one week may need to be shown on TV the next week.
“We work for the camera and the TV show,” Gallant said. “That way they can show the natural progress of a project.”
Gallant, who was voted the class clown of his 1985 class, said he enjoys talking in front of the camera.
“I'm a big talker and a big mouth,” Gallant said. “I can go and go and go like the Energizer Bunny.”
Russ Morash, the director, helped Gallant get through the first time, when he admits he was very nervous.
“The guy is unbelievable,” he said. “He has won a million awards for a reason. He knows what he's doing. He told me to just be myself, try not to act to the camera and just pretend that it's a regular job.”
He said it's difficult to get used to having a cameraman film your every move.
“It's a whole different world,” he said. “Typically, they're no more than 10 or 15 ft away. Sometimes you're performing a task, and they want to get really close to you.”
Normally, filming a segment is no problem for Gallant, but like real-life actors, he can always have an “off” day.
“I did a show the other day and it was like I was clueless,” he said. “I had a bad day filming. Sometimes you don't pay attention and you start when you're not supposed to start.”
He said his first experience with “This Old House” was a house in Milton Mass., which he described as “very old and very hard.” The house had many different designers, which posed a problem.
“You get seven or eight different opinions,” he said. “Even though they had only one room, things could change drastically from room to room as far as requirements for lighting and plugs.”
The designers also came up with a landscape design after Gallant Electric had already put the service in place. Gallant and his team had to then move the meter socket.
“That was kind of a pain in the neck,” Gallant said. “They wanted the patio area to be free from mechanical obstructions. I've probably only moved a service three times in 12 years of business, but things like that can happen on a job site.”
Although the project was a challenge, Gallant dubbed it his favorite.
“The house was extremely old and was built in the early 1800s,” Gallant said. “It was a small house, and we put a small addition on.”
Gallant Electric completely rewired the house and a detached workshop/barn garage. Abram, the master carpenter, designed the workshop for the power requirements.
“He would tell us where the equipment was going to go and then we in turn would put the power that was needed for that equipment that was used,” he said.
For the next project, Gallant traveled to Watertown, Mass., to rewire a three-story, early 1900s home. That was the first time Gallant had ever worked with a product called Monorail.
“You see Monorail in fu-fu chi-chi places,” Gallant said. “It's the track that hangs over the ceiling. We did that over the kitchen. We bent it to match the curve in the island in the kitchen. That was interesting and different for me. It's not just light, it's art. It creates an artsy look.”
Gallant said one fiber-optic bulb can produce multiple lights. He installed a fan-cooled box, fitted with a 100W bulb, then attached a bundle of six fiber-optic cables to the box in a third-floor closet. He snaked the cables above the staircase leading to the second floor, being careful not to kink them.
“That would keep the light from flowing through,” he said. “The cable ends need to be cut at a perfect 90-deg angle below so that light flows straight out rather than being scattered — and lost — through uneven edges. “For that, you need a special cable cutter — no jury-rigging allowed.”
Gallant's next project made history. It was the first time in the show's 23-year-run that the show took on a new construction project. Gallant said the team rebuilt a home for Dick Silva, Tom Silva's older brother, shortly after his house caught fire and burned to the ground.
“‘This Old House,’ for the first time ever, decided to show people what's involved with a new house,” Gallant said. “It's a totally different process to remodel compared to a new home. There are fewer restrictions on what you can do.”
Gallant said since he did a lot of electrical work on Dick Silva's house, he was concerned about the cause of the fire.
“When they said it was an electrical fire, I thought the worst,” he said. “Luckily, it wasn't me, it was the motor. They think they have it narrowed down to a problem with the heating system, which has nothing to do with me. Thank the good Lord, because I did a lot of work on that house.”
During the construction of the new home, Dick, his wife and his two daughters were living in a 50 ft trailer right on the job site. Gallant said the homeowners were dealing with a lot of different emotions because of the house fire.
“They were really sad,” he said. “They have a beautiful house now, but they had a beautiful house beforehand.”
The house was antiques galore, Gallant said.
“If you're an antiques person, you'd go ga-ga in this house,” he said. “He collected Coca-Cola and Hershey antiques, and they lost everything in the fire. It's amazing. You think they would be able to stop a fire eventually, but they didn't stop this one. It burnt right straight down to the ground.”
In addition to rewiring the new house, Gallant also installed an automatic standby generator. The homeowner previously had a manual generator to deal with the several power outages in his area. Gallant sat down with Dick Silva and looked at the budget and the cost of the generator. Because the generator was donated, the homeowner only had to cover the cost of labor and installation.
Along with the generator, Gallant also worked with the homeowner to design the lighting. He walked from room to room with Silva and his wife to finalize the lighting plan.
“They like antique lighting and don't care for recessed lights or fluorescents,” Gallant said. “He had a really good eye for antiques and putting rooms together.”
Gallant said the lighting designers rarely sit down with the homeowners, spend time with them and learn about their likes and dislikes.
“Some people like Yugo, some people like Mercedes,” he said. “They do the same exact thing, but one's flashier than the other. Lighting can be almost the same exact way. There's practical and functional lighting and then there's decorative.”
The next project took Gallant and his team to Charlestown, Mass., to work with a young couple who had bought a three-story, two-family house. Because the house was in the heart of the city, the contractors struggled to find a place to park every morning. Gallant, who describes himself as “a suburban guy” and not a “big-city, guy,” said parking became a major problem.
“Of all the other projects we had done, parking had never really been an issue like it was there,” he said. “If you're looking for a parking spot for a half hour in the morning, it really chews into job costs.”
Gallant said he and his crew brought their supplies with them to the city because getting deliveries was nearly impossible.
“If you wanted to get deliveries, you'd have to have a crane,” Gallant said. “Tommy had to get police detail and shut down half a street when he got supplies delivered. It was a nightmare.”
Neighbors became disgruntled with all the traffic outside their homes.
“If you live in the city, and you have 15 trucks through a small neighborhood, you know what that does,” he said. “We did what they asked us to do, tried to respect their privacy as much as possible and got the job done.”
Gallant said the house was 150 years old and needed extensive rewiring. After he completed the project, some of the viewers asked him why it was necessary for him to rewire the entire house.
“The name of the program is ‘This Old House,’ so the infrastructure — the plumbing, the heating and the electrical — is typically very old,” he said.
Gallant said his involvement with “This Old House” has helped him build credibility with homeowners in New England.
“People who call me because they saw me on the show are already assuming that I'm going to do a good job because they've seen me more than once on the show,” Gallant said. “In our industry, you're only as good as your work. If your work is not good, it doesn't take long for people to figure that you aren't going to do what you say you're going to do.”
PETE WOODBURY, JOURNEYMAN ELECTRICIAN FOR MANCHESTER ELECTRIC, MANCHESTER, MASS.
Manchester Electric worked on the most ambitious project that “This Old House” has ever taken on — a 10-month, $1.5 million renovation of a 1883 home in Manchester, Mass.
“The house was in rough shape when we got there, but by the end of it, it was absolutely beautiful,” said Pete Woodbury, who has worked for Manchester Electric for 12 years. “It's very traditional with an English look to it. The kitchen has cherry cabinets, and they used a lot of historical colored paints.”
Woodbury said it was a very fast-paced job.
“We redid the whole house,” he said. “On and off, I was on the project for 18 months. We did all the residential wiring, cable and telephone, and found a little bit of the BX wiring and the knob-and-tube. The old wiring was basically all torn out.”
Rather than an old home, it was like a new construction job for the tradesmen.
“Everything was basically brand new in the house except for like two walls that they saved in the guest room,” Woodbury said. “It was a different pace for us, but it was a great experience. We didn't really have a lot of surprises because it was new construction and new construction goes fairly well.”
The crew added a brand-new addition with a music room and sound room.
“We have special cove lighting up in the vaulted ceiling,” he said. “There's five bedrooms, an art room and an exercise room upstairs. Four people live in that 9,000-sq-ft house.”
After a year-and-a-half of hard work, Woodbury said it was all worth it. The “This Old House” project led to another contract to do the landscape lighting.
“It was great to see the end result,” he said. “The place is beautiful.”
PAUL KENNEDY, MASTER ELECTRICIAN AND OWNER OF PAUL J. KENNEDY JR. ELECTRIC, METHUEN, MASS.
Paul Kennedy rewired an antique barn with new service, new wiring and a state-of-the-art lighting and heating system for his first project on “This Old House.”
“It was very, very intense,” Kennedy said. “That job took about four months to do.”
A Maine timber framer who was working on the barn in Concord, Mass., referred Kennedy to the general contractor. He said the project required a lot of advance planning, and the former electrician didn't know how to even begin working on the home. On a house with a timber frame, electricians need to get their wires up in the frame before the shell goes on, Kennedy said.
“There was a lot of thinking involved and the electrician didn't want to do it,” Kennedy said. “A lot of electricians and tradesman will make a big stink about, ‘Oh, that's too high. I can't do it.’ Whatever it is, I like the challenge and I just pull forward with it rather than making a big deal out of it.”
Kennedy said the Concord home was one of the older barns in the area and was in rough condition.
“The barn was just about rotted to the core,” he said. “They had to rebuild it from the ground up. They only kept about a handful of the cross pieces that were not rotted out for the old part of the building, and they demolished the rest of it. It came right down.”
“This Old House” organized a school for making timbers right on site, and visitors from New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine paid money to make the beams for the show.
“It was really interesting that people from all over the country came to help make the timbers to go into this project,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he planned ahead, and the job worked out very well.
“They were very happy with how everything came out and showcased it in a few different magazines,” Kennedy said. “It was beautiful. They kept the old style of the barn with the sliding door in the front to cover the front entranceway.”
Kennedy said the TV crew did a lot of filming for just a half-hour show.
“The job is a normal job and the film crew would come in at least two times a week,” he said. “They are there all day long from seven in the morning until sometimes four or five in the afternoon filming for one half-hour show.”
Kennedy said because of his calm manner and on-screen presence, the crew gave him a nickname.
“They called me, ‘One Take Kennedy,’ because we would be able to go through my scene without doing it two or three or four times,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes the plumbers or the sheetrockers would mess up. They would do it two or three or four times before the producer would like it.”
For his first show, Kennedy said he got the word out by sending out postcards to all his customers.
“I wanted everybody to see it,” he said. “I was very proud of it. I wanted to let everyone know the first date that I was going to be on.”
Kennedy said he appeared on the show in the early 1990s, when the recession hit. The show didn't drum up more business then, but it did pay off in the future, he said.
“It didn't really help me at that time because, unfortunately at that point, people weren't thinking about the high quality of work that was going into that project,” he said. “They thought that because I was on TV, I was too expensive. That was a drawback.”
Kennedy said customers are now looking for an electrical contractor who can get the job done right, even if it's more expensive.
“People want quality rather than the guy that would come in and do a quick job,” he said. “That's the way I work. Everything is 100% the best way.”
On his next project in Wayland, Mass., Kennedy wired a master suite and upgraded the service. Kennedy remembered an unusual room in that particular house.
“It was an old meeting house from Wayland and there were handmade murals all the way around the room,” he said. “It was very interesting. Each wall had a different theme, and many of murals had scenes of horses.”
In Lexington, Mass., the team raised the whole roof off a ranch. They added a library suite, master suite and a master bathroom with a great room, which was 30-ft by 28-ft and two-stories high with timber-frame beams.
During the project, “This Old House” flew Kennedy down to Lexington, Ky., to learn about the Elan system, an integrated phone and cable system. The team installed a camera at the front door so the homeowners could flip on their TV to see who was on their doorstep ringing the doorbell.
“I had never done any kind of home automation before, and I found it to be very interesting,” Kennedy said. “It was a great experience for me, and I am now certified to install those systems.”
For his final house, Kennedy helped remodel the kitchen and rewire a wing addition for a home in Acton, Mass. He said he and the other electricians in his company have gotten very proficient at putting recessed lights in an old kitchen.
“We can take out an old ceiling light and put in eight or 10 recessed lights,” Kennedy said. “People were just amazed at the difference. It just changes the whole look of the kitchen.”
Kennedy has also learned how to fish wire in an old house. He said the most challenging aspect of working in older homes is figuring out how to get a wire from Point A to Point B without making a lot of holes.
“A lot of people are afraid of fishing wire, but I love it,” he said. “I've started using a tool called the RotoZip, a high-speed cutting tool that has made it a lot easier to make a hole in an old plaster job without creating damage to the wall.”
He and the other tradesmen had to work a tight schedule to get everything done on time.
“A lot of times when they leave on a Tuesday, they'll tell you, ‘OK, on Thursday, we would like to see the project at this stage,’” he said. “It kind of presented a challenge for us because we would have to work until 10 p.m. to get things done to where they would like to see them, but it was still fun.”
“This Old House” helps the general public learn how to renovate and update a new house, he said.
“The producer would like to show new things and techniques on how to do things,” he said. “He was very good at trying to teach the general public how to do different tasks.”
Although Kennedy hasn't appeared on a show in years, he is still kind of a mini-celebrity, he said.
“It is really fun to have everyone comment,” he said. “I went away on vacation down to Jamaica and people traveling down there would say, ‘You look familiar to me.’ It's from the show. Everyone watches that. I think there are 2 million viewers a week. It's very well followed.”
Kennedy said he has a full schedule right now, but he enjoyed working on “This Old House” in the past.
“There was a lot of coordination, but everyone got along great,” he said. “It was a very good experience all the way around. Everybody is together and it's a fun time.”
TIPS FOR WIRING HISTORIC HOMES
While you may not be on the next episode of “This Old House,” you will most likely come across an old house sometime in your electrical career. Three of the stars of “This Old House” offer the following tips for CEE News readers who are rewiring a historic home.
“You definitely have to plan things and make sure you have the best route for your wiring to go. Try to make as few holes as possible for any fishing that needs to be done. You also need to be aware of where you are drilling to make sure that it's a safe place to drill in the structure.”
“Houses are like people's children. They take them seriously. I tell my guys that a person's most prized possession with the exception of family members is typically their house. Just treat it that way. If someone walks in your house, you want him or her to wipe his or her feet off. If it's raining out, put down some drop cloths. If you come home from a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is clean up behind a tradesman who has been at your house all day. People who are more well off tend to want to clean up less behind you.”
“You just have to stick with it, do the best you can and be patient.”
FAST FACTS ABOUT “THIS OLD HOUSE”
“This Old House,” which has been on the air for 23 years, is the highest-rated home-improvement show in television history. Here are some fast facts about the show.
“This Old House” airs on more than 322 public television stations across the United States, reaching more than five million weekly PBS viewers. The series is also distributed in syndication, where it is aired on 93% of the U.S. market, and on cable where “This Old House Classics” is seen on HGTV.
“This Old House” can also be seen worldwide on Discovery UK, XYZ in Australia and Armed Forces Radio and Television Service.
It is the most recognized home-improvement series on television, with 15 Emmy awards and 64 Emmy nominations. In 2002, “This Old House” was nominated for four Daytime Emmy awards in the categories of Outstanding Service Show, Outstanding Directing in a Service Show, Outstanding Achievement in Single Camera Editing and Outstanding Service Show Host.
The show's Web site, at www.thisoldhouse.com, has photos and descriptions of all the projects broadcast on “This Old House.” The site also lists all the subcontractors and suppliers.
Q&A WITH ALLEN GALLANT, MASTER ELECTRICIAN ON “THIS OLD HOUSE”
Allen Gallant, who has starred on four shows of “This Old House,” discusses how his company has thrived over the past 11 years, and how other electricians can set up a successful contracting business of their own.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE ELECTRICAL INDUSTRY?
“I started my business in 1991. Mark, the first electrician I ever hired, is still with me going on 10 years. At the beginning, it was just me and Mark and a truck. Then we got busy, I bought another truck, Mark became licensed and we turned around and hired an apprentice. Now we have eight guys in the field — four licensed guys and four apprentices.”
HOW DO YOU TRAIN YOUR ELECTRICIANS?
“Every licensed electrician in the company has apprenticed under me. I try to train them through me first so I know what type of people they are. I am very concerned about my employees being nice people. You don't just want good electricians, you want good people. Electricians have to be trustworthy because customers have a lot of trust in us. They give us their home keys and their security number.”
HOW DO YOU RETAIN YOUR EMPLOYEES?
“I've had customers who have been with me since the beginning. They can't believe that they get the same electrician every time. I tell them, ‘He hasn't left because I pay him well, he has good benefits and you pay your bills so I can pay him.’”
WHAT ARE YOUR COMPANY'S SPECIALTIES?
“We have carved out a good little niche in this area. About 70% of our work is high-end residential, but we also have regular blue-collar customers. Anybody who calls me for anything gets a call back within a day. I have the best secretary in the world who forces me to do it.”
WHAT'S YOUR ADVICE TO OTHER ELECTRICIANS WHO ARE THINKING OF STARTING THEIR OWN COMPANY?
“It's not hard. I'm 36, and I talk to guys in the supply house who are 23 or 25. I say, ‘Do you want some really good business advice?’ It's real simple. I didn't always do it, but I learned over the years. Call people back, do the job the day you say you're going to do it or call them a day in advance to let them know. If you do what you say you're going to do and do a good job, you can make a good living.”
HOMEOWNERS WILL ASK TRADESPEOPLE QUESTIONS ON “ASK THIS OLD HOUSE”
After 23 years of making “This Old House,” PBS is planning to launch a companion show called “Ask This Old House.”
“It's all about answering people's questions about maintaining and upgrading their old houses,” said Bruce Irving, senior producer of “This Old House” and “Ask This Old House.” “On ‘This Old House,’ we take on a massive job and turn it into a many-week adventure. This is going to be about people's everyday questions.”
For example, a homeowner may send in a question about how to put in a dimmer switch, and an electrician, such as Allen Gallant, will answer the question on the show.
“I'm not sure how much electrical work we're going to get into,” Irving said. “I think electrical is the type of thing that we firmly believe professionals should handle. In answering their questions and having a professional like Allen do the work, we may solve their problem, answer their question and get the point across, ‘Don't try this at home, kids.’”
This show will go out as a companion to “This Old House.”
“It will have the same premier date, but a whole different format,” Irving said. “You will be able to watch a full hour of “This Old House” stuff if you can handle it.”
Both “This Old House” and “Ask This Old House” will be made available to the public television stations on Oct. 10. Since all stations make up their own schedules, they will be able to decide how they will run the two programs. Irving suggested that viewers check their local PBS station for airtime.