Home Design: The Man Behind the Bus

by Laura

Tim Burch tells us what it takes to get a house built on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

By Laura Wainman

As Lead Project Manager for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Tim Burch helped build 22 houses, such as this one, from scratch. (Photo courtesy of Tim Burch)

Any Ty Pennington fan is familiar with his famed demand to “Move that Bus” on the ABC show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. But as the show approaches its last episode (Monday December 17), Washington Life wanted to introduce you to a side of the show you may not have been familiar with. With each house, behind Pennington stood 4000 volunteers working tirelessly to build a home from scratch in seven days, not to mention the scores of companies who donated the necessary materials. In order to keep all these people working cohesively and efficiently, a project manager was needed. Enter Warrenton resident Tim Burch, now a project leader for BOWA, who filled the role of Lead Project Manager for three years. We recently caught up with the local to pick his brain about what it really takes to build a house from scratch in seven days, and to make sure everything is beautiful when Pennington moves that bus.

Washington Life: Tell us about your role on the show as Lead Project Manager.
Tim Burch:
I started working with the show three years ago as project manager, working under the lead but after a few shows I rose to the lead position. It meant I was the first person in once a site and deserving family were chosen; we usually five or so weeks before the show would start filming, and we literally started at square one, cleaning everything up to be ready to build a house. We always ask the families about their desires and their wishlists, and then we get to work making it a reality. It is an incredibly fast-paced environment, from the design to the building process and requires a ton of meetings, procurements and sourcing of the materials, as everything is donated. We have a step-by-step process that we follow every time, otherwise projects would never get done in the time frame needed.

WL: What made you want to be involved with Extreme Makeover?
At first it was about the challenge of building a house in such a short time frame. It always seems impossible at the beginning of the project, but we got it done every time. But the human side of the experience was what kept us all there, I think. It is incredible to learn the families’ stories. When we do the door knock and you see their faces accepting what is going to happen, and that this is real, and then you watch them when they see their house, it’s unbelievable. You leave knowing you literally changed their life in seven days. ‘ll never be able to experience anything quite like it again.

WL: How many houses did you work on in your three years on the show?
22 total, and they were all across the country. It was such a great experience in the different building practices and cultures in our country. But it helped to have a uniform process on our end to run things smoothly.

WL: Did you have a favorite project?
Two actually. We had a project in Salt Lake City for a family with a son who had been very ill, and was in remission. The son was a huge soccer fan, so we built him an indoor soccer field in the basement, complete with a three story slide straight from his room to the field. When we did the reveal, you could just see the kid’s whole emotional state change. The other one was for a family that takes in single mothers and helps them get back on their feet. We were able to build them a complete house and a couple duplexes for the mothers to live in.

WL: I can only imagine the logistical headaches that would be involved in building a complete home this quickly. What would you say was the biggest challenge of your projects?
Managing that many volunteers and procuring the materials. Everything is 100% donated, and convincing everyone to give things, including their time, for free in a bad economy can be difficult. It was really rewarding to see these folks step up though and do just that. Most people are willing to help out when they know it is for deserving families like the ones on the show.

WL: What are you taking away from this experience?
I have a renewed faith in and respect for my industry, after seeing everyone give of themselves even when they are in hard times themselves. It is nice to be reminded that not everyone is money driven and cut throat. When people get together for a common good great things happen, and we got to see that on every project.

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