NIGHT MOVES: One of 11 modules being set for an "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" project that had more than its share of challenges.
Courtesy Excel Homes NIGHT MOVES: One of 11 modules being set for an "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" project that had more than its share of challenges.

Talk about extreme. Steady rain, blistering heat, a mild earthquake, and a construction decision that backfired were unexpected story lines in “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s” ambitious project in Northeast Baltimore this July.

Those factors caused the completion of an 11,120-square-foot, 2 1/2-story house, which sits on a 100-foot-by-143-foot lot at the corner of a suburban neighborhood, to take two days longer than the seven days planned. Delays might have been longer were it not for the fact that most of its structure is modular. Manufacturer Excel Homes contributed 11 modules and three panelized sections for the project, which Excel produced in its Avis, Pa., factory in two weeks.

The television show presented this home, the biggest it’s built to date, to Boys Hope Girls Hope, an organization that provides academically gifted but at-risk students with a group-home environment. Seven girls and two staffers will live in the house, whose construction reportedly will be featured on “Extreme Makeover’s” season premiere on Sept. 26.

EXPOSURE TO THE ELEMENTS: The show's decision to install the roof at the jobsite instead of the factory was undermined by rain that caused some of the open modules' interiors to be damaged.
Courtesy Excel Homes EXPOSURE TO THE ELEMENTS: The show's decision to install the roof at the jobsite instead of the factory was undermined by rain that caused some of the open modules' interiors to be damaged.

The project was typically helter-skelter. One volunteer, Judi Miller of Architecture by Design in Ellicott City, Md., was called on the Wednesday evening before Memorial Day. “I went to a meeting the next morning at 9:30, and by 3 p.m. the concept was on tracing paper.” Miller worked primarily with Kim Lewis, who heads up the program’s design team. The floor plans were done the next day, and the elevations the day after. “What normally takes 12 to 16 weeks we completed in two,” says Miller. Chris Rachuba, chairman of the HBA of Maryland’s Community Builder Foundation, says an HBA board member, who is on Boys Hope Girls Hope’s board, approached him about participating. The program contacted Rachuba in May, which gave his Sykesville, Md.–based Rachuba Home Builders, the lead contractor on the project, about five weeks to get everything settled, including permits and insurance. Rachuba estimates that 1,000 HBA members and associates volunteered.

Construction began on July 10, and it didn’t take long before rain started falling. Ed Smith, who owns Artisan Fine Homes, a modular builder in Baltimore, was on site to set the modules. He says nature didn’t deter the initial phase of construction because the foundation and basement were put down using the Superior Walls system, where basement walls are set first, and then precast concrete is poured into the open area.

A DRIER MOMENT: During a break from the steady rain, Chris Smith of Artisan Fine Homes, Steven Saffell, Excel Homes' director of architectural design and innovation; and Rob Ebbtes, Excel's vice president of marketing, look over construction plans.
Courtesy Excel Homes A DRIER MOMENT: During a break from the steady rain, Chris Smith of Artisan Fine Homes, Steven Saffell, Excel Homes' director of architectural design and innovation; and Rob Ebbtes, Excel's vice president of marketing, look over construction plans.

Smith had worked on 118 modular houses before this one, and “95 percent to 98 percent were made weather tight in a day.” But that wasn’t possible in this case because “Extreme Makeover’s” producers had decided in advance that the roof—a kind of quarter-oval known locally as a Baltimore barrel—would be installed on site separately. Under ideal conditions, putting the roof on after modules are in place would add about 10 hours to get the structure weather tight, says Smith. But the rain didn’t let up for two days and defeated heroic efforts by jobsite crews to tarp the open area and keep the interior of the modules dry. Some of the drywall and insulation was damaged and had to be replaced, which shut down construction for hours. “Our biggest concern is mold,” said Paul DeMeo, one of the show’s designers.

As construction progressed, in rain and heat exceeding 90 degrees, the show’s producers grappled with the project’s complexity. By Tuesday, DiMeo pleaded in a TV interview for more framers, roofers, masons, and finish carpenters to volunteer their time. And as if this project didn’t have enough drama, a 3.6-magnitude earthquake rumbled through Baltimore early Friday morning.

"HYBRID" ASSEMBLY: Modular and conventional frame builders worked together on this project.
Larry Canner "HYBRID" ASSEMBLY: Modular and conventional frame builders worked together on this project.

“Extreme Makeover” and its army of tradespeople ultimately overcame these problems and completed the house on Sunday evening, July 18. An estimated $1 million in materials had been donated, including 83 windows and 15 patio doors from Ply Gem Windows. And the finished product—with nine bedrooms and five baths—includes several interesting design flourishes. The front of the house, with brick siding, architectural molding along the roofline, and white windows, is typical of row houses in Baltimore, and is meant to symbolize the girls’ present. The side exteriors have a more modern look (meant to symbolize the residents’ future), with HardiePanel siding and black casement windows. Steven Saffell, Excel’s director of architectural design and innovation, says that the show wanted the interior to include “a massive central hall.” To create this 25-foot-wide-by-45-foot-long room, Excel made a U-shaped structure with 20-foot-tall panelized walls in 8- and 16-foot lengths.

For Excel, the project “reinforced what we already believed: That we are a custom manufacturer able to work with custom builders,” says Steve Scheinkman, the manufacturer’s CEO, who was interviewed while the project was still underway. When reminded that one of “Extreme Makeover’s” projects earlier this year was built in the snow in Tulsa, Okla., he laughed and said, “It’s 95 degrees here today, so snow sounds pretty good.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Baltimore, MD.