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Interview With Lou Manfredini, Mr. Fix-It

Aired July 14, 2002 - 09:17   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We have standing by for us in Chicago a very famous fix-it kind of guy. His name is Lou Manfredini, and he's the host of the Mr. Fix-It show in the Chicago area. He joins us now to talk about some of the things in his book, which is "Mr. Fix-It Introduces You to Your Home."

Hello, home. Hello, Mr. Fix-It.


O'BRIEN: Good to see you, sir.

MANFREDINI: You're very nice. I wouldn't go so far as to say famous because, you know, I still have to do stuff around my house. So it has -- obviously hasn't worked out.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's a write-off for you. I mean...

MANFREDINI: That's right. That's true. That is true.

O'BRIEN: You've got to do it for research.

MANFREDINI: I did pick up a hammer. I can deduct it off my taxes.

O'BRIEN: That entire Home Depot bill just goes right on the tax return.

All right. Let's -- let's talk about -- first of all, you're talking about ways to improve your home and yet not kill quite as many trees and, in some cases, actually making your home stronger. Now that sounds like it's too good to be true, but it isn't?

MANFREDINI: Well -- you know what, Miles? I think that my sort of position with any kind of -- you do any home renovation or home remodeling or building a new home, what I try and tell people is I want you to do it right the first time. I want you to select products, methods, the way you build a home that not only makes sense for you, but makes sense for the environment.

And I think there's been a lot of talk recently with kind of like what green building means and the selection, and I've been in this business now for 18 years, and, for the first time, probably in the past five years, my clients have actually come to me and said, "what are you building my house out of?"

You know, it used to be that they were more concerned with the stainless steel appliances or the granite on the counter top or what kind of flooring to use, but now they're more involved in the structure, how are you going to build my home, which I think is important because with the advent of -- of all the books that are out there and the magazine articles, the Internet, television, people are more informed, and so they see things on TV or in magazines and say, "Hey, you know what? I want that. I want that."

But they don't understand it. And so one of the things that's happened in the building industry is the technology has gotten better. It's gotten better in the standpoint of -- that we are -- you know, we're manufacturing products that go into a home which are called engineered wood products that don't have an impact on our forestry, on our old growth forestry. They're basically farms. It's a crop. It's like growing corn or soy bean.

And I've brought some samples of some of these items that are things people should consider when they're building or renovating a home.

O'BRIEN: I'll tell you what. Before you get into it because I -- I do want to see all these things. I want to ask you a question, though, that comes to mind.


O'BRIEN: There is this perception out there that new construction these days -- they just don't do it like they did it in the old days. And it's not quite as simple as that, is it?

In many cases, some of the wood used in the old days was, in fact, better, old growth forest, but some of the techniques that were used aren't quite as good as what are used today, correct?

MANFREDINI: Well, I will take an exception to that, and I will say what -- that statement you made is a true one, and my answer to that is, you're right, we don't build homes like we used to. I think we build them better.

And the reason is this. When you look at -- you know, I've renovated and remodeled a lot of homes, and you'll go into some old neighborhoods in Chicago or across the country, and you'll take apart a wall, and you'll say, "Wow. Look at. These wall studs are -- they're like every few feet." There's no rhyme or reason as to how it was built because, back then, the carpenters would say, "Yeah, put one here. Put one here. Go ahead, nail it up, and you're done."

Now the structures that we make, the fact that we're building homes more energy efficient, there is a thought process not only in how the house is built today, but the fact that it's going to last for years and years and years.

And the architects, the engineers, the builders, and the homeowners are demanding a quality product, and, across the board, you're finding the industry is setting standards, no matter what you build a home from, of how it should be built so that it has a long- lasting -- and adds value year after year after year.

O'BRIEN: All right. With that in mind, let's look at some of these engineered wood products and where they might be used in a house.

MANFREDINI: One of the things, Miles -- if you go -- do you own a home?

O'BRIEN: I do.

MANFREDINI: Is your -- do you have a basement in your home?

O'BRIEN: I do.

MANFREDINI: OK. When you go down in the basement, is it finished or unfinished?

O'BRIEN: It's both.

MANFREDINI: Both. OK. So when you...

O'BRIEN: Part of it's dug out, and part of it's actually...

MANFREDINI: Right. So, when you go down in the basement and you look up, a lot of times, you see those floor joists, you know, the wood structures that support the floor.

What we're mostly seeing in a lot of older homes -- and even new construction -- is what's called dimensional lumber. This is piece of dimensional lumber. This is actually piece a two-by-four, but this is cut from a piece of -- you know, it's cut out of a tree. It's a mill. And, I mean, this is the standard by which we build homes.

One of the innovations that's come off in the past 20 years is this product which is called an engineered wood I beam. If your builder has this as an option for you to build your home out of, demand it. What you see here is a plywood web. It's very similar to a metal I beam that it -- it has these flanges at the top and the bottom.

Now, you think, "Well, geez, what's so great about this?" OK. First of all, it's made out of tree parts and mesh. You can see, if I turn it, it's actually chips of woods that are oriented using high strength glue, and then the plies of the wood come across.

Now the beauty behind these structures is you can actually cut this entire area out to allow your mechanicals to go through. You see there's a hole already that's prepunched through for electricians to run through. That makes the cost of building your house less because, when they go to do the mechanicals in your home, it's that much easier to be able to do all the other work that goes behind it.

Now another...

O'BRIEN: And, of course, it doesn't warp the same way, and...

MANFREDINI: It doesn't warp. They -- kind of the hook of these -- the marketing hook that they talk about is the fact that it's a silent floor, that it won't squeak.

The benefit of them is -- I've used these extensively in the homes that I build and renovate. You can span longer spans so it gives people flexible -- flexibility rather in the design of their home so that, 'Well, I don't want a wall or a post here. I want the kitchen and the great room to be larger," and that technology has made the difference to allow the architects as well as the homeowners or apartment owners or condo dwellers, can give -- and basically design anything they want.

O'BRIEN: All right. What else do you have there?

MANFREDINI: Well, here's another kind of an interesting -- this -- if you look at this, see -- that kind of looks like cedar siding, doesn't it?

O'BRIEN: Yeah. Kind of.

MANFREDINI: It's got a good look to it. It's an engineered product again. Instead of an old growth cedar, which is -- cedar is a wonderful choice. Don't get me wrong. It's wonderful.

This uses plywood technology. It's a prestained system that they bring -- deliver to the job site done already in the color that you want.

O'BRIEN: So it's already lapped over like clapboards, like that, or...

MANFREDINI: No, it's not. It's actually -- this piece -- this is just an example to show you what it would look like.

O'BRIEN: Yeah. OK.

MANFREDINI: But this is the full piece that comes prestained so that you're speeding up the building process. The cost of your money, as you're building a house or renovating a house, goes down because the entire process happens much faster. See the...

O'BRIEN: And does it wear well? Is it -- I mean...

MANFREDINI: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: How long does it last?

MANFREDINI: Absolutely. A product like this, because it's pretreated and it's designed for the exterior, you know, the performance out of this is at least 20 years, if not more. You may have to stain it prior to that, but it's a sustainable product that will stand the test of time on the exterior of the home, and I mean...

O'BRIEN: Well, it looks pretty good. I mean, you could fool somebody with that stuff.

MANFREDINI: What's that?

O'BRIEN: You can fool somebody in thinking it's the real thing. I mean, it's not...

MANFREDINI: Oh, absolutely. But the idea behind it with the engineered products is you're -- you're wanting the look of these natural products, but you're trying to, A, save money on the entire process to build the home, and you're also trying to make it maintenance-free.

The thing that I hear from my clients all the time is, "I -- you know what? We're all busy. We all work longer hours than we used to. I don't want to have to come home" -- we're not all -- we're not all Mr. Fix-Its, right. We can't all do this, so we want our home that we live in to be as maintenance-free as possible.

But I think the idea behind maintenance-free has been that "Well, maintenance-free means plastic or it means, you know, something that I don't necessarily like." You know, we drive in the fancy neighborhoods, and we see what -- the homes that we dream about, but by using the technology and a little bit of information, you can achieve that same look for a fraction of the cost and have the best of both worlds.

O'BRIEN: Lou Manfredini is his given name, but he's adopted more -- He's known by the handle of Mr. Fix-It in Chicago and now, throughout this great land of ours, through the courtesy of CNN, he is known as such here. Thank you very much for being with us.

MANFREDINI: My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: And we appreciate you giving us a few times on building. Come back again some time.

MANFREDINI: Thank you. I'd love to.




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