The Midwest Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing crew poses for a group picture at the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” jobsite.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Many Americans are riveted to their TVs every Sunday night when ABC's reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" hits the airwaves. The show's premise is to take a family that has usually experienced some terrible hardship (such as cancer, job loss, or a death in the family) and renovate that family's dilapidated or way-too-small home.

The family typically doesn't know what's going to happen because they are sent off on a vacation for a week. While they're gone, a team of designers, contractors, and hundreds of workers usually demolish the old house and build a brand new one.

For anyone who hasn't seen the show, these replacement homes are not your standard 2,000-square-foot tract homes. They're usually 4,000-square-foot (or more) luxury residences that boast every kind of convenience. The challenge is to get the house built, furnished, and landscaped during the family's seven-day vacation. It may sound impossible, but somehow it gets pulled off every week.

Deserving Family

On May 8, the viewing audience was introduced to the Johnson family. The patriarch of the family, Stephen Johnson, is a local firefighter who was called to the scene of a house explosion in south Kansas City last year. While there, Johnson risked his own life to save paramedic Mary Seymour, who had been shot when she came under fire from a nearby house.

Seymour is the one who nominated Johnson for a complete home makeover. She felt Johnson was deserving because the single father works three jobs (he is a barber and a window washer, as well as a firefighter) to support his three children. He also recently adopted two neighborhood kids from the foster care system after their adoptive mother passed away. Johnson and his five children lived in a 1,200-square-foot home.

Those cramped conditions vanished once the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" team arrived. The new home, built by Kevin Green Homes, is approximately 4,500 square feet, including the finished basement, and it has six bedrooms and five bathrooms.

The Midwest Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing team arrived early in the morning on a Saturday and worked until the wee hours of the next day.
The Johnson family doesn't have to worry about mortgage payments because a lender paid off their old house, and the new one was built and furnished with donated items, many of which were contributed by local businesses.

One of those local businesses involved in the project was Midwest Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing. With donated HVAC equipment, sheet metal, and the labor from its employees, Midwest was able to install the job in record time. Kevin Green Homes, whom Midwest had worked with previously, asked if Midwest was willing to participate, and owners John and Jeff Lambert were very excited to be a part of the project.

Midwest wasn't given any specific requirements regarding what type of HVAC system to install. "No one told us of any special needs as far as any of the occupants were concerned, but we were determined to install one of the best systems we could," said John Lambert. "We took into account not only comfort but indoor air quality as well with the system we designed."

Midwest spent a long weekend installing the HVAC system, which included this Lennox condensing unit, for the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project.

High-End Donation

Lambert approached Lennox, which is one of Midwest's suppliers, and the manufacturer was willing to donate all the equipment that would be needed to complete the job. And it was a big job. In fact, Lambert estimated that the cost of this high-end system would be near $17,000.

To that end, Midwest installed a top-of-the-line Dave Lennox Signature Series furnace and air conditioner. The 94 percent AFUE furnace features a two-stage gas valve and a variable-speed blower, while the 5-ton air conditioner is a two-stage, 19-SEER model. These units were coupled with a Harmonyâ„¢ electronic zone damper system from Lennox and Signatureâ„¢ thermostats.

Each of the three levels in the home has its own thermostat to ensure proper temperature and humidity control. The system will only deliver heating or cooling to those zones that are calling for space conditioning.

With the variable-speed furnace and two-stage condensing unit, the temperature and humidity are easily controlled for maximum efficiency and comfort.

To further enhance indoor air quality, Midwest installed an Aprilaire Model 600 humidifier with Auto-Trac® and a Lennox Pure Air™ air purification system. The Pure Air incorporates a MERV-9 pleated media air cleaner with UV light to keep the air in the home clean from dust particles, mold spores, bacteria, and viruses, along with odors and chemical vapors.

Lambert eagerly noted that in addition to the equipment donated by Lennox, there were many other significant donations from Midwest's other major suppliers in the Kansas City area, including Wholesale Sheet Metal, Galvmet, Excelsior Supply Company, and Construction Plastics. "Our thanks go out to them for their generosity and kind consideration," Lambert stated.

It was difficult to work around so many other tradespeople, but the Midwest crew was happy to be a part of the process.

Coordination, Hard Work

With hundreds of workers at the site, it's easy to imagine how difficult it would be to coordinate all the tradespeople. As Lambert noted, "At times we - along with framers, electricians, plumbers, cameramen, and the crew from ABC - were all trying to work in the same area. To everyone's credit, we all got along great and there was a great attitude between all the trades that were involved."

Lambert stated that with all these people milling around, it was often difficult to get in and get to work. "We arrived at 8:00 a.m., but we had to wait until about 10:30 a.m. to start our work, which is when the carpenters had the main floor framed and had started on the second-floor framing," he noted. "Once we had the opportunity to get in and work, we were finished with the main-level and lower-level ductwork, piping, and venting by about 1:30 p.m."

Then a problem cropped up. As the trusses were being set on the second floor, the Midwest crew realized that they were different than the original design, meaning the ductwork they fabricated would need to be greatly modified. Fortunately, the sheet metal shop men were on the jobsite, so they were able to revamp the duct design and get it installed with time to spare.

Lambert was especially impressed with the Midwest crew, who donated their time on a Saturday to install the system. These volunteers arrived at 8:00 a.m. and worked until 1:45 a.m. Sunday morning. "My hat is off to all those guys who donated their free time to enable us to work on this remarkable project. We also had time toward the end to set the outdoor unit, vent a cook top, install registers, and start up and set up the controls on the system," said Lambert.

Constance Ramos of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” looks appreciatively at all the work Midwest did on the house.
He added that the project was a very rewarding experience and that it was fun to see the camaraderie of all the trades.

"I didn't notice anyone running around complaining or arguing. What I saw was a bunch of very skilled tradespeople doing their jobs in extraordinary circumstances and conditions."

Lambert estimated that the entire crew built in five days what normally takes six to nine months to complete. The biggest jaw-dropper, though, was having a rough-in inspection from the City of Kansas City at 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning. "That alone qualifies as a small miracle in my book," he said.

Overall, Lambert and his crew at Midwest Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing agree that they feel fortunate to have participated in such a remarkable project. When asked if the company would be willing to do it again, Lambert noted, "As long as it's for another deserving family - and as long as it's not in the next couple of days."

Publication date: 06/27/2005