'Rescue Renovation' host Kayleen McCabe
In 2009, Kayleen McCabe out-hammered 5,000 other contractors to win her own TV series. Nearly 100 episodes later, she’s a network staple saving homeowners from their D.I.Y. renovations gone wrong with wit, humor, and passion.
You fell in love with remodeling after taking on an entire kitchen reno solo. What inspired you to tackle that first project?
It was really the necessity of finding happiness in my career. I worked in television for a long time, behind the scenes on construction shows, but for me it’s always been about the love of construction itself. I still get excited every day to get up and go to work. Some days, I’m laying in bed and it’s cold outside and I think, “I’m going to have to mix concrete by hand,” and then I’m like, “I can’t wait!” What a nerd. But it’s such a great place to be.
You’ve since become a licensed contractor with your own TV show. How’d that happen?
I think you have to fall into this industry. When I left television to do construction, I still had friends in the industry. There was a competition show called Stud Finder that they made me apply for, to search for the next on-air contractor. At first, I was like, “No!” But I ended up winning. I think 5,000 people applied, and it was narrowed down to five with me as the only female. When I won, the prize was five episodes on DIY Network, and those five turned into almost 100 with Rescue Renovation. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity.
As a female contractor, do you find yourself breaking down societal walls as well as physical walls?
Absolutely! It’s about changing perceptions. No matter what industry you go into, people want to know your experience. You have to earn their respect. So I came to job sites knowing that it wasn’t because I was female, they just wanted to know if I could do the job. Contractors all razz each other, but for me it’s been particularly pleasing to take the initiation period and still come out on top and earn the respect of my teammates. I also know my being a minority as a female in construction will someday come to an end, and I cannot tell you how excited I am about it.
On Rescue Renovation, you help people who are stuck mid-project. What is one of the most common mistakes you’ve seen homeowners make?
There is a public misperception that anyone is capable of being a master craftsman if they just go to the store and buy all the right parts. But I could go to a grocery store and buy all the right ingredients and by no means am I a chef. I think the realistic perception of what’s going to happen during a project has been poorly altered by the entertainment industry.
What’s your best D.I.Y. reno tip for homeowners?
Read the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. I give it to people who want to start to plan a project because it’s a polite way to describe scope creep. You’re looking at your kitchen and you’re like, ‘Oh I just want to replace my countertops. But if I’m going to replace my countertops, then I might as well do my floor, and if I do my floor, then I might as well do my lights,” and on and on.
What’ll you be up to during the Minneapolis Home + Remodeling Show?
I’ll be sharing a few different presentations on lessons I’ve learned in remodeling that I can pass on to homeowners. When I travel now, I volunteer my time as well, so I’ll also be heading to a few local schools to talk to students about what a great career contracting can be. I talked to almost 100,000 kids last year. I’m hoping for 200,000 kids this year.
That’s great! What do you want to do next in your career?
I’m going to continue to grow my nonprofit, The McCabe Foundation, to continue to support students with scholarships to get into the trades. I’m also making educational videos that are designed for schools. In Nova Scotia, they are starting to include the videos in their curricula. I truly want to be an educator! PBS would be my dream network. I want to be Mister Rogers, Alton Brown, and Bill Nye The Science Guy, but female and in construction. I love inspiring the next generation.