Paul Kennedy rewired an antique barn with new service, new wiring and a state-of-the-art lighting and heating system for his first project on “This Old House.”
“It was very, very intense,” Kennedy said. “That job took about four months to do.”
A Maine timber framer who was working on the barn in Concord, Mass., referred Kennedy to the general contractor. He said the project required a lot of advance planning, and the former electrician didn't know how to even begin working on the home. On a house with a timber frame, electricians need to get their wires up in the frame before the shell goes on, Kennedy said.
“There was a lot of thinking involved and the electrician didn't want to do it,” Kennedy said. “A lot of electricians and tradesman will make a big stink about, ‘Oh, that's too high. I can't do it.’ Whatever it is, I like the challenge and I just pull forward with it rather than making a big deal out of it.”
Kennedy said the Concord home was one of the older barns in the area and was in rough condition.
“The barn was just about rotted to the core,” he said. “They had to rebuild it from the ground up. They only kept about a handful of the cross pieces that were not rotted out for the old part of the building, and they demolished the rest of it. It came right down.”
“This Old House” organized a school for making timbers right on site, and visitors from New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine paid money to make the beams for the show.
“It was really interesting that people from all over the country came to help make the timbers to go into this project,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he planned ahead, and the job worked out very well.
“They were very happy with how everything came out and showcased it in a few different magazines,” Kennedy said. “It was beautiful. They kept the old style of the barn with the sliding door in the front to cover the front entranceway.”
Kennedy said the TV crew did a lot of filming for just a half-hour show.
“The job is a normal job and the film crew would come in at least two times a week,” he said. “They are there all day long from seven in the morning until sometimes four or five in the afternoon filming for one half-hour show.”
Kennedy said because of his calm manner and on-screen presence, the crew gave him a nickname.
“They called me, ‘One Take Kennedy,’ because we would be able to go through my scene without doing it two or three or four times,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes the plumbers or the sheetrockers would mess up. They would do it two or three or four times before the producer would like it.”
For his first show, Kennedy said he got the word out by sending out postcards to all his customers.
“I wanted everybody to see it,” he said. “I was very proud of it. I wanted to let everyone know the first date that I was going to be on.”
Kennedy said he appeared on the show in the early 1990s, when the recession hit. The show didn't drum up more business then, but it did pay off in the future, he said.
“It didn't really help me at that time because, unfortunately at that point, people weren't thinking about the high quality of work that was going into that project,” he said. “They thought that because I was on TV, I was too expensive. That was a drawback.”
Kennedy said customers are now looking for an electrical contractor who can get the job done right, even if it's more expensive.
“People want quality rather than the guy that would come in and do a quick job,” he said. “That's the way I work. Everything is 100% the best way.”
On his next project in Wayland, Mass., Kennedy wired a master suite and upgraded the service. Kennedy remembered an unusual room in that particular house.
“It was an old meeting house from Wayland and there were handmade murals all the way around the room,” he said. “It was very interesting. Each wall had a different theme, and many of murals had scenes of horses.”
In Lexington, Mass., the team raised the whole roof off a ranch. They added a library suite, master suite and a master bathroom with a great room, which was 30-ft by 28-ft and two-stories high with timber-frame beams.
During the project, “This Old House” flew Kennedy down to Lexington, Ky., to learn about the Elan system, an integrated phone and cable system. The team installed a camera at the front door so the homeowners could flip on their TV to see who was on their doorstep ringing the doorbell.
“I had never done any kind of home automation before, and I found it to be very interesting,” Kennedy said. “It was a great experience for me, and I am now certified to install those systems.”
For his final house, Kennedy helped remodel the kitchen and rewire a wing addition for a home in Acton, Mass. He said he and the other electricians in his company have gotten very proficient at putting recessed lights in an old kitchen.
“We can take out an old ceiling light and put in eight or 10 recessed lights,” Kennedy said. “People were just amazed at the difference. It just changes the whole look of the kitchen.”
Kennedy has also learned how to fish wire in an old house. He said the most challenging aspect of working in older homes is figuring out how to get a wire from Point A to Point B without making a lot of holes.
“A lot of people are afraid of fishing wire, but I love it,” he said. “I've started using a tool called the RotoZip, a high-speed cutting tool that has made it a lot easier to make a hole in an old plaster job without creating damage to the wall.”
He and the other tradesmen had to work a tight schedule to get everything done on time.
“A lot of times when they leave on a Tuesday, they'll tell you, ‘OK, on Thursday, we would like to see the project at this stage,’” he said. “It kind of presented a challenge for us because we would have to work until 10 p.m. to get things done to where they would like to see them, but it was still fun.”
“This Old House” helps the general public learn how to renovate and update a new house, he said.
“The producer would like to show new things and techniques on how to do things,” he said. “He was very good at trying to teach the general public how to do different tasks.”
Although Kennedy hasn't appeared on a show in years, he is still kind of a mini-celebrity, he said.
“It is really fun to have everyone comment,” he said. “I went away on vacation down to Jamaica and people traveling down there would say, ‘You look familiar to me.’ It's from the show. Everyone watches that. I think there are 2 million viewers a week. It's very well followed.”
Kennedy said he has a full schedule right now, but he enjoyed working on “This Old House” in the past.
“There was a lot of coordination, but everyone got along great,” he said. “It was a very good experience all the way around. Everybody is together and it's a fun time.”