Problems plague 'Extreme Makeover' house
Problems plague 'Extreme Makeover' house
By Cindy Yurth
At Georgia Yazzie's "Extreme Makeover" home in Pinon, Ariz., much of the
home's landscaping has died due to problems with the greywater irrigation
PINON, Ariz., Sept. 25, 2008
T here is reality TV, and then there is reality. The difference is, reality
keeps going after the cameras stop rolling.
The "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" episode featuring the Georgia Yazzie
family of Piñon ended happily.
The family oohed and aahed as they were led through their new hogan-style
home, and rejoiced at the thought of never having to pay another electric
bill, thanks to the home's solar collectors and wind generator.
But even as the show aired last October, five months after the home was
completed, reality was seeping through the cracks.
Problems had started to surface with the air conditioner, water was
draining from the roof right into the foundation, and the greywater
irrigation system was malfunctioning, creating a stinky cesspool in the
Without water, the landscaping was dying.
By midwinter it was evident this extreme makeover had some extreme
glitches. The house was freezing. For days on end, the Yazzies could not
get the indoor temperature above 40 degrees, even with the thermostats
cranked all the way up.
Georgia's daughter Geralene and her children, who live in an attached
smaller hogan, moved into the main hogan because their side was even
In their brand-new solar-heated house, the Yazzies lived like traditional
Navajos, huddling around a decorative wood-burning fireplace to keep warm.
ABC, which airs "Extreme Makeover," installed electric baseboard heaters,
shooting the family's electric bills up to $400 a month.
The wind turbine, which was supposed to supplement the solar collectors,
especially during the winter, stopped working after the first few months.
Desperate for help, the Yazzies called Mark Snyder, the electrician who had
installed the solar collectors and heating system. Snyder made a trip from
his home in Los Angeles and found his system was working fine.
However, when the drywall was peeled back, the problem became clear: the
insulation in the home's walls had settled, leaving the upper third of the
walls completely without insulation. The thermal wrap that was supposed to
help seal the house had huge gaps in the corners.
"Our systems are designed to work with houses that are like a Thermos,"
Snyder explained. "That house is more like a barn."
On hot days, in contrast, the house is uncomfortably warm. It had been
designed in traditional Navajo style, with an east-facing door. The problem
is, the door is made of black metal.
"That morning sun would hit it and the whole front entrance would be like a
furnace," Snyder said.
That problem was alleviated somewhat by painting the door white, but it
still transmits a lot of heat.
Beams may fall
Meanwhile, there were cosmetic problems: the cork flooring was peeling up,
tiles were falling off the shower walls, and two huge pine beams were
pulling away from the walls.
"I'm afraid to have someone sit under them in the living room," Yazzie
said. "I keep thinking one of these days one of them is going to fall."
A light fixture did fall.
"It could have hit one of the grandkids,'" Yazzie said.
This spring, a water pipe burst, flooding the crawl space. At 3 a.m., the
family was desperately searching for the main water valve so they could
shut it off - "Nobody ever gave me a blueprint to the house," she said.
Now winter is coming again, and Yazzie is hoping the situation won't repeat
itself. ABC did send someone to blow foam insulation into the floor and
attic, but Snyder said that without insulating the walls, it won't be much
ABC commissioned an energy audit by a Flagstaff firm, which shows huge heat
leaks at various places in the home.
According to E3 Energy, the company that performed the audit, "This leakage
is equivalent to over an 18-inch (by) 18-inch hole in the envelope of the
Meanwhile, Snyder had to hire a local handyman to carve the foam insulation
out of the night ventilation system his company had installed in the attic.
"ABC is trying to cheap it, and it's not going to work," he said. "They
need to send someone in here and get this taken care of."
Yazzie said she's been reluctant to complain for fear of looking
"When you look at where we were a year ago and where we are now, it's much
better," she said. "I have a house with running water and electricity and a
room for everyone."
But "happily ever after" is still in the works.
"Now winter's around the corner again, and I'm worried," Yazzie said. "I
don't want my grandkids getting sick from living in a cold house."
Yazzie is also worried for her youngest daughter Gwen, who has asthma.
Gwen's health had improved considerably after the family moved into the
home, thanks to a state-of-the-art air filtration system, but that was
removed along with the malfunctioning air conditioner.
Kirk Sullivan of IQAir, the system's manufacturer, said his company will be
glad to reinstall the filter if someone will just tell him where it is.
Yazzie says she has no idea.
Yazzie said she and her son Garrett Yazzie, whose award-winning science
project was the impetus for the green-built house, have fixed some of the
defects with the help of Snyder, local handyman Danny Begay, and donations
from Garrett's friends in Orchard Lake, Mich., where he attends a college
ABC replaced the cork floor with a wood floor that seems to be holding up.
"Most of the stuff I can deal with if I have to, but I want the house to be
warm," Yazzie said. "If they would just fix the insulation I would be
Yazzie has been battling illness and mobility problems stemming from an
automobile crash two years ago, and hasn't been able to go back to her job
as a heavy equipment operator.
She's living on her disability check, and says if she has another winter of
$400-a-month electric bills, it's going to break her.
In a previous interview, Garrett said his main motivation in accepting the
house was so he wouldn't have to worry about his family while he was away
"Now I worry about them more than I did when they were in the trailer" that
was torn down to make way for the house, he said.
The warranty on the house is up, but Georgia said she brought most of the
problems to ABC's attention before it expired.
Lance Guest of HomeLife Communities, which built the house, said he has
been apprised of the problems and was told by ABC that the corporation
would take care of them.
"For a while they were calling me to consult about various problems with
the house, but I haven't heard from them in three or four months," Guest
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" executive producer Diane Korman referred
this reporter to ABC's public relations department.
An employee there requested an e-mailed list of the problems at the house.
As of Monday there had been no reply to that e-mail.
Lindsey Burgess, a spokeswoman for Flagstaff-based Southwest Windpower,
which manufactured the wind turbine, said the company was unaware the
windmill is malfunctioning and would send someone to look at it.
Yazzie said she's a traditional Navajo and tries to maintain hózhó, so
she's keeping a positive attitude and trusting ABC to come through.
"I don't want this to come out negative," she said. "They've done a lot for
But Snyder, who has made several trips to the home and spent thousands of
dollars helping the Yazzies correct its defects, said he's angry with the
broadcasting company for capitalizing on the Yazzies' story without giving
them the happy ending they were promised.
"They Cinderella someone and then abandon them," he said. "How mean is