Ty Pennington on Returning to ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ & the Show’s Legacy (VIDEO)

Ty Pennington on 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'
Special guest Ty Pennington makes sure everything is level while building a decorative outdoor dividing wall for the Washington family's home makeover in West Athens, California. (HGTV)

Ty Pennington is returning to his roots stepping off the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition bus one more time. However, this time around, it’s not to host like he did during the show’s original run on ABC from 2003-2012.

The charismatic carpenter, designer, and craftsman was called in for the Sunday, March 8 episode to help in the renovation of the home of Thom Washington and his family. The co-founder of Engage the Vision, a non-profit mentorship program that inspires at-risk youth, Washington had fallen on hard times while battling stage 4 colon cancer. And for Pennington, he wasn’t just coming back to work, he was reuniting with his family.

“Literally, everyone that worked on the show from the EP to locations to the designers and other producers, those people I was on the road with for 10 years. It was kind of awesome. A little awkward because I wasn’t hired to be the host. At the same time, it’s one of those things where it just felt right to me being on set,” he said.

“We were in the trenches for 10 years. Anyone who has been on the show or on the road for that long, [knows] there is a bond. Those are the people who not only go through crazy hours of just never sleeping and pulling off miracles. You get to know the communities you’re working in and meeting these volunteers. There is a high when you’re pulling off miracles and working together to change lives. You can’t get that when you do a normal job. There is a rush you get that is addictive, especially when you work with some really amazing people.”

Here, the passionate do-gooder further reflects on his Extreme experience and the show’s legacy.

Ty Pennington and Darren Keefe

Special guest Ty Pennington and designer/carpenter Darren Keefe work out some construction details while renovating a home in West Athens, California. (HGTV)

How do you compare the atmosphere of the HGTV reboot with the original ABC series?

Ty Pennington: The heart of the show stays the same. That seems like the same no matter who the host is. The thing about Extreme is it’s not really about the talent, it’s about the story and family you’re helping. That’s amazing because you want more people to experience it. For me, it was great to go back to that vibe you have of everyone teaming together to really make a difference. I loved it. I really hope people tune in and it stays around for a couple of seasons because you want shows like that to be on TV. There aren’t many shows that actually have a positive impact like this.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition opened the door for a wave of home improvement shows that still air today. How do you think the format has evolved?

This show came as Survivor was the most popular show on TV back then. In the beginning, we were about finding six designers who really didn’t get along with each other. There was angst. There was a battle of opinions. We’re shooting the pilot. We find this one house in a neighborhood that looks horrible. The roof appears to be caving in, no good maintenance for the lawn. We decided to help out this family. That’s the beauty of this show. The reason the house looks that way is the little girl has cancer, and the family spent every last dime they had for her treatment. We shot the pilot, and it could have come out really different. It could have been this Survivor mentality. They realized the people on the show were caring individuals. When we finally showed the family the house — we didn’t move the bus, instead we walked them around back then. You realize the emotional reaction at that point.

The builders pulled off the miracle and changed the way they do what they do. The best part [was] people who built houses and did construction became heroes for one week. They realized they could be a hero in their community. What I loved about that is it did change the footprint of what remodeling shows could be.

It changed the game and became a phenomenon.

Up until Trading Spaces, it was really just a before-and-after type of TV show. We showed how to put tools in your hand. With Extreme, it blew the whole thing out of the water because we showed the journey of telling the story and why they custom built this or that. You now see a lot of shows bringing the human element to it. Custom things that were meant to be special for the person you were building for. It has been awesome for me to see the entire genre has grown. It has created a lot of jobs, renovations. Also, because we showed what could be done in such a short time, everyone has become a designer sitting on their couch. Creatively, you have to really step up your game because people have seen so much. I love that the stakes always go up — as an artist, I love that because I love to be challenged.

Watch a sneak peek here:

During the episode, you got to roll up your sleeves and get to work. What was that like for you?

The cool thing about me being back on the show [was] I wasn’t just a host, I actually designed a special room. Creatively, I have to be stimulated. I couldn’t just be a host, I had to have a creative outlet. It’s what I went to school for, it’s in my DNA. What I loved this time I got to go in as a role that I got to build on in Trading Spaces, which is design and use my carpentry skills to pull off miracles. You never got to see what I did on the old show because it was a secret project and I was basically working on two houses at the same time. Here, you actually get to see what I do. It’s always, “He’s got people to do that.” For me it’s now, “Wow, he really does know what he’s doing.”

You touched on coming back to a new host in Jesse Tyler Ferguson. How do you think he has done so far?

I think he has great energy. I think that is what it’s about; you have to be excited as such positivity is being done. It’s an easy job — the only requirement to be the host of Extreme is to be yourself. You feel the emotion. Early on, I did talk to production and told them they should find somebody who really was authentic. You have to be real, it has to be felt. The show has always been genuine and real. I think that is what makes it different from other shows. I think he has been doing great. The new designers are fantastic, too. I think we are the OG generation, but just like Star Trek, there is this new generation, but the spirit of the show is the same. I’d love to come back as a special guest of any kind because I am special.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Sundays, 9/8c, HGTV