Sisters co-host hit emergency restoration show and flip HGTV model “upside down” in the process.
When was the last time you snaked your drains? HGTV’s hit show Renovation 911 co-host Kirsten (Brinkman) Meehan says that although, “It’s really gross, so put on a pair of rubber gloves,” it’s something you should be doing once a month to minimize potentially serious damage from hair clogs and backups.
Did you turn off the water the last time you left for vacation? “Even if you’re only gone for a week, shut it off,” she says as she looks at her sister Lindsey (Brinkman) Uselding, who is the other half of the HGTV home emergency restoration show.
Growing up in the Brinkman household, the two recalled being on construction jobsites way back when they were little. “I grew up doing demo and paint work for my dad,” Meehan says.
“One of my earliest memories is spending Saturdays together and dad always stopping to get one last thing done on a job,” Uselding says, as the two of them talk fondly of their childhood, helping their dad, Ted Brinkman, who joined Plymouth’s Ungerman, Inc. as its first employee in 1977.
Since then, the two have become co-owners at Ungerman, Inc., a restoration, reconstruction and renovation company serving the Twin Cities Metro area. “My role is taking an emergency call when someone has damage to their home, talking about next steps, getting them through the insurance process,” Uselding says.
“I take over with design and build and help put it back together,” Meehan says. “Lindsey gets them through the emotional part, and I get to help start making it beautiful again. We love our jobs.”
They love their jobs so much that HGTV turned their typical eight-hour workdays into an eight-part series on mitigation restoration. But the show, just like a restoration, didn’t happen overnight. Meehan says it took about four years, along with many short video clips shot on a job site along the way, to finally get Hollywood to notice.
By all accounts, the pilot was a huge hit, and, thanks to “really positive test ratings,” the series was picked up. “All we knew was they offered us seven more episodes that were filmed over many months from 2021 through 2022. Each episode followed us through two emergencies,” Meehan says. The format includes work on an entire home that is the focus of the hour, with a smaller emergency, one-room project that gets introduced and revealed in the middle of the show.
“HGTV has never followed restoration—only remodel,” Uselding says. “So we had to flip their typical model upside down.” The two explained they would review a project their company would be handling to determine work scope and whether it would be a good match for HGTV. “We needed to make sure we were offering a variety of emergency projects and that we would be able to finish a job on a very tight production schedule,” Meehan says.
Meehan says they would show up to a job with eight or nine added film crew on top of their regular workers just to get started and neighbors would peek out their windows. Though there is no additional incentive for a homeowner to invite cast and crew into their homes, both women agreed their clients were patient and stayed positive as the co-hosts worked to keep the restoration flow as normal as possible.
“Unlike many other home shows, we were in charge of our contractors, scheduling and budgeting, as well as design and the hands-on work to complete the project. These are our real clients, and we would have worked with them with or without a show,” Uselding says.
The extensive timeline took both hosts away from their regular lives, with long days on camera, away from family routines and their other clients. “Our usual jobs don’t find us working on site together too often,” Meehan says. “[Lindsey] lifted me up when I needed energy, and I lifted her up when she needed a laugh. Our level of friendship and sisterhood is unparalleled.”
The two shared a bedroom growing up; Meehan says they had their own rooms for one week at one point, “but we didn’t want to be apart, so we kept sneaking into each other’s rooms.” Their sense of connection and friendship is palpable on and off the show and has attracted viewers and fans across the HGTV platform.
They both agree that the heart of their work is their goal to respond to people who need help. “It’s not just remodeling, not design,” Uselding says. “It’s a chance for us to showcase how we help people through the most emotional time in their life to the most elated, happiest moment to see that journey and share the outcome with the world.”
One episode in the series followed the restoration process after lightning tore through a home during a thunderstorm. Most of the family was four hours away when the house lit into flames, and the family’s teenagers, along with neighbors, began to gather in the street in the downpour. “Talking with them during our first meeting, you could see how they were going to be affected forever,” Meehan says. “At the reveal, they walked into the room where their last memory was fire raging up the wall, and the homeowner said, ‘I could have never imagined this room ever being this beautiful.’”
A favorite part of each episode for both are the takeaways they share. “It all comes down to the practical tips we can leave with our viewers. Clients ask us what they could have done to prevent the property mishaps they’ve experienced in their homes. And we started turning those tips into a regular part of the show,” Uselding says.
Those tips sparked a new idea, which led to a new company the two just launched. By combining savvy solutions for home damage prevention with compelling design, Practical Home was born. The online outlet combines tips, tricks and fun facts focused on helping women navigate home improvement along with safety solutions for purchase.
“You’d be surprised how much time it takes to create an affordable, pretty plunger,” Meehan says. “Our crew kept telling us how much they learned working on our job sites. The shows have a pretty reveal and some great family emotions, but we also wanted people to see a tip and think, ‘I have to go check this out,’ so that there are educational opportunities for viewers to put safety and prevention to work.”
With their new venture and the 400 clients they’ve worked with in the last year, the show hasn’t stopped them completely. And now they wait to see if they get the nod for season two.