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‘Makeover' builder is man of speed

There are plans and there are Plans.

When it comes to making one house vanish and another appear in less than a week, you need Plans.

Rick Merlini, the builder behind the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project in the Windsor Park neighborhood, has his committed to a minute-by-minute spreadsheet that schedules work around the clock into Sunday.

Normal houses can take four months to build. Merlini has 88 hours.

In the ABC reality show's time-warped universe, as much work is done in one hour as in one day on a normal building schedule. They have their tricks – quick-set cement, prefabricated walls with plumbing and electrical outlets already drilled and overnight visits from building inspectors.

And then there's Merlini's spreadsheet. Every job is lined up in proper sequence, and every task has an estimated duration. Bang, bang, bang.

Pouring foundation footings gets one hour at 7:15 p.m. today. Getting termite protection under the foundation slab gets an hour and 45 minutes beginning at 3:15 a.m. Thursday.

Stairs to the second floor? A 30-minute endeavor that goes off at 7p.m. Thursday. Fireplace installation gets two hours at 9 p.m.

Landscapers get a liberal time allotment – nine hours to put in a yard, including sprinklers. They start at 3 p.m. Friday and are to be admiring the finished project by midnight.

Anyone who has ever had a home improvement project would find the schedule a fantasy – hardwood flooring in eight hours, kitchen cabinets in six. But Merlini, 52, is the speed demon of “Extreme Makeover.”

In 2006, he did a project for the show in Michigan and set the speed record: 53 hours, 54 minutes. Cameras couldn't keep up.

“I found out ABC was mad at me,” Merlini says.

“We're pretty extreme – he's the most extreme,” says Diane Korman, a Los Angeles-based senior producer for the series.

Merlini's crews moved so quickly on that project that producers brought in seven building inspectors – they usually only get one – to check the workmanship. All signed off. Quality work, Korman says.

Moving day at the Kings

Tuesday was prep day at the Sudbury Road home of Curtis and Alisha King. They left with their children for a gift vacation in Puerto Rico while workers inventoried the contents of their home and moved them out. Belongings go into storage for six months so the Kings can reclaim what they want.

Fixtures, everything from sinks to a ceiling fan, came out and were trucked away by Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Two mature magnolia trees were removed from the yard and turned into mulch. Fences were set up along the curb for spectator areas.

Today, volunteers will be filmed marching into the neighborhood and getting pep talks from Merlini, partner Ed Estridge of JED Development and others, including “Extreme Makeover” host Ty Pennington. Charlotte's episode is expected to air in October.

Around noon, backhoes are to start clawing down the walls of the family's home and day care. By nightfall, the brick-and-metal-siding house should be riding away in dump trucks.

And by Merlini's spread sheet, the heavy work will begin – “Install underground water and sewer line. 4 p.m. One hour.”

Merlini says he doesn't plan to try to break his speed record. But he thinks 88 hours may be a little much.

“Hope to do it in 80,” he says.

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