113. If it’s Worth Doing; or, A Treatise on fixing other people’s mistakes

The DIY era is generally considered a good thing, right? In this age of instant how-to information, anyone can do anything.

And lately I’ve been wondering if that is a good thing.

I’ve had lots of time to think on this. In fixing up two old houses, Mr. H. C. and I have also been fixing other peoples mistakes. And all the time I’m thinking, ‘If you couldn’t do it right, you should have called a professional!’

The running joke at the cottage is that it was wired by Joe’s Electric. And we laugh and say its a good thing Joe was Mr. H. C.’s dad, otherwise he would come in for a lot of criticism.

Here at the city house we aren’t related to the painting crew that was here before we bought the house; consequently, the former owner has definitely been criticized. Several times. The painting crew must have been made up of ten year olds — nothing against ten year olds — and much of the other work done on the house was slipshod as well. But since I’m doing the painting, that’s what I’m noticing.

Whoever painted the basement took a giant brush and five gallons of gray latex basement paint and slopped it over everything. Door knobs. Door hinges. Metal floor drains. Electrical outlets and the covers. The lock and chain on the door. Not to mention the concrete floor.

There are slops, drips, and globs everywhere. Bristles from the brush left in the dried paint. Corners of trim left unpainted because it was, well, hard. And suddenly, it is my issue. If I just paint over the mess, now I’ve become the sloppy painter that I’m criticizing. And frankly? I don’t want the next owner complaining about me and my workmanship.

  • Any DIY-er knows to take off door hardware when the door is painted. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows to never use latex paint on metal. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows not to use oil-based paint on top of something already painted in latex. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows to take stray bristles out of the wet paint before it dries. Don’t they?

This is what worries me. What if the DIY trend is just acceptable mediocrity under the guise of pride in accomplishment?

I’m a DIY-er from way back — I helped build my first house starting in 1978, before the first Home Depot even opened its doors — so I’m including myself in this. In the interest of saving money, or pride in accomplishment, or whatever else drives us to do it ourselves, are we accepting a lesser quality than hiring someone who knows how to do it really well?

A few weeks back a blogger posted a photo of a coffee table she had painted. It looked lovely, though the photo was taken outside and there were shadows on the table. A professional furniture painter commented (very rudely) that regular people should not take on projects they can’t do.

Rudeness and Inappropriateness aside, I get what he meant. He is a professional who has honed his skill for many years and is trying to make money at it. And here come the amateurs saying Hey. We can do that! Let’s just buy some chalk paint. Or better yet, let’s make our own…

My chalk-painted chairs, $5 each from St. Vinnie's, and painted with DIY chalk paint.

My chalk-painted chairs, $5 each from St. Vinnie’s, and painted with DIY chalk paint.

I’ve done it. In fact, I do it all the time. Why should I pay someone else money when I might be able to do it?

Do you think it might be part of our national character? After all, most all Americans came here from somewhere else because someone we’re related to thought they could do better themselves.

But I digress.

As a recovering perfectionist (and married to one who is not yet recovered) I suggest that if a thing is worth doing yourself, it’s worth doing well.

Mr. H. C. is a professional who has been called in many times to rescue homeowners who got in over their heads. And I think it’s great that they had the humility to admit they couldn’t do it. I wish the former owner of our city house had called in some professionals.

When Mr. H. C. considers doing something sub-standard, he usually says, “No, it’s against my morals to do that.” I always usually smile when he says that, because, really? That’s the way everyone should work all the time. No matter what you are being paid, no matter who you are doing the work for, no matter how much (or how little) time you have to do the project. It should be “against our morals” to do sub-standard or sloppy or careless work.

If not for yourself, at least for the people who come after you, who have to fix your mistakes…

55. The Cave under the Cottage

If you’ve ever been caving, you might know the feeling — a generic uneasiness as you’re thinking about it and hiking to the cave; several gulps and maybe some sweating when you see the entrance and realize it’s barely big enough for you to get your shoulders through; deep breaths to keep the panic away when the darkness envelops you; the urge to shout when you emerge from the dark hole in the ground. YES! I LIVED!

I went caving once when I was younger, braver, skinnier, and more bendable. I had to crawl downward into the entrance head first and had to stand on someone’s shoulders to be shoved out the exit. I never had the desire to go again, although I did feel euphoric when we all emerged from that tiny hole unscathed.

There is a cave under our cottage.

No, it's not a coal mine.No, it's not a cave.It's our very own access to the bowels of our cottage. And it's right in the kitchen!

No, it’s not a coal mine.
No, it’s not a cave.
It’s our very own access to the bowels of our cottage. And it’s right in the kitchen!

The opening is about 18″ square. You don’t have to go down head first, but you might have to stand on someone’s shoulders to be shoved out… There is another way in and out, but you still have to shimmy through the crawl space in the dirt and rock to get there. And that’s where the plumbing is. And that’s where the wiring is. And that’s where the gas line is.

caving 002We knew that Mr. H.C. would have to go down there. The gas line needed to be moved for our stove; the mouse chewed wires needed replacing with mouse proof aluminum BX cable, and the plumbing to the refrigerator needed to have copper line run to it. And we were hoping to add to the duct work to have another register in the kitchen floor.

We kept putting it off. There were thoughts about Spiders and Mice and Snakes, oh my, but the snakes were the biggest worry. We looked it up. (Mr. H.C. isn’t married to a librarian for nothing!) Rattlesnakes (not likely) hibernate in Pennsylvania until April. Copperheads (more likely) hibernate in our area until March. Hmmm. I tried to be upbeat, but after all, it wasn’t ME going down there. I would have taken his place, but I don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’. Let alone plumbing, wiring, and duct work…

Our neighbor said, “Ah, you’ll be okay. If you see a snake, just don’t corner ’em.”  That was the confidence Mr. H.C. needed. He packed up his biggest hatchet, put on his hat light, and strode off to the mines.

We sent Mr. Henry down first as a scout. Sort of like the canaries they send into the mines? He took one look at the opening in the wall and hopped right in — down the rabbit hole — eager to explore. He disappeared and in a few minutes was back, with only some dust on his whiskers and seemingly unconcerned, at least about mice or snakes.

the cat in the cave

The work went just about as smoothly as it could. Of course, I’m the one writing this, and I was also the one who was upstairs holding lights, feeding gas and copper lines, and handing down tools. The easy job. The clean job. Yep, those are the ones I like…

Mr. H.C. did not have the clean job. No, he didn’t. To grab the flexible gas pipe you see in the photo on the left, he had to slide up on his back in the dirt. The workable space diminishes as one gets further in — there is about an 11″ clearance between the floor joists and the ground. Did I mention dark?

caving 009
It looks as if he should be able to jump right out, but there is duct work in the way, so he had to slither through the crawl space to get out. Thank goodness he was the only one slithering — no snakes or critters of any kind, alive or dead, were spotted during this adventure.

caving 012And as if we don’t have enough holes in this floor, Mr. H.C. cut another one and in 15 minutes had the duct work fitted for a new register in the kitchen floor. With two registers and all the holes patched, this kitchen might be downright toasty next winter.

And Mr. H.C. was indeed, euphoric when he had climbed out of that tiny hole unscathed. How about a shower and a glass of wine?chardonnay on the porch

53. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


The Good:

    Kitchen countertop and sink laid out on paper and ordered  √
    Dishwasher ordered and ready for pickup at Sears  √
    Black and white VCT flooring tile ordered  √
    Old linoleum and tar paper scraped off the kitchen floor  √
    Sliding glass door frame and surrounding wall demoed   √
    French doors framed in  √
    The kitchen subfloor discovered to be 5/4″ thick. √
    Subway tile for behind sink purchased and waiting  √
    Two new electrical outlets installed (ahead of schedule)  √
    A renovation calendar with projects clearly scheduled  √
    A yellow bedroom that will soon have to be renamed the White Bedroom  √

Oh my! There is so much good progress, I hardly want to show you the bad and the ugly.

But for the sake of truth in blogdom, I will.

The Bad:

    It was really hard work taking up the linoleum. I might have whined several times. Our backs and our knees reminded us that we are OLD…
    I don’t understand why 18″ dishwashers are more expensive than 24″ dishwashers. Less parts, smaller = bigger price. Totally unfair!
    We found another mummified mouse — this one was under the refrigerator when we moved it to pull up the tile. (At least they all have been dead a long time…)
    When Mr. H. C. was taking up the tile under the refrigerator, he discovered the floor had been patched there because of termite damage. (But see Good list above — the reason it didn’t cave in was the solid five-quarters subfloor.)
    The kitchen is now shrouded in plastic drop cloths and sheets while the work gets messy, dusty, and serious. Which means I have just a small temporary kitchen in the living room.

Which leads us to … The Ugly:

Which means this is what we get to have for dinner most nights:

Domino's and Black & Tans

Domino’s and Black & Tans

Wait! Is that good? Or bad? I’m not sure… But we certainly are glad to be making good progress finally. Bad knees, aching backs, sore muscles, and the ugly of it all.