By: Chris Warren.
Back in the summer of 2015 I wrote an article about people who have good intentions but no skill for home repairs and how they always manage to botch up even the simplest job. What I left out was that any homeowner who is quite handy with tools owes the “tool idiot” a debt of gratitude.
A new construction house is a poor teacher. When a building is sparkling and new, there is nothing to change or fix. It will be many years, maybe a decade or more, before any major upgrades or repairs should be needed. But an older house carries with it the wisdom and skill of the previous homeowner, or if the case may be, the flubs and foibles of the previous homeowner.
My house is about 35 years old, and I’ve lived here for fifteen of those years. The guy who owned this place before me was a “tool idiot”. He meant well and really tried, but pretty much everything he touched became a fat smelly turd. One would think fifteen years is enough time to undo all his screw ups, yet even now I still occasionally come across one of his homeowner from hell Frankenstien efforts.
At first it was easy & obvious stuff: Upside down hardware on the doors. Ten feet of trim held up by only two nails (and they were incorrect nails). Bathtub caulk that looked like it was put on by someone having a seizure. Then I got into the hidden treasures: A bathroom fan that vents to nowhere. Pink paint under wallpaper that needed numerous coats of primer to cover up. Plumbing that defies the laws of physics. A deck put together with three different kinds of screws.
Sometimes his flubs actually worked to my benefit, namely, wallpaper so poorly hung that I effortlessly tore it off in huge sheets. My dad is a supreme handy man and homeowner. He can do pretty much everything, and he usually helped me with the bigger projects.
Over the years I’ve needed dad’s help less and less because as I became more experienced as a homeowner, I figured out how to do things myself. My latest project is the bathroom. After a decade and a half, the tool idiot strikes again: An improperly installed vanity and a tile floor that could have been done better by a first semester high school shop student. What was supposed to be a relatively simple weekend paint/redecorate ended up with me completely gutting the entire room.
I was frustrated but not surprised. I long ago acclimated myself to expect these problems and now approach them with a sense of humor. I tell myself it’s just another one of what’s-his-face’s screw ups. The upside is that his screw ups are my homeowner education. But for his hapless incompetence, my skills would have never developed this far. I’ve learned so much in the last fifteen years that now my dad asks for my input on projects he’s working on. One of the greatest signs of respect is when the master defers to the student.
Back in the day, I was told that the guy I bought this place from moved into new construction a few towns over. His house is now at the age where big stuff starts breaking. Assuming he’s still there, I imagine he will revert to his old ways and the cycle of tool idiocy will perpetuate itself.
The old cliché that you learn from your mistakes has a forgotten step brother: You can also learn from someone else’s mistakes. That maxim has never been more evident than within the walls of my own house. I kinda feel sorry for the previous homeowner because he did give it an honest effort, yet all he succeeded in doing was providing the instructional material for my “training”. And for that, I think I owe him some respect and gratitude.