Tag Archives: home ownership

home improvements

Homeowner Wisdom, From A Tool Idiot.

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.

Home Improvements Help Us Remodel Our Selves.

By: Chris Warren

Homeowners who hire a contractor for every little job cannot understand the pride and satisfaction of completing a do it yourself project that will make a house more enjoyable or increase resale value. Some of us take on a lot of home improvements that we probably could afford to contract out but choose to do ourselves anyway because there is a certain “it factor” that makes these tasks an attractive challenge.

Most jobs are very simple in regards to the mechanics of the work required. Like all things though, the real world experience is often much different. I recently installed some exterior lighting on my house. The basic procedure is easy: Run some wire. Screw light to side of house. Connect wires at both ends. Done. It all looks so easy in theory!

The headaches come in when you have to run the wires through walls or other not so easy to reach places, or when the hardware that came with the light is not compatible with your application, or when you are trying to make something both functional and not look like sloppy crap nailed to the side of the house.

home improvements

My dad has been doing his own home improvements longer than I’ve been alive, and he’s really good at it. He holds himself to a very high standard of craftsmanship, and after he completes a job, he will scrutinize every little detail and find something he would have done differently. It’s a learning process that I’ve adopted myself with very good results. Wise men never think they know it all.

In my circle of friends I’m known as the guy who always has a tool in his hand and hardly ever pays others to do things for me. Doing my own home improvements has the unexpected benefit of teaching me patience and discipline. All jobs look easy in concept. In reality, none go exactly as planned with no setbacks. The principle transfers to other areas of life. Having a plan is great, but there must be enough built in flexibility to address the inconvenient reality that life events seldom fit exactly into our preconceived plans.

Once someone is programmed for achievement, it is very difficult for them to set boundaries of when they will give their best effort and when they will not.

Home improvements are a perfect metaphor for how the real world works: I had the knowledge and tools needed to install an exterior light. I had a visualized plan of how I wanted to attain the goal. Once I began the task, I ran into unplanned setbacks. Some of these delays were due to my own oversight (drilling two holes when I only needed one). Others were out of my control (bad weather, incompatible hardware). Nothing gets done by getting angry at myself or cursing the weather. Keep moving, solve problems, find a way to get to the end.

One reason why athletes who are successful in their sport also tend to be successful in other areas is because they redirect the drive and motivation from the playing arena into their entire life. The same could be said for military people. Once someone is programmed for achievement, it is very difficult for them to set boundaries of when they will give their best effort and when they will not. A properly trained athlete or soldier is in “on mode” all the time, even years after they are no longer active in sports or the military.

Home improvements such as hanging a light do not rank high on the glorious achievement scale, but the commitment to complete them with skill and pride is very meaningful to those who spend countless weekends and vacation days toiling on their homes instead of paying a contractor.

Deeper than money saved is standing back and admiring one’s own finished project and the feeling of independence and empowerment from not having to rely on paid help. Every time I walk past that light I’ll know how it got there: Not from farming the work out to others and handing them a check when it’s done, but from my own determination, sweat and ingenuity. I’ll need all the can-do positive energy I can get when it comes time to replace my hot water heater, which I suspect will be soon.