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Adventures in Home Renovation

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opinion columns
by Richard Harris

    I'm a newspaper guy and not a contractor, but I was raised by an old-school dad who was also a hardware salesman and handyman extraordinaire. I learned enough from him through the years to feel comfortable buying an old house, figuring I could handle the various repairs. There's a line in a country song that says, "If it's broke around here we fix it." I think of my dad when I hear that line.
    While I've made progress over the years with "This Old House", I still have a long way to go and I'm often reminded that I'm a newspaper guy and that I should have paid more attention back when I was dad's official gofer (go for this, go get me that, etc.). Sometimes I think I learned just enough to be dangerous.
   However, it has provided my early-morning running posse with a ton of entertainment over the last couple of months as they have laughed at the news of my latest mistakes and mishaps. They also suggested that I share some of them with my readers, so here you go …
   The kitchen renovation started off simple enough. A section of the counter was on its deathbed and fighting with gravity to continue to hold the sink in place. So, in theory it got its start as a repair rather than a renovation. However, The Queen of This Old House saw her opportunity and pounced. Mission creep was fast and furious.
   Examples: You know, I really never liked this floor. Can you put in a new floor while you're at it? I'd really like the sink to be over here and for the dishwasher to be beside it. The stove should really be over here, too, and can we put a microwave up over the top of it? And when you tear the counter out can you build a little temporary one so we can still use the sink?
   Tearing out the old floor was the most labor-intensive part. A previous owner had nailed plywood on top of the original hardwood and then topped it with tile. They either didn't believe in gravity or they had a little "gofer" that they needed to keep busy, because there were about 24 nails per square foot anchoring the plywood to the hardwood. Thus, I had to cut/pry out small sections at a time, which filled the house with dust and taxed my lower back.
   When the old floor was finally torn out (with the original hardwood left as the sub-floor), I discovered that at some point(s) there had been a leak under the sink area, which meant a significant section was rotten and a number of floor joists were suspect as well. So, floor replacement had to be delayed for floor repair.
   Once the subfloor was repaired, I stood there admiring my progress only to realize, not for the first or last time, that I am an idiot. I still had to reroute two electric lines and add a brand new one, which would have been much easier to do while I had the floor torn out. Instead, I had to look forward to slithering on my belly in the crawl space (while hoping I was the only thing slithering).
   The demolition of the cabinets and countertops was more difficult than I had imagined, too. Evidently, back in the 1940s they basically built them as part of the house. When I finally got them out, it was revealed that a pretty large section of wall was rotten due to a previous leak in the roof. I got most of the wall repaired over the course of a weekend, but I wanted to meet my goal of getting the temporary sink cabinet built, so on Monday morning I decided to get up extra early and do a few hours of kitchen work before putting on my newspaper hat.
   The very first thing I did was drop a 1x4 on top of one of the exposed water pipes, which promptly broke and quickly flooded the kitchen. My wife heard me scream (I probably shouldn't print exactly what I said) and came running with an armload of towels as I raced to turn the water off. I had what I needed to repair the pipe, but the only glue I had was dried up so I had to make one of my many trips to Dent Hardware.
   When I finally got around to installing the sink in the temporary counter I learned another lesson. It's not a good idea to prop an old sink up with the spout against the wall for a few days, especially if the spout is pretty old. When I turned the water on there was a slow drip at the base of the spout. It trickled right into the sink, so it really wasn't a big deal (because of course The Queen had already ordered a new sink to go in her new kitchen, so the old one just had to last a little longer). For some unknown reason, however, I couldn't resist the urge to tug on the spout just a tad to see how bad of a shape it was in. Lesson No. 2 of the day came when it broke off in my hand.
   That led to some creative plumbing, which included bypassing the spout and running the cold water supply directly to the sprayer, which was our only source of water in the sink for the next month or two. The hot water supply was then connected directly to the dishwasher.
   Speaking of the dishwasher, during most of this time it was simply sitting out on the floor with the microwave on top of it. On one of the days when I had the power to the room turned off while re-routing electric lines, my son decided he couldn't wait for supper. He picked the microwave up off the dishwasher to take it into another room, which wouldn't have been a big deal except the dishwasher door was open a little and the top rack was pulled out some and full of dishes. Without the weight of the microwave on top, gravity did its thing and the dishwasher tumbled over, causing all 10,000 of the plastic pieces (at least it seemed like that many) to pop loose and land in various parts of the room. It may sound funny now, but trust me when I say that I wasn't laughing.
   Those are only a few "highlights" of the project, which finally and mercifully came to an end not long ago. I was lucky to have a professional (the very talented Rick Garner of Garner Furniture) build our new cabinets and countertops, which are custom built to house The Queen's various kitchen items in the most efficient way. They also dressed the room up enough to overshadow at least most of the "signatures" I put on it doing my part.
   A new kitchen table from Lynn's Interiors added another nice touch. As I was sitting at the table recently, I looked over the realm of the kitchen with a smile and a feeling of satisfaction. It was at that time, however, The Queen brought me back to reality by asking, "So, are you going to start on that bathroom floor next weekend?"