Home Improvement

My kids used to watch a TV show called “Home Improvement”.  I’m not much of a TV watcher, but one night they yelled at me to come in and watch a part of the show called “Tool Time”. I was reminded of some of my own “Tool Times”.

Refurbishing a house is not without hazard.  Making it more livable involves a level of commitment not unlike a marriage.  There’s the romantic phase, years of building and remodeling, occasional disillusionment with results, and then accommodation.

Some of this gets divided into the way renovations take place.  Magazines on “Country Living”, etc., give a picture of a well-executed finished product uninhabited by dirty feet and smeared “Sphagetti-O’s”.  It’s kind of like falling in love; wallpaper books and choosing colors; a passionate and fun process.  Everything looks wonderful. 

Then you put up the wallpaper.  Of course nothing is square, patterns rarely match and cutting to account for the light fixture and toilet tank, end up being a comment on your partner’s inadequacies with a scissors and lack of foresight.

Electricity is fairly straightforward.  You run wires, twist them together, put a wire nut on and throw a switch.  Either it works or you get a brilliant flash and insight into how you should have done it – most times.  If not, you loosen this screw, reconnect that wire, and hope inspiration comes and doesn’t leave funny dark spots in front of your eyes from another misconnection.

Plumbing on the other hand, especially retro-fitting, is hit and miss.  If you need to take it apart, and it’s an old house, you might as well cut it with a hacksaw and start over.  Sometimes you can’t, so piecing in this connector and that nut or bolt and getting them tight becomes the task.  I always found running new water line to be the most challenging, whether it’s copper; solder and torch, or glue; miraculous plastic and a quick setting adhesive. Crunch time comes when you turn on the water. Will this sucker work or will I have water dripping on the dining room table downstairs?

Refining expectations in home improvement or a relationship comes with experience and perspective. You can’t do it all in one day. Don’t rush it!  Taking apart a bathroom and putting it back together over a weekend is asking for it.  Crumbling plaster takes longer to remove and rebuild than anyone could imagine.  Replacing rotted wood takes accurate measurement and drying wallboard seams will not be rushed. The nice part about most improvements is being able to stand back and look at the finished product.  So it’s not like a page out of a Yuppie magazine – it works.


  1. Doug, juxtaposing a bathroom remodel and building a relationship works–neither can be rushed. But somehow Tim Taylor always pulls the remodel job off, thanks to Al.

    • Thanks Wendell. I am about 2/3 way through your book. It is undeniably an unsparing, poignant look at a time when the world seemed upside down as we all struggle to set our course.

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