Remodeling

Written in 1997

It’s been “Tool Time” around here for about six months. Tim Allen makes it look funny on “Home Improvement,” especially when things are falling down, exploding or flying around the room. The process of planning, financing and executing a project, even a small one, frequently feels like reinventing the pyramids. Unfortunately, what happens during “Tool Time” is not very different from reality.

The fun part of home remodeling is the dreaming; multiple skylights, acres of decking and cherry wood paneling in a library filled with the classics. Then you crunch numbers and realize you can’t make this full time work or you’ll file for bankruptcy. You have to keep that day job.

Gutting a bedroom that’s needed evisceration for fifteen years requires foresight. Sleep is important. Where are you going to snooze while the destruction goes on? Hauling stuff to the basement and crashing on a mattress on the floor works for a time, but older bones rising from a cold floor complain. Just trying to find that extra pair of pants or sock becomes an investigative effort worthy of a congressional committee, with as much success. It might take only a short time to tear things apart, but it takes a long time before a decent night’s rest.

A dumpster from Waste Management becomes a fixture in the driveway. A chipboard chute consuming half the aspen in Northern Township is a necessity for getting rid of the mess. Dust masks worthy of a gas attack are helpful additions.

The ceiling comes first, layers of paper insulation cascade down. Next wood chips, once in vogue as insulation, descend from above. It is amazing the house has not gone up in flames long ago. Lathe and plaster are shoveled out the window, coaxed with a long handled broom down the chute to the waiting battered metal bin.

Once everything is cleared out and cleaned up so that it doesn’t track into the rest of the house, (fat chance), work begins on what we males prefer to call “infrastructure.” Wiring is updated, especially since the old system dimmed half the lights in the house every time someone vacuumed. A new set of windows replaces ones that used to let in raw wind and snow from North Dakota.

Roll upon roll of “Pink Panther” insulation is stuffed in walls and ceilings. It may keep you warm, but escaped fiberglass itches every place on your body. This has to be done before you screw sheet rock to the ceiling. Even with the help of a friend, making square what was not, takes up a lot of time. It’s a game of wins, losses and compromises with custom measurement and cutting. Sometimes you call it a draw and live with imperfection.

Slowly, the rebuilding effort gains momentum, occasionally stalled by lack of materials or cold snaps when sawing boards at -20 makes them shatter. Time out for winter’s ice dams also slows the project.

Then one night you finish the trim around the window and step back stunned by the beauty of the aspen boards and dark green blinds. “Tool Time” is over. Home improvement finished. It works.

Author: Doug Lewandowski

I have walked a varied path. I was a Christian Brother, an English teacher/counselor and Licensed Psychologist. I have a twice monthly column in the Duluth News Tribune and have had a story published in the Nemadji Review and placed third in this year’s Jade Ring contest of the Wisconsin Writer’s Association. I was a commentator for KCRB, Minnesota Public Radio in the 90s. I transplanted to Duluth to be closer to grandchildren.

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