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Eating an elephant, one bite at a time.

In architecture school, I shied away from the professors who had short careers in the real world before retreating into academia. I was born into a family of self-sufficient builders and engineers, so I’ve long been wary of anyone who lacked the resourcefulness to translate their book learnin’ into day-to-day pragmatism. Now that I’m a registered architect with more than a decade of experience, I continue to believe that there’s no substitute for real world experience. I’ve learned more about building and designing while renovating my own houses than I have from everything else I’ve done in my career.  Until you’ve nailed together a stud wall or run a new electrical circuit, it’s hard to really appreciate what it takes to build something.

Today, I’m getting a fresh lesson in the realities of renovation. I guide clients through this process every day, so it’s easy to get desensitized to the stress of working on an old house. Unless your pot of gold is limitless, work on existing buildings is never dull.  Projects on the Ordinary House keep me in touch with the gut punches that renovation delivers regularly. It’s the best continuing education I could ask for.

Since last week, we’ve hired a plumber (really) and today a small crew of three guys got started. Two hours into the work day, my phone rang and Matt, the lead plumber, delivered this news: “Man, it looks like the last plumber in here used a chainsaw on your floor joists.”

I had two immediate reactions:

1) Thank you, Matt, for stopping work and picking up the phone. Anxious for a paycheck, many contractors would have gone ahead and done their own hack job to put themselves one step closer to pay day.

2) FML. Somebody remind me again why I enjoy this?

random plumbing

We’ve set up a meeting tomorrow with a county building inspector to get input on what he’ll pass on inspection. Loaded with that information, we’ll develop a plan to reinforce the floor joists and keep the plumbers moving. Until then, I suppose we’ll just have to get used to the toilet sitting in the upstairs hall.

toilet in hall

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. chris highley #

    Reid, I enjoyed the reflections on your profession. I still have some vivid memories of your complaints (often received via ICQ–whatever happened to ICQ?) during your first two years of architecture school. It’s cool to hear that your still able to keep a foot or two on that vantage point despite being immersed in the field now. The joists sound scary. What was hacked up? Did they cut through or was it removing sections to fit pipes something? Who does this?–glad you’ve got some good plumbers working on the Ordinary now.

    February 28, 2014
    • jrh #

      Haha, ICQ…the late 90s pre-cursor to texting for the anti-AOL crowd.

      Plumbers have something of a reputation for hacking into a house’s structure. I’ve heard contractors joke that they’ll throw you out of the (plumber’s) union if you don’t cause at least one structural defect in every job. I’ll include some pictures when I update about this again, but basically the upstairs joists are pretty well maxed out by modern day standards (2×8 joists @ 24″ on center), and some unknowing or uncaring plumbers put some hefty notches in them to route their pipes. As you can imagine, this drastically impacts their load-bearing capacity. Our main trouble is that we have to get one 3″ pipe (from a toilet) through one joist. A 3″ PVC pipe is actually 3.5″ on the outside…way too much to take out of a 2×8 by code. I’ve got some ideas brewing. Look for an update soon.

      March 2, 2014
  2. mom #

    Just keep your eye on the prize (a gorgeous, functional kitchen), and know that every arduous (expensive) task means you are honoringThe Ordinary by making her fit for another 250 years!

    February 28, 2014
    • jrh #

      I seems that we’ve managed to bite off some of the meatier tasks early in our renovation efforts. Hopefully things will start to feel easy by comparison.

      March 2, 2014


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