I had dinner (largest meal of the day, generally noonish) with a friend of the family who is in the skilled trades. “Jerry,” as I’ll call him, is in very, very high demand because he’s so good, and his crews are so good. He’s been going non-stop since April, and was filling me in on some of the more challenging recent work, of which he is quite proud. He should be, since twice he has had to persuade a builder and a home-owner that plumbing cannot, yet, defy the laws of physics. You might be able to get away with skirting around some of code if you live outside a municipality, but gravity is universal. We were also commiserating about code requirements developed in one part of the country and then imposed on places where it is at best a non-improvement and at worst a three-pill migraine. [See “Why a large Phillips-head screwdriver was kept near the hot water heater enclosure at Festung Kleinrot for use during fire marshal inspection season.”]*
So, from “water and stuff just can’t flow that way, even with a pump which you can’t use in a house anyway,” talk moved to “times I couldn’t save them.” Also known as “when remodeling goes very, very wrong.” You know, like when a home owner decides to re-do a house into an open floor plan and starts removing a dividing wall between the living room and kitchen, and notices that the ceiling is cracking. Assistant plumber saw the cracks, the removed section of dividing wall, gulped, and raced to his boss, while calling quietly “Guys, get out of the building now.” Boss plumber saw the cracks, gulped, and warned home owner that removing a load-bearing wall was a Bad Idea. Jerry’s not a general contractor or structural engineer, but he’s seen so much of the good, the bad, and the “Oh Lord, I don’t want to know what he was thinking” that he can predict some problems and explain others, even if they don’t involve pipes and flushing.
So I tossed in the “you can’t just add a second story onto the house” misadventure I’d watched unfold, along with the Mike Holmes episode (only got to see part one, so I never knew if they salvaged the house) that started with “we wanted to widen the staircase and modernize the plumbing” and ended with evacuating the shell of the building because load-supporting and wall-holding joists and beams had been cut through, among other nightmares.
Now, I find this fascinating. As we were leaving the cafe, Jerry observed, “You know, most people outside the trade aren’t interested in structure and construction.” He’d enjoyed talking about it, since it wasn’t his problem most of the time (aside from the occasional “but why can’t water flow uphill?” moment). I hadn’t thought about it, because I like it, and enjoy learning from other people’s disasters and rescues. Why things work has always interested me.
But I’m Odd, and fortunate that DadRed was into carpentry and cabinet making, which also meant learning about building trades. From there came “This Old House,” “The Woodwright’s Shop” and eventually Mike Holmes stuff. Clamps, varnishes, cabinet carcasses, pocket screws and rabets, planes and corner levels, “racking” and “orange peel,” all these are terms I know about. I learned basic power tool use (still do not trust table saws) and hand tools as well, and why DadRed never did varnishing indoors. Only in the driveway, or on the back patio, well away from the house. I can look at a house interior and spot details that might or might not be worrisome. It also means that while in castles and old European buildings, DadRed and I are studying the woodwork and furniture instead of listening to the guide. Or confusing the guide mightily by occasionally calling out, “Bun feet again!”**
*The New and Improved Code required that the Heater part of the HVAC not pull air from inside the building. However, the New and Improved air intake didn’t draw enough air to keep the blower motor from overheating and trying to catch fire. So, when rumor of an inspection circulated, the New and Improved Code-mandated blocking panels over the old air intake were screwed into place for the Fire Marshall’s benefit. Once he departed or when the heater was needed, the panels were once again removed and stored.
**Dad and I started noting that all the old furniture in Poland had bun feet instead of claw feet. Which we speculated about, then started looking for. It became a bit of a game to see if we could spot Polish-made furniture with other-than-bun feet.