Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Helpful Household Hints: Naysayers

NOTE: All I give is advice and suggestions.  What you do in your own home is at your own risk.
That's the unpleasant disclaimer out of the way, in case someone does something stupid and tries to say that it is somehow my fault.

...and exactly what part of my house is a "naysayer?"

It's not a part of the house.  It's so-called "experts" from inside the industries telling you you can't do it.  Don't listen, though.

What if they're right?

Well, they are and they aren't.  There are things you can do and should do, because they're easy and you get to learn a little something.  There are things you shouldn't do because you might set yourself on fire or leave a tiny little drip going behind a wall somewhere.  The trick is knowing where your limit lies.

And just work up to my limit?

No!  Work a little beyond it.  Push yourself.  Become more than what you are.  Become more of a full owner of your home, a fuller participant in the game of life.

Okay, this sounds like the exhortation part of the sermon.  Got any specifics?

Absolutely.  I've already recommended you replace your own outlets and switches.  It's easy, three screws and two wires.  Check it carefully after buttoning everything up and you're good to go.  But that's just a short step away from installing a new light fixture.  Just like the old electrical outlet, a light fixture is held up with two screws and has two wires going into the back (unless you've got some highly sophisticated lighting with remote controls and whatnot, I won't touch on that here).  Remove the old one, install the new one, check that all your connections are secure and no broken insulation and you've just upgraded a room and saved yourself a labor charge.

Light fixtures sound pretty simple, all right.  But I've got a light fixture in the dining room that's butt ugly.  There's lots of headroom for a ceiling fan with a light...

You can do that too, but it's a little more involved.  You'll probably need to replace the electrical box inside the ceiling with one that has included braces to help support the weight of the fan.  Go to your favorite hardware store (hello, Lowe's!) and ask around in the electrical aisle, the guy with the red vest will know what you need.

Before turning a screwdriver on your project, try dropping that fixture and see what's up there.  If the box has a lot of stuff going on, wires going through on their way to somewhere else and that kind of thing, you might ought to leave this project off your honey-do list.  That's more involved, more breakers to track down, etc.  But even with that said, it isn't impossible to do.  If it was, electricians wouldn't take on that sort of job every day.  You can do it, but it will be more difficult and there are more things to get wrong.  If you're bound and determined to do it yourself, there's no reason why you couldn't get the job done correctly and safely.  Read up, plan your attack very carefully, follow instructions.  There's nothing there that can't be done.

I just got done reading that article you linked.  It said I shouldn't do my own painting...?

That's CRAP.  Anybody can paint.  ANYBODY.  But the difference between a good job and a lousy job that needs to be done again is attention to detail, and when you hire a painter, that's what you're really paying for.  You don't need to hire that, though.  Get furnishings away from the walls, clean all the surfaces to be painted very thoroughly (too many people skip this step and always regret it later), remove outlet and switch faceplates, and do your cut-in painting first.  Some people call it something else, all I know is to call it cut-in, the finicky against-the-edges stuff you do, next to window frames and door frames and around light switches.  ALWAYS REMOVE SWITCH PLATES.  The difference in the job is like night and day.

There are just a few basic rules that will make anybody a decent painter:

1) Start on clean surfaces
2) Cut-in before the field
3) First stroke downward when rolling.  This prevents a lot of flung paint speckles.
4) Slower is faster.  Working slowly and carefully means less mess, better adhesion, a better job and almost no cleanup when you're done.  It feels like it's taking forever but it actually gets done sooner and with no touch-up or repair work to be done later - see, gotta include that stuff in the total job time.  Pros do, you should too.
5) Trim (although high trim like crown molding you may want to do first, before field cut-in)
6) Clean up

Notice I don't recommend tape.  I've done it with, and I've done it without.  Believe me, without is better. Fancy no-bleed tapes notwithstanding, tape is a crutch for a painter that doesn't want to do careful work.  The time you spend applying tape and then peeling it back up is time you could spend painting.  Leave tape for stencils and patterns, and don't bother with it in your house.  It doesn't help.  Leave it too long and it peels up your brand-new paint.

I also don't mention drop cloths.  Again I've done it with, and without is generally better.  A small one under the paint bucket and maybe another small one to move around when you're doing trim, but rolling out plastic on the entire floor is just giving yourself permission to be sloppy.  Faster and easier to keep a small bucket of water and some rags on hand to deal with drips as they happen, and then work very carefully to not let them happen.  I've done many jobs where the bucket and rag never moved out of their corner because I simply didn't need them.

Well la-de-dah Mr. Pro Painter.  We mortals might want the plastic.

Except I'm not a pro painter.  I do maybe five painting projects in a year.  I actually don't like painting, which is why I work very hard at getting the paint perfect on the first try.  It's bad enough to have to do the job in the first place, I don't want to have to do it again.  I'm not doing anything that no one else could do.  I've screwed up some serious paint projects and had to do them over, I've gotten wet paint on stuff just from moving the drop cloth around, I've dripped trim paint from the crown mold onto my freshly painted wall.

I tipped over an open five-gallon bucket of paint.  Getting that cleaned up took a long time, but I got it all.  It was on carpet, and there's not a mark to be seen.

That article also said we shouldn't do our own plumbing.

Why wouldn't you?  The article says you'll leave a drip going and ruin your house.  Another article said we might see a supernova this year - or anytime within the next 10,000 years.  Just because somebody wrote it down doesn't make it true - that's why we have that big Fiction section in the library.  

Doing work that's going to be hidden when it's finished, there's the risk of a concealed leak for anyone, including a professional plumber.  If you wind up opening a wall to work on your own pipes, I trust you're going to make darned sure that everything's tight and waterproof before you start nailing boards back up.  Replacing faucets and stuff like that, though - well, come back after a day or two and see if anything's wet.  Check it again in a week.  No wet spots?  Okay, good job.

Why are you so emphatic about this?

Because so many businesses want you to be stupid.  They want you to think you're helpless and unable to glean the nuances of the eldritch mysteries of home maintenance. You being stupid is where the money is, so the businesses with their accumulated smarts can come in and save your stupid bacon.  The fallacy of that is that those workers doing that stuff for you, they're not a different species.  They weren't launched into your neighborhood on flying saucers, carrying the combined technology of the Cylons and the Visitors to make your toilet flush properly.  They're regular people, same as you.  A lot of the stuff that people call out to repairmen for, they could do themselves if they just stopped wringing their hands and thought the problem through.

My Dad, his brother, and I and my brother built a garage one summer.  My uncle was a builder, but Dad wasn't.  When we went to the permits office to get the building permits, Dad read up on the subject, drew up his plans and all that, and off we went.  The permitting process was a snap, and the guy behind the desk was delighted at Dad's professional approach.  "So how long have you been a contractor?"

"Oh, I'm not contractor.  This is just for my house."

Eyebrows shot up.  "Well, you're really good at it, this part anyway.  Good drawings, clear plans.  Better than a lot of the pros I see.  Good luck with it.  Next!"  We did framing, wiring, roofing.  All things we'd never done before, and the garage is still standing in fine condition.  Dad wasn't about to let his inexperience hold him back.

Don't let your inexperience hold you back.  Take safety precautions because I don't want anyone to get hurt - turn power off, turn water off.  Wear gloves, wear eye protection.  Work slowly and carefully, think through what you're doing.  Slow is okay, because it's still faster than working twice as fast but having to do the job over to fix where you went wrong.  Read up on it before you begin, so you know what you're looking at and what you're looking for.  Then go forth, take back more of your life.  Take back more control.

You're smart.  You can do it.  Don't let Fox News tell you that you can't.

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