Friday, March 15, 2013

Four Singles is a Lot Better Than One Home Run

As I have before, I'm going to rant about sports before I tie it in to the subject of buying and renovating old houses.  I'm a big sports lover and I like to have it on the radio while I'm working (see Appreciation for the Radio), but this lead-in will help me make a point about fixing up houses that are in really bad shape.

Charlie Hustle
A batter steps to the plate and hits one over the fence for a homer.  The next three batters strike out, the team grabs their gloves, and hits the field.  Consider the title of this post and understand that it would have been better if all four batters would have just hit singles.  Same score, 1-0, but then they'd have no outs, with the bases loaded.  That's better than a lead-off dinger chased with three K's by far.  Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth will be remembered as two of the best baseball players ever, but Pete Rose is right there with them.  He may have gambled away his spot in Cooperstown, but I'm a Cincinnati Reds fan, so for me, 4,256 will always be greater than 755 + 714.    

Now on to football.  I'm listening to sports radio today and they're not talking baseball, they're talking NFL, which I love.  To carry my baseball example into pro football, many of the executives and owners are all trying to hit a home run as they approach this year's draft.  They're hoping to find the next star quarterback to build their team around.  They don't want base hits.  They want the big payoff now, even if the odds are against them.  They want to swing for the fences.  

I get what their doing, but it's not a smart move.  Not in the long run.  Playing the lottery is brilliant if they pick your numbers just like drafting John Elway is a great decision if he leads you to five Super Bowls and retires after back-to-back victories in the season finale.  This helps make and break my point at the same time since the Denver Broncos didn't draft Elway, the Baltimore Colts did and Elway used his leverage as a good baseball player to inspire a trade.  Plenty of teams have put all their eggs in one basket and seen that move backfire on them.  I'm not going to list all the QB draft busts over the years, but some of the games greats flew under the radar at draft time before emerging when it counted.  If you're part of an NFL front office, you should make the most of the cream that rises to the top of your organization (Joe Montana, Brett Farve, or Tom Brady) but why put the hopes of your franchise on one guy who had a dozen great games in college? 

Four base hits is better than one hit over the fence.  Having a Michael Vick, a Tim Tebow, a Denard Robinson, (and some other QB that's not a pocket passer) all on your squad for less money is better than a Ryan Leaf if he doesn't pan out or a Greg Cook if he gets hurt mid season.  Why don't the NFL executives consider putting their eggs in multiple baskets?   (See Tim Tebow + Michael Vick + Denard Robinson = the NFL's Moneyball)

Now, to the subject at the heart of BSAPE and extremely run down homes.  I'd love to hit a home run and snatch up an historic antebellum or classic Victorian to buy and renovate... a big, gorgeous half million dollar property.  Truly and with all sincerity I would, but I love to renovate and I'm not willing to spend my life waiting for the stars to align and the perfect property to materialize into my life.  I'll take on a This Old House type home when I get the chance, but until then, I'm going to keep hitting singles and along the way I'm going to keep learning and finding the best ways to do it.  I'll just keep enjoying those base hits, and maybe an occasional double.  And, I'll also be ready to trot around the bases with a grin on my face when my perfect pitch comes and I hit it over the wall.

Maybe you're holding out for a chance to transform something like this...
...into this. 

...when you could be doing this.
This is a big home run too.
I love it.  Well done.

I'm not going to encourage any one to dream small, but don't wait for a Pig's Ear that will be your dream home when you can buy and fix up something on the cheap while you're waiting.  You'll make some mistakes (See Vinny Had the Right Attitude) and be better prepared if/when your ideal home becomes available.  Consider buying a small and available house in a really great neighborhood.  If you take into account that square footage sales prices are going to influence the home's value when your done, this makes solid economic sense.  Plus, it might just be the best way to get your feet wet.

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Step 29 - Interior Trim

When I wrote about Interior Doors (Step 28), I mentioned that each part of the pre-hung door has a purpose and these pieces are not just about aesthetics.  Interior trim is similar since there's most times a reason behind the moulding or decorative millwork.  These fine carpentry pieces were originally sealing up gaps and serving as transitional components of a home where one building material was meeting up with another - for example where brick or plaster met up with wood.  Today, when we see an unaddressed cavity inside an interior living space we recognize it as something that doesn't look good or complete, but the generations that came before us were also installing their small pieces of wood to keep bugs, other small critters, and drafty cold air outside.  I'm not saying they weren't mindful of how things looked, but they didn't weather proof, insulate, and take the same pest control measures as us and interior trim did more in the past then simply close up a gap between two different types of materials.

Also, I will point out that some of our nation's oldest, finest homes had experienced shipbuilders on their crews.  I have an opinion that these skilled tradesmen were sometimes just showing off, that some of these charming details caught on and became trendy, and I will speculate that more than a few of our interior trim preferences are rooted in influences past down to us from the homebuilders of our ancestors.

Keeping some of this in the back of your mind will help in completing this phase of the renovation or construction.

Without giving too much more of a history lesson on interior trim, I'll use chair or dado rail as an example of how some interior trim originally had a purpose.  As the name suggests it's initial intent was connected to chairs since it used to be installed to protect walls from being damaged.  However, most homeowners don't consider that and simply like how it looks.  So, as I mentioned above, interior trim doesn't always serve a purpose, but there's typically a underlying reason beyond appearance and chair rail is a perfect example.

Step 29 is the time to install base to trim out the gap where the walls and the floors meet.  With the exception of rooms with carpet (and areas with wood flooring that needs to be sanded and finished) this is also the time to install quarter round or shoe moulding. 

Casing around doors is typically done with Step 28, but this is the phase to complete any unfinished trim at doors, install window sills, any necessary casing around the windows, and the skirting that trims out the area under the sill. 

As I've said before I like to open things up and Step 29 is when these openings get trimmed out with a wooden sill, the skirting underneath that looks like the trim under the windows, and that's needed.  Interior handrails should also be installed at this stage of the interior work.

It's not uncommon for DIYers to install some trim like wainscoting and crown moulding after moving in, but if these are being installed with the rest of the interior trim during the construction of a new home or a rehab, it should be installed after cabinets, counters, and doors and before the caulking and painting.

Interior trim ties everything together and makes it look complete, but don't be surprised if it doesn't look correct and sharp until after the caulking and painting (Step 30) is done. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thinking of Bob Vila

I had boyhood plans to buy and fix-up old houses even before I was a teenager.  I watched This Old House on Saturday Mornings for years even while I was living in a rented apartment.  And I've been a subscription holder to This Old House Magazine for almost a decade and a half.  When I finished The Fire House, I sent some before/after pictures and they featured my first pig's ear on their web page for a few days.  However, the cool honor didn't end there because they also sent me a box of sweet TOH swag; a sweatshirt, a coffee mug, and a couple ball caps.  Maybe my fondness for using these gifts prompted folks to bring up Bob Vila's name while they toured my projects because there was a phase in my life when it seemed like I heard his name thrown out at me quite regularly.  My visitors would say things like, "I wonder what Bob Vila would think of what you've done here?" or "I think Bob Vila would really like how you've saved this old house."     

Vila was the host of This Old House before home renovating and extreme rehabbing shows were staples on networks like the DIY and HGTV.  There's a large chunk of our population that instantly think of Vila when the subject of home improvement comes up and if there was a Mount Rushmore of Home Renovation, I think it's safe to say that Bob's face would be up there.

We live outside of historic Charleston, South Carolina and our peninsula has plenty of amazing old houses.  Along with our vintage architecture, we have a long list of great places to eat.  Hyman's is a popular seafood place on Meeting Street, it's just a block from the old market, and it's at the top of our family's list when we're in that part of town with time to sit down for lunch.  Great food, amazing service, cool atmosphere... we love Hyman's. 

Hyman's celebrates all their famous guests; they have them sign a plate that gets mounted on a wall, they put their signed picture up somewhere in the restaurant, and they attach a small placard on the table to denote where each celebrity sat for their meal.  Last weekend, we were able to squeeze in a lunch at Hyman's and our party of four sat at the Bob Vila Table.  However, if you're a big fan of The Cosby Show or The Cheetah Girls, you might refer to it as the Raven-SymonĂ© Table.  Judge Wapner was the court official who made The People's Court famous and his miniature plack was also on our table for four.  And finally, to round out this visit, we were amused to discover that the colorful sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer had also sat at our table when she ate at Hyman's. 

Can you imagine if this eclectic quartet had all sat at this table the same time?  That would be an interesting conversation.  

So when you have a chance to visit the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I'll encourage you to make time to enjoy some of our antebellum architecture and while you're here be ready to stand in line for a few minutes to eat at Hyman's (there's almost always a line). 

p.s. - try the fried flounder.