Saturday, February 12, 2011

What I Care About And.. What I Do

 So...the story.

 I was born and raised on a farm and I loved being outside more than inside. Being a guy meant tearing things up and making a mess.  Dad let us put our hands on tools before we knew what they were for and we quickly learned not to hurt ourselves.  Banging into pain is a better teacher than all the "don't do this" advice anyone gives us.

 Then it changed.  It became more interesting to put things together. What could be made? What could be done with it?  Finding out how things work and figuring out ways to fix things or make them work better got more interesting than taking stuff apart.

 Fast forward. I've done most all of the trades in the years since and find it incredibly satisfying to fix or renovate or repair the place you call home.  To take care of the small nagging things that you are too tired to do, or to make things safer or more useful and better looking. 


Friday, April 23, 2010

Storm doors..measuring it yourself.

You can measure the opening for a storm door and save yourself some aggravation. The most common standard sizes are 36"wide by 80-81"high for a front door, and 32"wide by 80-81"high for rear or side doors.
 Older homes sometimes vary from these dimensions and shorter or taller measurements will require a special order door and add some cost. Be sure to verify dimensions in more than one place. Use the smallest measurement.

 The exterior trim around entry doors is referred to as brick molding and all measurements should be taken from the inside edges of that trim. I've found that older homes invariably have headers (the top of the frame) and thresholds that have settled a bit and won't be level. A small variation (1/4" or less) usually doesn't cause a problem as minor installation adjustments can be made.

  The newest entry doors seem to be coming in a bit shorter and I've found several that won't accept a standard off the rack storm door. Just under 80" is the absolute  minimum and if the threshold isn't level it's really tough to make a standard door fit.

   I recommend taking time to have a cup of coffee, or other favorite beverage( in moderation of course) and thoroughly understand the instructions. Take your time, check your measurements. You can do it if you're patient.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Cost vs. Value Problem

  Let's compare fruits. (Not the edible kind, but the fruits of our labors). I'll contend all our time is worth close the same, based on the value we provide each other.( I said last time it would be controversial).   We could come up with all kinds of ways to make comparisons, and some of them would probably be pretty ridiculous, but let's try to be fair. (All the outrageous comparisons come at the end).

  Most home improvement stores have installation services these days. They are in business to make a profit. They profit from the markup on the products we purchase and the markup on the services they provide.

 Without a profit  no business can successfully survive for very long. It's the nature of free trade to offer value for value where both parties benefit. When these arrangements work out,  everybody wins.

  So...on to a small example.

  An average storm door can cost $250 and up. The installation labor is around $125.

  Bob (not his real name) decides he wants to do the storm door himself and save money. Good for him. He's never done one of these, but he figures anybody can do it. (He's right). So he sets up in his garage on  Saturday and finds the tools and reads the instructions. That's one hour (if he can find everything). Then he removes the old storm door and takes a break for some coffee to read the instructions again. (2nd hr) He assembles the frame to the door, hangs it, then attaches the other parts of the frame, handles, closers and trim. (3rd and 4th hrs). If nothing goes wrong, Bob saved $125 for 3-4hrs of his time. He just saved himself between $30 and $40 an hour on his day off. He believes it's worth it. 

 If Bob would rather play golf on Saturday he pays for the installation and hits the course. The guy installing the door picks it up, delivers it, installs it in about an hour, cleans up, and gets about $90 for 2 1/2 hrs work (remember the markup on labor). Between $30and $45hr. Close to even up isn't it?

  It all changes if Bob makes a mistake and has to order a part, or, drills a hole in the wrong place. Before you know it, he's tied up a whole weekend and might have had to go back and get a whole new door. The value of his hourly labor goes down minute by minute until he's way below minimum wage. Not to mention the cost of frustration. (Or injury).

  Let's turn it around. If Bob happens to be an attorney who bills at $200 and hour, and the door installer has a small legal problem he needs solved, how long would it take the door installer to learn what it takes Bob an hour to solve? Six to eight hours of legal research? If he makes a mistake, what will it cost him to resolve the problem? You get the idea. The hourly dollar value of our skill goes down when it takes us longer than the one who specializes in it..

  The state of our economy is making it critical for us to be careful to get the best value we can for what we can afford to spend. That's understandable, but there is a race to the bottom in prices for skills and it seems like we are devaluing ourselves faster and faster all the time. Supply and demand.  It's too bad we don't appreciate each other more for what we have to exchange and not just in terms of what we think different kinds of skills are worth.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When Wisdom Enlists A Pro

Visualization is a curious thing. Sometimes you can look at an existing thing and see it basically for what it is, or was, and what it can do (or used to do) for you. Other times you can look at it and have an ability to see what it could be.

I have no simple explanation for how we see things differently but it's the adventure of what I do. One of the most interesting parts of changing a home around involves listening to what you want or need and finding a way to make that happen.

Some things are straightforward and just need to be made sound and functional. Others involve respecting the look and feel of what was original and requires an understanding of older things. (It's where the term "residential archaeology"  came from). Achieving a completely new thing requires a shared vision between you and me.

I've referred elsewhere to how easy it is to underestimate how long it takes to do things. Understanding how things in a home go together goes a long way toward seeing  how it can be taken apart and changed.

 If you want to know how to actually do it yourself, and realistically what to expect to run into, I can explain that. If you run into something you don't think you want to do I can do that as well. Sometimes you just have to know when it's wiser to have the professional do it. Learning how to do things is really rewarding if you learn how to do it safely. The satisfaction you get from knowing how to improve or change a home is really gratifying.

 In the next post I'll go over some observations on what what we think things should cost and what they are actually worth. It'll be interesting and (knowing me) more than a bit controversial.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Do You Have Stories?

  Without naming names do you have stories about your home? Funny, frustrating, difficult, or otherwise? Someone may learn something from your experience.
  I was working with a young guy some time ago on a project in the lower level of a home and we were loading out at the end of the day. As he carried a compressor up the stairway he commented on how heavy it was. I suggested he let the air out of it so it was lighter. He did. No change in weight. Go figure.
  He did learn something about my sense of humor that day.

How Long Can It Take?

Some good advice from a mature (I mean over 80yrs old) carpenter. He said simply, "look at it practically.. and triple your first guess". He was so right. If you figure two hours plan on six. No kidding. It has worked out time and again for me and I've come to realize that so many things come into play.

I often refer to what I do as "Residential Archeology". So much of repairing or improving a home involves finding out what was done before,or from the beginning.

Watch "Holmes on Homes" on HGTV to get a better idea of what I mean. I admire Mike Holmes because he's such a straight shooter. Do it right, not over. Much of what he does is doing it over because someone who came before was in a hurry, or didn't care about who, or what,came after them.

I've seen this many times and it's hard to explain to a homeowner that something wasn't right from the beginning. An assessment that's best gently delivered. It's not the owner's fault because they didn't know how things were being done. Figuring  out what to do next to make things right can take a bit of time but it can be done.

Try to be realistic about how long things will take. An honest, tradesman will give you a fair and  realistic time frame.
If you have a question or comment feel free to post it. I'd like to help you figure it out.

It's About Asking

I've learned a lot of things in my life, but this is was a tough one. When my Father was eighty-eight I had a lot of trouble getting him to tell me what he needed. Finally it occurred to me to ask a simple question. "It's hard to ask for help isn't it?" He agreed.

He'd spent his entire life being self sufficient and didn't want to admit he needed some assistance to get some things done. Things went a bit better when we both understood what it was about.

Since then I've realized that though asking for help is hard, the harder thing is accepting it when someone will help. One who understands this will never think less of you for asking.