I’ll Be Your Handyman: A Photo Essay

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James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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40 Responses

  1. Avatar Glyph says:

    Ah, the joys of home ownership.

    You are a handier man than I, professor. We are currently looking at having a small bedroom added onto our house – we were planning on moving, but have grown somewhat discouraged at the difficulty of finding something we like, at a price we like, in a place we like.

    Whereas for all our current house’s problems, (neighborhood is so-so) it has a lot of advantages (big-ass backyard, decent school, central location, character in both the house and the surrounding areas).

    I’m going to get some estimates from contractors but am guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 – which would be less cash than what I’d planned to put as a down payment on a new property (for the privilege of increasing my debt burden and monthly mortgage payment).

    I am starting to think that if we stay in this house at least another 4 years, I’d break even on adding the room (by keeping my current mortgage payment ), *even if* I can’t recoup any of the addition’s cost via increased sq footage/resale value (and I have to think I would add at least a little by going from a 3 bedroom to a 4, though in this neighborhood I can’t get too high).Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

      Also, your house is 55 years older than mine (maybe less, my house may be older than the official records – the records say 1925, but apparently a lot of the city records say that, I think there was a flood in 1925 that destroyed a lot of the city records and so 1925 became the default new birthday for pre-existing homes). Mediterranean/Spanish style.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph says:

      Be very very careful about additions. If they aren’t put on properly, they can be completely crap.
      (Also, note that your taxes will probably go up, when the city deigns to notice).Report

    • Avatar Jonathan McLeod in reply to Glyph says:

      “though in this neighborhood I can’t get too high”

      That *is* a lousy neighbourhood.Report

  2. Hmmm. Clancy and I were considering buying a house. Thank you for this persuasive counter-argument.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Now we know where to live or at least what house to look for in the vast expenses of Michigan town by town.Report

  4. Avatar zic says:

    Nice work.

    There are two things that gunk up old houses. One is the ‘seal-’em-up’ response people had to the energy crisis in the 1970’s; caused a lot of beautiful old homes to rot.

    The other is beautiful crazy mountain-scape rooves, making a house look ohh-so-interesting, and creating valleys that funnel the water from upper surfaces to lower surfaces and to the ground. Behind my house, there’s a two-foot-by two-foot by two-foot hole dug from the water flowing off the valley at the bottom of the corner of the barn roof and the ell where the kitchen is; we’ll be paying a landscaping contractor to repair the french drain we put in when we rehabbed the house (was that really 20 years ago?). At the same time, we’ll be pulling roots from when Hurricane Irene dropped a tree on our house, wiping out the corner of the front porch. It was a huge tree, and shaded the side yard. With it gone, I’ll relocate the vegetable garden there, since it’s more convenient and less public; the current location is next to a path through the yard the the entire neighborhood uses as a short cut to the grocery store and post office; and for some reason, nearly ripe tomatoes are difficult to keep on the vine.

    The only thing I don’t agree with is saving the lathe and plaster, though I know that’s something folk like to do. I hate the stuff; but I had the ceiling in my bedroom collapse (luckily, the ceiling on the other side of the bed) one night as a child. Drywall, well hung and taped, can be skimcoated to look like plaster, and IT WON’T CRUSH YOU WHILE YOU’RE SLEEPING. Sorry about that yelling, but. . .Report

  5. Avatar aaron david says:

    Thank you for allowing me to relive my childhood. I spent my 15th summer crawling under a house and jacking next to each wood pier, to knock it out and replace it with a concrete pier.
    My father spent the time between getting his Phd. and landing a teaching job doing construction, so these were skills that my brother and I learned as we grew, and my old man used us as his labor/apprentices.Report

  6. Avatar Chris says:

    I really enjoyed this. Thank you.

    Also, if you need a substitute wall breaker, tearing stuff down is my favorite pastime (and political party).Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Dude, why didn’t you call this “I’ll Be Your Hanleyman”?Report

  8. Avatar North says:

    Lathe and plaster is the devil itself. My parents bought a 1898 farmhouse when I was around 8 and then slowly worked their way through it from end to end. You would be astonished the things we found about it.

    -When I was little the wind would howl down the hill like a train and the whole house would sway and creak in it. I remember being in bed and feeling the house shifting with every blow. When my Father stripped off all the wooden shingles (also the devil) he discovered that (nails being expensive) each board on the house had been secured by a single nail on each stud. Many of these had rusted away, the entire outer skin of the house was essentially being held up by those wooden shingles. He nailed crate after crate of galvanized spiral nails into that damnable thing. It stopped swaying altogether.

    -Plaster is the Devil but it’s truly diabolical when you try and get rid of it. Ripping those hideous lathes down, shoveling the plaster out of the windows in buckets. The dust went -everywhere- no matter how much plastic or sheeting you put down. The horrible caked feeling of plaster dust on the skin, the stench of it. Nightmares, I’ve had nightmares.

    -Some parts of the house was insulated with hair.. you rip the lathes off and bunches of stringy black hair in big gobs comes tumbling down. Ewwww! Also we found a lot of 1940-50’s newspapers. Dad joked about finding treasure but we never found anything. Seems that early farmers were kindof poor. Who’da thunk?

    -The basemen was granite slab, when the rain came down the water would pour through the gutters in the basement like a deluge and the front yard would fountain with water. We kids thought it was cool, but Dad didn’t approve. We dug ditches, four feet deep up and down that cursed hill, through that thick heavy clay, then Dad installed perforated plastic pipe and we disassembled field-stone hedge rows to fill the ditches in with rock and gravel. For a time our house looked like a fort with networks of trenches all about it. But once the ditches were in the basement was as dry as a tomb.

    The moral of this story: if you’re going to buy an old farm house make sure you have a trio of children just coming into their double digits to draft into ten years of unpaid labor. It’ll help a lot.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:

      Did you ever add insulation, the blown in cellulose stuff? I did that in my childhood home, and I’ve done it in an attic here, and that’s the shit that gives me nightmares. (I just shuddered, just thinking about it.)Report

      • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley says:

        Yes, they blew in the cellulose stuff when they first moved in because without it the wind almost literally blew through the house. IIRC one of my Father’s motivations for removing all those dire wooden shingles was the desire to get rid of the round holes that blowing the insulation in had left. I’m sure wallowing in that stiff when we tore the plaster off added to the misery I’m remembering.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        I did insulation when I was a kid. I remember that the moment it touched you felt a burning itch, and I remember being wary of insulation from that point on.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        Did you air-seal the attic first? That’s the tricky part…
        (we got a contractor to do it).Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        Chris,
        That’s not cellulose. Cellulose is just newspaper, perfectly “harmless” (unless you count it getting absolutely everywhere). But it’s clean.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley says:

        Kim is correct Chris, you’re thinking of fiberglass insulation which is a special amazing itching horror (because you essentially have tiny fibers of glass stuck in your skin, so rubbing them just makes things worse) whereas cellulose is pretty much a kind of fluff. Nowhere near as effective as fiberglass but not quite as terrible to touch.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        Ah, that makes sense. That stuff would make excellent material for torture.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley says:

        In its defense, however, it is 100% noncombustible, 100% non organic and 100% non-biodegradable. It is virtually the perfect housing insulation: fire retardant, vermin retardant, enormously insulative and can last for a bajillion years if sealed up in the wall space of a structure.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        North,
        Actually, compressed cellulose is some of the best insulation around. The improvement over the past few years has been in how much you compress it (also: be careful if you’re going to do this yourself! You may blow out your wall!)Report

  9. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    Child Labor!!!!

    Just joking 🙂

    Excellent essay professor. Perhaps you have a future as the head of a PBS show….

    I like old houses though I go for Colonials and California Craftsmen more.Report

  10. Avatar Patrick says:

    The thing about plaster is that it insulates a lot better than drywall.

    In the summer, if I leave the A/C off in the morning, you can tell which rooms still have their original plaster walls and which ones are drywall by how fast they heat up. Somebody pulled down all the plaster ceilings in my house (it was built in 1916) and replaced ’em with drywall. On the one hand, like zic says, it won’t fall down and kill you (especially here in SoCal, with the earthquake possibility). On the other hand, g’damn the drywall passes heat through from the crawlspace a hell of a lot faster than drywall. The crawlspace above the ceiling wasn’t originally insulated… probably didn’t need to be back when the ceilings were all plaster. It gets hotter than hell up there. Summertime project is to cram the shop vac up in the ceiling and vacuum up all the crap that is up there, and put in roll insulation. At some point some previous owner started the project, but he or she only did one room and they left four rolls of the stuff up there, and the just-previous-to-us owner let the tree branches from the big pine touch the roof, so sometime before we moved in roof rats made a hash of the place. Cleaning it up is going to be fun!

    All the ducting is below the house. Probably should move that up.

    I’ll have to pull the pics of the place from when we first moved in off Facebook and have a pissin’ contest with the good Dr. Hanley here trading off home war stories.Report

  11. Avatar Damon says:

    Hey, count you blessings you’re not replacing a slate roof 🙂Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Damon says:

      Yeah but the thing about replacing a slate roof is you own a fishing slate roof and once you do it you’ll probably not touch it again in your lifetime (or your childrens lifetimes it’s done well).Report

  12. Avatar dhex says:

    i definitely appreciate the feeling of satisfaction from doing a job yourself.

    i appreciate less the satisfaction of others, as i’m remediating some of it in our new house now. (or in the case of the electrical issues, paying someone else to do so.)Report

  13. Avatar Kim says:

    We have some sort of death mold in the basement.
    Wish we had money enough to fix it this year.Report

  14. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    House of Hanley = Ship of Theseus. If you remove all of the old foundations, walls, shingles, etc. one by one, and replace them over time, is the resulting house the same house as the one you started out with? It looks the same (pretty much). But all the stuff is new.Report