Friday, January 16, 2009

This Old School

I live in an old house, built sometime in the 1890’s. Old houses have their charm, the workmanship is usually excellent, and the use of wood is wonderful. Sometimes I think that living in a new house would be wonderful. Sometimes I think about a new house, just think: more than one outlet in each room, new windows, better insulation, good heating system, new plumbing and other features.

When living in an older house, you learn how to improvise, nothing is ‘standard’. A 2x4 actually measures 2” X 4” rather than 1.5” x3.5” as modern studs are. In order to work with that is to add a shim to bring the new studs in line. Electrical systems are always difficult, one house of mine had “knob and tube” wiring. Which was great when it was installed, but running a modern house on six circuits and questionable wiring is not the best thing in the world. Sometimes I would like the crew from “This Old House” to show up and help out and re-do the house.

Yesterday I was replacing a bathroom faucet. This is usually a quick half-hour job, so I allotted an hour to finish. Being an older house, the vanity is homebuilt; made of the same wood that panels the walls, a nice tongue in groove pine; being old the wood is fairly thick. I ran into a problem right away, the mounting, which should be tightened just slightly beyond hand tight were on very, very tight, and they were caulked in, this was an easy fix, took my Dremel and cut the nuts off, not going to reuse the faucet anyway. Then another problem cropped up. The connections for the new faucet were about ¼ inch shorter than the previous faucet. There was not enough room underneath the sink to mount it. I had to take a RotoZip saw and cut away an area under the sink for the mounting nuts to reach and make good contact. After that the job was simple, and in 2.5 hours I was done. Things are very rarely by the book in older houses, and the owner needs to improvise and work with what they have.

While I was under the sink, I got to thinking. Working on any house is like schools and school reform. All schools are unique, and finding “the directions” to fix things takes innovation and invention. What works in one community may not fit another community. Are you replacing a faucet or re-wiring the whole house? Some are quick and easy, others are expensive and take lots of planning and work. At times the major renovations seem like they will never be finished, and there are always changes and issues to deal with. Even with the faucet, it takes longer than expected and can be frustrating; using the right tools helps in the project, but knowing how to use the tools is important. Once the changes are done, renovations finished, things look good and work well, but you still need to maintain the house.

What type of educational repairs and renovations do you need to make in your school, or in education in general? Do we need to lift the old house and replace the foundation, or little things to make the house work better.

Where are Norm and Tommy when we need them?

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