The Never Ending Home Repair Project


That is how it started.

A moment later, my wife stood in front of the chair where I was reading and remained there until I looked up.

“A drop of water hit me on the head,” she said.

“Gosh hon, that’s too bad,” I said and went back to my book. She waited until I looked up again.

“It came from the ceiling,” she said.

“Oh,” I said.

She showed me where she was standing when the drop hit her on the head and I looked around for water stains but didn’t see anything.

“It is probably just condensation,” I said, lying to both myself and her.


This time it hit me on the head.

Looking up, I focused my x-ray vision on the spot from where the water came and there above me in all its splendor – was the toilet.  Again lying to both myself and her, I said, “It is probably just the wax ring seal. It will cost a couple of bucks and won’t take more than an hour to repair.”

“Let’s call a plumber.”

“Why?”  I asked.

“I will show you why,” she said.  Curling an index finger, she beckoned me to follow her down the hall to the scene of my last home repair project, the second bedroom.

“Open the door,” she said.

I poked a finger through the hole where the doorknob should be and using it like a hook, pulled open the door.

“What?” I asked.

“When did we last have a door-knob there?”

I had to think about that one. “Five years ago, give or take a year,” I guessed.

“Seven,” she said, “call a plumber.”

I don’t know why I never finished that project.  It was like running an entire marathon only to give up on the last step.  But projects, and sometimes marathons, are like that.  We gather pain and baggage with each step until it seems that the burden of carrying them becomes overwhelming.  It is as if the last step becomes the hardest because it bears the weight of every step behind it.

We called the plumber and he rocked the toilet back and forth then crawled around on the bathroom floor, poking at the linoleum with a sharp screw driver.  “Let’s go sit down,” he said when he was done, “I have bad news for you.”

Once we were seated, he explained how the leaky seal had rotted the floor boards and the joists below them. He estimated the cost of repair to be north of five thousand dollars.

After he left, I added up the cost of materials and told my wife that I could do it for under a thousand.

“Prove to me you can finish a job by putting a knob on the second bedroom door, ” she said, “If you can accomplish that then you can start on the bathroom.”

It took me fifteen minutes to mount the knob (actually, it took me seven years and fifteen minutes) and an hour later I had ripped up the toilet, tore up the tub and pried loose all the rotted boards in the bathroom. Then things slowed down a bit, quite a bit.

You see, all projects, from launching an astronaut to the moon to installing a knob on the second bedroom door, can be divided into three distinct phases:

Phase I: Illumination. This is where the brilliant idea is born. It is when the light bulb comes on and everything seems possible.

Phase II: Actualization. This is when you realize that your idea was not that brilliant and each alternative idea turns out to be progressively less brilliant.  It is when the seemingly simple becomes utterly impossible.

Phase III: Contrition: This is when you throw the hammer across the bathroom and shout, “Why didn’t we hire the plumber? Was five grand really all that much?”

The problem with do it yourself projects is that most people wallow forever in Phase III without having spent much time in Phase II.

But not this project.

After only a few months of domestic squabbles and way too much completely unnecessary nagging… the bathroom was usable and looking not all that bad – except for one tiny detail, the door lacked a knob — and still does.

Author: Almost Iowa

33 thoughts on “The Never Ending Home Repair Project”

  1. I didn’t want to hear/ read this. We are almost completely finished with our self contracting bathrooms…we are talking door knobs and towel hooks.

  2. I imagine you’re in very good company with this post. Very funny and right on. Whar did you do with the 4K that you saved? Or is that conversation not on the table at home?..:)

  3. You have no idea how much I can relate to this post. Water stain on living room ceiling from upstairs bedroom window leak. Check. Cardboard covering wall where brick chimney was removed perhaps seven years ago. Check. Leaking faucet in outdated kitchen sink which should have been replaced decades ago. Sink and faucet. Check. Missing trim from upstairs hallway. Check. Basement project, underway for one year. Check. Need I write more?

    1. As I read your comment, I ticked off the items on my pending home improvement project list. I am in serious trouble – but what did we do yesterday? We took the truck to IKEA!

      Like they say, if you find yourself in a hole, use a larger excavator.

  4. I started cracking up after the first two lines: “Drip! That is how it all started.” – I’m still laughing and smiling. Greg – I could totally see Almost Iowa as a television series – Seinfeld meets Home Improvement meets Green Acres.
    Hubby and I have built two homes. He wants to move again… Ready to downsize, have someone else do yard maintenance and fish more than work… I think it’s too early, but that’s a whole ‘nother story 🙂
    I remember the month or two before we sold our last house (the first one we built) – we FINISHED projects that had not been completed for the 8 years we lived there – trim in hidden areas, baseboard, random door knobs, plates and switches… Seriously took 8 years to finish things to move out. LOL! (Then I wanted to stay it looked so nice!)
    I guess it worked as house sold first day on market for asking price, and we had another offer….
    But – – – YEARS to finish trim… haha!
    I totally get you – I live with your twin…

    1. You do live with my twin, we went through the same thing with out townhouse, finishing a number of small jobs on the evening before the closing.

  5. Just call us homeowners Sisyphus. And HGTV is the homeowner equivalent of Facebook. Everybody has this idealized version of homeownership and home repair that no one can obtain. It only serves to make us feel inadequate about where we live. We are better off picking up a magazine every so often to get an idea or two.

    1. Sisyphus

      An all too painful metaphor. If I recall me mythology correctly, Sissyphus was the guy who Hera told to rip out the remodel job that he was still recovering from (financially as well as physically) because it was “dated”.

  6. Why is it that there are projects that end up costing more than you paid for the house? And no matter how old the house, there are always projects. You buy a new house. It will need painting in two years. You buy a house twenty years old. It will need painting in two years. You buy a house as old as Methuselah. It will need painting in two years.

    1. A friend of mine loves the big, ugly cars of the ’70’s. He buys them, drives them, fixes them then sells them. His rule is, once a car costs you as much in repairs as you paid for it, sell it. We need to apply that rule to houses too – adding the cost of our time to the bill.

      1. It does feel good when you can look at the toilet and think “I saved us $4,000” – maybe you could hire a guy to install the doorknobs 🙂

        1. That is dangerous thinking, Don. If my wife reads that, she will say, “Hey, for $4,000, we could install a lot of knobs. Let’s do it. I’ve been watching HGTV and….”

    1. And may they bump their heads on every step on the way down.

      My wife is a HGTV addict. She watches it like political junkies watch MSNBC or FOX. It drives me crazy, especially when the “reality” contractors “discover” mold in a wall or a crack in the foundation that balloons the estimate. Oh gee, you mean to tell us that you submitted an estimate without doing your research? What does it take to probe a wall or look under a carpet? And who the hell accepts an estimate without budgeting for contingencies?

      It is like HGTV is preening its audience to be fleeced by contractors. HGTV, say it isn’t so.

  7. Our home projects are always victim to scope creep. It feels like a thigh bone connected to the knee bone connected to the….five million other things that have to be fixed first before finishing the initial necessary repair.
    We usually end up stuck in the middle. Which explains our kitchen without cabinets, our bathroom without a finished ceiling, our garage half insulated…and you get so used to seeing everything that way that you don’t notice it until visitors see it. And then you realize that your house looks like it has been attacked by vandals or vindictive contractors.

    1. You have given me a great idea for a business.

      Project Intervention Contractors

      Is your project stuck? Is your house a demolition zone? Project Intervention Contractors specializes in moving your project forward. Our professionals will evaluate what it takes to get your project back on track. They will then do no more and no less than what is required to get you going again.

  8. Well, and then there’s that moment in Phase II when you realize your idea truly is that brilliant, but you’re too darned lazy to bring it to completion. Stew around in Phase II long enough, and it begins to look like a pretty comfortable home, doorknob or not!

    1. I must admit that there are projects that I cannot bear to bring to completion because I love the doing of them so much. It is like a vacation that I never want to see end. Those moments are the best of life.

      1. That’s one reason I love blogging so much. When I started, I thought, “I wonder if I’ll find anything to write about after a couple of months.” Now, after seven years, I’ve pretty much stopped worrying about that.

        1. I dream that one day I will find myself with two weeks worth of blog entries “in the can”. Today, I do not know what I will publish on Thursday.

          When I get to that point, I will give up blogging and start a novel.

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