Human error can make houses seem plumb dumb

HOME WORK

July 15, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Stupid Pet Tricks. Stupid Human Tricks. Nighttime talk-show host Dave Letterman has gotten a lot of laughs out of dogs that "sing" and people who juggle strange objects. But anyone who has ever done a rehab, a remodeling project, or even a major repair knows that houses can play tricks as well. Sometimes the things they do are so stupidly funny you wonder if inanimate objects have a sense of humor.

Of course, some Stupid House Tricks are the result of previous human error -- by old-fashioned or unskilled carpenters, by amateur plumbers, or by over-enthusiastic let's-do-it-now-even-if-we-don't-have-th e-right-equipment-or-

" knowledge do-it-yourselfers. But the results can bring a smile -- sometimes a delayed one, maybe after the dust settles. But still a smile.

Like the time Karol's father set out to enlarge an attic storage closet. He thought the drywall seemed a little flimsy, and when he ripped it out, he discovered why: The wall had been "framed" with tomato stakes.

Wallboard can hide a multitude of surprises; the neighbor of a friend tore out a wall during a remodeling project and discovered a perfectly good electrical outlet box -- installed behind the wall.

Things behind the walls can cause all sorts of mischief. Randy once pulled a damaged joist out of its rowhouse wall pocket and discovered that the end was smoldering. Its original installer had rammed it clear through the walls of the adjoining house -- into the neighbor's fireplace flue.

It's often the things you can't see that will do you in. Like the lack of support for a floor. Randy was once recruited, with three other fellows, to haul a cast-iron bathtub out of a neighbor's house undergoing renovation. Things were fine till the four men and a tub reached the vestibule -- and it dropped about a foot under the weight. (They hopped off, and used skids to transport the tub.)

A most inconvenient floor with no support whatsoever was the one at Randy's family's cabin in the mountains -- in the outhouse. It fell as he was getting ready to leave, and presented an interesting problem in wardrobe and exit logistics. He finally did a "tuck-and-roll" maneuver out the door -- his landing being softened somewhat by about a foot of snow. Then he went to get a friend and his tools to make repairs, because he was playing host at party for about 15 people at the time.

Indoor plumbing can also be the source of a few surprises. A workman at the house Randy is working hard to finish in the country came to him recently with an inquiry: "Have you felt the toilet lately?" he asked.

Randy noted that, what with finishing all the drywall, installing kitchen cabinets and tiling showers, he hadn't really had a lot of time to go around handling the bathroom fixtures.

"I think you should feel it," the man replied. "It's hot."

Turned out the plumbers had somehow crossed the water lines in the wall. Not only were the faucets backward -- cold on the left, hot on the right -- but the toilet had been hooked up to the hot water pipe.

Lucky it was discovered before the owner moved in (the pipes were uncrossed in the basement) and before there was any need to use a "plumber's friend" plunger like the one Karol keeps outside her back door to unplug a balky sink disposer. (It's a double sink and the plumbing is not quite right.) She picked it up one day and discovered that it had become a shelter for bees. Big yellow and black bumblebee-types. The critters tunneled in at two places; there was sawdust all over the porch. And gripping the handle caused them to buzz angrily inside.

She's being real careful not to overload the disposer.

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Have you run into a stupid house trick while working on a project? If you've had a funny surprise while delving into walls or floors, or discovered some strange "repairs" from an earlier era, write us a description at the address below. We'll use the best instances in a future column.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278.

Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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